“Each man delights in the work that suits him best”
Homer, The Odyssey
Odysseus had his 10 year journey home to Ithaca, Jason his search for the Golden Fleece, Percival his Grail Quest and Frodo had to destroy the One Ring.
All these Heroes had to:
Travel long distances
Enlist the help of allies
Make many sacrifices
Does this sound familiar in your training or coaching?
(Female quests are under represented in literature: Dorothy trying to get back to Kansas is one example.)
“If you give them silk pyjamas, they won’t get out of bed”
Rob Gibson, Rugby Coach.
Whilst all of these Heroes had a destination in mind, it was the journey, the struggle, the life changing process that was the real story.
(I always question why Frodo walked when he could have hitched a ride on an Eagle).
As an athlete, having things laid out on a plate for you may not always be the best thing. Giving players underfloor heating in a changing room may be nice, but what happens when they have to play away?
Nice facility, but coaching matters more
“Talent needs trauma” by Dave Collins is an excellent piece on why obstacles and hazards are needed as part of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).
I see athletes I have worked with moving to “Institutes” and becoming Institutionalised: they start moaning if they have to fill their own water bottle, or that the wrong music is played in the gym, or that they had to wait for an hour in between training sessions!
A smiliar problem occurs with coaches who want to gain experience at a “bells and whistles” facility. They become fascinated by kit and use that first, rather than thinking about the athlete and the process.
Put them in an empty room with 30 kids and say “Get them fit“ and they turn round and ask “Where’s the force platform?”
Earn the Right
I have a philosophy of coaching that the athlete has to “Earn the Right”. I can show them the way, but they have to take the steps. Rather than turn up to the Athletic Development Centre and get some fancy stash, they have to start working and assessing their own ability.
Young rugby players ask “when are we going to do cleans?” I answer “you have to earn the right” that means being able to move well and efficiently first. Can they do a single leg squat? Can they do 50 hindu press ups and 100 hindu squats? Can they do a dumbbell complex first? Can they overhead squat 50% of their body weight?
It is easy to get popular in the short term by giving away kit and jumping on the latest training bandwaggon.
Will that approach help the athlete when they are face down in the mud on a cold December night with a hairy-arsed monster stamping on them? Will it help them as they try and apply that power in the open field?
The same applies to coaches, you have to “Earn the Right” to work with athletes: at any level! 6 year old kids deserve the same amount of planning and preparation as does an Olympian.
Someone said to me this week that they couldn’t use their knowledge and techniques on kids that age. I said he had to “Earn the right” to work with those kids by improving his knowledge and learning different techniques.
Feedback from a recent speed workshop with coaches included “I reckon that you are a hard taskmaster”. Perhaps, but I was emphasising the quality of execution andprecision of movement before progressing.
The Quest for Ultra Performance is about the journey, the struggle and the process for coaches and athletes alike. There are no shortcuts.
“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” Winston Chuchill.
We can learn from other people: mentors, senior coaches and fellow athletes to help us along the way: we then have to practice implementing that information.
We can enlist the support of allies (parents, friends, coaches, teachers): we then have to step onto the pitch, mat or court ourselves and have a go.
We can attend conferences, workshops and courses that help accelerate our learning: we then have to Plan, Do Review. It is called the Coaching Process rather than the Coaching Destination!
No one can input the passion and desire though, the opening quote from Homer is important to understand as an athlete or coach.
The only way we can attain Ultra Performance is by undergoing the Quest.
He took me through a series of exercise progressions that were designed to find my failing point. That then would give him more of an idea about how to design a suitable training programme for me.
I have some idea about strength training, but still managed to take a lot from this session.
The progressions were as follows:
Step up with toes up. An oldie which I have used since 1995 (Tippett & Voight), but taken to a new height by Simian. The foot on the ground has its toes up, forcing the foot on the step to do all the work.
The key here is then to lock the hip at the top of the step which requires more control. You can see the two young athletes below working on it in our gym.
The progressions around this are to do a decline step- which emphasises quad work more, or to use a higher step– which emphasises hip flexors more.
Once the height can be achieved, load can be added with dumbbells, then barbell either in front or back.
The knee on the step needs to be pushed forward so that the hip extends first, then the knee (hip-knee-ankle in that order). The exercise must reflect what happens in the sport.
These high box step ups are a great use of the box that coincidentally our club had just received before Christmas.
Split squat or lunge?
The next exercise was the split squat, the difference between that and a lunge is that the shin remains vertical in a lunge but has a positive forward angle in the split squat.
