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Tag Archive: LTAD

  1. Let your child play sport rather than just compete

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    Children need to play more and compete less

    John Smoltz

    John Smoltz

    Children who get injured or burntout may be competing at sport too much and have too little opportunity to just play. These words on shoulder operations by Hall of Fame baseball player John Smoltz ring very true.

    I want to encourage the families and parents that are out there to understand that this is not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old. That you have time, that baseball is not a year-round sport. That you have an opportunity to be athletic and play other sports.

    Don’t let the institutions that are out there running before you guaranteeing scholarship dollars and signing bonuses that this is the way. We have such great, dynamic arms in our game that it’s a shame we’re having one and two and three Tommy John (shoulder operation) recipients.

    So I want to encourage you, if nothing else, know that your children’s passion and desire to play baseball is something that they can do without a competitive pitch. Every throw a kid makes today is a competitive pitch. They don’t go outside, they don’t have fun, they don’t throw enough – but they’re competing and maxing out too hard, too early, and that’s why we’re having these problems. So please, take care of those great future arms.”

    Baseball Hall of Fame induction speech, former Atlanta Brave pitcher John Smoltz

    If an adult is present, then the sport is organised. If the kids are left to their own devices they play more, compete with each other and on their own terms.

    Further reading :

  2. How a good coach can help you become a winner

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    Why hiring an expert coach will save you time and money

    Young athletes (and their parents) are overwhelmed with information from varying sources that is often conflicting. It is my job to help them navigate the maelstrom.

    Originally designed as a concept to deal with organising and displaying online information and layouts, information architecture could as easily be applied to coaching.

    “I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work — the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear”

    Richard Saul Wurman

    Too much information, too little time

    strength and conditioning coach devonAthletes I work with come home from a Regional or National camp with a sheet of paper and a directive to “do these exercises or else”. They then ask me what a “SLDRDL” or a “One legged Monkey Puzzle” is.

    They go to a p.e. class the next day where they are made to hold a plank position for endless minutes to “strengthen their core”, but not told why or how to improve and if there is any transference to sport.

    Finally, they visit their club where the coach drills them through ladders, hurdles and doggies to finish off their last remaining reserves of energy and enthusiasm.

    The poor parent in the meantime is standing on the sidelines forking out cash and time for kit, petrol and accommodation. Wondering if they are “doing enough” for their child.

    Things can, and need to be, better than this.

    The real problem, (as Atul Gawande says in the current Reith Lectures) is how to use our existing knowledge effectively and consistently, rather than needing to know more.

    Coach as Information Architect

    The job of a good coach is to make sense of all this information, filter out what is noise, but still stay abreast of latest research and developments.

    strength and conditioning coachThat is different from telling all athletes to eat pilchard eggs because one study of 3 Eskimos found that they were able to run faster after eating pilchard eggs for 2 weeks.

    The coach then needs to present this information in an orderly and systemic fashion, rather than all at once.

    This does include selective delivery of information, feeding it to the parents and athletes at regular intervals. This allows positive behaviours to develop.

    3 steps to becoming a winner

    1. jenny mcgeeverFind out what is happening in all aspects of the athlete’s life and write it down. I get the athlete to fill out a 4 week planner that shows all sporting and p.e commitments.
    2. Write down what current exercises are being done and when. Clarify the exact nature of these exercises and make sure the meaning is understood. Any exercise that is written down but has never been coached is binned. Look for duplication of work: hockey might be doing doggies, rugby might be doing 3km runs. Avoid doing both.
    3. Look for gaps between current ability and what is required. Put in exercises accordingly. You might be doing lots of running, but zero postural work. You might be able to hold the plank for 5 minutes (why?) but are unable to stand on one leg with free hip held high: essential for running well.

    The complete picture is often forgotten due to the confusion of information and dealing with the logistics of getting the young athlete to the venues, school and training!

    Hiring an Expert Coach

    strength and conditioning coach somerset

    Life is too short to do everything yourself. Trying to do it all on your own can cause unnecessary stress. If you want to be the best that you can be, then you will need some help along the way.

    The Excelsior Athletic Development Club was started to help parents, coaches and athletes work together.  By informing parents and sports coaches of best practice, we are working together, rather than against each other.

