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Tag Archive: LTAD

  1. The Quest for Ultra Performance

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    “Each man delights in the work that suits him best”

    odysseusHomer, 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
    • Defeat enemies
    • Overcome obstacles
    • Make many sacrifices

    Does this sound familiar in your training or coaching? 

    female athlete(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?

    ultra performance

    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.

    personal trainer willandPut 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.

    rugby strengthWill 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.

    Ultra Performance

    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 and precision of movement before progressing.

    strength and conditioning somersetThe 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.

    (Thanks to Rob Frost for the Headline)

  2. Helping athletes to grow.

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    athletes grow

    Who knows how the athlete will grow/

    Can coaches help athletes grow?

    At Sunday school many years ago I was taught a parable about a man who was given corn. He scattered it carelessly around. Some fell on dry earth, some fell on stones. Some fell in fertile land and was either eaten by birds or strangled by weeds. Some fell in fertile land and received the right amount of sunshine and water and grew into healthy corn.

    I was reminded of this when talking with Phil and Julie, two tennis coaches I work with. Phil was talking about how much we can influence players- he reckoned that they were born great. He asked “how much can we actually influence things?

    I then used the corn analogy to describe how I see our role as coaches.

    The athlete is the corn– they are born a certain way. That can’t be changed. Whether they become fully developed and successful depends on many outside factors. The fertile earth is the environment they grow up in- supportive parents, good schooling, influential peers.

    As coaches, it is our job to provide the sun and the rain– the knowledge and experience and motivation that will help the young athlete grow and develop.

    Often we will provide the sun and the rain and discover we have grown a weed- but we can’t know that until we try.

    Who are we to judge before giving our best effort for all athletes we work with?

    Further Reading

    Helping your child become happy and active within sport.

  3. LTAD: building young people

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    “Life is a process, but it’s hard to get through to the kids”

    Finn Gundersen, GAIN VII.

    what is ltad?What is LTAD?” has been demoted to a project question for students, a scientific discussion, or a pdf issued by National Governing Bodies (NGBs).

    But, in my opinion, it’s about people: coaches, parents, teachers and, most importantly, the children.

    Gundersen really brought this to life in this excellent seminar, based upon his work at Burke Mountain school in Vermont.

    It starts with a foundation of:

    • Trust.
    • Honesty.
    • Respect.

    If you trust the athlete, then you can give them some freedom to act. Gundersen has no “leaders”, instead, everyone is a leader: everyone takes responsibility.

    I like this aspect, I see far too many youngsters walking around with “sports leader” or “physical leader” t-shirts: what about everyone else?

    With no peer groups, no heroes, no rewards and privileges “everyone is responsible for the community“. The kids have to do chores such as washing up straight away.  There are no gradings of ability such as ABCs, labels are avoided.

    “Never underestimate your intellectual and athletic ability”

    what is LTAD?is what Gundersen tells the kids. He tells the coaches “You’re not there to pick out a winner, you are there to coach all of them.” He told us “Don’t let teachers get away with it.” NO LABELS, we have to give HOPE to every kid in the programme.

    (Compare that to a teacher who said I would never produce a good school gymnast because I was “working with the dregs“: how to write off 7 year olds.)

    Coaches have to be patient, have belief in what they are doing and be non-judgemental.

    This may sound a bit soft and cuddly, but the work at Burke Mountain was designed to teach the kids desire, andhelp them to go after things they wanted.

    This requires Hard Work in:

    • Community
    • Academics
    • Athletics

    Some of this came back to PTA (Pain, Torture, Agony): they had to run in the rain and cold. They learnt how to suffer. The harder the better, not the line of least resistance.

    If you think that is harsh, think about the new medical term “Exercise deficit disorder” where kids are put in front of a screen for 3-6 hours a day with no play time.

    The reality of LTAD

    Gundersen highlighted some of the LTAD issues they face: it’s as much a management strategy as it is a science.