Here was another exercise that a visual demonstration would have helped me with- instead, after several misfirings from me, and less then useful input from the coaching bystanders, I got the hang of it.
Pushing the knee forward is important to lower the body so that the rear knee touches the ground, then coming out the hips must move up first and then back. This ensures that the same pattern of hips-knees-ankle extension occurs. It is tempting to push back.
I explained that due to my background- pushing in and out in a low stance without raising my hips was part of my karate sparring drills.
The progression from here was with the front foot elevated, a low stable step is enough.
This creates a lot more hip flexion and extension and is good for those athletes who are yet unable to do a full squat.
I then had the pleasure of receiving more weight (remember, the aim was to find my failure point).
When the barbell is in front a lot more hip and buttock is used compared to when the barbell is on the back of your shoulders.
Front squats and back squats
We have covered the difference between back squats and front squats previously, but I still gained a few worthwhile cues and technical points. It is always worth getting coached by someone new to get a fresh perspective, especially if, like me, you are training on your own all the time.
Simian wanted me to feel like I was “strangling yourself” and to rack the bar higher in the Front Squat. He also told me to push my knees out wider and over my toes more.
On the way down I was to flex my ankles, then knees and then my hips (the same as landing mechanics) and on the way up to do the reverse (same as acceleration).
He thought my front squat was ok, but noticed that my back squat had a shift to the left when I lowered down. He wanted me to squat with very wide hands and wider than normal legs for me.
Coaching the person in front of you
So far so good, a coach has seen some good points, but then found a weakness or error and now attempts to correct it. The back squat with load was my “failure point“.
Simian had two solutions to help me:
Practise Cossack squats (a lateral lunge with one foot facing sideways) to help my tight left adductors and my tight right hip flexors. This, he surmised, was the reason for my poor squatting technique. No problem.
He stood and held my right hand and rubbed the bones around a bit. Then he watched me move again.
Some people may enjoy having a Frenchman hold their hand and look dreamily into their eyes, I am not one of those people. I noticed no change in my movement.
Some helpful members of the audience then started throwing in their suggestions like “It’s because his femurs have funny shaped heads”. I was way out of my depth here; surrounded by coaches with X-Ray vision.
This was where I started to become sceptical and moderately frustrated (I had yet to have a cup of tea that afternoon).
I have injured my right knee previously whilst sprinting. It has been aggravated by landing incorrectly from a somersault. I think I favour that side when back squatting.
Repeatedly leaning to that side may well cause a learned effect and my left adductors and right hip flexors to be tight as a result of my bad technique, rather than the cause.
If what Simian had said or done had made an improvement, I would be a convert. It might well work in his environment with more time: I have empathy for trying to present to a group of coaches with a subject I have just met.
I much prefer creating movement problems for the athlete to solve, like the Cossack squats, than trying to find the magic pressure point to release.
What I can say for certain is that in the context of this environment, despite having some competency in the gym, I was confused. This could be because Simian kept referring to me in the third person and was addressing the coaches, rather than coaching me.
The good news was that it reminded me not to do this with the athletes I coach. If I do make a coaching point to the whole group using a subject, I then need to ensure that I actually coach the subject too!
The final part of the workshop was a bit less structured and became more of a loose discussion. It was based around depth jumps.
Once again I was chosen to be a subject,
and to perform an exercise I rarely practise.
I am used to landing following vaults and jumps in Parkour, but often with a roll afterwards. I am unused to landing from height with a stiff foot and ankle. Once again I think being a subject was less useful in the context of trying to learn.
I simply couldn’t get the point of the exercise: Simian didn’t demonstrate, so there were a lot of verbal cues flying around, with heckling from the side lines.
If I was supposed to land with pretension, I think the box was too high to start. I would
always get the athletes to practise off a small
step at first and then get higher.
Simian was trying to find “failure points”, but the learning
effect would be interfering in his assessments.
I tried with shoes on and then off, and
then had my ankles and feet rubbed and moved around a bit. No improvement in
what I was doing occurred, but I kept saying “I don’t know what I am supposed
to be trying!”
My failure point was being uncertain of the
point and intent of the task we were trying to do.
few interesting points did come out:
Ankle mobility in throwers is important because it allows the torso to remain more upright during the rotation. Lack of mobility means that the knees or hips have to flex to get lower which means the torso is more likely to bend too.
Two of the “athlete basics” are a good hip extension without pelvic tilt, and being able to fully extend and flex the ankle.