    • It requires coaches of different sports to stop trying to force early specialisation (a difficult task) and to think of next year, rather than next Saturday.
    • It requires parents to take an active role in planning and ask questions of the p.e. teachers and coaches.
    • It requires athletes to think about why they are doing things, and to learn how to organise their time.

    It requires us at Excelsior to continually strive to make sense of this information and develop ways of improving our ability to coach.

    Sign up to our newsletter today to get 2 free ebooks on coaching young athletes.

  3. How can I stop my child getting injured?

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    “Injured young athletes are older, spend more time in organized sports, and specialize too early”

    injury prevention

    Could this be prevented?

    The evidence is quite stark if your child is spending too much time in organised activity rather than free play, if they have specialised in one sport and if they have gone through their growth spurt, then they are more likely to get injured (1).

    • 34% of middle school sports participants get injured each year with an estimated medical bill of $2billion (5).
    • Talented (or early developing) children get asked to play more sport and therefore have higher injury risk (2).
    • The cumulative workload increases injury risk e.g. Cricketers who do more than 75 throws a week (3).
    • Early specialisation in one sport leads to an increase in injury risk (4).
    • Young athletes participating in more sports hrs/wk than their age  and participating in>2 times organized sports:free play are more likely to have a serious overuse injury (1).
    • Injury risk increases in teenage girls from 12-13 years old and teenage boys from 14-15 years old: at their growth spurts (6).

    Injury Prevention is always better than cure

    Why wait until your player is injured? I prefer to have healthy athletes available all year round.

    A 2 pronged approach is necessary to greatly reduce the risk of your child or player getting injured.

    1. Plan your schedule of training and competing. Include free play time.
    2. Implement a strength/ co-ordination exercise regime and stick to it.

    how to prevent injuryPlanning: The best place to start is to look at the next 4 weeks. Use this free 4 weekly planner to help. Put in all the school p.e., games and matches, then club training and matches, plus other activities.

    You will probably see a lot of competing and travel, with very few rest days, and little planned physical preparation: running, speed or strength work.

    How much free play does your child do? That is “jumpers for goal posts” mucking about with friends in the local park or school playground? None? Then they are at greater risk of injury!

    Decisions will have to be made about what is a priority, what is “need to do” rather than “nice to do”. If you are playing more than one age group of a sport, then you should consider dropping the lower one.

    Coaches should look at the overall workload that their best players are undergoing: it is unsustainable! Can you afford to lose your best player mid-season?

    how to stop getting injuredStrength/co-ordination training: It is the ability to control your own body throughout the match and the season that is the key to avoid getting injured. Your exercise programme has to be specific for young athletes: time spent on crosstrainers, exercise bikes and lying down on a bench is time wasted.

    They need to lunge, squat, brace, rotate, push and pull: in combination with braking, landing, jumping and moving from 2 legs to 1 leg, up, down and side to side.

    I get athletes to implement daily routines, at first only 5 minutes, then building up from there. This summer I have designed specific warm up routines for team sports players based on the recent research and my experience.

    Members of the Athletic Development Club have all been given my newly designed protocol cards to help them through the season.

    injury prevention

    Leg strengthening work

    The 11-12 minute warm ups contains all the movements necessary to help reduce the likelihood of injury, as well as improve their sporting performance. If done before every training session and match, the cumulative positive effect will be huge.

    Coaches and teachers need to take responsibility

    Quality does not just happen. People who believe so, are people who trust in miracles to make their way through life.  Quality excellence is an outcome of preparation and relentless practice. It is surely a given then, that there is time set aside routinely for this.” Frank Dick, Winning Matters.

    injury prevention

    Resisted running drills

    I often hear coaches and teachers bemoan the fact that they are struggling to field a team by December due to injuries.  Are they still practicing warm up routines that are ineffective and full of time fillers such as jogging, or encourage incorrect mechanics such as high knees and heel flicks?

    Do they have a strength programme that helps improve performance and prevent injury? Or do they just use generic exercises that require little co-ordination and involve a lot of sitting or lying down?

    A lot of coaches say they are doing the right thing, but how do they know?

