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.
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.
Ask any athlete or coach and they will readily acknowledge the mental side of training. The mind is an integral part of training the body. How an athlete perceives the training prescribed can be hugely influential in determining how they experience it. In turn this perception can affect how the athlete responds to the training performed. Despite their apparent importance, mental aspects of the training process are typically not accounted for in any structured or meaningful way. In this post we will elucidate what these critical elements or 'mental resources' are in relation to the training process. We will then explore how each of these aspects can be accounted for and harnessed to best effect in the way athletes' training plans are presented and delivered.
Practitioners working in the realms of physical preparation, 'strength and conditioning', athletic development, sports coaching and sports medicine all share the desire that their athletes become more 'athletic'. Feats of athleticism can be readily recognised and appreciated. Yet observers and practitioners alike would struggle to describe with any clarity or detail what exactly constitutes 'athleticism'. Clearly we must first define qualities such as athleticism in order to understand how we might go about developing them. From a talent identification and talent development viewpoint, what do we need to identify and develop in a young athlete? In this post we aim to elucidate what athleticism is, and explore the constituent parts that underpin athleticism.
For the most part, when those in the media talk of 'inspiration' or 'being inspired' they are referring to those watching sport being inspired to strive to achieve the feats that they have seen or attempt to emulate sporting heroes. In this way, great athletes are often described as 'an inspiration to others'. Essentially, this is inspiration borne of admiration - essentially the 'I want to be like them when I grow up' scenario.
The alternative meaning of inspiration - and the definition that this post will mostly focus on - is inspiration in the sense of stimulating thought or inspiring new ideas.
This week I was asked about sport-specific programming by a young coach. Specificity is much misunderstood or at best incompletely understood in relation to training prescription and programming. Our task is to prepare the athlete for the rigours of training and competing. Nonetheless, rather than training the sport into the individual, we train the individual in the sport. In this sense the sport (or sports) provides the context, but the focus remains tailoring physical preparation and athletic development to the individual. This is a subtle but important distinction as we will explore in this post.
In a presentation last year I used the concept of yin and yang to describe the inter-relationship between physical and technical in track and field athletics. In essence, yin and yang describes how opposing elements (light and dark, fire and water) paradoxically serve to complement and ultimately define each other. Much the same applies when considering simplicity versus complexity. There are many instances where each of these elements apply in the realms of coaching and various facets of practice in elite sport. In this post we will explore the paradoxical - or yin and yang - relationship between simplicity versus complexity in the fields of coaching, physical preparation and sports injury.
Providing learning opportunities and mentoring to coaches and practitioners has been a recurring theme throughout my career. Indeed a large part of my present role involves mentoring young coaches and practitioners in the early stages of their career working with athletes. These interactions frequently prompt me to reflect on my own journey and what I have learned on the way. This post is a collection of those critical lessons - essentially what would have been useful to have been told starting out.
Aside from serving as the point of weight-bearing for all activities performed in standing, the foot represents the terminal link in the kinetic chain where forces generated by the athlete are transmitted to the ground beneath them. The action of the foot is integral to all modes of gait, from walking to sprinting. During sprinting, for example, the athlete's technical proficiency in how they apply force during each foot contact is recognised as paramount. Despite the integral role of the foot in locomotion and a host of athletic activities common to the majority of sports, training to develop this critical link is often overlooked in the physical preparation undertaken by athletes. This post examines the role of the different muscle groups involved in the dynamic function of the foot. We will explore different training modalities to develop the respective muscle groups, and also discuss the applications of this form of training, from both sports injury and performance perspectives.