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Tag Archive: reflective practice

  1. IFAC Reflections Part 2

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    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 has “skin 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 met before.

    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.

    serena williams backhand
    Working on 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 came from?”

    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.

    Jerome Simian workshop

    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 throw.

    One thing I took from this on muscle activation:

    • Acceleration/ take offs- muscles activate from proximal to distal (centre to limbs).
    • Deceleration/ 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.

    Practical workshops: Observation, analysis, application

    Now to the practicals: looking at assessment of athletes and potential solutions.

    Jerome Simian athletics workshop
    Jerome Simian explaining the hurdles

    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 potential solutions.

    Practical workshops: observation, analysis, application

    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

    athletic back strengthening exercises
    Assessing back movement

    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.

    Part 3 will look at Leg strengthening progressions in the gym.

  2. How to Create Excellence In Coaching

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    Improving your coaching

    coaching excellence

    Reviewing and improving

    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.

    Why not book onto our new “Foundation in Athletic Development” 1 day course to help improve your coaching?

  3. 12 coaching lessons learnt in 2018

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    Things I think I have learnt this year

    coaching lessons from 2018
    Collaboration between our athletes: lesson #7

    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.

    coaching lessons 2018
    Children learn to throw on their own

    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.

    athletics willand
    Always ready to train

    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” 

    coaching reflective practice
    Mark 1 pen and journal

    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.

  4. PAR: Golf core values

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    Setting core values for your coaching environment

    Taking this golf example from Wade Gilbert’sCoaching better every season” for coaches and players to help focus on what matters most. The golf coach ended up with the appropriate acronym PAR.

    • Passion: Nurture love for the game of golf and competing.
    • Achievement: Strive to achieve our competitive and personal goals.
    • Respect: Demonstrate genuine regard for self, others, and the game of golf.

    The process of sitting down and discussing what is important and what shapes your coaching plan is the take home message. Just copying this acronym is unlikely to work with your players.

    golf core values

    Excelsior ADC core values

    At Excelsior Athletic Development Club we use a traffic light system based around our 3 core values:

    • Turn Up
    • Stand Tall
    • Try Hard

    Have you taken time out to reflect upon what matters most with your players?

  5. Using reflection and debriefs to enhance coaching: Wade Gilbert

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    Why wait for a disaster to have a really open and frank conversation?”

    coach debrief

    Wade Gilbert

    Wade Gilbert asked this at the GAIN conference in his presentation on reflection and debriefs for coaches. (This was two days after the Grenfell tower disaster where many people were asking the same thing).

    Wade said that systematic reflection could be the separator between good and great coaches. He then took us through a series of exercises to help us start the process of reflection.

    Exercise 1: What is quality coaching?

    We wrote down one word that best captures what we think is the essence of coaching. We then held it above our head and looked for anyone else in the room with that same word (mine was empathy).

    This exercise can be done with athletes too. It teaches the athletes to reflect in their training and realise that “you don’t just show up and have something done to you.”

    Wade often refers to John Wooden, and he quoted from the “Wooden revisited” study. Almost everything that came out of Wooden’s mouth was teaching.  He had an “economy of talk” with key instructions he used.

    Wooden also had incredible attention to detail when planning his sessions.

    Planning your sessions well and giving fewer instructions, but better ones, will improve the athlete experience.

    Defining coaching effectiveness

    Wade then quoted from a study he did with Jean Cote focussing on coaches’ knowledge.

    It looked at 3 components:

    1. Coaches’ knowledge
    2. Athletes’ outcomes
    3. Coaching contexts

    coaching debrief

    More to coach knowledge than technique

    If the coaches’ knowledge doesn’t transfer to successful athlete outcomes then it is redundant. This knowledge was broken down into 3 areas and the outcomes into 4 areas.

    (How many NGB coaching courses refer to the 2nd / 3rd areas of knowledge?)

    By using reflection and debriefs the coach can become more self-aware and understand better their relationship with others.

    (A few years ago I did an excellent course called Leadership through emotional intelligence which I recommend highly, “The Chimp Paradox” is also an excellent book to help you with this.)

    Exercise 2: Coaching strengths and gaps

    reflective practice for coaches

    Greg Gatz and me

    Here we worked in small groups and evaluated our strengths and gaps which were divided into the 4 parts of the season (see Wade Gilbert coaching process).

    We then tried to find someone whose strengths matched our gaps and vice versa. I chatted to Greg Gatz (University North Carolina) about how to make our gym sessions “Game like and demanding”. We are going to share some fun challenges between our 2 groups of athletes to help create this at some point in the week.