    Badminton coach James Elkin, Volleyball coach Denise Austin and the Fencing coaches at the SWFencing Hub have shown a great Growth Mindset by looking at what we are doing with their athletes and then changing their practice.


    injury prevention programme

    Technical drills

    Injuries are far from things “that just happen“. Chronic pain is abnormal in teenagers, it can be prevented.

    I set up the Sports Training System to help busy parents and teenage athletes fit in physical preparation in a safe, effective and time efficient mannerJoin now and in 4 weeks

    Parents, look at how much physical preparation and free play your child is involved in compared to organised camps, travel and competing.

    Coaches and teachers either come to one of our strength and conditioning coaching courses or I can run a workshop for your staff that will help all your players and teams.

    Let’s work together to help produce healthy, happy and thriving young sportspeople.

    This video discussion with Brian McCormick gives more of an overview and guide for parents.


    1. Br J Sports Med 2014 48: 611
    2. Br J Sports Med 2014;48:1265–1267.
    3. Br J Sports Med 2011;45:805–8.
    4. Br J Sports Med 2013;47:503–7.
    5. The Physician and Sportsmedicine 42(2): p146-153 (2014).
    6. Acta Orthop. 80(5) p563–567 (2009).
  4. Giving our youth roots to grow and wings to fly

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    athletic development willand

    Three of these athletes have International honours now

    Foundations are key

    The headline is a quote from Frank Dick. It is brought to mind because last week a young athlete said she wasn’t good enough to get to the Olympics.

    At 13 years old, no she isn’t. What was disappointing was it appeared that any flame of ambition had been doused.

    Nurturing ambition, giving the tools to help the athlete, and keeping them grounded enough to work towards their goals is a tricky balancing act.

    • Too much hype and reward at an early age can lead to overinflated egos and a harsh bite of reality when coming up against senior competition.
    • Too little praise and reward can lead to disappointment, burnout and stopping playing altogether.

    This is why experienced coaches should be working with the junior athletes, it is at this age where the good (or bad) work is done. This has a lasting effect into the senior arena.

    To all young athletes out there: “If not you, then who?” Make sure you try your best and it can be you.

    weightlifting for women

    Sophie training

    Recent success for Excelsior athletes

    Sophie Jefferson gained her first International caps earliers this month. She started for the England Hockey Under 18s against Scotland, and again against England Under-21s.

    Sophie has trained with us for 4 1/2 years now, and is an example of what happens with consistent training, and attending to the little details.

    The selectors omitted her from the England Under-16s squad 2 years ago, but Sophie carried on training hard despite that.

    Anna Johannson competed in the Nations cup pony team for GB in Saumur, France and finished a repsectable 16th overall against Senior competition.

    anna johannson

    Anna Johannson

    Anna has only recently started training with us, so we can’t take too much credit!

    But, she does her homework consistently and has improved her structural integrity as a result.

    Two ex Excelsior athletes became National Champions earlier this month!

    Steve Turnock won the BUCS Javelin championships and Caitlin Evans Brand won the England Schools golf

    Caitlin Evans Brand

    Caitlin running

    championship. Both trained with us quite a bit before going away to University/ College.

    You can see Steve warming up here (one of the reasons he succeeds now is his underpinning athletic development):

    “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard.”  is one of the mottos of the Excelsior Athletic Development Club  come and join us.

  5. How much sleep is enough after training?


    A Guaranteed, Free and Easy Way to Improve Performance…


    In a recent workshop we ran, every athlete was found to be SLEEP DEPRIVED. Find out how this can impact on your sporting performance here.sleep for athletes

    In that little training diary that any successful athlete keeps, will be a history of:

    • the exercises they perform
    • the weights they lift
    • the foods they eat
    • how they feel (RPE -rating of perceived exertion) and ….
    • how much sleep they are getting

    Why we document exercises, weights, nutrition and RPE and how they affect training and performance is well understood, but why do we keep a sleep diary?

    Sleep has been shown to have a big impact on sporting performance as well as potentially changing the physiological effects of training.

    This article aims to highlight the importance of sleep for athletes and how it affects training and performance.

    Evidence of the effect of sleep on performance

    Studies have shown that sleep deprivation has lasting negative impacts on health!

