Category Archives: Coaching

Olympic Lifting – Not Just for the Olympics…

Zoe Smith at London Olympics 2012

Zoe Smith at London Olympics 2012

It is well regarded in sport that power is possibly the key attribute that defines elite athletes from their sub-elite counterparts.  Power, crucial in many of our running, throwing and jumping activities is of course the ability produce explosive movements and is related to speed-strength activity. Here is an account of speed-strength according to Athlepedia,

‘Speed strength is the ability of the neuromuscular system to produce the greatest possible impulse in the shortest possible time.[1] It is defined in work divided by time, where work is defined as force x distance. Therefore, speed strength is defined as force x distance, divided by time (power). Speed Strength is characterized by three distinct components: starting strength, explosive strength, and reactive strength. 

If power is the mid point between maximal force production and maximal speed development, speed-strength activity favours increased rate of force development over the ability generate maximal force. Speed-strength is perhaps better explained through the force-velocity curve as shown in the figure below.  Generally speaking, when the force is high, we are less likely to be able to move said force very quickly (training for maximal strength).  Alternatively, when the force is lower, we are more likely to be able to generate more speed of movement (Speed-Strength and Speed training).  Our job as practitioners is of course to match the force-velocity demands of the sport, to the training activities and train appropriately along this curve.  This will allow for neuromuscular and metabolic specificity as well as mechanical specificity, depending on the type of movements that are being trained.  For more info on the force-velocity curve, take a look at Jamie Bain’s article on (click here for article).


According to Baechle and Earle (2008), traditional resistance training that focus on ‘core’ (squat, deadlift and bench press) and ‘assistance’ (isolating smaller muscle groups) exercises tend to focus more on developing the FORCE characteristics of the curve (maximal strength – power).  These types of exercise are great for developing maximal force generating capacity, though this form of training usually happens at slower, more deliberate speeds and therefore do not always match the neurological and metabolic demands of competitive action.  Johnson, Sabatini & Sparkman (2008) reinforce that whilst there is a definite initial explosive movement in power lifting, the slow velocity of the lifts can have a negative effect on movement speed and the ability of a muscle to display explosive effort.

Enter the art of Olympic Lifting.  Olympic Lifts are those exercises that make up the competition elements of the ‘weightlifting’ events at the Olympic Games. The 2 types of lift are the ‘Clean and Jerk’ and the ‘Snatch’. According to  Johnson, Sabatini & Sparkman (2008), Olympic weightlifting methods of training should assist with injury prevention, as well as increased power output, metabolic and biomechanical specificity (especially with regards to triple extension activity), high rates of force development, and muscle synchronization.  They go on to suggest that  the use of Olympic weightlifting methods of training could be used in order to account for the deficits in developing explosive strength and speed strength.

So what does the research say?  In a study of  20 NCAA Div III footballers (aged 19.2 ± 1.3 years), Hoffman et al (2004) looked at a comparison of Olympic lifting (OL) versus powerlifting (PL) over the course of a 15wk program (4 days/week).  Testing of strength (1RM bench press and squat), 40yd sprint, agility (T run) and vertical jump were measured pre and post the 15 week training period.  The results were staggering.  Whilst both OL and PL showed significant improvements in squat 1RM, which is to be expected following a well planned 15wk program, the OL group showed an 18% greater improvement in squat performance when compared to the PL group.  This was mirrored by a twofold greater decrease in 40yd sprint times amongst the OL group and a significantly greater improvement in vertical jump performance.  Interestingly the PL group showed little, if any improvement in vertical jump height, possibly highlighting the lack of specificity of PL training in enhancing performance of explosive bouts of activity.

So there is evidence to suggest that we can enhance the specificity of our training, especially for those sports that include explosive, multi joint movements, through the introduction of Olympic lifts and variations of their techniques.  However, these are highly technical movements that take many hours over and under the bar.  But don’t let that hold you back! Start with unloaded bars and broomsticks to help develop the technique before you start loading on the weight.  Here are some clips of me with about 5hrs of accumulated Olympic lift practice… (and a really unfortunate choice of title screen…)

So if you are an athlete, speak to your coach about the potential for including some Olympic lifts into your program, even if you are just starting with technique and movement specificity.  And coaches, perhaps this is something that you need to add to your arsenal. Look out for specific S&C courses, perhaps look at UKSCA accreditation, or look to employ a qualified S&C coach.  What ever you do, MAKE SURE IT IS SAFE!! Done incorrectly, could do more harm than good.  And ladies… this is not just for the men, check out Alison NYC and subscribe to her YoutTube channel here.

