Sharing is good…..

One of the pleasures of communicating and sharing with ‘giants’ is that I am so fortunate to know such a lot of really experienced and sensible practitioners who always seem to have their heads in the best places which, in turn, sees them giving out appropriate guidance. If you didn’t catch this on Facebook here is an excerpt from a recent statement from Vern Gambetta and the great follow-up from Peter Vint.

Vern

Three ways to absorb information
Absorb it implicitly
Be told it explicitly
Discover it ourselves
We remember things better when we discover ourselves. From: The Organized mind by Daniel J. Levitin p. 367

Peter Vint

Unfortunately, far too many coaches rely far too heavily on explicit (command and control) instruction. They may see an immediate response that validates their approach. However, it is rarely “learned” or deeply embedded and as a result tends to dissolve under the speed, pressure, and dynamic situations that are present during actual competition.

The goal of practice should rarely, if ever, be focused on performing well in practice. It should be about performing well when it matters. This requires a highly variable, challenging, learning-centric approach to athlete development. Implicit learning and guided discovery, often supported by “deliberate play”, small-sided games, and contraints-based types of experiences, provide this in far superior ways compared to explicit learning. It is unfortunate that despite a century of peer reviewed scientific and empirical evidence, this is completely underutilized.

To quote Atul Gawande in Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance, “We have not effectively used the abilities science has already given us. And we have not made remotely adequate efforts to change that”.

Time to change that.

Kelvin Giles

“Learning-centric” – Peter – great guidance for the content of Coach Education. Some NGB’s are slowly making the changes to their Coach Education content but too many still (a) tell me they are ‘all over this concept and working very holistically’ (b) have failed to go and watch their sport being coached in the development stages. The coaching at this level is not learning-centric. It is winning-centric; adult-centric; fast track-centric; drill-centric. Hardly any patience and appropriate progression. Sad

At last, Physical Literacy hits the big-time in Australia

I know – more cynicism from me but I will remain hopeful that this project moves from an informative academic exercise to one that actually makes a difference. After all, it is commissioned by the organisation that has full responsibility for the future of Australian Sport.

Congratulations to the Australian Sports Commission and the delegates chosen to create the Physical Literacy documents (https://www.ausport.gov.au/participating/physical_literacy). To all those involved I thank you for the huge amount of work you have obviously done. Someone at least gave enough thought to put the Physical Literacy question front and centre and everyone’s contribution is appreciated and respected.

We now have another substantial government document (40Mb+) that is designed to act as a support framework to the required improvements in the quest for community physical literacy across Australia. It will be of great assistance to those who need to learn new definitions of Physical Literacy or for those who have no idea that the term exists.

It follows on from the many similar actions I have seen in a number of countries who themselves are struggling with the continuum from community well-being through to elite performance in the international sporting arena. As stated in the videos that accompany the documents this is but a first step. I am trusting those who wrote it and invested in it that it is really a first step and that much more is yet to come. If this is all that we can expect then we have all fallen for the political trap so often dangled in front of us. Promises that never reach fruition; promises that attract our early support and then die the usual death; promises that make us see the decision-makers as truly being on our side only to see these hopes dashed again and again.

As with most government orchestrated projects a range of experts have been assembled to get the terminology accurate and the message attractive. Some of the contributors are extraordinarily experienced in this field and so we should expect their drive and leadership to take us to great places as a nation. We are invited to understand new ‘Domains’ that the framework encompasses as we grapple with the definitions and to see this project as a supporting guide for us all. Not a bad aim for a project but woefully short of what is really needed.

The worry is that the creation of a document that does a great job in giving us all a definition and/or a guide to how to interpret physical literacy will simply finish up being just that – another glossy document.

The more I read the sales pitch the more I see the exercise as academic posturing. I keep on reading all the jargon with the expectation that somewhere in all the layers will be the key elements that are to be taught to all our parents, teachers and coaches. I am praying that this massive project actually has some teeth being prepared for delivery in a Coach / Teacher / Parent Education strategy. Surely it can’t stop here as an academic exercise? If any of this is to have a chance of leaping off the page and appearing in the language and vocabulary of teachers and coaches then a parallel education strategy must be created and delivered. The practitioners who appear to be finally responsible for the delivery of this project in sport will be the usual suspects – the thousands of volunteer coaches who turn up at all the Clubs twice a week and in whose hands the future of Australian sports rests. Yes – the same people who we give a certificate to after a day or two sitting down in a few lectures and then expect them to coach all the foundations of every sport. Yes – the same people that we give a certificate to and then ignore for the rest of their coaching life. Yes – the same people who get a certificate that focuses on technical and competition elements at the expense of learning and behavioural development. Yes – the same people who cry out for support from their NGB during the session when they are faced with circumstances they were not “trained” for.

