It wasn’t long ago that most of our shared information was through books.

I remember when I first discovered internet groups in the 1990’s (who else was on Mel Siff’s Supertraining group? : ) where anyone could pass on information or share their experiences. While many of the group’s had moderators, the level of qualifying dropped significantly.

The uberisation of information sharing has meant that anyone (everyone?) has a voice. While there are many positives to this, there is a potentially dark side too.

Coaching Experts are offering paid internship positions, subscriptions to their private newsletters with promises of blueprints to success & exorbitantly priced workshops.

Each of these may be worthwhile, but as we know from life, one of the best ways to make money is to sell a method to make money.

I don’t worry too much if the Experienced and the Wealthy sign up, but most times it’s the Interns, the Inexperienced and Students who are targeted.

Below are 3 qualifiers you should apply to those offering advice (especially if they want to charge you!).

 

1) Minimum 10 Years FULL TIME Coaching Experience

The greatest rate of change for most Coaches is in their first 10 years.

Typically, during this time we evolve from using terms like everyone, no one, always, never, good, bad, recipe, blueprint, etc. to often answering with ‘depends’.

When we see the world in the ‘black and white’ it’s natural to have strong opinions: it’s either wrong or right.

You’ll recognise this in the blogs with titles like ‘Why everyone should weightlift’ or ‘No one should use Tabata intervals’.

However, most Coaches, as they progress start to realise that almost everything has it’s place. We think less in terms of wrong/right and more in terms of ‘For who? When? And how can we integrate this?’

In other words, we start to see and appreciate the ‘grey’.

It’s a powerful change in mindset.

If you are looking for advice and guidance you’re going to want to make sure your Advisor can see the grey.

 

2) Minimum 3 Years in at Least 2 Positions

A simple heuristic to embrace is:

Early success for an incoming Coach is due more to the change and less to the methods.

In other words, Athletes might improve their performance when a new Coach comes in because of a freshness of voice, activities or paradigms; not necessarily because the Coach is better.

Imagine the following hypothetical, over-simplified scenario:

You’re a Coach whose fitness paradigm is heavily ‘game-based’; and you take over from a Coach who had a ‘straight-line running’ mindset.

For a while the games might inject a new energy into training and there’ll be some big improvements in performance.

However, the improvement isn’t purely from the games-based approach but rather from this approach being based on a solid foundation of nowhere-to-hide, big-distances, run-till-you-vomit fitness; which, over time will dissipate.

The successful Coach will have to identify what the program is lacking and, perhaps, add some ‘straight-line running’ into their program.

Coaches who move too quickly between jobs don’t get to experience this and think their paradigm is the reason for the improvement.

They’re also not forced to reflect on plateaus in performance; nor have to adapt as the squad changes personnel or the Athletes mature; or even change their paradigms to give the Athletes what they need.

Your Advisor should go through this process at least twice to have a deeper understanding of the Coaching evolution.

 

3) Multiple (Not just 1 Athlete/Team) Successes

When we’re honest with ourselves and accept that every year one team has to win the competition (or every Olympics someone has to win the Gold), we can dig a deeper into the reasons for success of that particular team (or individual).

We can distill the ‘reasons’ for success to the essentials ingredients.

We might find that, through no merit of the Coach, their team has:

  • very few injuries
  • a perfect blend of youth and experience
  • a great tournament draw
  • a few favourable competition decisions
  • a strong, united and invisible board

This is not to disregard the success (my team’s successes in terms of premierships is just above negligible) but appreciate there are external factors to every success.

Multiple successes at different franchises, with different Athletes, over different eras and in different competitions starts to flatten out the external factors.

Find an advisor who’s had multiple success and you’ll find a Coach who has broad perspective to add to your development.

 

Conclusion

Apply these 3 qualifiers to who you seek advice from and you’ll soon see the noise levels drop and information levels rise.

The Annual Plan

One of the most important, yet neglected, procedures in athletic development is filling out the Annual Plan. This simple process should be a priority before your season even starts.

The Annual Plan is vital for one main reason:

It gets everyone on the same page. 