Comments and suggests, thoughts and views are all welcome as always.  Hope you enjoyed the post.


Baechle, T. R. & Earle, R. W. (2008) Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning (3rd Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Hoffman, J. R., Copper, J., Wendell, M. & Kang, J. (2004) Comparison of Olympic Vs. Traditional Power Lifting Training Programs in Football Players.  Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 18 (1): 129-135

Johnson, J. B., Sabatini, P. L. & Sparkman, M. R. (2008) A Debate between Power Lifting and Olympic Lifting as the Main Athletic Training Method. Virginia Journal, 29 (4): 14-



GPS in Sport: Big Data Analysis or Big Brother Watching?

HR-big-dataThe ‘Big Data‘ society that is developing around us is rapidly crossing over into the sporting world. The collection of fitness data is a staple in most coaches’ arsenal though as we creep out of the participation domain into the realms of competitive and elite level performance, the use of performance analysis has been a growing culture over the past 2 decades. From hand notation to time motion analysis and at elite levels of sport the introduction of complex computer analysis systems such as pro zone and game breaker, our need and want to collect data on our athletes is ever present. But that was just the beginning. The evidence of ‘Big Data’ making its mark on the sports world comes no bigger than the use of GPS.

“it is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data”

(Arthur Conan Doyle)  

According to Aughey (2011), initial research into using GPS to track human locomotion appears to have been published in 1997 and whilst it’s use became commercially available for sports in 2003, further validation of GPS use in sports did not come about until 2009-2010. Like all new technologies, GPS has developed at a rapid rate since it’s arrival in 2003, especially with regards to the frequency sampling rate that the dataloggers use to collect information. Early versions of GPS technology used dataloggers, that had a frequency sampling of 1Hz, were useful for collecting data over long distances at relatively steady-state intensities (for example in sports such as cycling and running). However, as researchers began to investigate the use of GPS technology in analysing performance in game related sports, a 1Hz sampling rate was reported to show inaccuracies in the collection of some data. Aughey (2011) discusses that the shorter distances, higher intensities and the introduction of change of direction, that is inherent in game related sports, we’re too much for a 1Hz sampling rate to accurately handle.

However, not wanting to be outdone and to meet the growing demands for more data, GPS manufacturers have developed their systems to staggering levels. Catapult GPS have worked through 5Hz systems and their latest S5 units boast an impressive 10Hz sampling rate. GPSports on the other hand go one better with market-leading 15Hz data logging units in their latest systems.  Whilst it would be logical to assume that higher sampling rates would lead to more accurate data collection, Johnston et al (2013) discovered that the 15Hz systems showed lower validity for distance travelled and average peak speed than that of the 10Hz units, though the authors conclude that comparisons should not be drawn between 10Hz and 15Hz systems as both are significantly more effective than 1-5Hz sampling rates.  However, positioning and location are not all that these new systems do.  Fitted with accelerometers, gyroscopes, inertial movement analysis (IMA) and heart rate monitor compatibility, these pocket-sized devices have the capability to know more about you than you know about yourself! For a snapshot of some of the data that can be collected, have a look at these key performance variables suggested by GPSports.  We have access to a Catapult system at our institution and I would argue that I have no idea what 75% of the available performance indicators are or how they could be used.

The Guardian (Jan, 2010)

The Guardian (Jan, 2010)

So, a big tick for ‘Big Data’.  GPS clearly allows us as coaches to access a whole lot of information that is not available to the naked eye.  Our subjective assessments of what is unveiling before our eyes can now be supplemented with numerous objective data, so we can make a much more informed analysis of what our athletes are actually doing.  Now of course there are numerous benefits to this data. Jennings et al (2010) conclude that the information gathered through GPS data collection can play a huge role in better understanding the demands of the sport, developing specific and individualised training programs.  Check out here how Munster Rugby are using GPS technology. In addition Aughey (2011) stresses the importance of monitoring training and competition loads in order to prevent overtraining and injury. But are we getting caught up in all of the data? Can too much data be dangerous? Is there a possibility that, in the wrong hands coaches can use the masses of data against players in selection decisions and even high profile, lucrative player contracts?

“there is a syndrome in sport called paralysis by analysis”

(Arthur Ashe)

Perhaps the late great Arthur Ashe had a point when he first uttered his ‘paralysis by analysis’ quote.  What happens when a coach is faced with situations that they have no data for? Is ‘Big Data’ stifling coaches’ instincts and creativity?  Are we creating a ‘coaching through fear’ environment, where players feel like they are constantly being watched?  Coach Rawson mentions in his post ‘Do global positioning systems have a future in sport?‘ that cyclists have ‘no place to hide’… An interesting concept, that maybe reinforces the ‘Big Brother’ approach that ‘Big Dat’ accommodates.

