Tempering is a process used to impart strength and toughness, and essentially serves to bring out the intrinsic properties of the material under stress. Athletes forged in the crucible of severely testing conditions may be similarly rendered highly resilient to future challenges and stressors. Those who successfully come through such trial by fire paradoxically often prove stronger from the experience. The notion that stressors can not only make systems more resilient, but in fact stronger and better as a consequence, speaks to the concept of antifragility, a phenomenon observed in nature and highlighted by Nassim Taleb who famously coined the term. In this post, we will bring this antifragility lens, and a general reticence to accept that sports injuries ‘just happen’, to reframe how we think about preparing athletes to ‘future proof’ them to risks and scenarios that we cannot fully anticipate. In place of safeguarding measures and interventions that seek to protect, we will make the argument for tempering athletes to harness and develop their intrinsic reserves and coping abilities. Adopting this perspective and general strategy for managing injury risk, we will outline some tactics to help guide practitioners in their approach.
Divergence of opinion has traditionally been viewed in less than positive terms: when x and y don’t see eye to eye on a particular subject, this is generally seen as problematic. By extension, we hear of the virtues of assembling a group of ‘like-minded’ individuals. Organisations typically promote compromise and conformity as virtues to foster harmony and unity within the group. Contrary to this, the wisdom of crowds illustrates the benefits of aggregating judgements from a broad and disparate group of individuals. To further strengthen the case for diversity of thought and experience, ‘cognitive diversity’ is in fact found to be the major factor that differentiates successful teams and organisations. In this Informed Blog, we explore the paradoxical ways diversity and divergence are conceptualised, and see what lessons we can take on a group and an individual level in the context of sport.
Sleep is essential to sustaining life. Yet the majority of us are casually dismissive when it comes to sleep. We routinely deny ourselves this most critical sustenance of our own volition. The attitudes towards sleep among high performing individuals in different realms and society in general are quite baffling. We also largely fail to make the connection between the reckless lack of care and attention we give to our sleep and the dizzying array of consequences that inevitably follow. Objectively this behaviour is bizarre, and our failure to prioritise sleep defies logic. With this latest Informed Blog we explore the myriad ways you lose when you don’t snooze sufficiently.
In this latest offering we explore some of the traits that differentiate the best coaches and practitioners in their fields. One disclaimer before we start is that this post is based on observational study. To some degree the themes we explore reflect wisdom shared by prominent individuals via different forums and media. However, I unapologetically give more weight to traits and behaviours that I have directly observed. I have been fortunate to interact with a representative sample of these exceptional individuals across multiple sports in various contexts; this has provided the opportunity to see how they approach their work with ‘live’ athletes in different scenarios, as opposed to how individuals claim they act and operate in practice. The themes we explore are therefore more a product of this direct observation, rather than simply distilling what has been presented elsewhere.
As the saying goes, there is no success without struggle. The fear of making mistakes can become disabling, particularly if our aim is to try something new or different. So perhaps we need to to reframe how we think about making errors to avoid being too constrained by the desire to not get it wrong. The quest to be creative and innovative in our problem solving necessitates having the freedom to try new and different things. This principle applies whether we are seeking to explore new questions, or find different solutions to existing questions.
Practitioners across different domains will be familiar with their field of practice being referred to as an 'industry'. We frequently hear mention of the strength and conditioning industry, the sports physiotherapy industry, even the sports coaching industry. In this post we consider these trends for terming our professions in this way, and explore why an 'industry approach' might be problematic. From these discussions we can attempt to plot a path back to cultivating our craft, and restoring pride in our chosen profession by rejecting this ‘industry’ mindset.
It is a common viewpoint that ego stunts personal growth, and most would agree that ego undermines our effectiveness as coaches and practitioners. What is less often considered is that unconstrained ego similarly obstructs progress and discovery in the areas of scientific study that exist to inform practice. At present the respective disciplines encompassed within coaching science, sports science and sports medicine are plagued with these difficulties. Einstein famously quoted to the effect that ego has an inverse relationship to knowledge – “more the knowledge, lesser the ego; lesser the knowledge, more the ego”. Yet researchers in the fields of sports science and sports medicine are showing themselves to be particularly prone to ego and the excesses associated with it. In this post we tackle the issue of ego in sports science and sport medicine, and attempt to plot a path back to sanity.
Nuance is an under recognised keystone of practice in elite sport. We have spoken previously about critical thinking as a critical skill for coaches and practitioners in the Information Age, as a means to evaluate and integrate information from different sources. Nuanced understanding is critical for the steps that follow. Nuance is required to derive real meaning from the knowledge acquired and make use of it. Nuance is also critical to cope with the complexity inherent in human performance. In this post we will make the case for practicing nuance as an active skill in order to combat the epidemics of superficial knowledge and binary thinking.
In the Information Age the propensity for critical thinking has become arguably the most critical skill for practitioners in all fields. In the present era, with unprecedented access to a vast sea of information at the touch of a key stroke, the ability to filter and to critically evaluate are paramount. This is the great irony of the Information Age; at a time when the need has never been greater, critical thinking is seemingly a dying art. Increasingly we are plagued with superficial knowledge and incomplete understanding. We are beset on all sides by spurious reasoning and a preponderance of facile solutions. In this post we argue there is a need to resurrect critical thinking; we must understand the true meaning of skepticism and embrace it. Here we present the case that rediscovering these faculties will allow us to negotiate our way to free thought and provide the tools for independent learning to attain deeper understanding.
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.