The toe test exercise to see how your ankle and feet work when flexed compared to extended. Try this at home: keep the main part of your foot on the floor and raise your toes off, then curl them underneath. Then try the same with your ankles flexed.
You will probably find that your feet need to work a bit
harder. Remember that they are the first point of contact when running, so
neglect them at your peril.
Simian succeeded in showing his methodology. He found the “limiting factor” in myself and LC and then showed some ideas on how to develop our weak points.
This was enlightening.
He looks for the biggest limiting factor because that will give you the most gains if you can improve it. This makes sense.
Some demonstrations would have been useful, as well as remembering to coach the athlete, rather than just present to the audience. When attending a seminar I always look at how the coach coaches rather than just what they coach.
Simian was very good at explaining WHY in his approach, but less so in some of the exercises.
I took extensive notes, even though I attended only one of the four strands in the middle of day three. I have missed more than I have recorded, so other coaches may like to leave their feedback below.
I have already applied some of the lessons learnt, trialled it myself, and I will be meeting with Rhys Llewellyn-Eaton in 2 weeks’ to share ideas as he was also there.
I would recommend IFAC to other coaches who wish to learn about improving the athleticism of their players. The staff and presenters were friendly, approachable and were all there to help educate the attendees.
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 have an obligation to results, not an obligation to methods.”
This resonates with me as I wanted to hear from someone who
has to get results from the athletes he works with, or he won’t get paid. He
in the game.” This is different from someone who is promoting a model
on paper, in print or to a captive audience.
I was all ears and ready to learn from someone I had never
I shall give an overview of Simian’s theoretical approach,
plus details on his practical applications and my experiences as guinea pig in
several of them.
Fundamental Physical Preparation: A Systematic Approach
“The best ones have the strongest fundamentals.”
Simian recounted watching Serena Williams warm up. She hit between 80-120 shots just leaning into her backhand. Her excellence may be related to her persistence that allows her to then dictate what the ball does.
This fundamental approach guides Simian. Athletes usually
come to train with him because they have a problem to solve. He receives no
funding from a Governing Body, so he has to find a solution to help the athlete
that hasn’t been found in their usual training.
“Will the environment you provide be stronger than the environment they
I like this concept: if we aren’t increasing the stimulus,
how will the athlete adapt and get better?
Simian then quoted Michel Pradel:
“The aim of physical preparation is to go beyond the level of motor
ability that can be achieved by the sole practice of the chosen activity.”
General to Specific Exercises
Linking back to what Martin Bingisser had talked about in
the previous hour, Simian highlighted exercises from two different events from
General to Specific (see below).
Figure 1 100m
General to Specific
Figure 2 Women’s
discus General to Specific
If you look at how this is set out, take a moment to reflect on the importance of “traditional resistance training”. A lot of heat and noise comes out of journals, social media and conferences, but very little light.
Simian then says he uses a system of thinking, rather than specific methods. This allows him a framework within which he can choose different methods (exercises, drills, outside sources) that help him to adapt to different athletes and their needs.
He did give an overview of different periodisation models and why he uses Zatiorsky’s adaptation model. In a nutshell, it is about managing fatigue better, so the athlete is better prepared at the end of the workout or day to then train again.
He uses a Heart Rate Variability app with his athletes as he has found that was the simplest and most effective measure of fatigue. It was the best marker of the Parasympathetic nervous system that is linked to overall stress.
But, I think this part of the seminar was of less relevance
than his system of training.
General Physical Preparation Planning Principles (GPPPP?)
Simian says that he
doesn’t create an athlete specific programme immediately. Instead “there
are certain things every athlete ought to be able to do.”
Each athlete goes through the system to start, this then allows Simian to gain a better understanding of how they move, what limiting factors there might be, and also what makes the athlete tick.
This graphic shows the progression of thought. Looking at what the limiting factors might be, training in core athletic activities, then some specialisation according to the sport (the context).
Then comes strengthening of the fundamentals and sport specific factors. Finally another look at what any limiting factors might be.
A systematic hunt of the limiting factor and its improvement
This seemed to be the crux of Simian’s approach (as
discovered in the practicals).
“Muscles have to handle each other around the joint. An injury in one
may mean the loss of control, or too early a deceleration in a throw”.
The art for Simian was to find out where the muscles were
lacking, and then find a solution to improve it. He then gave examples of
throwing actions and how injuries to different parts affected the overall
One thing I took from this on muscle activation:
take offs- muscles activate from proximal to distal (centre to limbs).
landings: the reverse, so distal to proximal (feet, ankles, knees to hips).