GPS… I get it, and dare I say it, I like it… love it even, but I still have questions over some of the potential dangers of ‘Big Data’ in sport. In an age where we are asking for more holistic approaches to our coaching practise, is the art slowly being bullied by the science, again??? Your views are always welcome and I would love to hear your experiences of ‘Big Data’ in your sports.  Thanks for reading.

In-Task Silence: What are the Coaches Really Doing?

Ivan Lendl adopting an 'in-task silence' approach with 2x Grand Slam Champion, Andy Murray

Ivan Lendl adopting an ‘in-task silence’ approach with 2x Grand Slam Champion, Andy Murray

For a long time, coaches have been expected to be involved in everything that goes on in a training session or a game.  I guess this expectation was driven by what parents and spectators might be looking for in a coach and equalled by the coaches enthusiasm for being ‘busy’ and making sure they ‘get around all of the participants’.  And why shouldn’t coaches be busy? After all, the coaching process is complex and ‘messy’.  According to Coté and Gilbert (2009)

‘Effective coaching is the integrated application of different knowledge bases (professional, interpersonal and intrapersonal) to fulfil the multiple outcomes and varying needs of all participants within a specific context.’

So as you can see there is a lot going on in a coaching environment, but the question is, does being ‘busy’ result in effective coaching?  There is a growing trend towards ‘in-task silence’ as a coach.  This is a behaviour that is best described as when a coach ‘stands back from a session’, ‘refrains from instruction or feedback’ and simply ‘observes’ what is taking place in front of them.  Wayne Goldsmith puts this across in a nice little post titled ‘Improve your Coaching by NOT Coaching’ (click here to see the post).

Whilst this may initially seem counterintuitive, there is a growing body of research that suggests that this method can develop players’ decision making skills, creates empowerment through enabling players to take more responsibility for their actions, results in players being less reliant on coaches during game play and encourages players to communicate more with each other.  Rightly so, this is all great stuff for the players when ‘in-task silence’ is delivered correctly, however, the question that intrigues me most is what the coaches are doing, thinking, observing and processing during this silence?  What are their actions following the silence?  Are their actions a result of the silence and what they have witnessed (coach adaptability) or are they simply a continuation of a preplanned session (see my post on ‘Start [coaching] before you are ready‘)  Do all of the above attributes develop because of how the coach spends his or her time during the silence, or do they happen in spite of the coach (after all, they are technically not doing anything at this point…).

Is it enough to just set up well planned drills or SSGs with objectives and challenges and then step back and ‘let the magic happen’? Or do we need to educate coaches better in how to best use the ‘in-task silence’ time that they make available to themselves?

Yes, a quality over quantity approach to coaching is needed, but we need to ensure that the quality is exactly that and coaches are not just standing back and claiming that their ‘not-coaching’ is a stroke of genius.


Updates to SCUK Safeguarding & Protecting Children Workshop.

sports-coach-ukLast night I attended a mandatory 3 year renewal of my SCUK Safeguarding & Protecting Children Workshop over at Oaklands Manor (University of Derby) in Buxton.  Before the session I was a little worried that it would be the same as the last 2 versions that I attended, but was pleasantly surprised to see some updates and additions that have come in as of April 2013.  In addition, Mark, the tutor, was an excellent facilitator of what can sometimes be an awkward topic to deliver. He was knowledgable, shared his own experiences and allowed for really good group interaction.  In this post I will try to outline 1 or 2 of the new bits.



With the rapidly changing times and rising use of social media networks, this is a necessary and welcome addition to the course.  3 years ago, social media was an ever-present in most (young) people’s lives, but the topic was brushed over in discussion and there were no real answers.  This was probably down to there being no real guidelines at that point, and limited knowledge, use and understanding of social media amongst the group.  3 years on and more people are more aware of the use of social media as well as having vast experiences of some of the issues that social media can bring into the realm of coaching.  What was nice to hear was that people are not totally disregarding it’s use and that many of the coaches on the course are finding safe and appropriate ways of ‘safeguarding’ the issue of e-communication and are beginning to think about it’s use in developing codes of conducts for coaches and athlete’s.  


The conversation revolved mostly around Facebook; some coaches had set up separate Facebook accounts for  specific groups (club, age group or team) and this appears to be a popular and accepted safeguarding measure.  Coaches present talked about the fact that they use it more as an information ‘pushing’ service (session cancelled, game info, training times etc.) and this fit nicely into SCUK’s recommendations of social media being one-way methods of communication.  This then brought about a discussion of whether coaches should accept friend requests from their players.  The decision was unanimously ‘No, no way, not a chance!’ and plausible arguments were produced for why.  