    Sleep deprivation has an impact on the body’s metabolic and endocrine functions, with some of the effects listed below:

    • Affect glucose metabolism and appetite (Van Cauter & Spiegel,  1999)
    • Have a negative impact on the brain and cognitive function
    • Reduced immune system
    • Increase Cortisol levels (stress Hormone)
    • Affect on growth Hormone
    • Increased injury risk due to reduced muscular control

    Dr. William C. Dement, a sleep researcher at Stanford University, suggests that:

    “that alleviating the burden of sleep debt could save thousands of lives every year.”

    Cheri Mah who has been studying the sleep patterns of Stanford University athletes over the last few years has found increasing sleep has led to improved sports performance for all types of athletes (Mah et al, 2009).

    One specific study on University swimmers found increasing the athletes sleep to 10 hours a night improved their 15m sprint time, start reaction time and increased their kick strokes.

    She also replicated these findings in American Football athletes with increased sleep improving their 20 yd shuttle time and 40 yd dash time.

    With evidence that sleep deprivation can physiologically and psychologically affect individuals and evidence of increased sleep improving sporting performance, are you getting enough?

    Why does sleep affect trainability and performance?

    sleep deprivation in athletesFirstly and most importantly sleep is very important for recovery.

    Sleep deprivation has shown to

    1. increase cortisol levels,
    2. decrease activity of human growth hormone,
    3. and reduce the efficiency for glucose metabolism.

    All of these things can affect our sporting performance (Samuels, 2009).

    In addition when we are tired concentrating is hard and our reaction times are slower, not great for competition!

    On top of these physiological changes sleep deprivation is also shown to reduce cognitive function and therefore reduce the ability to learn a new skill.

    Effect of Glucose metabolism

    So why is glucose metabolism important?

    The energy we require for any exercise comes from the metabolism of glucose. If this source of energy isn’t readily available then our body is unable to perform at its best.

    Food is our fuel but if we are unable to convert our fuel into energy then it becomes useless!

    Sleep deprivation also impairs the ability of our body to store glycogen so our energy stores are depleted, something that will hamper your preparation prior to a big competition!

    Effect of Cortisol

    Cortisol is more commonly known as the stress hormone. Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the levels of this particular hormone.

    With cortisol the athlete will often feel irritable and short-tempered as well as have a lack of energy.

    Effect of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)

    Everybody knows rest and recovery are important or high-level performance as it gives the body time to repair and strengthen itself. HGH is the hormone responsible for stimulating this growth and repair.

    HGH is actively required for this tissue repair by stimulating growth via cell reproduction and regeneration. It is naturally produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and is a protein based peptide hormone.

    If our HGH levels are low or not doing their job properly then it can result in a decrease in muscle mass and energy levels.

    Therefore with sleep deprivation affecting the efficiency of this hormone you can see why it is not great for sporting success!

    Am I Getting Enough Sleep?

    how much sleep do I need after training?This is the big question and below are some guidelines to help you answer it.

    It is recommended that adults get 7–9 hours of daily sleep and 9-10 hours of daily sleep for adolescents and teens!

    If you fall asleep within 20 minutes of going to bed and wake without an alarm you are probably getting enough sleep say sleep experts.

    However if you fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and wake to an alarm you are probably sleep deprived!

    So I will leave you with a few tips to ensure sleep is not a factor hindering yours or your athlete’s performance:

    1. Firstly and most importantly make sure you are getting enough sleep (hours highlighted above).
    2. You can achieve the above by prioritizing sleep as a part of your regular training regimen (noting it in your training diary).
    3. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, get into a pattern.
    4. Take brief 20-30 minute naps to obtain additional sleep during the day, especially if training hard.
    5. Increase your sleep time several weeks before a major competition to ensure you are not sleep deprived!
    6. Switch off your phone/ tablet an hour before you go to bed: the blue light can reset your circadian rhythm to a later time, making it harder to fall asleep.