It is a project that is about “definition”, a project of “message’, a project designed as a “supporting guide” and although I am appreciative of such a document I am convinced that it is doomed to being just that – a document, created by academics with little or no chance of it ever making a difference where the rubber meets the road in the actual teaching / coaching / learning session. It will be yet another example that government uses to illustrate their commitment to the community while, at the same time, knowing that little or nothing will change in the world of the so-called recipient. It will be another of their “get-out-of jail” cards so often used as an illustration of why they should keep their jobs.

We know that participation is dropping. We know that ineffective coaching is part of this problem. We know that coaches are ignored once they get their certification. We know that “winning now” over-rides long-term development. We know that the fundamentals of physical development and behavioural development are sacrificed at the altar of technical, tactical and winning development. We know that early engagement has been lost to early specialisation. We know that early developers are given more opportunity than late developers. We know that we choose “sports specific” before “athlete appropriate”. We know all this, and more, yet never give the teachers or coaches the tools to deliver what is right. We continue to fail our development ranks yet find the human, physical and financial resources and energy to produce 40Mb of theory which will never reach the coach / athlete environment.

Somewhere in the corridors of sporting power here in Australia there needs to be a department that doesn’t exist as the creator of academic exercises, or ‘corporate-speak’ based projects (language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax and is often vague in meaning), or nebulous strategy, or “guidelines”, or warm and fuzzy support mechanisms. The nation needs a department that will utilise the same degree of effort, the same human resources and the same commitment to actions that will make a difference where the rubber meets the road – the actual lesson or coaching session. Stop doing expensive, time-consuming, irrelevant projects and do the things that make the teachers and coaches deliver consistently the best learning for all students and athletes. Start all your expensive effort where it counts – where the coach and athlete or teacher and student are battling to get better at something.

By all means have a department that deals with words by academics, glossy documents that are endorsed by a Minister, but for goodness sake do something that makes a difference outside academia and the bureaucracy. Start at the cutting edge where the athlete/ student meets the coach/teacher and not just where the theory and buzzwords predominate the landscape. Stop looking for new things to put into the theory before we have even started to deliver what we already know.

If this endeavour does make a difference then we should all see the content of lessons and sessions that actually deliver physical literacy improving. Improving in its quality, its density, its frequency of occurrence and, more importantly, the measurable improvement in physical literacy of all members of our community. If the project works then all our teachers will be fully trained in this delivery as should every coach in every sport. We won’t just be left hoping that all this is delivered we should see tangible changes very quickly. Every Coach Education system should display effective change in content and process. Teachers and coaches will no longer be left to their own devices – they will be part of an effective pathway where they receive ongoing professional support and development after they get a certificate.

Unless it makes a measurable difference then it is irrelevant. By framing the issue in a very creative way it gives the appearance that solutions have been found when in real terms all that has happened is the government has written a glossy document.

Nowhere in these documents is mentioned any measure of how the volunteer army of coaches is ever going to be supported to not only knowing what to do but also being taught how to do it. How to organise the session? How to prepare the coaching area? What to say? When to say it? How to progress and element? How to regress an element? When to drill? When to let them experiment? If the promise that this project is but the first step is to believed then I remain hopeful that these vital components are on the governments production-line. Reality? Don’t hold your breath if you are working at the coal-face of physical activity – you are on your own.

Jumping Development

As with all movements the ability of the athlete to connect from ‘toenails to fingernails’ during the jumping action is vital. Even in a pure ‘jump’, such as Long-Jump in Athletics, the athlete has a variety of things happening before take-off, at take-off, during ‘flight’, before ‘landing’ and at ‘landing’ so the ability to control a variety of factors while jumping is important.

I was taught by my mentors that it was always best to teach ‘Landing’ before take-off to a Jump. I didn’t get an explanation for this mantra but quickly understood when I coached my first High Jumper when it became very clear why landing is part of the vocabulary of Jumping. As a preparation for take-off nearly every jump is preceded by a ‘Landing’ of sorts. For example, in the High Jump the take-off foot is planted on the floor and the free Knee is driven up and across the body. It is this ‘plant’ that sets up the actual take-off. Get this wrong in terms of “where, when and how” and the subsequent take-off and flight of the jump will be less than optimum.

Above you can see examples of an athlete just prior to take-off having ‘landed’ on the floor on the jumping (take-off) Leg. If this ‘force-reduction’ or ‘force-stabilisation’ or ‘shock-absorption’ landing is not controlled throughout all body parts then the next action – the take-off – is going to be a more difficult action to get right. Don’t just think that Athletics jumping activities need this high-quality action. A Cricket Bowler has to land when getting into the delivery part of the action; a Basketball lay-up shot starts with a landing; a Hurdler landing from a hurdle needs quality in this landing; a field and court team athlete who needs to change direction will have to have this ‘landing’ prior to changing direction; a Soccer player jumping to head a ball will need these take-off mechanics to be first class; a Ski-Jumper will have to land correctly just as an Ice-Dancer will need to land perfectly.