    • Sport vs sport conflict: sports trying to get the best kid earlier and earlier, competing with each other.
    • 25% of kids in high school do NOT like to compete, 50% like to, 25% can take it or leave it. This must be accounted for when planning physical activity.
    • Everyone has a different genotype, everyone therefore has different needs.
    • Early vs late maturers: there is an arms race within certain sports such as skiing with a smaller pool of athletes and fewer clubs being able to support good competition levels. This can result in over investment in the early maturer, when all evidence shows that late maturers do better.

    The Profession of Developing People

    Finn Gundersen LTADWith his vast experience, Gundersen has realised that he is in profession of developing people: it is not about the facilities. Whether the people are the coaches or the athletes, that is where investment and development must take place.

    He looks for certain personalities: do the coaches have an operational mindset? Are they interested in continuous improvement? Do they accept responsibility? Are they accountable? Is there role clarity and acceptance of that role?

    If the coaching structure and set up works, then the young athletes will get a better experience.

    This was a great seminar, and Finn was available to talk the whole week, so I was picking up lots of tips from him. A very genuine and engaging individual: a lot of sporting bodeis in the country would benefit from his advice.

    Further reading:

  4. Over coaching – let the kids play

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    Do you let your kids play?

    Child's play cricketDo you allow them to be free spirited and learn and experiment? Do you have excessive structures and control over sport? You could be stopping your kids from developing into creative instinctive athletes.

    This has been shown in teaching under 5s here. It equally applies to motor skill learning and skill acquisition (including making warm ups fun).

    This article on brain centred learning shows the relevance in football of allowing decision making and allowing athletes to develop all round.

    Too much structure and organisation could inhibit learning.

    Free play and chaos can actually enhance development in the long term.

    Have the confidence in your coaching to create environments that encourage individualism and expression.

    Parents, try putting the smart phone down and just play with your kids: let them lead and see what fun you can have. This isn’t about “coaching” it’s about letting children be children and play on their terms, rather than just trying to please adults.

  5. LTAD- USA versus UK

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    How many matches should be played in a year?

    ltad

    Train to play

    I had the pleasure of meeting Mauro deGennaro, Director of Athletics at Hoboken High School, last week. We were talking about his schedule of training for his football team this autumn, and he was saying that they were going to be training easy in the week because of the amount of contact in the game. How many games a season do they play?

    9. That’s right 9. His 14 year old Freshman play 9 football games a season, then move to another sport next term.

    Speaking to another Coach in the UK last week, whose 14 year old son plays rugby for the school, club and district teams, he said if all the matches go ahead, then that child will play 50 rugby matches this season.

    50, that’s right- FIFTY.

    That is a prime example of why Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) is just another acronym or poster presentation in a folder on a shelf somewhere in this country.

    The research is out there, there are rules in place, but coaches and parents will always find a way to ignore these- until the player breaks, or quits at 16. Those that survive will then be put onto a sagittal plane hypertrophy programme and told to put on 10kg each off season (about 5 weeks currently here).

    This is not some secret that no one can understand, but it does seem difficult to implement.
    Why play our junior players to death, (but don’t do weights under -16 because of the likelihood of injury) and then expect them to cope with a barbell lifting programme designed for adults, that reinforces all the negative movement patterns they have developed from overspecialising at a young age?

    Here are some pointers for parents and coaches alike:

    • Have a quick check as to whether this is happening in your governing body, club, district or school.
    • Have a look at who is delivering and designing programmes for your youth athletes. Are they experienced, knowledgeable and conscientious?
    • Is the programme designed for development?
    • Is there a long term approach? What will your child be looking like and how they will they be moving in 3 years time?
    • Will they still want to play the sport and be healthy at 18?
    • Is someone co ordinating the overall plan for your child- between all sports and all teams?

    Don’t wait until they are broken.

  6. Handy videos for parents of sports children

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    Trustworthy information to help parents

    I don’t profess to know everything, but I am lucky enough to know enough great coaches and experts that I can draw upon for advice.

    This means I can give the best advice to parents of our club members and individual athletes. Here are two great examples of conversations I had with experts based in the USA answering questions from our athletes.