    This was a good opportunity to practice “purposeful and systematic reflection”. It was especially useful as we had been on “receive” mode for 4 days and time for reflection and discussion was most welcome.

    Do Simple Better

    sports coach debrief

    Reminder before coaching

    This phrase became a bit of a mantra after GAIN. Rather than looking to add the “shiny new thing”, it was a reminder from Wade that doing the simple things better often worked wonders.

    An example of how to improve practices is to write down “advanced noticing cues”: what everybody should be looking for at the beginning of the session.  Look for leverage points that make a difference and.

    This also makes athlete and coach evaluation easier and more pertinent because we have something to evaluate against: “did you manage to keep that bar close to your body?”Did your hands and head make an equilateral triangle in headstand?

    Exercise 3: Post practice reflection sheet

    We were given a checklist from Wade’s book which has 17 different questions to ask under 4 areas:

    1. Set challenging & specific practice goals.
    2. Keep athletes physically and mentally active throughout practice.
    3. Give athletes choice and ask them for input on practice design.
    4. Create competitive gamelike practice activities.

    It is a simple tickbox exercise and can be done very quickly. I had Tom Hardy, one of my assistant gymnastics coaches, do one “live” on my coaching in one of our sessions. He picked up on 2 points that I had missed and so I adapted for the next session.

    Critical Reflection

    These simple exercises were useful and easy to initiate. Wade then said the next step was to “think about how we think”: meta -reflection.

    The goal he set us was to “Understand and challenge mental models of coaching and athlete development.

    coaching competencies

    Reflective practice helps this journey

    He quoted from John Medina’sBrain Rules”: “we do not see others with our eyes, we see them with our brains”.

    Deliberate reflection would allow us as coaches to move along this continnuum.

    Part of the innovation process is “It’s okay not to finish things.” This may help retain information as proposed by the “Zeigarnik Effect”. Finishing a task then allows the brain to relax and switch to a new task. Having things unfinished may allow the brain to work subconsciously on solving the problems.

    This seminar was a perfect way to spend the final Saturday morning of GAIN. Our brains had been filled up with new and challenging ideas and information, what matters most is how we can transfer that knowledge to athlete actions.

    I have spent much more time focussing on scheduling tasks since this seminar 5 weeks ago. My idea is to do 1-2 things each month at different points of the season that will allow me to develop as a coach. This then will help the athletes at Excelsior ADC.

    Thanks to Wade and Vern for facilitating this.

    Further Reading:

  6. Coaching Better Every Season: Wade Gilbert

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    If I want to get better, I need to know what better is.

    becoming a better coach

    Wade Gilbert at GAIN

    Wade Gilbert gave an excellent overview of the coaching process at his GAIN seminar. This also served as an overview of his excellent book of the same name.

    His talk was split into 4 parts:

    • Envision: Pre-season
    • Enact: In-Season
    • Examine: End of Season
    • Enhance: Off Season

    He gave practical examples of what has worked from great coaches, and quoted liberally from many books.  A good coach is “a teacher with a high energy level.” Said Tony Dungy in “Uncommon”.

    Envision: Preaseason

    planning preseason

    Vision, values & standards

    This is the time to set out where you intend to go in the upcoming season. Having a vision of where you want to be is essential to have a successful season.

    A good coach will have a vision and be able to outline core values and corresponding behaviour standards for themselves and the team.

     Standards ≠ Rules

    Wade said it was better to look at the best principles that underpin successful teams and organisations rather than best practices.

    Principles endure and can transfer to your team, practices are more likely to be environment, people and context specific.

    how to be a better coach

    No need for Iron Fist

    Accountability doesn’t require an Iron Fist, just a mutual understanding of what’s being asked and what’s at stake.”

    Having behaviour standards for how you start training and competition help you become successful This can often include rituals at practices and competitions and serve as value reminders.

    A great coach will be a visionary: “you have to be able to see round corners, see what athletes could become and see things that aren’t there yet.” It is important to outline this vision and bring people with you.

    Enact: In- Season

    Never mistake activity for achievement

    athlete engagement

    meeting athlete needs

    Said John Wooden. It is common to be busy in season but becoming a better coach and team is hard.

    Wade emphasised the importance of athlete learning and motivation in getting the team to perform better. Prior knowledge can help or hinder the learning process, whilst motivation directly influences learning.

    Coaches who use guided discovery and give immediate feedback can help their athletes learn more effectively.