Simian was very good at comparing the athletics throws and
how they differ due to the different rotations. More rotations allow a longer
path of acceleration, with hammer throwers rotating over 40 metres.
In his work with Kevin Mayer (Decathlon World record holder) Simian has done a great job of analysing the movements, the events and joining the two together. The level of detail and understanding was impressive.
Now to the practicals: looking at assessment of athletes and
With a group of over 20 coaches, Simian had a young volunteer take part in the practicals to be assessed. I was lucky enough to be pushed forward by Martin Bingisser and so ended up taking part too. This was a mixed blessing.
The review to follow is therefore from the perspective of a participant, rather than a passenger.
Now to the practicals: looking at assessment of athletes and
Simian used the hurdles picture to assess our ability to do
repeated rebounds over them. He gains information from this to then
ascribe/prescribe further exercises in the gym.
LC and I did this several times each.
(N.B. At no point in these workshops did Simian ever demonstrate; it took a lot of time and explanation to get things right. I got tired repeating the exercises, many of which were either new, or not something I practise regularly. Information taken from my stumbling efforts was tainted with lack of skill.
As a coach are you assuming deficit of strength (imbalances) when really skill is deficient? It is easy to jump to conclusions.)
Simian’s feedback to LC was that her back was collapsing
during the rebounds, so more strength type supplemental work was needed.
His feedback to me was that more springing practice was
needed, so doing the hurdles exercise will help me get better. Strength didn’t
appear to be the issue.
Back strengthening exercises
We then spent the next hour in the gym with LC as the subject, looking at back strengthening progressions. They were as follows:
Assessing LC in the Roman Chair– showed tightness around T12 which leads to poor rotation (problematic for a thrower). Simian then pressed down on her lumbar spine and got her to extend. This isolated the thoracic spine (T Spine) to enable more movement.
In order to get a contraction in the T Spine, he tried to get a relaxation in the rectus abdominus. He rubbed LC’s tummy as a cue and then said “relax that”. Her movement improved, so he changed her position on the chair so she had more flexion at the beginning.
Once the movement was correct and the range had increased, he added a light barbell to her shoulders. LC had to hold for 6 seconds, then slowly lower down again.
The key point was to only extend the spine after hip extension. All sports (except golf) require this sequence, rather than spine extension followed by hip extension.
Sprinters who pop up
too soon may have weaker spines. It is easy to hold the spine erect upright
than in horizontal.
The next series of exercises
were off the Roman Chair and progressed as follows:
Good Mornings- LC was still hinging at T12, so a lighter load was needed. The maximal load was being taken at T12, rather than across the spine.
Hip Hinge with barbell in front (Romanian Dead Lift, RDL). Trying to extend the spine throughout the whole movement.
These exercises help athletes keep an upright chest when running without a pelvic tilt. If the pelvis anteriorly rotates when the chest is high, it creates too much “backside mechanics” leading to over striding.
Snatch grip deadlift– hips and shoulders rise together. If the hips rise first, it shows too early a knee extension. The extension should be: hips-knee-ankles in that order.
Feet elevated snatch deadlift- harder to control. Slow up for 5 seconds, then down for 5 seconds.
At no point was “Lift Heavy” used as a cue. The progressions were greater range of motions with greater technical difficulty. “The lighter weight I can use to get an effect, the better.”
Simian said that once LC had got competent in these
exercises then he would progress her through greater speed and exercises such
as pulls and snatch that encourage that speed.
“If to do an exercise properly, you have to solve the same problem that
you do on the track, then it’s probably a good exercise.”
Here was where Simian was excellent– he knew what the problem in the event was, and then used exercises to help isolate certain parts of that event and improve them. Problem solving and skilful movement by the athlete were essential parts of the process.
A review of the middle day of the IFAC conference in Loughborough.
I spent the first Saturday of 2019 at the EAAC event held at Loughborough University. Finding good conferences in the UK is hard, so I wanted to make the most of this opportunity.
I shall give an overview of what I learnt, plus some detail on the specific exercise progressions in the gym.
Whilst the term athletics may turn readers off, the principles and movement inherent in these workshops apply to many different sports. Frank Dick is the organiser. The ex head coach of UK Athletics in the early 1990s is the author of three excellent books and is the main reason I wanted to attend.
I have met Frank 4 times previously. The first at “Bodylife” a Health Club conference in the late 1990s where he was the key note speaker. His talk influenced me to later set out on my own path rather than continue down the management track.