Landing just prior to take-off is the key action that must be done well if the jump part is to be successful. Lose control of this contact with the floor and not only might the following jump be compromised but joints and tissue can easily be injured.

Landing & Take-Off

2 Feet take-off to 2 Feet landing (Jumping)
One Foot (L&R) take-off to 2 Feet landing
2 Feet take-off to One Foot landing (L&R)
One Foot (L&R) take-off to same One Foot (L&R) landing (Hopping)
One Foot (L&R) take-off to opposite Foot landing (Leaping / Bounding)
Combinations e.g. repeated Jumping; repeated Hopping; repeated Leaping; the principles of Hop Scotch; Hop-Step-Jump; 2Hops-2 Steps–2 jumps.

Forwards
Lateral (L&R)
Backwards
Diagonal

With pause
Continuous
Restart e.g. Jump forwards twice then immediately jump backwards once.
Landing Deep
Landing Shallow

Carrying objects e.g. Medicine Balls; Aqua Bags
Catching and Throwing at landing
Arms Overhead

On to a Box
Off a Box
On and off and on combinations
Over a Box; Witches Hat; Hurdle; Bench
On to different surfaces e.g. Sand; Soft Mats; Up-slope and down-slope

While Landings are being adapted to, the actual Take-Off exploration can begin. The direction can be manipulated along with the amplitude from shallow jumping to jumping for height. Actions can be added during and after the ‘flight’ phase of the jump.

Vertical Jumping (Jumping – Hopping – Leaping / Bounding)

Jump & Reach
Jump & Rotate
Jump & Tuck
Star Jump
Jump & Catch
Jump & Throw

Jumping forward for height
Jumping backwards for height
Jumping laterally (L&R) for height
Jumping diagonally for height

Over obstacles e.g. Hurdles, mini-Hurdles, Boxes, Canes

Reactive – mirror a partner’s jumping actions.
Reactive – tag games over obstacles.

Horizontal Jumping (Jumping – Hopping – Leaping / Bounding)

Forwards
Backwards
Lateral (L&R)
Diagonal (L&R)

Along a line
Across a line
Over obstacles e.g. Hurdles, mini-Hurdles, Boxes, Canes

For height
For distance

With Pause
Continuous
With rebound
With Rotation

Reactive – tag games

Throwing Development

It is suggested that, prior to teaching the specifics of Shot, Discus, Hammer and Javelin throws (and, come to think of it, Cricket throwing and Bowling; Handball, Basketball, Baseball, Netball, Volleyball spiking and passing, etc) the athletes are immersed in a range of throwing movement patterns as part of their physical literacy development.

If one knows the destination then it is easier to create the journey as long as this journey is appropriate for the individual concerned. While one outcome might be to see how far a person can throw a given implement the ‘how far’ element is but a small piece in the jigsaw of throwing actions.

There are a few ‘must-do’s’ when it comes to throwing and although some sports specific actions and postures might be a different there are some movement patterns / actions / postures that appear in most throwing activities. Use these as the focus of the vocabulary you are seeking so you always have a destination in mind.

1. Strong, slow forces work first, fast forces last (check out how the Legs, Trunk and Shoulder all act before the throwing Arm and Hand gets involved
2. In many cases there is a transfer of weight from rear to front foot.
3. The forces start at contact with the ground and travel through body segments to the final release from the hand.
4. The Hips lead the Trunk leads the Shoulder leads the Arm leads the Hand in the direction of the throw (often creating a ‘torque’ between Hips and Shoulder).
5. In many cases one-side (non-throwing side) is ‘braced’, braked, or stopped so the throwing side accelerates ahead which creates a stable pillar for the throwing action to work
against.
6. Note that these comments are for able-bodied athletes so ‘thinking / creative hats’ on for the less able athlete.

The aim is to build a wide and deep throwing pattern vocabulary from which the final sports-specific destination can grow. The longer the athlete spends developing a ‘general’ throwing movement ability the more effective they will be when, later, they are pursuing the specific movement and force patterns of their chosen sport. Stop thinking that a measured throw is the only focus of things – not yet – give them a full education in all related movement patterns that lead to the final competitive throwing choice.

What variables are in your toolbox?

Environment

Rebound off a wall
Throw to partner(s)
Throw for distance
Throw for height
Throw to a target (Watch out! This is a very regressive activity which often sees the throwing action reverting back to a less effective pattern as the accuracy component takes over – use it sparingly)

Body position

From Seated (Feet ahead on floor or Knees bent)
From Kneeling (sitting on Feet)
From Kneeling High (Hips above Knees)
From Split Stance on Knees (L&R)
From Kneeling Split Stance (L&R)
While / after Squatting
While / after Lunging
While / after Jumping
While / after Hopping
While / after Walking
While / after Running
While / after Pivoting
After catching – Two-Handed and One-Handed from different directions