On reflection though, I began to think about the consequences of not accepting a friend request from one of your player’s.  By discouraging this social interaction, albeit in an electronic, web-based format are we dipping our toe into the waters of neglect, one of the forms of abuse that safeguarding aims to protect against? Are we neglecting that player’s social needs in this digital age?  Of course the common argument for this not happening, is that coaches ‘have things on their Facebook pages that they don’t want their players to see’.  Is the deeper sociological question here then, that if that is the case, are we really suitable candidates as coaches if there are certain aspects of our lives that we want to ‘hide’ from our players? Or, are we just confirming Goffman’s ‘Front stage, back stage’ theory (a colleague of mine will be very smug that I have made a reference to Goffman here) and that the person we are when we coach is something very different to the person we really are, making our coaching one big act? (click here for a quick paragraph about the theory from Lots of (too many perhaps) questions, but I have come to the conclusion that if your Facebook page is as professional as you would like your coaching to be then why not accept a friend request?  On the other hand if you prefer for your Facebook to be a representation of your private life and very separate to your coaching (that Goffman fella again) then I guess this is understandable.  Being a ‘tweeter’ rather than a ‘poker’ (I use Twitter but have no Facebook account) I use the platform to share things with the rest of the world (well those 170 odd people who are daft enough to follow me).  I’m not particularly precious about the content that I tweet about but then, whilst this is probably for another discussion, I see Twitter as a more professional form of social media rather than personal one (personal opinion). As such I am not really that concerned when players, students and even parent in some cases follow my tweets.  I guess this brings me on the the next update that I found interesting on the course. Acceptable – Unacceptable spectrum.


The Acceptable – Unacceptable Spectrum.

I will (try to) keep this short but this spectrum has been introduced into the course whereby actions can be deemed somewhere between acceptable and unacceptable.  For me this has it’s benefits, but it also poses some questions.  The benefits for me are that it appears to dismiss many of the concrete do’s and don’ts that for me have limited or restricted good coaching practice in the past.  There are many incidents of this but to give an example, the topic of ‘touch’ always creates debate in this area.  I was involved in assessing presentations with students a few weeks back on the topic of safeguarding and at the end of one of them, I asked a coaching student if it was appropriate to touch players, to which he firmly replied


“In no circumstance?” I asked.

“No!” again he quite adamantly replied.

“What about a hi-5…”


I think at this point he thought I was trying to lure him into some trap where I would then turn on him for being inappropriate. But what seemed clear was that this student was so drilled into not ‘touching’ that he was maybe missing out on some key social and physical interactions that are perhaps required/acceptable in a coaching environment. Robyn Jones has produced a short review on this topic of touch and caring in coaching (click here). The student began to think a little when I asked if he thought that by not giving the hi-5 he was actually carrying out an act of neglect…


The negatives of this of course may be that it is possible that by opening up this spectrum, we may allow those individuals who choose to abuse children a way in e.g. certain touching can be deemed acceptable in sports such as gymnastics, trampolining, outdoor pursuits.  Then I guess that abuse is going to happen if it is going to happen, the important issue is the safeguarding mechanisms that are in place to report, record and ultimately prevent this in future.


My final point is that the spectrum opens up a lot of interpretation of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable and each individual will have different opinions on different situations based on their own values, morals and beliefs.  This was evident amongst the 20 or so present on the course with a simple question such as whether it is acceptable to smack your child? Interpretations and perceptions of actions and reactions will now add a new dimension of complexity to the already ‘messy’ nature of coaching.  One point to remember is that ‘it is not your responsibility to decide whether abuse is taking place. However, you do have a responsibility to raise issues over concerns and ensure the safety of the players under your supervision’.

As ever comments and questions are welcome.

Great Coaching at Chester Canoe Club

Screen Shot 2013-04-09 at 23.14.41At the weekend I found myself at an impromptu ‘Go Canoe’ session at Chester Canoe Club with a mate of mine. This is a great initiative by canoeing’s national governing body to get more people into canoeing on the back of a pretty successful Olympic campaign for GB. In my humble opinion, everybody should have a bit of a go at this (click here for a session near you) especially with CCC down on the River Dee (in the glorious April sun that we had on Saturday) and especially if you have Simon as your ‘Go Canoe’ instructor. And here is the reason why…

Since being involved in coach education I find myself quite often watching other coaches in their settings and then trying to analyse what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Initially this was just a bit of a bad habit, now it has become more of an obsession, but it arms me with plenty of anecdotal evidences that I can then share with students.  So on Saturday, not only did I set foot back on dry land a more accomplished canoeist, but I was also fascinated by Simon’s (the instructor) approach to dealing with absolute beginners in little vessels in pretty deep, busy waters.