I then attended a 1 day leadership and coaching workshop with him in 2000, where he took us through a great day of practical coaching and thinking exercises. I was there with a small team of my staff who were great people too.
I next saw Frank accompanying his daughter trying to rack up tennis points at the David Lloyd Club I was managing in Heston. We talked then about the tennis system and how much travelling was required in order to gain these points.
Forward onto 2012 and the buzz about the London Olympics. I attended the Global Coaching House in Piccadilly which he organised and I saw a variety of great coaches speak.
The three books he has written are:
• Sports Training Principles: currently in its 5th edition, a sport science text that has expanded and become more detailed over the years. I first read this in 1993 and recommend it highly.
• Winning: A great short book about motivation in which Frank talks about “Mountain people and valley people”
• Winning Matters: A guide to leadership and running a successful club or organisation. Again, very useful. So, whilst I haven’t ever been coached by Frank, I have been influenced by him and he has definitely given me inspiration through speech and the written word.
Fit for purpose: functional physicality
Martin Bingisser gave the first presentation on what constitutes physical preparation for sports. Martin has represented Switzerland at the hammer throw and now coaches throwers. He runs HMMR media and I was invited onto his podcast last October. I met Martin at GAIN 3 years ago and have enjoyed getting to know him.
“Understanding why is the new functional training”.
New coaches are keen on the “What” with some “How”. Which new exercise can they copy from a famous athlete on Instagram? Martin was keen to stress the “Why” we do exercises and that as coaches evolve, they ask this more and more. (These phrases come from Simon Sinek’s book “Start with why?” and are common to GAIN coaches).
Martin split the concepts of physical preparation into 3 stages: • General • Related • Specific (attendees of our coaching courses will recognise this is also how we structure how warm up design).
General: To prepare athletes to train.
Jesse Owens jumped 8:17 metres in 1936. He never did a back squat (or a mid-thigh pull). How was he able to compete in 4 different events and win Olympic Gold Medals without going in a weights room?
Growing up in the segregated south, his active youth may have been the “General” preparation that was necessary.
Martin then showed videos of the La Sierra High School physical education programme espoused by John F Kennedy in the 1960s.
The video shows what can be down outside if young people are given the opportunity (It was one of the influencers in choosing the equipment with our Parish Council for our village’s main park).
Why is the back squat so prevalent and now seen as a “need to do” exercise? How about: • Goblet squat • Partner squat • Single leg squat • Half squats • Step ups as examples of developing leg strength?
Martin then gave several examples of different athletes doing different leg exercises, each of whom had a rationale for their situation and purpose.
This is different from saying “You MUST do back squats”, especially with beginner athletes and beginners in the weights room. (Martin was preaching to a choir boy with me, and our club members will recognise the patterns and themes that we follow. This is covered regularly at GAIN and in different variants).
Related: Prepare athletes for the sport
Martin showed a video of John Pryor doing some “Robust Running” drills with the Japanese National Rugby.
The difference between “cool looking exercises on Instagram” and a purposeful approach to coaching, with structures and progressions was the main point here.
Key points were: • Develop skill execution in parallel with physical prep. • Constraints- led approach so the athletes have to solve problems to create the correct sprinting pattern. • A simple approach to a complex environment means that one piece of the puzzle can be solved at a time.
Specific Training for the sport
Time needs to be spent doing this. Do coaches look for ways to structure their training accordingly? Do they know the needs and demands of their sport? Martin showed a video of a shot putter training with some “cool looking exercises”, but then explained why they were “sport specific”.
They consisted of four elements which transfer to the sporting environment:
Technical/ co-ordination– develop balance and rhythm through an altered environment.
Mental– create a challenge to help focus.
Strength– specific strength overload.
Emotional- competitive challenge.
When designing programmes to improve physical preparation for the sport, coaches need to know the basics required in that sport. Is there a relevant measurement for exercises that can be found- or, like Jesse Owens, do we just need to be fitter?
The final point from Martin was that the best coaches need:
ADAPTABILITY + VERSATILITY
Part 2: A review of the practical workshops with Jerome Simian on developing leg and back strength for athletes.
For a start, I am not sure I have achieved this, but there are a few things that you can do to help make yourself and your coaching better.
Learn- observe, participate, read, practice. Not just from the usual key texts, if all you do is read the same 3 books as everyone else, you will do the same as everyone else. Look outside your usual sphere of influence, try different things, listen to what your athletes are telling you.