    Athletes will be motivated to learn more when they are within a “sweet spot” between challenge and accomplishment. Too easy and they get bored, too hard and they get frustrated. “Stretch learning” is where the athlete can almost touch the end “with support”.

    This is something I have tried to incorporate within all our club sessions, balancing the need for a sense of accomplishment and “getting tired” with a sense of challenge and slight frustration at not being there yet.

    skill development

    stretch learning at Excelsior ADC

    For example, we might be working on handspring preparations which require shoulder mobility and the ability to “pop”. The drills are easy and can be done by everyone whereas the whole skill is technically difficult and be done by a few.

    I then follow this with a simpler skill such as through vault, so the gymnasts can then unleash themselves and get rid of any residual frustration.

    The challenge of the activity may have a “High perceived risk, but low actual risk.”

    How you give feedback also affects learning. Wade used a push versus pull analogy.

    Push (solving problems for someone else)Pull (helping someone solve their own problem).

    Both methods have merit, but that could be situational dependent and as athletes develop, pulling is more beneficial.

    Quality practice design

    As this is where most of the interaction between coach and athlete usually occurs, it merits more detailed attention.

    Wade talked about “Practice efficiency” which he defined as “Do less better”. He outlined the following features of quality practices:

    • Purpose
    • Variety
    • Competition
    • Game Speed

    Have you evaluated your practice design recently?

    Wade then moved onto competition coaching. He quoted research that looked at successful competition coaches who spent time “listening to the match” and had “complex problem solving competences.

    They could react to the live situation effectively and adapt.

    Encouragement is often undervalued. Genuine praise for quality performance leads to athletes performing better and having greater enjoyment. Athletes in these environments raised their effort levels and rated their coaches as more effective.

    becoming a better sports coach

    3 roles for coaches

    The coach then needs to wear three different hats and have 3 different skill sets to be effective.

    Whilst most coaches will be good at one of these, it is rarer to find people comfortable with all three.

    Examine: End of Season

    It’s like having a bazooka to kill a mosquito

    Having evaluation tools available to use doesn’t mean we have to use them.

    (I would question how many coaches do a formal end of season evaluation: many justifiably run for the hills or slump into a heap exhausted. Some may have a chat in the bar at the end, and then gear up for more of the same next year).

    best sports coaching book

    James with Wade and his book

    Wade gave some good advice on how to evaluate your own coaching using a “strengths based approach.” (His book has got some great checklists in there). Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself:

    • What are my coaching strengths?
    • What was your best day of coaching this past year?
    • Why was this the best day?

    This can form the first of three parts of your end of season evaluation.

    1. Coaches: magnify their strengths.
    2. Programme: analyse the practice design and preparation
    3. Athletes: reinforce values.

    I like this because it is achievable for coaches who actually coach, rather than academics pontificating from their Ivory Towers!

    Enhance: Offseason

    Charge your battery before you charge someone else’s

    Coaching is hard work. Dan John described feeling at the end of the week as if he had “been pecked to death by a thousand crows”. I describe it as “starting the session like a grape and finishing like a raisin”: there’s not much left in the tank!

    At the end of an emotionally, intellectually and somewhat physically demanding season, coaches need to spend time enhancing themselves.

    coach burnout

    recharging the batteries

    Wade talked about “starting the day on offence”: get up and look after yourself before the demands of others are placed upon you (I adjusted my morning routine 2 years ago).

    The offseason should be partly spent on wellness (refreshing) and then setting up new routines that are sustainable in the long term to allow you to reload.

    Part of this time is to spend time with people who will help you achieve your goals.Wade quoted from Pep Guardiola’s book about changing the culture of your team.

    Focus on the believers” and do more with them. They will help spread the infection of your culture like a virus.

    This was a great thought to finish on. Wade’s talk had lots of practical advice in it that can be implemented immediately, as well as some longer term philosophical ideas that can be reflected upon.

    I have previously written about “effective preseason planning” for the nuts and bolts of training. This seminar was more about the coaching effectiveness and I have written a plan to implement over the next few months.

    Further Reading:

  7. GAIN 2017: Coaching reflections

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    coach reflection

    2 great physical education teachers and me

    I recently spent 5 days in Houston, Texas at Vern Gambetta’s GAIN conference. In this post, and those to follow, I shall attempt to share some of the main ideas and reflections gained whilst there. This should be of interest to fellow coaches and some to parents of athletes too.