After being launched from the jetty (I’m working on the lingo…) a group of about 7 of us sat around as Simon embarked on his delivery and my analysis was already underway.  In fact it had started before we had got into the water. Apologies Simon if you do ever read this but you’ll be glad to hear that I was quickly proven wrong.  My first impression of Simon was this very nice old chap, that was clearly into his canoeing and the sort of person that looked like he had been running canoeing trips for the Scouts for about 40+ years.  My intuitions had totally taken over (System 1 if you have read Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman) and all of the coaching stereotypes began forming in my head, old school, lots of instruction, not much actual canoeing.  This was a pretty poor judgement to make on my part as I didn’t know the poor bloke or anything about his ‘coaching’ background.  Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong.


We were underway in less than a minute after Simon had introduced us to a paddle. Now whilst this is not verbatim the instruction went something like this, ‘this is a paddle, it helps to propel you through the water. The flat side needs to go in first. Let’s take 3 strokes on each side and see if we can go straight’.  Well, whilst it didn’t occur to me at the time, I was pleased with the minimal instruction and happy to be off gliding through water.  His next offering was to ask ‘how did that feel? Did we all manage to go quite straight?’. At this point I was thinking, nice, a bit of Q&A, good coaching.  This was just the tip of the iceberg of Simon’s extensive coaching repertoire. I will try in the next few paragraphs to highlight some of his other approaches and why I was so impressed.



After the 3 strokes and the Q&A he asked us next to do as many strokes as we could before we stopped going straight.  Of course each individual in the group could achieve a different number of strokes but nevertheless we all veered off course somewhere between 5 and 10 strokes.  This approach allowed each person a certain amount of challenge and success within their own ability, success being that we could all go straight for a certain distance, the challenge being how long we could make it last.  Differentiation is not an easy skill as a coach, especially with a group of beginners, that you don’t know, but something that Simon achieved in a short space of time.



An important aspect of coaching with regards to motivating participants and again something that is very individual, specifically in individual sports like canoeing. ‘Can you beat the amount of strokes that you did last time before going of course?’ Goal-setting at it’s simplest… but oh so effective (I was off desperately trying to beat my score, if that was the carrot, I was the proverbial donkey).  This wasn’t the only time that this came up during the session and each time he had all participants in the palm of his hand, eager, motivated and enjoying the various challenges.


External Cueing.

‘Head for the tree on the opposite bank, just focus on the tree nothing else’. The idea behind external cueing or external focus has it’s roots in psychology and specifically attention.  The notion is that when focusing externally, the attention of a performer is on the effects of the movement outside of the body.  Research suggests (click here for a basic example) that focusing on the effects of a movement rather than movement execution provides for improved levels of learning motor skills. Well to support the research, suddenly we had 6 (pretty much beginners) canoeists gliding in straight lines across the Dee. Once again, top coaching!


Internal Feedback.

For any of you that have canoed before you will know that there is a lot of ‘feeling’ going on  whilst you are on the water.  Being on an unstable surface (a river) the main feeling that I had was ‘how long before I end up getting wet?’.  The canoe rocks about a lot, one pull too hard on a the left hand and you are off right, then a corrective stroke right and you are too far left, by now the boat has a bit of a wobble on. ‘Take 2 or 3 strokes to get going then close your eyes and paddle 5-6 more strokes trying to stay straight’.  OK Simon, now you are having a laugh… but it works.  The body’s proprioceptive systems are activated and suddenly you become very aware of every movement and you begin to ‘feel’ what is going on and of course you try to correct each movement in an attempt to stay going straight.  To put this to the test, stand up straight with your feet together… fairly stable?? Now close your eyes…

Did you feel a bit of a wobble?

But I’m guessing you didn’t fall over, as the body/mind is not that daft.

Now, eyes open, stand on one leg… a little less stable, but manageable for most of us?? Now close your eyes again…

Did you feel a bit more of a wobble? Were you more aware of muscles contracting than before?

I’m guessing you didn’t fall over again, more importantly did you suddenly feel muscles contracting that you were not aware of before?? Especially lower leg, specifically around the ankle? This is your body’s natural balance taking control.  By closing your eyes you are internalising and amplifying the feedback on the movement, allowing better recognition of how to correct it. Another interesting approach to motor skill development.


Minimal Instruction.