It is imperative your Team (e.g. Coach, Parents, Physical Trainer, Physical Therapist and Mental Coach) all understand what everyone is doing and when they are doing it.

For example, there are times to Evaluate your physical attributes (e.g. before the season starts) and times when it isn’t ideal (e.g. just before the Championships).

Another example is you will have some competitive events where you and your Coach might decide to change something (a ‘Low Priority’ event) and others where you definitely keep everything as it is (a ‘High Priority’ event).

Below are the steps required to maximise your Annual Plan and give yourself the best chance of succeeding.

Before progressing, make sure you’re clear on who your Team is (you might not have everyone in a team yet so don’t worry):

  • Head Coach
  • Secondary Coach
  • Physical Trainer
  • Physical Therapist
  • Mental Coach

Your team could also include your agent, sponsor, nutritionist or even an external ‘advisor’.

STEP 1 – Fill out ‘Week of’

Most calendars begin on January 1 but your Annual Plan is designed to start at any time.

Your first week might be the first week of preseason, or this week.

Typically it’s best to fill in the date of the Monday of that week (however, in your sport it might be different) for the sake of clarity.

STEP 2 – Fill out your Schedule

In the ‘Event’ column’ write down every event you’re planning to compete in.

This should be done with your Coach and, if they’re still involved in your athletic career, your Parents too.

STEP 3 – Assign the Priority

Not all competitive events are created equal.

In fact, some might be glorified training sessions. Others might be super important to be fresh and ready for.

Next to each event, assign an H(igh), M(edium) or L(ow) priority.

A guide to help you:

  1. H – No equipment, training or nutritional changes are made within 6 weeks of the event. Recovery begins 1 to 3 weeks out. This is the event you want to perform your best at!
  2. M – No equipment, training or nutritional changes are made in the week leading to the event. Recovery begins during that week.
  3. L – Equipment, training or nutritional changes may be made during the event. No recovery for the event; or intentionally increasing fatigue levels for the event. This is about getting your processes right!

There are a couple of guidelines to follow which might help you with assigning priority.

  1. No more than two H’s in a calendar year. So you might choose National & World Champs; or Club and State Champs.
  2. Build the pyramid. You should probably have a lot of Ls, fewer Ms and only one or two Hs on your Annual Plan. If you don’t you’re probably going to burn out.
  3. The higher the level of competition doesn’t automatically mean the priority is higher. There will be plenty of occasions where a competitor has assigned an H to the State Champs (because that is where they really want to do their best in) but only an M to National Champs (because they are just trying to gain some extra experience).

STEP 4- Weeks to Peak

Starting at your H event, write down how many weeks it is till that event. Start at 1 and the week before would be 2, the week before that would be 3, etc.

This will keep everyone’s long term goals in check; and focused on the H event.

 

STEP 5 – M.E.R.S.T.

Once you’ve organised the events of your Annual Plan it’s time to connect with other members of your Team.

Lock in MERST into your Annual Plan:

M(eetings) – Decide when you’ll catch up with them to 1) reflect and 2) to plan.

Reflection (or Review) Meetings are good to answer the following questions:

  • What did we do well?
  • What can we improve?

It should never be to blame anyone.

Planning Meetings are good to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction.

Think about planning Meetings after a High Priority event, or after a distinct part of the season: e.g. at the end of the off-season, pre-season, or in-season.

E(valuations) – These can be important tests that give your Team vital information on how strong, fit or fast you are.

Schedule an Evaluation before every big block of training. And possibly another one at the end of the block of training.

R(ecovery) – Leading into H events, or for some time afterwards it is important to plan some down time to freshen up.

S(creenings) – Your Physical Trainer, Physical Therapist or Mental Coach might want to schedule time to see how your body or mind is going. Screenings might show up some red flags that, if addressed, might help prevent you getting injured.

These are best planned after a High Priority event or before a big block of training.

T(raining) – Perhaps the most important aspect to fill out: When you are training to improve?