    Opening address and overview by Vern Gambetta

    Vern set up this conference 10 years ago looking to harness ideas on athletic development from professionals with different backgrounds.  Sports coaches, athletic trainers, physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches, Doctors and physical education teachers were some of the people in attendance.

    By looking at the same problems with different sets of eyes and brains, many different solutions can be found. This was summarised by Vern as

    Making connections to foster meaningful change and innovation.”

    coach reflection

    Conversation with Surgeon, Navy Seals trainer, wrestling coach

    This was my 6th visit to GAIN and the highlight for me is the intelligent conversations with passionate people. Rarely do I get spend time with people who are experts in their field willing to share ideas and ask great questions without trying to sell me something or tell me how brilliant they are!

    Vern’s opening address was a passionate call to arms to become better as coaches so that we can help our athletes better.  This means sharing ideas and analysing what we do, rather than just follow herds or folklore.

    He suggested that deep ignorance was a problem in the world today. We should look for the blank spaces, the holes in the knowledge. The answers may be there. “The right question is intellectually superior to finding the right answer.

    Vern wanted to us to focus on possibilities when working with athletes:

    • What can they do?
    • How can we get them to do it?
    • Do no harm!

    Beware of being seduced by data

    E.O. Wilson said “we are drowning in information, while striving for wisdom.” The onset of data analytics means we can gather ever more numbers. This can be seductive and we can then train to improve these numbers.

    Vern emphasised that we should coach the athletes in front of us, rather than the numbers on the spreadsheet. Because you can measure it, doesn’t make it meaningful (more on that later from Dr Joyner).

    The internet has become a problem: parents, coaches and athletes are often unable to filter out all the noise.

    Call to action

    We are more likely to overcome our struggles and difficulties to find out what we are looking for when we are willing to take others with us on the journey.”  Simon Sinek.

    Vern’s concept is to create robust, resilient and adaptable athletes. His mission is for the athletes to eliminate all physical limitations.

    This was a much needed jolt in the arm for me. Setting up the Excelsior Athletic Development Club has been a harrowing process. I have started to run parent/ volunteer workshops to help them understand what we are doing. Those that have attended have given great feedback and I need to do more.

    Not everyone “gets it”, the prevailing wind is for parent driven competitive tournaments for 7 year olds and “win on Saturday” mentality. Rather than fight this tsunami, I am attempting to build something different and give hope to the future.

    GAIN 2017 allowed me to spend time with people who reassured me that I wasn’t alone in this endeavour. Thanks to Vern and everyone who attended for helping me get better.

    Tomorrow: 7 Sports Science Myths: Dr Michael Joyner (Mayo clinic).

  8. 7 Things I Learnt In 2016


    Reflective practice

    educational gymnastics

    I learnt from these 3 gymnasts

    I try to learn more than 7 things a week, let alone a whole year, but part of reflective practice is being disciplined and accountable. Limiting myself to listing the 7 things in a year helps focus my mind and stop readers from being bored.

    Speaking on the phone to Mark Sheppard yesterday (whom I last saw in 2014), I said to him “I haven’t been standing still for the last 3 years Mark!” as we discussed formative versus summative fitness testing. “I wouldn’t expect you to” he replied.

    Conversations with coaches like Mark, attending conferences like GAIN, reading, observing, listening to the athletes I coach and my own training are all fertile breeding grounds for ideas and reflections. Although I am unable to stop getting older, I am able to stay feeling young by continually learning. I may well be learning more at 47 than I did at 17.

    1.The older I get, the less I know.

    I am continually dumbfounded by the way in which young people deal in absolutes: “This session will work, 100% for sure” or “The hamstrings don’t go below your knee, they are in the middle part of the back of your leg“. These were two quotes given to me by different cyclists. No room for middle ground here.

    I seem to be telling athletes who come to train with me “Maybe” or “perhaps” or “we’ll try it and see” a lot more than I did 10 years ago. Maybe it is the short attention spans created by too much screen time, or maybe it is the ability to shut out people who have different opinions from us, but young people (and some coaches) are rarely able to dig deeper than asking “is yoga good” and expecting a one word answer.

    2. Getting under the bar is hard for most athletes.

    Maybe I knew this already, but it has come into focus this year as many of our weightlifters can pull high, but struggle to get under the bar in the snatch. Thanks to Keith Morgan who reminded me of these exercises.

    reflective practice3. Predicting 1 mile times in children.

    The best indicators are faster 50m sprint time,taller and lower body fat percentage compared to peers. Too much emphasis is spent on trying to “train for the test” by running further and slower. Children who eat healthily and are very active will run faster over distances. We need to allow them to do more of this.