This is my final bit of ‘geeking out’ over someone’s coaching I promise. On pitches, courts and tracks nation-wide you will hear coaches barking all sorts of instructions to their willing charges.  Simon wasn’t a huge fan of giving out lot’s of technical instruction, ‘this hand here, that knee there, lean that way…’, instead he was more about what ever feels best for you.  How I got from A to B was very different from that of my mate, but we both got there, we were pleased and Simon was impressed.  I am buying into this style of coaching more and more where we focus on what the end product is, regardless of the individuals technique (safety and efficiency accounted for), unlike a maths test, I am becoming less bothered with the working out, as long as you get the answer right.  The highlight of this was after about an hour when Simon announced ‘I’ve not really told you how to hold the paddle yet have I, perhaps I should have done that at the start.  Oh well you all seem to be doing pretty well, in the old days you would have been told to hold it above your head and make sure your arms are at right angles. Just hold it however it feels comfortable’.  My point exactly Simon… Bravo!!


It’s so nice to see great coaching, especially in different sports and perhaps when you (wrongly) least expect it.  What was even nicer was that I’m not really sure he knew how good he was, either that or he put on a great show of hiding it.  I’d be interested to find out what his background is and where and how he learnt to coach the way he does, so Simon (or colleagues at CCC) if you are reading this, it would be nice to hear from you. Finally if this is how the British Canoe Union are educating their coaches, then we could all learn a little (read a lot) from them.


As ever, comments, questions and reblogs are always welcome.


Woodward’s Attack on Lancaster’s ‘Extension’ Policy.

Sir Clive WoodwardSir Clive Woodward has written an interesting article in his Mailonline column (click here for article) today about the 5 Live broadcast ‘Inside Lancaster’s England’ (click here to listen) that was aired on 5 Live on Tuesday evening.  Woodward claims that opening up to the media was a ‘mistake’ and something that he would not have (and didn’t) do in his tenure. But is Sir Clive missing some of the more subtle points at stake here.

We are more aware nowadays that coaching is a complex environment that requires coaches to act in different ways when faced with different contexts and situations.  Times change, the game evolves, the people involved are different (players, staff and fans) and expectations change based on the context.  Clive Woodward LionsIt is rarely the case that one system fits all, all of the time (especially over a 10 year period).  I’m sure Sir Clive Woodward understands this in the sense that what worked for England to achieve a fantastic World Cup win in 2003, did not quite work out for the Lions Tour that he headed up in 2005 to New Zealand.  Coaching requires us to be aware of context and expectations, understand our players and support staff and in high profile cases, know how to play the media game.

I agree with Woodward in that Lancaster lacks experience at this level, but my question is, how do you gain that experience if not in the thick of the role and playing it out every day one day at a time.  I’m sure that since the start of the 6 nations campaign Lancaster (and his support staff and players) have gained a wealth of experience, they will have a lot to reflect on and there will be things that they will wish to have done differently if given the chance again.  This is coaching, whether it be at grassroots or at the very pinnacle of the game.  I’m fairly sure though that one of those reflections will not be whether letting the media in was a ‘mistake’.  I think this is all part of a bigger plan by Lancaster.

lancaster celebrates Lancaster is a big fan of Bill Walsh’s book ‘The Score Will Take Care of Itself’ in which Walsh recalls a policy of ‘connection and extension’, bonding as a team and a squad of players and reaching out to the fans and public that will support them.  In my eyes this is working very well and I think whilst there are suggestions of this broadcast being ill-timed, I think this is just another stepping stone in the direction of extension and building a squad that ‘might’ be able to challenge in 2015 when the world cup arrives again. As Sir Clive rightly puts it England were in disarray following the 2011 world cup.  It was a mess that needed cleaning up on the inside and the image from the outside needed to be changed dramatically and very quickly.  This is something that Lancaster tackled immediately, with limited fuss and brilliant execution, so much so the failures and bad impression of 2011 seems a distant nightmare long forgotten about.

