In this second ‘Informed Short’ we explore the concept of meta-abilities, and unpack the superpowers that we can harness to enhance our practice in a variety of realms as coaches and practitioners in sport, and educate our athletes to make use to these tools for themselves. We can define meta-abilities as ‘higher order’ skills. A defining characteristic of meta-abilities is that they effectively determine how well we are able to make use of our other capabilities.
The current post is the culmination of a three-part series on coaching athletic movement. In the opening part of the series, we delved into the ‘why’, and sought to elucidate what roles we have to play in this space. With part two we got into the ‘what’, and proposed that the lenses of mechanical effectiveness and efficiency might unite our aims in both performance and injury realms. With this final instalment, we get into the ‘how’, and provide some practical guidance on how we might deliver what we outlined in part two, and ultimately fulfill the roles we identified in part one.
In an early post entitled ‘The Rise of the Movement Specialist’ we identified an apparent gap in the technical input and direction provided to athletes when it comes to athletic movement skills. The appearance in recent times of hordes of self-styled ‘movement specialists’ seeking to fill the void, or rather recognising a niche in the market, is indicative that something is presently lacking. With this 3-part post we attempt to tackle the question of what our role is in this space, and offer some guidance on how we can do better.
In this first part of the 3-part series, we start with ‘why’…
For a practitioner who spends any time on social media it is easy to get the sense we are in the death throes of informed debate. Authorities (often self-proclaimed) seem to constantly spew forth evangelical proclamations, push their ideology and promote others who espouse their doctrine, and decry those who express contrary views. Sadly, it appears there are no shortage of young zealots eager to answer the call to join the modern crusades conducted on a social media battlefield. In this post we will explore the trend for binary thinking and polarised arguments that fuels the tribalism we see on these platforms, and how this is increasingly creeping into sports science and medicine circles. We will then attempt to plot a path back from the edge of the abyss, and bridge the divide between factions to allow us to return to real debate.
Major competition poses unique challenges not only for the athlete, but also the coach and wider support staff. From a logistical viewpoint there are a host of additional factors to manage, but on a more personal level, each member of the team must also manage themselves and how they interact with the athlete. In the crucible of a major competition environment the mettle of all individuals concerned is tested, and every member of staff connected to the athlete has a responsibility. In this post we will dig deeper on this topic, and explore ways we can support athletes in handling the pressures to compete at their best on the biggest stage.
Athletes and coaches across all sports incessantly speak about the importance of 'focussing on the process', and process goals. As coaches and practitioners we are likewise ever mindful of scheduling constraints and the need to make best use of the finite time permitted to prepare our athletes. In previous posts we have spoken about the importance of mobilising mental resources, and the critical role of athletes' perception in relation to training responses. Here we will venture into the realms of teaching and learning, in order to make meaningful use of the notion of 'process focus' in the context of sport. In our quest for more purposeful training we will explore the concept of 'meta-learning', and outline how these principles might be applied to the process and the practice of preparing athletes.
Locus refers to a place or position where something is located: locus of attention concerns the location of an athlete's focus when executing a movement. Typically, locus of attention is stratified into internally versus externally located focus. The current dominant message to coaches and practitioners is to cue in a way that avoids an internal focus of attention - essentially 'internal focus BAD; external focus GOOD'. Yet when we look beyond the dominant narrative and take a closer look at the research on the topic, the question of where and how to direct an athlete's locus of attention when learning and performing becomes rather more complex. There is growing evidence to indicate that what is optimal may vary according to the population concerned, the task, context and even individual preference or predisposition. In this post we will delve deeper and attempt to unravel the topic of locus of focus.
I regularly engage in mentoring coaches and practitioners, and the universal starting point in this process is a 'SWOT analysis', allowing the individual to identify areas where they require development. A frequent response and common theme relates to the process of planning or programming training. Before we get into the puzzles to solve when programming physical preparation, let us begin with a revelation: athletes are humans not machines. Input does not necessarily equal output. When working with athletes we must understand that we are dealing with inherently complex and highly dynamic biological systems. Designing a training plan for an athlete or a group of athletes is therefore far from straightforward.
In this post we will unmask the flaws in the conventional wisdom that relates to planning and programming, including periodisation models. We will uncover the realities we face when programming training, explore the puzzles involved, and define the challenges we must resolve. Finally, we will outline a road map approach to guide planning physical preparation in a way that acknowledges the uncertainty, along with some strategies to help navigate the unknown and shifting terrain, to allow us to steer and adapt our course as we go.
The paradoxical burden of advantages is something that those who work with young athletes (and young people in general) often grapple with. We might consider this a 'first world problem of privilege' for developing athletes; some might even argue it is symptomatic of the wider ills of modern society. Whether or not you subscribe to such views, few would disagree that a sense of entitlement is the enemy when developing young people, regardless of whether the aim is that they grow up to become good people or top athletes. In either scenario, many of the qualities we are seeking to instill are much the same.
As we will explore in this post, the luxury of advantages, unless carefully managed, can pose a serious problem when our aim is fostering the traits necessary to strive for mastery and achieve long-term success in sport. We will investigate what makes a conducive environment for developing young athletes who demonstrate 'talent', and what pitfalls to avoid. Finally, we will tackle the question of how we might negotiate the challenges we presently face on our quest, and recommend practical steps to ensure young athletes are equipped with the fuel for the journey and the tools to overcome obstacles on the path to becoming elite.
'Long-term athlete development' has perhaps never been more topical, with an ever-growing number of programmes worldwide providing training for children and adolescent athletes. Mostly there is agreement on the need for structured 'athlete development' programmes for kids who engage in youth sports. We have consensus that appropriate physical and athletic development is beneficial for kids' health, performance and long-term outcomes. Still, confusion remains among parents, young athletes and practitioners, as authorities in the field continue to hotly debate the details. Here we will attempt to cut through these debates and provide much needed clarity and context to resolve some of the confusion. As we generally agree on the 'why', we will attempt to move things forward by finding shared ground and common principles to guide the 'what' and 'how' in relation to long-term athlete development.