Analyse– look at what your athletes do when they move, don’t come with a prepared programme to hand out, see what they can actually do. Look at what the sport requires in the game, using both top performers and beginners as benchmarks. Don’t take an exercise as gospel because Tiger Woods does it. Try to understand why he might do something, and then see if you need to do that.
Share– share your ideas and opinions and thoughts with others. Physiotherapists, biomechanists, physiologists, coaches will all see the same thing as you, but from their perspective. This will add colour, depth and clarity to your own vision. This should help prevent group think, but also be aware of summating that information into a workable package for your athletes.
Review- constantly, all the time, after every session, every day, every week, every month, every year. The mini reviews will help you adjust things before your next session. But the bigger reviews require time and no distractions.
Take the time out away from the immediate pressing issues of the day and sit down with a blank piece of paper and a clear mind. Revisit where you want to go, think what you need to get there. Think what you have done and then match the two. Where there are gaps, look to improve.
1.Athletes, especially young ones, have so much happening in their lives that our influence is minimal. Coaches need to realise this.
2. Periodisation planning is flawed in group settings in all but the most controlled environments (see #1). Every athlete doing your sessions has eaten, slept, socialised, studied and travelled differently from their peers. All of these influence the effectiveness of your programme.
3. Children are simply unable to throw. Parents would rather send them to an athletics or tennis club than play with their kids in the park. Time spent throwing stones into a river or the sea is time well spent. Encourage your athletes to play with their parents.
4. Fitness testing is overrated. I know that 16-18 year old girls are going to be weak. Measuring them and telling them what we already know is unlikely to motivate them.
5. Exploration and problem solving tasks lead to high engagement. For example, Pike head stands are hard, but help develop control, balance, strength and mobility.
Doing them looks cool, kids want to be able to do this. They practice in secret without being asked. Or, you could tell them to do 2 x20 ab curls and 30 seconds of plank…
6. Fartlek training (Speed Play) should be athlete led. They learn the rhythm of running as well as adapting to the undulating terrain and different environments. Why are college lecturers prescribing this on a treadmill? It ain’t fast and it ain’t fun.
7.Collaboration works better than competition for most kids. Parents have different views and some are obsessed with rating their children against others. UGH! Gymnastics displays to showcase their newly developed skills has proved popular with our members.
8. Growing and developing assistant coaches from within the club is better than asking for outside help. It takes more time, but we have benefited greatly this year from internal help. These volunteers understand our work ethic and culture.
9. I would take our group of athletes in our “Strength and co-ordination” sessions over any “professional” group I work with. These 9-13 year olds ask great questions of me, themselves and of each other. They come to each session prepared and ready to work.
10. A mix of: • Free practise • Partner work • Specific skills • Structured group work is how our gymnastics class has evolved. If we have some of each element, the class runs smoothly. Too much of any one aspect and we lose cohesion.
11. Listening to a good tune for 2-3 minutes after driving to a coaching session helps me transfer to coaching mode. I then start the session fresh #1 at present is “Lack of Afro’s Cold Blooded”
12. Technology is over rated. All my best coaching interactions have happened from face to face contact.
Listening, observing and learning from our athletes has been the best part of this year. I reflect after each session in my coaching journal using the Mark 1 pen and journal.
Thanks to everyone who helped
These were my reflections. My coaching improved in 2018 thanks to many people helping including:
Barry Phelan, Karen, Craig and Alex at Orchard Gymnastics.
Vern Gambetta and everyone at GAIN
Keith Morgan and Marius Hardiman for all things Weight Lifting
Simon Worsnop for helping set up our Athletic Development Coach course
My wife Sarah and all the athletes for keeping my feet firmly on the floor.
Try looking at things from a different perspective
For those of you studying at University, you may be under the impression that there is only one way of doing things. Try to look outside of the parameters of the people who are marking your assignments.
Here are some useful tips to get the ball rolling:
Get some space between you and the daily grind- 15 minutes of non-electronic communication\ noise time. It is difficult to be creative with your mind being full of bills\ work\ relationships.
Look at something different that you have never read or seen before, something completely unrelated to the norm. E.g. read Good Housekeeping magazine,watch how a beetle moves, or study a postcard in detail. Then write down 3 things that you have observed, or learnt.
Creative coaching to help solve problems
Once your mind is a bit clear, and you have been exposed to some new ideas or concepts, then it is time to try and apply this to your coaching or training.
You have written down 3 things that you have observed, now write down your 3 best coaching points and your 3 biggest coaching problems.
See how you can connect the good coaching with your problem via one of your observations on a non related subject.
It sounds bizarre, but in order to change, you have to try looking at things from a different perspective.