England DisappointmentLancaster’s job was to make English supporters love England rugby again and just as importantly make the players love and respect playing for England and all that comes with it.  I know I’m sold, and judging by the public reaction from Saturday’s game against Wales, I’d say it’s working very well.  Considering all that was at stake before the game on Saturday, I don’t think the public are in any way outraged, disgusted, or ‘anti’-England following the game, result and consequently the outcome of the tournament.  Is there disappointment, yes, I’d say there was from all parties, but this is a positive and natural emotion for a team that came so close to something, a Grand Slam, that had not been achieved since the glory year of 2003.  This isn’t a ‘papering over the cracks’ exercise, like what followed 2003.  I truly believe Lancaster is trying to build something that is a bit more sustainable than a one off year of winning.  What England supporters want is an England team that is at the top of world rugby year in, year out. I think in the current context, to have a nation that is, not happy, but accepting of a loss to a (though it pains me to say, a very good) Wales team is some achievement.  This all comes from this notion of extension.  Get the fans and the public onside, let them in, let them be a part of it and let them make their judgements based on that inclusion (apologies Sir Clive, I know this goes against your Elitist philosophy… and on that would you have written this article if England had beaten Wales on Saturday, with a 6 nations championship, triple crown and grand slam to their name…?)

lancasterI guess my overriding point it that coaching is complex and is never going to be the same from one situation to another and as coaches we have to make the best of what we are presented with and the skills that we have.  No coach should ever see themselves as the finished article as for me this is the time to give up (and perhaps this is why some do??).  As such we find ourselves as coaches in continuous cycles of learning, always looking for ways to develop.  Lancaster and his staff are learning, as are the players, as are the fans. I think it is great that we, as England rugby are growing together and I for one like feeling that I have been allowed to be involved in that and will continue to feel welcome in those developments.

England and Lancaster especially, will be judged in 2015 in a WC on home turf.  Until then I think we should enjoy the ride as much as we are allowed to.

What the ‘Hex’ this?!?

Welcome to Kukri Hex Training.

Hex Training

Every so often a new training system breaks on to the scene and today I had the privilege of seeing the new Kukri Hex Training system first hand.  The guys at Hex Training Have been busy creating both a product and a process in order to develop movement skills based around agility, speed and quickness.

It seems that this is a step on from SAQ training, with their hexagonal hoops adding a new dimension to skill development.  There is also a flexibility to their ‘Learn, Apply & Enhance’ approach that allows coaches and trainers to play around with the equipment, in order to develop drills specifically for their own sports and players and at a pace that is individual to their performers.

So go check them out at the link at the top of the page, and look out for Hex Training workshops coming out in the near future.

Start [coaching] before you are ready…

Plan-A-Plan-B-chalkboard1-300x199As a coach and coach educator I am a huge fan of session planning. I just never feel quite right without that piece of paper in my pocket to refer back to.  It is a process that has evolved for me over the many years of coaching, to the point that I now have a very specific template for my hockey sessions and a generic template for other aspects of coaching that I do (geeeeeek!!!).  I have hundreds of the things, full of drills, coaching points, potential questions, reflections on the session.  No one session is the same, different combinations of drills, various objectives, tweaks to space and numbers, many though all based on the same end goal… developing hockey players.

Recently though I have begun to think about that magical session in my pocket, mainly because that is the place where it tends to stay… in my pocket!  So for all of the work, why do I tend not to use it? Is it because I have already gone through the session on paper and therefore can recall what the plan is? Is it because player numbers/positions at training effect what I had planned to do. Maybe it is down to many years of experience.  I am a huge advocate of reflection in action, stimulated by surprise, reacting to the situation you are in, on the spot problem solving and using my previous experiences to ensure a session goes smoothly.

Ask yourself how often you get through all of your plan? Do you stick rigidly to your timings? Did you finish early? Did the plan force you to move on too soon? Did you have to pad it out with a game or a shooting drill? Is the incessant planning that we put ourselves through as coaches actually restricting us as coaches or even our players in sessions.

The ‘Start before you are ready’ principle was something that I read on Robert Poynton’s blog.  Robert is not a coach but I think that some of the things he talks about kind of resonate with the planning aspect of coaching.  Now of course, I am going to say this.  On a Honey and Mumford Learning Styles Questionnaire I am predominantly (17) Activist and on the Personality Enneagrams Typing System I come out as a 3 ‘The Achiever’.  So I am clearly a do-er, though as mentioned before, still an avid planner.  Just as a caveat at this point, I am by no means claiming that coaches should not plan, I am merely questioning whether we over plan to the detriment of our sessions?

The parts that interest me most in Robert’s post are:

“…if everything is determined and decided beforehand – in other words, if you are completely ‘ready’ – then something is lost.  The unimagined possibility is eradicted before it even has the chance to occur.”

If we are completely ready as coaches, are we simply ‘robotic slaves’ to the session that we have designed, without being flexible to our audience/participants’ needs. Do detailed session plans take away the ‘holism’ that we are all striving for in our coaching?

“…it made a lot of sense not to ‘finish’ it but it is hard to do.  We normal feel obliged to tie things up neatly.”