Action & Direction

Push forwards
Push upwards
Rotate and push forwards (L&R)
Rotate and push sideways (L&R)
Rotate and sling forwards (L&R)
Throw forwards from overhead
Sling forwards
Sling backwards overhead
Sling Horizontal (L&R)
Sling forwards diagonally from low to high (L&R)
Sling backwards diagonally from low to high

Hands & Feet

Two-Handed – Two Feet
Two-Handed – One-Foot (L&R)
One-Handed (L&R) – Two-Feet
One-Handed (L&R) – One-Foot (L&R)
Sling with Arms close to body
Sling with Arms long

Implement

Quoits
Sand-Bags
Sand-Socks
Golf balls
Tennis balls
Basketballs
Medicine balls
Short sticks
Longer sticks
Turbo-Javelins
Mini-Javelins
Shot
Discus
Short Hammers
Long Hammers

A simple start might be – Seated, legs ahead on floor – in pairs – push pass from Chest – catch & return. This could evolve to a more complex activity e.g. Single Foot Hop (L&R) forwards followed by diagonal (Right to Left) backwards overhead sling.

It is known that ‘variability’ in training / learning leads to skills being more robust in later settings. By mixing and matching all these variables you have in excess of 60,000 puzzles with which to challenge the learning process.

On-Feet Locomotion Development Thoughts

I have always said of our teaching and coaching world that while we tell them ‘how far’ and ‘how fast’ to run it might be better if we actually taught them ‘HOW’ to run. With a high proportion of physical activities demanding some type of running quality surely the ‘HOW’ should appear in the pathway far more than it currently does.

By all means start with some instruction. When we first learn or relearn a motor skill, all performers need some feedback and instruction. By giving instruction and feedback initially there are less errors in these first stages of learning. The less errors, the more confident the learner can be. The trap is that if all you ever do is get them to learn robotically by explicit drills their learning will be slowed.

In recent conversations, I have told some coaches that “Variety is key. Find as many solutions to as many movement pattern puzzles as you can while eliciting the main movement aims.” In other words, it aids learning when you drive at a required outcome using a variety of methods and activities. By adding this variability the entire system of learning is enhanced.

While we consider all this variability it is wise to take some time to understand some of the other elements of learning that will prevail. At the centre of every skill the athlete is trying to learn are a set of characteristics that do not change no matter who is doing the movement; or when they are doing the movement. These are the most relevant parts of the movement and, in some cases, are the parts of the pattern upon which many other parts of the sequence depend. In other words, these are the basics (or “attractors” which is the new sexy terminology you might come across).

For example, my main aim to develop correct running mechanics is to concentrate on how the foot hits the ground, in what direction, with what force and then how it leaves the ground, in what direction – the foot moves violently downwards from above for each foot-strike and then leaves the ground with the heel moving towards the upper-Hamstring as the two thighs move past each other. If this action is done right then the Knees follow, the Hips follow and the Trunk and Arms follow via a self-organising process. I can have this foot-contact and recovery element as the main focus when the activities change as seen in the list below. By having to concentrate on this foundation movement of ‘contact’ while navigating a huge range of activities that revolve around on-feet locomotion the learning process is enhanced.

Our job is to prepare the young person for ‘what is yet to come’ whether their journey is to all-round health and well-being or to high performance sport or a combination of both destinations. To give them the tools to be effective in a wide range of sports would appear to be a sound aim in all this. This means that we can’t just give them running skills for a track (running forwards in a lane where the only decision is to react to a gun and/or to turn left). Preparing them for the on-going decision-making they will experience in just about every other situation of locomotion they will face is the best thing we can do.

The ‘track’ running process is a decent enough starting point where you can develop the PAL layers of the technique (Posture, Arms and Legs). It will give a good start to the process but certainly not a wide or deep enough set of experiences to arm them with the tools for all the other circumstances that participation in field and court sports will bring.

On-feet locomotion can obviously be developed through walking and running but skipping and galloping can also act as very relevant puzzles to solve. As the journey continues to the more robust elements then jumping, hopping and leaping should also appear in the journey.

If you want to create a wide and deep movement vocabulary for on-feet locomotion then consider such things as:

Walking; Running; Skipping; Galloping; Jumping; Leaping; Hopping

Forward; Backward; Sideways (Side-step; Cross-over)

Round circles clockwise; round circles anti-clockwise

Short strides; long strides

Low Knees; High Knees

Stop and re-start in different direction

Start the locomotion from stationary; from walking; from running at different speeds (this is the start of the Acceleration journey); from running at different speeds in different directions.

Stationary start locomotion from different positions: Standing facing forwards; facing backwards; facing sideways; standing 2 feet; standing one-foot; kneeling; sitting; lying prone; lying supine; lying on side; on hands & feet prone (4-point); on hands & feet supine (4-point); 3-point; 2-point.

Arms at sides; Arms ahead; Hands behind Head; Arms overhead; normal Arm action

Trunk bend; Trunk rotate; Trunk bend and rotate

Carry load low; carry load at waist; carry load at chest; carry load overhead; carry load and bend; carry load and rotate. Carry load and push out; carry load and push up

Catch an object; pass an object

Go around obstacles; go over obstacles

Add relay races and ‘tag’ games to all of the above.