    I hope this article has highlighted the importance of sleep for athletes wanting to be at their best? It really is the #1 Recovery supplement

    Sweet dreams…

    Fran Low

    For further information on how sleep deprivation can lead to overtraining, read our free ebook here


    Van Cauter E, Spiegel K (1999). “Sleep as a mediator of the relationship between socioeconomic status and health: a hypothesis”. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 896: 254–61

    Mah, C. (2008). Extended Sleep and the Effects on Mood and Athletic Performance in Collegiate Swimmers. Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

    Samuels, C. (2009). Sleep, recovery, and performance: the new frontier in high-performance athletics. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 20(1):149-59, ix.

  6. How to manage “Growing pains”


    A guide to common growing pains in athletes

    Osgood-SchlattersChildren and adolescents endure many of the same injuries and mechanical dysfunctions as adults. However, in the maturing skeleton there are some specific conditions that are only seen in the young.

    Here is an overview of the common conditions, their causes and how to manage them.

    Osgood -Schlatters, Sinding-Larsen-Johansson and Severs lesions

    These are non-articular types of osteochondrosis or ‘traction apophysitis’. These specific conditions affect the growth plates, where muscle tendons attach to bone.

    They are normally seen in the more active and sporty adolescents during or after a growth spurt. Either one or both limbs can be affected. All three of these conditions are self- limiting and in some cases the symptoms can continue for years.

    Recovery rates will vary between each child. Investigations such as x-ray and diagnostic ultrasound are not normally indicated to make a diagnosis.

    • Osgood-Schlatters

    A common cause of anterior knee pain in the young athlete. Pain, swelling and local tenderness will be present at the tibial tuberosity, where the patella tendon attaches below the knee joint. In some cases a boney lump can be seen. Affects boys more than girls.

    • Sinding-Larson-JohanssonSinding-Larsen-Johansson

    A less common cause of anterior knee pain in the young athlete. Pain, swelling and local tenderness will be present at the inferior pole of the patella, at the superior end of the patella tendon (at the bottom of the knee cap).

    • Severs

    A common cause of heel pain in young athletes. Pain, swelling and local tenderness will be present where the Achilles tendon attaches onto the heel.

    What are the causes of Growing Pains?

    • Growth spurt (during this period bone will lengthen before muscle. This will put increased pressure on tendon attachment during exercise)   Increased intensity of training
    • Adaptation to a new sport, especially those which involve running and jumping.
    • Reduced muscle length, especially during or after a growth spurt.
    • Reduced muscle strength.
    • Poor control / stability at the spine and pelvis.
    • Poor foot mechanics.

    How to manage the condition

    • growing painsMonitor and keep a record of the child’s growth. This can help to adapt training needs specifically .e.g. during a growth spurt an increased emphasis on stretching is required and maybe some reduced activity.
    • Reassurance to the child that his/her condition is relatively short term and that by continuing with their sport is not doing any harm.
    • Activity modification (this should be guided by pain levels. There is no evidence to suggest that prolonged and complete rest is beneficial)
    • Regular stretching of the surrounding muscle groups
    • Strengthening of the surrounding muscle groups. This should be focused on during periods of reduced symptoms and limited growth.
    • Spinal and pelvic stability / control work.
    • Assessment of foot mechanics Maybe a need to change footwear or use of orthotics. Small heel raises or gel cushions can be useful to control the symptoms of severs.
    • Use of ice locally
    • Use of massage to surrounding muscles
    • Seek medical advice regarding use of analgesics and anti-inflammatories.  


    Growing Pains could be considered a normal part of growing up. A sound training plan and recognition of sudden changes in growth can help guide the young athlete through the problem.

    Any young athlete who is complaining of pain needs to be assessed by a medical professional.  You can book in at my Physiotherapy clinic in Willand, Cullompton, Devon.


    1. ‘A heel cup improves the function of the heel pad in Severs injury : effects on heel pad thickness, peak pressure and pain.’ Perhamre et al. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science. August 2012.vol 22.4.p516.
    2.  ‘Childhood lower-limb apophyseal  syndromes : “what is the egg on my leg?.”’ Stickland. SportEX Medicine. Jan 2011.47.p22.
    3. ‘Adolescent anterior knee pain’ Gerbino et al.Operative techniques in Sports Medicine. July 2006.vol 14.3.p203.
    4. Clinical Sports Medicine. Bruckner et Al. Third edition 2006.Mcgraw-Hill Australia Pty Ltd.