This is such a true reflection of coaching. 10-12 warm up, 10min on skill 1, 15 mins on drill 2, finish with 20min game… How often do we move on too quickly, before participants have developed or achieved anything purely because the session plan says so? How keen are we always to get ‘closure’ on a session either with a ‘good’ drill or a ‘winner’ in a small-sided game? “Let’s finish on a good one girls!!” or “Next goal wins lads!!” is ‘coach speak’ that you will here on pitches, courts and tracks the country wide.  All of this when we will probably be back in the same place a week later, though armed with a new set of objectives and a freshly designed session plan.

“…enough structure to make it work, but to leave enough open or unfinished so that people felt really involved.”

Does the tight structure of our magical plans create closed coaching environments that limit the ownership, responsibility and empowerment that we are trying to transfer to our participants?

Perhaps I am reading into this a little too much, but I think there might just be a little something to think about around the concept of ‘start before you are ready’. I don’t mean in the sense of abandoning all planning as coaches (that would be foolish…) but to think a little more about the flexibility of our plans in order to allow participants to express themselves at training and give them more to think about when they leave the practice. Can you imagine finishing on a bad drill or a game ending with a draw…

Comments and thoughts are welcome as always.


Bad Teachers Coach, Good Coaches Teach…

Free-range chickens. Photograph: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Just the other day I followed a link on twitter to a blog post from @jasondevos titled ‘DEVOS: A COACH’S PRIMARY OBJECTIVE SHOULD BE TO TEACH’.  Whilst there was some interesting content in the piece, I was intrigued by the title and wondered to myself ‘why a coach’s primary objective should be to teach… and not to coach’?

This brought back a few incidents from the past couple of years where, on a number of occasions, I have heard the dreaded phrase that you find in the title of this post ‘Bad Teachers Coach, Good Coaches Teach…’. When questioning those who had delivered this fairly public ‘sledging’ of the coaching profession, the common reasons that come back are surrounded around the ideas that:

teaching is about developing the whole child…

coaching is simply about improving performance of skills and techniques…

For me this notion that teachers are wise in the ways of ‘holistic development’ and coaches are simply ‘in it to win it’ is a bit of a dated (idealistic) view of the nature of the 2 areas and actually fairly unrealistic in my own experience. Is it realistic to assume that in schools, where P.E. teachers (bless them) can often be faced with up to and sometimes more than 50% of a class who really don’t want to be there, are actually developing the individual health, decision making, political, environmental and religious aspects of each of the 32 children in that class?. In the same sense, do we simply view coaches as groups of win-orientated beasts that drill participants into the ground without care of consequence, in search of their next competitive scalp. I liken this to an impression that teachers are producing large, wholesome free-range eggs, whilst coaches simply manage the battery hens, because more is better… More so, if teachers are doing a bad job then we need to label them as a lowly ‘coach’ and as soon as a coach begins to care, well they must be a teacher.

So why such a stark difference in the opinions of each of the professions? Is it because of this notion of being a profession? Do people view teaching as a profession, yet coaching as only a pastime? If so, then why do we make these assumptions (coaching as a profession is a title for another blog post).

Many researchers are beginning to acknowledge that coaching is moving away from simply being a process of improving physical and psychological attributes. Cross & Lyle (1999) suggest that defining coaching effectiveness as contributing to enhanced performance, or being synonymous with success does not do the concept justice. More recently too, Robyn Jones produced an interesting paper on the holistic side of coaching (Coaching as caring (‘The smiling gallery’): Accessing hidden knowledge) looking at the importance of caring in the role of the coach.

I guess my question is ‘what we understand the difference between coaching and teaching to be’? In my opinion/experience, the constraints of the teaching environment focuses on curriculum/teacher-led, instruction-based technique development or skill acquisition, across a myriad of sports, some in which the teacher has ‘expertise’ or they identify as specialisms, many though in which they do not. Coaching on the other hand allows for a more player centred approach to understanding the use of skills in the context of the sport with a practitioner that tends to have that sport as a specialism. I believe that the environment in schools is geared towards developing physical literacy, whereas in coaching settings there is a better opportunity to develop an understanding of skills in the context of the specific sport. By this I am not suggesting that coaches do not develop skills nor that understanding is not developed in school settings as I know that this can be the case. In reality, I think that a lot of what happens in coaching and teaching settings is very similar. In my experience there is as much teaching that lacks ‘development of the whole child’, or an holistic approach as there is coaching that does not develop skill and improve performance. But to say that coaching is a poor person’s teaching is not entirely fair to either profession.

Why can’t good coaches simply be good coaches? And bad teachers… well they need to be coached to be better!

I’d be interested in your views on this topic.

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