See this list as a range of ingredients that you can mix-and-match in all sorts of combinations, at all sorts of training-age levels. Think of static to dynamic; slow to fast; simple to complex; unloaded to loaded as a guide. Progress and regress the activity based on what the athlete can or cannot do. Fit the activity to the competence level of the individual. This can be viewed as a list of locomotion puzzles for them to (a) create (b) solve.

Each of these progressions / regressions gives the coach the opportunity to elicit change in the PAL process and in particular the opportunity to focus on the chosen aim for the movement (my example – foot contact and toe-off actions).

The Journey – An Example

A simple starting point might be – Run Forwards with a normal action of arms and legs.

After adaptation to a variety of activities over time the activity can develop to one of greater variety and complexity – In a race in a 10m square; from a kneeling start position; Run backwards around a square of witch’s hats; clockwise (opposition is in the same square running anti-clockwise); hands above head; carrying a ball; pass the ball laterally to a partner.

Example Race with Decision-making

2 Teams of 2 per square
A (Black Line) Starts bottom Left – runs diagonal to top right – runs to left – runs diagonal to bottom right – runs to left to tag next person in the team
B (Red Line) Starts bottom Right – runs diagonal to top left – runs to right – runs diagonal to bottom left – runs to right to tag next person in the team

Note that major movement decisions will have to be made when the teams cross each other in the centre of the square and along the top and bottom sides. Now we have speed and change of direction plus some decision-making.

Consider using activities from the list for each of the races.

Some home truths from a great professional

In the formative years of my coaching career I was fortunate to be surrounded by a group of coaches who, through the kindness of their hearts, supported my first faltering steps into what turned out to be a near lifetime of coaching. In those heady days of the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games I spent hours and hours with my fellow National Coaches Frank Dick, Wilf Paish, Malcolm Arnold, Carl Johnson, Bruce Longdon, and a host of experienced National Event coaches. Each of them gave me time and support as I slowly learned the ropes of what it was like to not only coach athletes but to mentor and support other coaches. We were all part of a National Coaching Strategy that invested heavily in the well-being of all coaches and we were stimulated to create better and better opportunity for all the local coaches in each of our regions.

Today, some 40 years later, it is encouraging to hear some of these voices from the past still working hard to effect change for the better. In recent days one of my mentors, Malcolm Arnold, has cast off the current self-absorbed falsehoods of the modern sporting bureaucracy and told it like it is. He has encapsulated what we as a previous coaching generation saw as the cornerstone of any sporting success – the coaching network and the coach education strategy. Current bureaucracies, with their jargon-filled, ‘corporate-speak’ narration, continue to enjoy their days-in-the-sun at the expense of those who are the engine that keeps the sport alive – the volunteer coaches and volunteer officials and administrators. These volunteers turn up day after day to do the best they can to help all those young athletes continue along the pathway to improvement and continued participation. While we see lots of ‘quick-fix’, ‘fast-track’ actions and processes from the professional decision-makers that often just paper over the cracks of the faltering sporting plan we seldom see the volunteer ‘engine’ being fully recognised, serviced and supported in a meaningful way that will stand the test of time.

For all those interested in the dialogue going on you can do no better than to read Malcolm Arnold’s take on the state of Track & Field in the UK. You may recognise some of his illustrations and observations as being pertinent to your own sport.

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Article 2

The Australian Government has called for submissions in regard to a National Sporting Plan. I hope that those experienced practitioners with something to say hold their nerve and ‘tell it like it is’ just as I hope that the Minister in charge of the project has the nerve to recognise and act upon the truth. I am hoping that the Minister sees the need for the most effective people-to-people initiatives; the ‘HOW’ of coaching and not just the ‘WHAT’; not just resource technology initiatives but leadership initiatives driven by real leaders and not career bureaucrats. Why we continue to drift away from the human elements that forge all pathways to improvement and hitch our wagon to “vision” that is clouded and deranged I will never know.

I have little use for consensus building in times of genuine crisis (a camel is a horse designed by a committee) and I truly believe that the physical well-being of our younger generations is critical to the international high-performance results that the nation craves. With the right leadership we might begin moving (visibly, actively, forcefully and publicly) in a positive direction and encourage those who turn their heads toward us and seem curious to come along. It will take some direct enunciation of the state of play at the moment (as Malcolm Arnold has done) and some sensible leadership towards the multi-layered solutions that are required. All thought must go initially to the place where the ‘rubber meets the road’ in the volunteer environment of well-being and performance improvement and not only to the resource-guzzling elite levels.

Others Words

Realised today how lucky I am to have such great practitioners to turn to and learn from even at the ripe old age of 70.