    Sarah Marshall Chartered Physiotherapist.

  7. Strength training for young people


    “You never see an oak tree with huge branches and a tiny trunk”

    strength training for young people

    Strong trunk

    Kathryn “Wiggs” Catto on a last week’s level 1 coaching strength and conditioning for sport course.

    This was her way of describing to young teenage boys the necessity of developing strength in a safe and progressive manner.

    Unfortunately in the rush to “look good nekked” a lot of bad advice is heeded by these boys.

    huge arms tiny body

    Top heavy

    In the desperate attempt to develop limb size (rather than strength) the training programme negelects the fundamental needs of the developing body.

    “No one ever died of weak biceps”

    Roy Parsloe: lecturer on my A level p.e. course in 1991.

    Why on earth would we put a preacher curl into a school gym? The kids spend all day sat down in classrooms as it is.

    If you train sat down or lying down, then your entire trunk area is made redundant. We then have a situation where people need to work on their “core stability“.

    preacher curl

    Pull ups are better

    This lady may be trying to “tone” her arms, compared to the boys who would be trying to “get hench“, but they are all sat down.

    Every dumbbell exercise and 90% of the bodyweight exercises I demonstrated on the course were done standing up or in prone support. This limits the overall weight you can lift, but it is our ability to apply strength on the field that is important.

    The young person has to learn how to control their own body weight in different planes of movement and at varying speeds before picking up a weight. The quick fix is to sit or lie down (and have a mate pick up the weight and pass it to them) but there are no benches or chairs on the rugby pitch.

    Thanks to all the candidates who threw themselves with abandon into the practical sessions and the classroom discussions.

    I hope I managed to stimulate some thoughts into how they go back and work with all their players: solid foundations and sound programming beat fads and short cuts every time.

    Further reading:

  8. 11 questions every aspiring athlete should ask themselves


    “If you ask me how I want to be remembered, it is as a winner.

    walter payton trainingYou know what a winner is? A winner is somebody who has given his best effort, who has tried the hardest they possibly can, who has utilized every ounce of energy and strength within them to accomplish something.

    It doesn’t mean that they accomplished it or failed, it means that they’ve given it their best. That’s a winner.” 

    Walter Payton NFL Running Back

    In the current climate of “because I’m worth it” generation of young athletes who expect a lot, but maybe don’t realise the work involved here are 11 questions every athlete should ask themselves.

    1. Do you have a goal or a wish? Lots of athletes have idle day dreams, but taking the time to write down your goals and set up a plan is crucial.
    2. Do you have self -discipline? That is the discipline to make every training session, to do the little things well, consistently. The discipline to follow a plan even if you are tired or busy.
    3. Do you get quality sleep? Sleep is the foundation from which you can recover. It is also an indicator that there is balance in your life: too much stress, poor diet, or poor lifestyle can all impact on sleep quality.
    4. eating like an athleteDo you fuel yourself properly? After sleep, this is an easy way of distinguishing between those who are serious about performance and the also-rans. The 3 step approach to fuelling properly will ensure consistency.
    5. Do you have the 4 cornerstones of training in place? It is easy to do what we are comfortable with, or what seems most urgent. However, you need to have all 4 cornerstones in place to be most effective.
    6. Are you mindful: of others, of your body, of your strengths and weaknesses? Mindfulness allows you to focus on one area at a time. It will help boost your immune system and reduce blood pressure. Being mindful in training means you are less likely to get injured and more likely to improve.
    7.  Do you train to gain an edge? It is often easy to get the big things in place, but the little things accumulate over time and soon add up. If you are doing them daily, then you will be gaining an edge over your opponents who are resting.
    8. football fitness training devonDo your sessions have purpose? Or are they organised despair? There is a big difference between doing “stuff” that gets you tired and training with a purpose so that you get better.
    9. Are you getting stronger? Strength in some form underpins all athletic movement: posture, stability, power, balance and pure strength all require a strength training plan of some form.
    10. Do you challenge your technique? “Skill is technique under pressure” so do you seek to improve and develop your technique in different circumstances and environments? It is easy to be good when training at your own club: very different in the maelstrom of away fixtures under pressure.
    11. tom baylis cycle fitnessHave you given it your all? This may be hard to quantify, and you can only give the best that you are capable of at that time.  If you look in the mirror at the end of the day and say “I had a little bit left” then how will you be able to cope when that choice is taken away from you? Sometimes you have to empty your tank and train beyond your reserves.