It is a lot more interesting than just copying someone else’s drills.
On every coaching course I have attended, the tutor has pointed out the section in the workbook entitled “communication”. There follows a group nodding of heads where every budding coach agrees that “communication is a good thing”. If we are lucky, the tutor might divide communication further into “verbal” and “non-verbal”. We then move onto the next important quality required to be a good coach.
Writing is a form of “non-verbal” communication and, despite what the popular opinion may be, is here to stay. As a coach you may think you don’t write, but how about:
Rules and Guidelines
I was asked to give feedback on a series of exercises that were going to be given out to young golfers by the “lead strength and conditioning coach”. They were grouped into different components of fitness including:
We all make typos and that is why we ask people to proof read and correct. But, when I pointed out the typos I was told “it doesn’t matter”. To me that attitude is showing a lack of respect to the young golfers, all of whom are told endlessly what they can do to improve.
The same thing applies to giving presentations. Typos are common, but easily resolved. Improving the overall content and style of your presentation is a different topic, but if you are using the written form, try to improve the clarity of what you are saying.
If you are still reading, then you might be interested in some book recommendations on how to improve your writing.
Four books that can help you improve your written communication
Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Lynne Truss
The first book I recommend to the coach who forgets the difference between “your” and “you’re”. It was a surprise best seller in 2003-2004. A very funny book, partly written out of frustration at reading blackboards outside shops that sell “CD’s, Book’s and Video’s” (remember videos in 2004). This will help clear up many of the daily mistakes that we all make.
The Elements of Style: W. Strunk and E.W. White
Classic short text
An accepted classic first printed in 1959 and remaining in print since. It is much more of a rules book and is of its time. However, at 96 pages short, it is extremely accessible and of use as a reference. Much of the advice will be familiar to coaches:
“It is better to express even a negative in a positive form”.
In coaching terms, rather than say “don’t bend your knee” we might say “straighten your knee” or even better “reach for the sky” depending on what we are trying to achieve.
Strunk and White use the following written examples of unnecessary negative words and their alternative:
Not honest – dishonest
Not important- trifling
Did not remember- forgot
Did not pay any attention to- ignored
Did not have much confidence in- distrusted
As you can see, much of this can be applied to our coaching language as we endeavour to “omit unnecessary words”.
On Writing: Stephen King
A good read
An outlier perhaps, but an interesting read on creating a narrative. Aimed at fiction writers, it does give a great perspective on the writing process and how ideas are formed. The first half of the book is autobiographical; the second half gives more
direct ideas on writing and getting published.
This is an entertaining read and shows how King learnt from early mistakes and advice from ruthless editors (“healthy heat” would have been black lined). This section shows how he offers advice partly based on using correct grammar, partly on avoiding clichés:
“Anyone using the phrase “That’s so cool” should have to stand in the corner and that those using the far more odious phrases “at this point in time” and “at the end of the day” should be sent to bed without supper (or writing-paper, for that matter).”
The Sense of Style: Steven Pinker
In depth book for professional writers
Finally, if you are in the serious business of writing professionally, including academic papers, books and journal articles, then this book is a must-have. I borrowed this book from the library and then bought my own copy.
Well written (as it should be), humorous and insightful, this is a guide to writing that will appeal to all of us who wish to convey a message clearly and concisely. It can be quite hard to follow, I got lost in the chapter about sentence trees and strings, but my understanding of grammar rules is vague.
The second half of the book can be used as a reference as it summarises common errors and questions such as the difference between “who” and “whom”. My understanding of words such as “practicable“ and “practical” improved thanks to me reading the second half of the book (Practicable means it is easily put into practise; the –able means it is an ability).
I would suggest this book be read after the other three.
If we wish to share ideas and improve our understanding of the world improving our writing skills is essential.
So much of journal writing is poorly written that trying to ascertain the pertinent facts is too difficult. We then fall back into just reading abstracts or, worse still, twitter summaries of the abstracts. This then means we are unable to truly learn and understand, let alone challenge the authors or reproduce their work.
Whilst this blog is about writing, I would recommend Dan Roam’s books “Show and Tell” and “Back of the Napkin” to help you use drawings and picture boards for presentations.
Coomonwealth medallist Neil Taylor gives some tips on hot coach the Olympic lifts. Neil has recently been appointed as Performance Manager for South Wales with Welsh Weightlifting. I know Neil from our days working together at the RFU. Here are his tips.
I have been performing the Olympic lifts since the age of 11. My coach at the time kept it simple, didn’t over complicate the movement and allowed for errors early on. Here are some of my Olympic Weightlifting tips.