While having a think today about what to say to a person who is intent on getting leaner and fitter I remembered Steve Myrland’s epic overview of this topic:

“You can’t exercise your way out of an unhealthy diet and you can’t diet your way out of an unhealthy lifestyle.”

Then there is Bill Knowles who got my feet back on the ground many, many years ago when he asked us all involved in rehabilitating the injured athlete to:

“Treat the athlete not the injury.”

Then Dean Benton gave me the cornerstone of the Brumbies very successful season in Super Rugby back in 2013:

“We agreed to do things different and try different things.”

My early mentor and ongoing friend Frank Dick always encouraged me to:

Know what you know; admit what you don’t know; and know who does know!”

Loads more mates for me to quote as time unfolds.

Progression (For all those Primary School Teachers at the latest Workshop)

Thanks to all who turned up the other day to have a look at building the movement vocabulary. It seems that you and your colleagues in High School are part of the accountability for the development of Physical Literacy in the younger generations. As we discussed in the workshop it is tough to have this accountability when you only spent a short number of hours in your Teacher training doing the PE stuff which was nearly all about competitive Games. Your enthusiasm to learn was infectious and I thought I should follow-up with a little more detail and some reminders on one of the elements we covered in that all-to-brief 2 hours – Progressing the movement experience.

The teachers PE toolbox should contain a variety of tools that allow you to select and teach an appropriate type and level of exercise to the individual in the class. Unfortunately, too many coaches and teachers have only three tools in their possession – 1. Volume (lots and lots of mindless repetitions that just get the kids tired) 2. External resistance (a Barbell a Dumbbell or Medicine Ball or Sand-Sack) 3. Volume and External Resistance together. No doubt that there will be some adaptation to these methods but they are limited when put into the context of most individual and team field, court and flotation sports and the physical competence they will need to do them. In many sporting situations they will have to execute the movement pattern in various directions, at various speeds, at various amplitudes, in multiple planes while doing other actions like lifting, reaching, carrying, catching, passing, jumping, kicking, pulling, pushing, etc. Sometimes they will have to do all these movements while reacting to opposition or to a ball in flight. If this is the world they will have to live in then it is up to us to give them a vocabulary of movement experiences that prepare them for this environment.

To illustrate some of these tools let us look at the Squat movement where the athlete conducts the ‘triple-flexion’ movement (sitting on a chair) and ‘triple-extension’ movement (standing up from the chair). It would be remiss to think that this single plane (sitting and standing) movement pattern will be sufficient to aid the athlete along the pathway to what they will face in the sports-performance setting (apart from Power-lifting athletes).

By all means start the journey with the conventional Double-Leg Squat to parallel where the following will be seen.

1. Head up, Chest up
2. Back straight and parallel to Shins
3. Feet Shoulder width apart, Heels down
4. Thighs parallel to the floor.
5. Ankle, Knee and Hip aligned

It is suggested that before you start to reach for the volume and external resistance tools you might want to consider the following:

Change the Amplitude of the movement –

Shallow; Deep – and all stations in-between.

Change the Speed of the movement –

Static; Slow; Fast – and all stations in-between

All the above – Change the position of the Feet –

Wide stance; Wide stance Toes out; Wide stance Toes in; Wide stance one Foot ahead (L&R); All the above – to Toes.
Narrow stance; Narrow stance one Foot ahead (L&R); All the above to Toes

All the above – change the Trunk position –

Bend; Rotate; Bend and Rotate
With Broomsticks
With Medicine Balls

All the above – change Arm position / action

Hands behind Head
Hands ahead
Hands overhead
Hands across Chest
Catch an object
Catch and throw / pass an object
Bounce a ball
Juggle a ball
With wide Arms
With tight to body Arms
Push an object up; out
Pull an object or an elastic rope high to low; low to high; diagonally low to high

All the above – change how they arrive in and leave the position

Land from a small jump (Forwards, Backwards, Sideways (L&R), Restart in all directions e.g. Jump forwards x 2 and jump backwards once to the Squat landing
Land from a small Hop
Land from a small Leap
Land off a box
Land on a box
Jog, brake and stop into a Squat – in multiple directions
Run, brake and stop into a Squat – in multiple directions
Land going up-hill
Land going down-hill

All the above followed by a jump –

For height
For distance
With 90 Rotation
With 180 Rotation
With 360 Rotation

The coach will not have to always show them all these variations or coach them robotically. Challenge the athlete to change a body part or shape or speed and applaud their creativity. Let them observe another athlete’s solution – they have great observation and mimicking skills that help create the vocabulary.