    Walter Payton is an NFL legend, who knows if you are going to be as good as him? But , as an aspiring athlete, if you answer Yes to all of these questions, then you are well on the way to making the most of your ability.

    (Pictured are Dan James, Jenny McGeever and Tom Baylis: 3 of our current athletes who answer these questions).

  9. The Talent ID Bun Fight


    “I feel pressurised as a parent to choose between sports for my daughters”.

    talent id netball hockeySaid a concerned Mum at a recent workshop. She is far from alone. Talent identification has been misused by sports as an excuse for workign kids too early and too hard.

    Well meaning, but concerned, parents are being asked to ferry their children from “selection camp” to “regional centre” to “talent pathway nuclei” (O.K. I made that last one up).

    They are often told that if their child fails to attend, then their sporting career is over.... at 14! Is that true?

    Research consistently shows that elite sports performers come from a diverse sporting background, and only specialised at around 15-16 years old (1). Most often they are late maturers.

    NGBS are trying to select “talent” at 13-14 years old and keep them in their own pathway. They recognise that there is massive competition between sports, this is especially true with female athletes who are good at both Netball and Hockey.

    But “talent” really is hard to identify until after puberty and some maturation- about 16 years old. What NGBS are selecting is often “early maturers” or “early birth date” children. This is a temporary advantage that is eliminated when the children get to be 17-19 years old.

    Selection is also reliant on “devoted parents“: simply those parents who can survive the Corinthian task of organising the logistics of attending all these sessions.

    Examples of the madness

    Hockey says that players need to come up through its “Single System“. This requires endless camps and selection days, with selectors looking at who made it on the squad last year, rather than who is the current best player.

    This means a desperate rush to get onto the Under-16s squad so that you are “in the system”.

    talent pathway devonAnyone on the Under 18s squad is supposed to sign up to the AASE programme which requires extra sessions in Bristol every week.

    Is that necessary for kids who are already studying for 3-4 A levels? They hardly need to be part of an apprenticeship.

    Netball players in Devon have to choose between training in Bath or Truro (2 hours drive each way) every week if they want to progress.

    One 15 year old I coach told Netball South West that she was struggling to get her homework done in GCSE year, she was told “do your homework in the car”.

    Another Netballer was told “to move to a school closer to the Talent and Performance Centre in Bath” ! Who are these people? Do they have any touch with reality?

    Talent Development Model or Pay per Hour Model?

    cricket overuse injuryCricket players are told to take part in “Winter nets” to stay in the county squad. The fact that year round training of a high impact activity increases the risk of spinal injury like Pars defects seems to be an afterthought.

    Tennis is in it’s own mad race to the bottom. 

    One “Talent ID” session in Exeter was looking at 5 year olds and whether they had a chopper grip serve: 5 years old! Is that talent or a learned activity? 

    I see some local 13 year olds doing 30 hours of tennis a week! This is hardly necessary at this age: what it does is line the pockets of coaches.

    It is a pay per hour model (thanks to Brendan Chaplin for pointing this out to me).

    It is recommended that young athletes have 2-3 months off from their sport each year to prevent burnout (1).

    They could use this time to play another sport, and allow their bodies to grow, develop and recover from the one sided dominant nature of tennis or cricket or golf.

    More importantly, they could play in the park with their mates. Middle class parents especially may be hampering their child’s development through over formalising the process. Kids who spend more than hours a week than their age in organised sports are at greater injury risk (4).

    But how would the coach earn money in that case?

    Unfortunately, I rarely see a good looking athlete with a tennis racquet or cricket bat. Instead, I see a lot of early specialisers who lack all round physical skills that will help their Long Term Athletic Development (LTAD) (research articles on that link).

