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.
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.
For many years I have employed a mobility series prior to each day's training. Over the period I have refined the selection, and as we will see the mobility exercises employed borrows heavily from yoga. This practice is designed to serve two distinct purposes. Clearly one key objective is to prepare the athlete for the session to come. The second function is to allow the coach, practitioner and the athlete themselves to discern how their body is moving on each day. In turn this can serve to guide any self therapy or performance therapy intervention needed to address the area of restriction or altered function detected during the course of the athlete's daily mobility routine.
More enlightened training environments (notably AltisWorld) are throwing light on the benefits of ready access to performance therapy on a daily basis at the training facility. Whilst a growing audience is taking note, the reality for the majority of athletes is that they remain in less evolved systems and training environments that lack this provision. For the unfortunate majority self-therapy tools offer a substitute to hands-on manual therapy. In part one of this post we made the selection of what self-therapy tools merit the precious space in an athlete's kit bag. In this follow-up post we will now discuss the what, when and how.
I read with interest a recent article entitled 'Iliotibial Band Syndrome: Please do not use a foam roller!' from esteemed sports physician Andrew Franklyn-Miller. I moved away from using foam rolling some years ago, so it was interesting to see this. There is some data to support the efficacy of self massage using a foam roller to improve range of motion and other functional measures. However, by its nature the foam roller is a blunt tool. Applying compression over such a large area, the foam roller is too imprecise to be useful for self-myofascial release via trigger point therapy. Morever, excessive and non-selective use of foam rolling has the potential to cause more trauma to the tissues than good. This discussion also prompted the topic of this two-part post - if not the foam roller, which of the growing array of self-therapy and recovery tools on the market is worth the investment and space in the athlete's kit bag? In part two, we will explore in more detail how to best use those tools that make the cut, with some examples.
This post was prompted by a discourse that occurred on social media. Vern Gambetta, a well-known author and coach who has consulted with many sports, responded to a Twitter post by asking 'What is performance therapy?', and his follow up question was 'Why?'. Clearly these are important questions, which I will do my best to provide definitive answers to here.