    First up (seasonal relevance for those wanting to avoid post Christmas fad diets) a Q&A with Dave Ellis of “Fueling Tactics” who has worked with many professional and collegiate sports teams. He has a real understanding of how to apply nutritional theory to the real world.

    Second up “What a parent should know about helping their child develop and enjoy sport over their lives” with Dr Brian McCormick. (skip the first 2 minutes of tech difficulties!). For those parents who feel pressured into getting their child into a squad, team or “academy” too early.

  7. Helping your child become happy and active within sport

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    Youth sports is a business plan that fluffs egos and packs pocket books

    early specialization

    Randy Ballard

    Said Randy Ballard of Illinois University at the GAIN conference in Houston last month.  He was talking about how parents try to get their children to specialise in sport too early, without realising the dangers of this.

    75% of kids quit sports by the age of 13, some of which never become physically active again” according to the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine (AOSSM). Sport has become an ends, rather than a means.

    Burnout (where children quit) occurs from 2 main pathways:

    1. Physical overtraining and lack of sleep.
    2. Social psychological reasons: the quest for perfectionism and excessive parent/ coach pressure.

    As coaches “we can’t separate early/over specialisation from the various societal issues at play that drive over specialisation.”

    (As a parent, has anyone told you about how their child competed at a weekend, won a medal, beat so and so, went on a camp with famous person Y, been selected for the TomNoddy under 9s squad? Apart from being an extremely boring monologue, you may feel the pressure to get your child to join the rat race.)

    What follows are some tips for parents to help this from happening to your child, alongside some blunt facts for youth coaches (and parent coaches) about promoting early adult led competition.

    The 3 big rocks of wellness for your child

    athlete wellness

    sleep nutrition stress management

    Randy used this analogy when looking at the wellness of your child. When filling up a jar of wellness, it may easy to think about the pebbles and grains of sand such as compression tights, protein supplements and sports drinks.

    However, the jar should be filled with these 3 big rocks first:

    • Sleep
    • Nutrition
    • Stress Management

    Sleep is probably the most important factor. Late practice schedules, cross country/ city commutes and excessive screen times are factors in producing low quality and lessened sleep hours.

    Some of the early signs your child may suffering are low back pain and knee injuries. Low back pain is often a psycho-social sign that the child is looking for a way out of the sport.

    athlete burnout

    Are kids chasing for parents?

    Randy then used a greyhound analogy about kids being forced to compete for their parents. “What happens if the only reason you chase a rabbit is because your Mum drives you to the track?

    (As a study in what motivates kids, take a step back and watch the crowd at an adult led football match with kids playing. Then watch kids playing football on their own terms and see what the adults are doing.)

    A lot of kids like competing, but very few really enjoy competing on adult terms and with adult rules in place.

    Randy referred to the “empty dugout syndrome” where parents who have invested time, energy and $$ into their child’s sporting career feel the need to keep that going, even when the child has stopped playing or moved on.

    This then leads to stress for the child and sometimes coercion by the parent. Parents can be there for their own needs, rather than the children.

    If your child develops an identity of being an athlete, then the transition out of sport becomes more difficult. “Sport is something we do, not something we are”. So every comment, every part of body language and approval related to competing/ participating in sport can be harmful, despite being well meaning.

    Gardener or fisherman?

    talent development

    Wild flowers in our garden

    Gardeners amongst you will understand the need for creating the right environment for growth. Good soil, weeding, watering, feeding the plants, as well as planting at different times of the year and in different parts of the garden create a beautiful environment.

    The joy of gardening is in the process and then enjoying the results.

    Fishing on the other hand is taking fish out of the sea or river and eating them. There is no give, it is all take.

    talent development

    Eat today, hungry tomorrow

    At Excelsior Athletic Development Club we are trying to create a garden of opportunity for young athletes rather than fishing for “talent” from elsewhere in hope of a quick meal.

    We never know who is going to make it as a Senior International in sport, nor is that our goal, but by creating the right environment every child and athlete gets an opportunity to grow and develop.

    Strangely enough, this environment also creates athletes who succeed at International level (14 year old James Reed, one of our weightlifters, was selected to represent England Golf schools last week).