    Note to Parents

    Your child’s health and well being is paramount. All else is secondary to that. Whilst you may be under pressure to make a decision that affects your child’s selection in the next month, be aware that there is no evidence that early specialisation has any benefit.

    In fact, early specialisation is fraught with danger: risk of overuse, injury and burnout (3). Remember that the NGBS are trying to capture your child early for their benefit: they need numbers, and they are worried about another sport getting them!

    The model shown below shows 3 different strands of Talent development and the potential outcomes (thanks to Professor Jean Côté for sharing).talent development pathway

    Here are the key points you may wish to consider:

    1. talend development in hockay and netballEarly participation is great, early specialisation less so.
    2. Your child needs an off season from their sport: every year.
    3. Motor skill learning is dependent on “trial and error” and “free play“. The body learns better when the brain is free from too much technical instruction. Kick about games in the local park are essential.
    4. Variety of sport and activity is crucial: water, land, jumping, bat and ball, bike, horse, board, individual, team. Get your child to taste everything: informally at first.
    5. Competition is great: but led by kids, rather than an adult imposed top down model. Let them win and lose the street “British Bulldog Championships” and come home with scraped knees. Better than the under -12s regional 11 a side “must win” football tournament led by parents..
    6. Play, play, play: a minimum ratio of 1 hour of play for every hour of organised activity is recommended to reduce injury risk (4).

    If your child is being forced to choose: take a deep breath and gain a sense of perspective. Having fun and some down time is important for their development. It is a long term approach.

    Further reading


    1. P. Ford, M. De Ste Croix, R. Lloyd, R. Meyers, M. Moosavi, J. Oliver, K. Till, and C. Williams, “The Long-Term Athlete Development model: Physiological evidence and application”, Journal of Sports Sciences, vol. 29, pp. 389-402, 2011
    2. Brenner, J. S. (2007). Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics, 119, 1242-1245.
    3. Position Statement from the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM,2014).
    4. American Academy of Pediatrics. “Sports specialization, hours spent in organized sports may predict young athlete injury.” ScienceDaily, 28 October 2013
  10. Developing young athletes: Jonah Barrington

    1 Comment

    “Kids are brittle and fickle”

    jonah barrington squashJonah Barrington, squash legend. I worked with Jonah for 5 years when I was Head of Athletic Development at Millfield school.

    He was always a great sounding board on things to do with coaching, squash and life.

    He gave a heartfelt presentation to all of the coaches at the school, and I have just uncovered the notes I took. Here are some of his insights:

    Growing Up

    Jonah was born in a small village in Cornwall. There were no organised activities, so the kids sorted themselves out.

    He then went to a small school in Ireland from ages 5-9,. There he had one good teacher (with whom he is still in contact 60+ years later) who got the best out of the youngsters.

    Jonah then moved to a private school in England which was a disaster.He was small and nervous playing rugby, but forced into it. He never played again.Jonah uses this experience to help identify with young kids who may falter at the first opportunity.

    It is important that coaches recognise this and provide further opportunities for success.

    Adults too often impose adult thinking/ training on children. We always need to be conscious we are dealing with young people.

    Build confidence in youngsters

    kevin pietersen confidenceJonah used Kevin Pietersen as an example of a senior International player who has publicly lost confidence.

    If it happens to adults of his ability, then it must happen to children: even faster, even more often.

    We need to build it up.”

    Jonah loves his sport, and he tries to impart this passion and enthusiasm to the youngsters.

    “Kindness is a part of it. It is important that you like young people.”

    (Compare that to a 21 year old coach who told me hated kids, but coached them because “that’s where the money is”!)

    Coaching Integrity

    Jonah BarringtonJonah stressed that coaches need to be seen to be fair. They provide fun and enjoyment. However, there is a correlation between fun and discipline. But, “sport is not the classroom, so it shouldn’t be an extension of the classroom.

    Kids do respond to being organised: otherwise you have mayhem!. Sport does involvbe winning or losing.

    By nurturing the kids and their competitive instincts, we can provide a supportive and enjoyable journey for all.”

    I really enjoyed working with Jonah, we could have an open, frank (and sometimes heated) discussion about what we were doing. We both knew that we had the kids’ best interests at heart. One of the reasons why he has been successful as a coach.