“Can you be taller in shape?”
“Pretend to sit in a chair”
“Can you be smaller in shape?”
“Can you change the position of your Arms?”
“How many can you do in 5 secs?”
“Can you land quietly?”
“Can you land with a loud noise?”
“Who can do this in s-l-o-w motion?”
“What happens if you close your eyes?”
“In pairs, copy what your partner does”
“Do the movement to this music”

With all these puzzles to solve the athlete will amass a wide and deep movement vocabulary from which their developed proprioception (knowing and controlling where they are in time and space), balance, coordination in this Squat pattern will be available to them. Whatever you find helpful here for the Squat movement can be applied to the other foundation movement of Lunge, Pull, Push, Brace, Rotate, Hinge and landing. You will have noticed that even though the Squat was the centre of attention in this document you can see many of the other foundations movements involved. You can also see some of the Running, Jumping, Throwing and Catching elements being integrated. This is the beauty of a movement curriculum, it links so many things together. Whether you offer these journeys in the Classroom with the ‘movement breaks’ we spoke about and / or in the formal PE lessons where they can learn and apply the movements in a variety of settings, all these tools are there for you to create an imaginative and varied series of learning opportunities. Have a go!

First 6-months back in Australia

In a recent presentation my colleague Steve Myrland stated, “Culture (writ large) is largely built on unchallenged assumptions and that assumptions are the rust that forms in the absence of critical thought”. These next few words are my clumsy attempt to again highlight some issues that have arisen through some of this “rust’ taking hold in the world of physical activity and sports performance. The aim is to create some thought that allows people to question their assumptions on a few of the elements in these cultural infrastructures.

I returned to Australia last November after working in the UK over two Olympic cycles. I was fortunate to have been able to work across the full performance spectrum from Development right through to the Championship / Medal Table end of things. I met many great practitioners from teaching, coaching, sports-science, sports-medicine and administration and it didn’t take me long to realise that what I had experienced in Australia was being duplicated in the UK in terms of that same continuum. My concern was that while inroads were being made in the 1% gains (where Olympic team members were improved to being finalists and finalists were being improved to being medalists) the same effort was not being seen in the development of the next generation. There was a cry for ‘legacy’ at the London Games where the word on the street was that the London Olympics would create a nation of active people; a healthier nation; and a reduced Health Service budget. It was obvious that this was a false lead by the bureaucracy as all the ‘eggs’ were being put in the ‘basket’ of high performance and the legacy was just a hope. Now I like hope and hopefulness but I am clear that unless you add some structure and action to a dream it will remain just a hope. The UK is hurtling towards a high-performance downturn in the future because it continues to fail the 99%.

I had no expectations of what I would see when I returned – just a hopeful feeling that Australia was continuing to look ahead and break new ground with its usual down-to-earth passion. The reality was different. Almost immediately I witnessed the start of the fight to see who actually ‘owned’ Australian Sport. The decline in Olympic medals that had started in Athens and continued to drop through to the Rio Games appears to have opened a sore in the sporting psyche of the nation. This examination (or attempted coup to put it another way) illustrated to me the power struggles that go on behind the scenes as the decision-making bureaucracies of sport go about protecting their fiefdoms (and their salaries and power base). I watched potential coups and counter-coups going on that ate up energy, time and resources that could have and should have been better used for others. There were polarised views on who should control and spend all the public and corporate dollars involved in Australian Sport which did little to help the 99% of the sporting community that volunteer their time and energy.

Next thing I know is that a politician is asking for submissions for the creation of a National Sports Plan which frightened the life out of me. Here was another chance for the bureaucracy to spend time, energy and money on another expensive gesture. To me any such review should be one where the decision-makers spend a lot of time shadowing all the volunteer coaches and administrators (the 99% of our coaching manpower) who are responsible for the pathway of every athlete whether the aim in well-being and participation or a journey to high performance. Find out what these people really need for them to be effective. What knowledge do they need? What training and mentoring do they need? What coach to athlete ratio do they need? What tools do they need to keep the athletes engaged? What encouragement do they need to keep turning up? What support from Physical Education do they need?

Can’t go past this PE implication without recommending some changes. A change to a movement (mechanical) and fitness (metabolic) curriculum that sees a competitive games element being a result of the former instead of being the centre of attention would seem to be in order. Add to this a school day that sees ‘movement breaks’ occurring at the end of each lesson where the aim is to finally achieve the recommended 60min of moderate exercise each day for all growing children, and things might improve a little physically, behaviourally and academically.

While all this energy, bluster and political manoeuvring is going on it is interesting to see that all the coaches, athletes and administrators (the 99%) at the early stages of the journey, the participation level of sport that covers the age range of 8-18 years, continue to turn up and do their jobs. In this world of ‘Development’ little has improved in the last two decades in terms of knowledge, support and reward and it is clear that little will improve in the next two decades unless some like-minded people start to make some much smarter decisions. Unfortunately, once the dust has settled politically and all the power-brokers are again secure in their positions I expect that the status quo will prevail.