    Compare that to the “fisherman” approach of trying to get a big catch today so that you can win this week without a thought for the future of that child or even the club.

    (Thanks to Greg Thompson, a physical education expert from Michigan USA,  who also presented at GAIN for the gardening analogy).

    Developing Talent

    Assuming your child makes it through the wasteland of youth sport and is still participating at 15 years old, what next?

    Vern Gambetta gave his thoughts on developing talent for coaches which I will now summarise. This is aimed at coaches and NGBs, many of whom still hold antiquated ideas of Talent Identification and pick early maturers over people with potential.

    Talent = Potential

    Youth prodigies do exist and talent definitely matters, however there are no guarantees in sport so talent is only potential. Realising that potential means a process has to be in place and is sustainable.

    • Talent Spotting
    • Talent Identification
    • Talent Acquisition
    • Talent Development
    • talent pathway

      3 components of talent

      Talent Confirmation

    • Talent Realisation and Refinement
    • Talent Retention

    Talent is comprised of Heart, Body and Mind.

    These three areas can be developed and encouraged.

    Randy Ballard made a counterpoint to this in his seminar. That referring to athletes as “Talent” is dehumanising.

    As an NGB is your “Talent Development” programme a road map for developing a human or for poaching ivory?

    Summary

    sporting talent

    Taking the ivory at the expense of the elephant

    The seminars by Randy Ballard, Vern Gambetta and Greg Thompson were different but similar. All three focussed on the importance of development and growth.

    The very valuable lessons I learnt working with the Sport England funded “South West Talent programme” with Paula Jardine helped shape my thoughts on working with youth athletes: “The Why”.

    The mistakes I have seen within NGBs (and are still being made in a Talent Id Bun Fight) and at Millfield School whilst working there for 5 years  have helped me from making those same mistakes with our club athletes.

    No child should be cast out and thrown on the scrap heap, nor be left to crawl there on their own because of mistakes made by adults in whom they place their trust.

    These seminars and discussions at GAIN over the last 6 years have been invaluable in changing what I do with all the people who come to our club. Thanks to everyone at GAIN for helping me and our athletes.

    Further Reading:

  8. Structural Integrity

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    How do I start training?

    how to start fitness trainingIn the rush to get results fast and take shortcuts, or to “get to the interesting stuff” young athletes get broken. Improving the structural integrity of the athlete is essential before moving onto other areas of fitness.

    Watching Alien Covenant this week prompted me to update this blog as they used the phrase also.

    I used to say that Structural Integrity is composed of  4 key components:

    • Posture: Static and dynamic, countering gravity.
    • Balance: Static and dynamic, upper/ lower body, single limbs.
    • Stability: Joints are strong and can support body weight when moving and static.
    • Mobility: How you control limbs over a range of movement.

    Structural integrity

    But, when presenting at the DAASM symposium in April, I was challenged on the use of “stability” By Dr. Homayun Gharavi MD, PhD, PhD. He suggested that the word “control” is better than stability. Stability has been overused and is vague, the body is designed to move, unlike a table, and so control is more accurate.

    This means the new schematic would be this: structural integrity

     

    The Foundation of Athletic Development

    Most of the athletes I initially encounter have glaring deficiencies in their structure or posture that limits their ability to progress.  Loading athletes like this either through volume, intensity or weight, will lead to breakdowns. Saying someone needs to get fitter and then giving them a running programme, without seeing them run, is poor coaching.

    Instead, after their initial musculo skeletal and movement screening, we start to work on their structural integrity. This is the foundation of Athletic Development and then allows the athlete to work on their athletic ability involving spatial awareness, rhythm, movement abilities and timing. This then allows greater ease of skill acquisition. In this video you see an example of work with young gymnnasts.

    Only then do we start on our training programmes. The first month of the Sports Training System is designed to enhance structural integrity.

    star trek structural integrity

    Enterprise hull needs structural integrity

    N.B. I thought this was an original term on my part, but then realised that it was inherited from watching too much Star Trek!

    The hull has been breached and is losing its Structural Integrity Cap’n” and so on!

  9. 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 :

  10. 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.