With his expertise he helped me lift MY way and not the way the books said. 30 years down the line I have watched those lifts turn into a menu of biomechanical myths and mind numbing terminology.
KEEP IT SIMPLE.
In my opinion it is always easier to teach the Power Snatch first, the pulling phase is the same as the Power Clean and the lift a little less problematic. (Becky Brown in pic).
Demonstrate the lift without a verbal description then ask athlete to perform the lift and observe their interpretation of that lift, they may be near perfect, they may be not, treat each one on how THEY lift
At the start position instruct your athlete to push the chest out and through whilst pulling the bar off the floor this will encourage correct lifting posture with the back being slightly in extension
Depending on your athletes’ training age you may wish to break the lift down into stages. Start with the first pull by deadlifting the bar to the waist position and returning it back to the floor, encourage the athlete to push their chest through to retain good posture.
Repeat this until your comfortable with what you see, be patient
Once confident with the first pull, move to the high pull. It is important at this point for your athlete to work on pushing the hips forward and extend up on to the toes. (James Marshall in pic).
One coaching tip you may wish to use here is to pull the bar up to chest height rubbing finely against the navel area, this will encourage the athlete to keep the bar close to their body
Move on to the full lift when you feel the athlete has mastered the above and never be afraid to revisit the basics.
A great tool to use is the video camera but be aware of gaining consent from the parents or guardians of your athletes should they be under 18 years old
Compliment the athlete on their good lifting points as it is important to finish lifting on a feel good note, people deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong.
Try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom.
Neil Taylor: Commonwealth games medallist. RFU Weightlifting Coach.
When delivering strength and conditioning coaching courses, we always discuss coaching philosophy and how to develop a club culture. Two books I have read this year have helped with this process, both by NFL coaches. Here is a brief review of both.
Win Forever by Pete Carroll (recommended by Mike Bahn)
A frank and revealing tale of how Pete Carroll developed his coaching philosophy. Fired by the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, Carroll has gone on to be a very successful college coach at USC and is now with the Seattle Seahawks.
His philosophy was developed in response to adversity, rather than through unparalleled success from the start. As you can see from this picture, the philosophy starts with some simple rules: no whining, no excuses and be early.
It then expands into style of play and practice and beliefs.
When these foundations are in place, the focus on competing emerges with a “relentless pursuit of a competitive edge”.
Where the book might be useful to coaches and people outside of sport is in the application of this philosophy and making the athlete accountable.
“It’s the individual himself who ultimately is the only one who has the power to develop his fullest potential.”
“Getting that across to players is a constant occupation. You have to continually encourage people to the point where they feel empowered to call the shots that will position them to become the best they can be. It’s not any one specific thing but rather than an ongoing process of showing them what they’re capable of.”
I find this is the differentiation between talk and action when trying to implement a philosophy.
Carroll goes on to use words like discipline, effort and diligence in a reminder of what it takes to get it done.
Two years ago a lot of coaches were waving “Legacy” around as a good book, I wonder how many of them have implemented and stuck to a coaching philosophy since?
You Win in the Locker Room First by Jon Gordon and Mike Smith
I have lent this book to several other coaches as a really quick read with good ideas. Mike Smith was coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Jon Gordon has written “The energy bus”.
Together they have written a simple but very clear guide to building a winning team by establishing the right culture.
“Culture drives expectations and beliefs. Expectations and beliefs drive behaviours. Behaviours drive habits and habits drive the future.”
There are 8 chapters, with the first 7 each expanding on a word beginning with C that underpins the culture. It is a bit of an artificial premise, but helps with recall.
For example, the chapter on consistency explains why this is important in coaching.
“If you are not consistent, you will lose the trust your team has in you. When you lose trust, you lose the locker room.”
Players and other coaches need to know that you can be relied upon rather than erratic. Consistently being humble and hungry are important whether you are winning championships or trying to avoid relegation.
Consistency applies to players too who are expected to be stable personalities rather than moody (or at least maintain stable behaviours around their team mates).
The book is littered with anecdotes from the NFL to illustrate the points made in each chapter. Good practice and problem areas are covered, Smith is very good at sharing his shortcomings or mistakes that he has made. This makes for an entertaining and enlightening read.
The chapters have bullet point summaries, plus easily remembered quotes, which make re reading and revising easier.
“To be a great leader, coach and team member you must be more than involved- you must be committed. Your team has to know that you are committed to them before they will commit to you.”