I expect that there will continue to be a dissonance between health and well-being and the pursuit of elite performance when it is clear that you cannot have the latter without the former. There will continue to be a reliance on honorary, poorly prepared, poorly serviced, poorly regarded, poorly appreciated manpower in the coaching ranks of the Development layers when the direct opposite is required. The huge resources that are devoured at the bureaucratic layers of sport will continue to elude the coaches, athletes, administrators and infrastructures of the Development layers. Decisions will always be a ‘Top-Down’ happening where the vital human, physical, information and financial resources are first spent on the bureaucracy and elite layers while the rest of the strategy gets what is left over. One can only dream that we may see some ‘Bottom-Up” action where appropriate attention is paid to the layers where the rubber meets the road – the masses of athletes and teachers / coaches working at the level where young people take their first, faltering steps along the journey to (a) continued well-being (b) high performance.

It is always sad to see energy and resources going into a new endeavour that is titled in such a way that the 99% actually get some hope only to see the usual suspects arrive on the scene e.g. either ‘too little, too late’ or a new plan that simply papers over the cracks while being fan-fared as the ‘new solution to all problems’.

The true test of the success of any review and subsequent action is that in 10 years from now you won’t have to have another review – maybe some small adjustments but certainly not another one from the ground up. The true test of the efficacy of your coaching strategy is that 10 years from now you won’t have suffered another participation decline or further mechanical, metabolic and behavioural limitations to the progression of well-being or performance.

Time to stop the re-cycling of ineffective reviews and interventions and make some positive changes once and for all.

“While efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.” Steve Myrland

Time to re-write and integrate the journey from well-being through to high performance. Time to stop regurgitating tired strategies by tired people and create an appropriate and effective strategy that is created and administered not by career bureaucrats but by those who have trodden the pathway while knowing and delivering best principles. Let the final model start at the cutting edge – where teachers and students and coaches and athletes work every day.

More thoughts on Coach Education

Coach Education should contain more explanation and practice of outcome-based learning; constraints-based learning; using analogies; the implicit spectrum. It is far more than quoting PhD research and using inappropriate scientific jargon. Coaches need to know what these processes are in terms they understand and then have them demonstrated in a practical setting. They should then do several sessions where they actually coach using these methods in the presence of a master coach who can guide them to better practice.

The structure and content of Coach Education courses should see the delegates learning more than the Educator / lecturer is delivering. Adapted from Per-Goran Fahlstrom

Course presenters must go beyond passing over information and then hoping that something ‘sticks’. In the case of these ‘learning’ strategies (surely the cornerstone of all coach education content) there should be an understandable explanation; a high-quality demonstration in a direct coaching session by the instructor (illustrating what to say, where to stand, what to look and listen for). This should then be followed by each delegate having the opportunity to coach a colleague or a small group while under scrutiny from the instructor and their peers. They must be allowed to try again and again in this setting with constructive criticism prevailing.

They then need to be mentored further when they are coaching their squads. Their education must be appropriate enough to encourage them to do things different and do different things. They must clearly understand and build up experience in things other than explicit, drill-based learning. Some NGB’s think that by mentioning implicit learning in the course the coaches will automatically begin to coach this way. Coach Education is more than the transfer of information – it must become a process of learning for the coach. Just as athletes need adequate time to learn (slow vs fast learners; slow vs fast adapters) and apply new skills into their environment so coaches need the same frequency and type of exposure to learning. Coach Education should be changed to being an “all-time” thing and not a “one-time” occurrence.

This process will undoubtedly mean that the current construction of courses and what follows them must be questioned. I can accept an over-arching initial course that sets out background, rationale and arguments of the world of teaching and coaching. Even this ‘first steps’ course should contain practical work that matters and that can be immediately delivered into the next session by the coaches. It is probably best to offer less in terms of content and more in terms of arming the coach with deliverable experiences. By offering ‘less’ in these early stages means that there will need to be ‘more’ in the follow-up, on-site education that should be present in a quality coach-mentoring strategy.

Without such an on-site mentoring strategy then the status quo will prevail. We will have to continue to ‘instruct and hope’ as is the current coach education process. The new Scottish Athletics Athletic Development course does much of what is illustrated in this text. The initial course (2-Day), while covering a range of information, deals practically with things that can be delivered in the very next session by the coaches.

The theory / background / rationale elements set the scene for a long-term view on the four pillars of coaching (technical, tactical, physical and mental); the role of foundation movements in the journey; the maturation journey; how they learn (from ‘puzzles’ to drills); constructing the session; progression tools. Nearly every one of these elements contains a practical experience where the coach is under some scrutiny.

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The Coaches Toolbox at the heart of the course content.

Each of these elements is then followed up with regional workshops where more depth of knowledge is attained and more practical work is undertaken. The final ongoing cycle is that which sees on-site mentorship of the coaches in the practical setting of their coaching session. This is the role of the Development Officers who need to be recruited and trained in this direct mentorship process.

Scottish Athletics has gone some way to creating this multi-layered education process. The on-site mentoring layer is the most difficult for them as it requires another giant step away from the status quo.

With Australia’s Government asking for submissions on the nation’s National Sports Plan there is the opportunity for someone to be brave enough to create this final layer of coach education, recruitment and retention.