    4. Summative versus formative testing.

    I got this from “Physical education for children: a focus on the teaching process.” (thanks Greg Thompson). In a rush to replicate “elite sport“, children are often subjected to the dreaded “battery of fitness tests“. However, they are normally in a developmental stage and are either learning the exercises, or still growing. In this case any testing should be formative: assessing how they move through good observation skills.

    Summative testing is the common feature now, even taught in schools for children to perform on other children. It measures the absolute and assumes that the skill is robust enough to be tested. This is suitable for athletes experienced at that activity, rather than just experienced athletes.

    For example, testing back squat on International Rugby players is fine as they are experienced in the weight room. Doing the same test on 12 year old girls who look like new born foals when they try and squat is completely inappropriate.

    fascial chain


    5. “Fascia is like a onesie for your body

    So said Dr. Homayun Gharavi at breakfast one morning at GAIN. After reading “Anatomy Trains” earlier in the year (thanks Joe P) I became much more aware of how fascia works in our body.  At 47, I need to get moving more and more to counteract the influence of gravity which is beating me into a slumping Trogladyte at every opportunity.

    The connections that fascia have, and how they adapt to continual postures and positions is something I have really found interesting. My training now includes getting into as many different varied and continued patterns as possible.

    6. Rudolf Laban was a genius.

    This Hungarian immigrant spent about 20 years in the UK where he had a big influence on teachers through his observations of movement. This started in dance, but was then applied to other disciplines such as gymnastics, which is where I became interested.

    rudolf laban

    Rudolf Laban

    Unfortunately, all his good work seems to have been forgotten, in a race for schools to either just talk about p.e. or to play competitive sport (I see this first hand in Devon, ironically as Laban spent much time at Dartingotn School near Totnes).

    Nowadays you will hear much talk in coaching circles about “constraints led coaching” as if it is something ground breaking. Laban was using guided discovery and environmental and task constraints 70 years ago. The work by Logsdon, Mauldon, Layson, Morison et al. built on this and created “Educational Gymnastics”.

    I am using a lot of their work and approaches not only in my gymnastics coaching, but in everything else I do (works wonders on the fascia too). I am standing on the shoulders of Giants. 

    7. If you have to measure one thing, measure attendance.

    reflective practice

    3 of our best attendees with lanyards

    I got this from Steve Magness at GAIN. I took it on board and have been diligent in recording and rewarding attendance publicly. Every athlete who attends 15 sessions gets a club lanyard: from the youngest gymnast to our Senior Internationals. As John Wooden says “I will give you the treatment you earn and deserve“.

    This has really highlighted who turns up regularly, including many “ordinary” athletes, but who continue to improve. If they keep this up, who knows where they might end? But, they are getting into good habits.

    The downside of this has been parents having a pop at me when their children don’t turn up and they don’t get a lanyard: they can’t be bought, they have to be earnt!

    Thanks for reading and helping me with my reflective practice. If you have anything special that you have learnt in 2016, please add a comment below.

    I look forward to doing better coaching and learning more in 2017. Merry Christmas to you all.

  9. Coaching Philosophy: Book Reviews

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    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)

    win foreverA 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.

    coaching philosophyIt’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

    you win in the locker room firstI 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.img_20161018_104747

    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.”

    Highly recommended.

  10. Socrates the Coach

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    How to improve your coaching

    socrates the coach

    Socrates coaching

    The following quote comes from “ “The Consolations of Philosophy“” by Alain de Botton and is a discourse between Socrates and his friend Crito.

    Socrates: When a man… is taking (his training) seriously, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?

    Crito: Only when it comes from the one qualified person. 

    Socrates: Then he should be afraid of the criticism and welcome the praise of the one qualified person, but not those of the general public. 

    Crito: Obviously. 

    Socrates: he ought to regulate his actions and exercises and eating and drinking by the judgement of his instructor, who has expert knowledge, not by opinions of the rest of the public.

    Questioning the status quo

    Socrates challenged the then prevailing Athenian beliefs by looking at each of them logically. Just because something has always been done a certain way, by the majority of the population, does not mean that it is correct. 

    Socrates compared living without thinking systematically about what you are doing and why as trying to make a pot or shoe just from having a hunch. You have to know the actual process behind making a shoe or a pot, it doesn’t just happen. The same approach should be taken to perform your actions in life. 

    Think about this before you undertake your next Coaching or training session- why are you doing what you are doing?