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IFAC Reflections Part 2
January 22, 2019
A review of Jerome Simian’s workshops on physical preparation for sport. I had to choose between different “strands” of coaching topics at the IFAC conference in Loughborough. A difficult choice, not wanting to miss out on some excellent speakers. I chose to attend Simian’s because of a quote I heard on the HMMR podcast: “I […]

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3 pillars of athletic development: Kelvin Giles

“Great coaches find a way or make one”

athletic development exeterKelvin Giles presenting his “Quest for physical literacy” at the Excelsior Athletic Development Centre on Monday.

The theme was putting precision, variety and progression into the coaching and teaching of young people at every opportunity.

Kelvin gave a great one day workshop which had coaches, parents, teachers, physiotherapists and also 4 junior international athletes attending.

The 3 pillars of athletic development

Kelvin outlined his take on this:

  1. Cardiorespiratory (metabolic) efficiency: the running, swimming, cycling that gets the heart and lungs working.
  2. Nutritional quality: what the athletes put into their mouths and bodies.
  3. Mechanical (movement) efficiency: the focus of the day.

half turtlesWhen looking at mechanical efficiency, the load must be determined by the quality of the technique.

That load is either: speed, distance, volume, direction, complexity or the surface upon which it is performed.

When all of this is perfect, only then can you progress.  “Function before sports specific skill, force, speed or endurance.

This is criterion based progression:  the athlete must earn the physical right to progress. The adaptation must be permanent and consistent.

(Compare that with the norm which is “no weights until you are 16, now we start with power cleans”, or “you can’t do a body weight squat? Never mind, get in the smith machine and we can add some weight because you are too skinny” James’ rant over).

single leg squat progressionKelvin gave examples of this, and we started with a lot of squat variations, followed by physical competency assessments.

I have done this 4 times previously with Kelvin, but always learn something new. Today it was that spending 4 hours in a car leads to tight hamstrings!

The state of the nation

Kelvin spent a good portion of the day outlining the data and research behind our lack of physical ability.

As a coach of young people, or even senior clubs and teams, it is easy to concentrate on “performance outcomes” either in the gym or in the win/ loss column. However, it is important to remember where these athletes are coming from.

athletic development exeterIt is alright having “medal targets” for Rio and Tokyo Olympics, but the simple fact is that we have a young generation of unfit, overweight kids who struggle to move properly. Kelvin laid this out very well.

It is everyones’ responsibility to help solve this problem. The answer isn’t with p.e “specialists” being put into primary schools and chucking a ball at 30 kids and saying “play a game“.

The answer isn’t with hordes of sports science students being able to recite force/ time relationships or measuring Vo2 max on a treadmill but unable to coach a press up or a squat properly. Let alone sequence those movements into a meaningful, engaging coaching session.

The answer lies with better coaching and teaching:”If you don’t chase precision, you are supporting mediocrity”. 

“Kids aren’t afraid of hard work, the’re afraid of boredom”. Wayne Goldsmith

“My butt is killing me”

sway drillThe last hour of the day was all practical with Kelvin taking the group through some lunge progressions, sway drill variations and single leg squat variants.

Are we teaching/ coaching them to discover, or to be robotic?” Kelvin put all his theory and experience into practice.

This was a great example of how good coaching and using time and space can create overload, rather than justing adding weight. “The minute you put a bar on someone’s shoulders you slow them down“.

lunge sequenceWith minimal coaching cues, Kelvin set tasks that their bodies had to solve: linear, lateral, rotational, squatting, bracing, hinging. So much variation and fun, with just the body.

As Steve Myrland says “Complex equipment tends to yield simplistic results, simple equipment tends to yield complex results

Summary and the way ahead

excelsior athletic development centreExeter school provided the venue and it was great to see their teaching and coaching staff making the most of this opportunity.

They have recently opened their Athletic Development Gym and have implemented some great programming ideas.

Thanks to everyone who took part, and especially to Kelvin for once again delivering a great workshop (following on from his session at Willand School, I have been helping them further implement the ideas).

Contact me if you would like a similar course run near you


  1. […] Exeter School  3 Pillars of athletic development (pictured) […]

  2. […] planes, angles and speed whilst challenging balance and coordination. It is somethingI learnt from Kelvin Giles who reminded me recently that it is all too easy to do body weight squats for a few weeks then […]

  3. […] with my work with Paula Jardine and the South West Talent project, continued when I was Head of Athletic Development at Millfield School and has come to fruition […]

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David Ardley- triathlete
I had the pleasure (I think !) of working with James for a year or so focused on getting my Triathlon times down. Its amazing what was achieved in the space of an hour before work. What stood out for me is the constant variation of exercises and his ability to set the difficulties levels just right. His sense of humour and competitive spirit always helped when my energy levels were not quite there. I can attribute his structured training to my eventual success competing in the World Triathlon championships (age group) in Hamburg.

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Athletic Development Coach – WILLAND
20 Feb 2019

Athletic Development Coach Venue: WILLAND Date: Wednesday 20th February. Time 0900-1630. Booking deadline Friday 8 February Is the ‘Athletic Development Coach’ course for me? This particular course is for our junior members to attend. If you are interested in attending please contact Carly. What will I learn? Course Goals and Objectives Candidates will be expected […]