Tips for your Annual Plan

  1. The further ahead the plan is, the less detailed it should probably be. The closer ahead you plan, the more detailed it should be.
  2. Your Annual Plan will probably change BUT it shouldn’t change too frequently. I like to lock in the following 12 weeks and be more flexible after that.
  3. Make sure everyone in your Team has the latest copy of your Annual Plan at all times.

If you want a copy of the Annual Plan we use at PropelPerform contact us here and we’ll email you one.

As the field of Sports Science increases it is tempting to buy into the ever expanding realm of data collection and data analysis.

Intuitively it makes sense: more information must mean that we can make better decisions – which players to pick for the match, which athletes to fund in the development pathway or what load can a sports person handle without being injured.

All of these questions, and a whole lot more, are what many of us are asking every single day.

And we typically gather plenty of data trying to answer the questions.

However, this might not be the best approach, especially if you are not sure if the problem you’re trying to solve is a Puzzle or a Mystery.

I was first introduced to this distinction by Malcolm Gladwell. Below is an extract that every decision-maker should read (it was written in 2007).

 

“The national-security expert Gregory Treverton has famously made a distinction between puzzles and mysteries. Osama bin Laden‚’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can‚’t find him because we don‚’t have enough information.
 
The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bin Laden, and until we can find that source bin Laden will remain at large.
 
The problem of what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, by contrast, a mystery.
 
It wasn‚’t a question that had a simple, factual answer.
 
Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much.
 
The C.I.A. had a position on what a post-invasion Iraq would look like, and so did the Pentagon and the State Department and Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and any number of political scientists and journalists and think-tank fellows.
 
For that matter, so did every cabdriver in Baghdad.
 
The distinction is not trivial.
 
If you consider the motivation and methods behind the attacks of September 11th to be mainly a puzzle, for instance, then the logical response is to increase the collection of intelligence, recruit more spies, add to the volume of information we have about Al Qaeda.
 
If you consider September 11th a mystery, though, you‚’d have to wonder whether adding to the volume of information will only make things worse…
  
Mysteries, though, are a lot murkier: sometimes the information we‚’ve been given is inadequate, and sometimes we aren‚t very smart about making sense of what we‚’ve been given, and sometimes the question itself cannot be answered.
 
Puzzles come to satisfying conclusions. Mysteries often don‚’t.”
 

If we accept Treverton’s categorisation the next step is to explore how to determine which is which.

We’d be short changing our Athletes if we mistook a Puzzle for a Mystery; and would be wasting valuable and limited resources if we made the mistake of treating a Mystery as a Puzzle. 

I have been wrestling with this for almost a decade and use the following three questions to help with my categorisation:

  1. Does the situation require a prediction?
  2. Are the entities organic or mechanical?
  3. Are the relationships (expected) to be linear or non-linear?

In my experience anything that is predictive, organic and non-linear tends to be a Mystery – more information doesn’t necessarily seem to help.

In fact, more information often seems to get in the way – it seems to confuse the issue, not clarify it. This is tough to for many of us to accept.

My experience also suggests that we have a better chance of working through mysteries when those on the team have 1) sufficient experience in the field and 2) strong relationships between the members.

The implications of the categorisation, and the characteristics of each category become fairly significant when we consider that we all work in a limited time, limited budget environment.

With scarce resources it becomes critical to determine whether one needs to invest in more information collection, storage and analysis (puzzle); or more experienced, team-orientated staff (mystery).

Summary

  • Is the problem you’re trying to solve a Puzzle or a Mystery?
  • Ask your self/team the 3 questions (Prediction? Organic? Non-linear?)
  • Direct resources to data collection, storage & analysis OR surround yourself with the best team you can afford.

I have received a number of emails from S&C Coaches who realise that they are not being paid what they are worth.

The sense of frustration is compounded by the fact that the same organisations are paying higher rates for their physiotherapists and other staff.

While our collective profession should be pushing the standard of pay up, here are some things to explore when it comes to negotiating your take home package.

Facilities

Chances are the organisation will be open to you using their facilities during the down times of the day, week and training year, especially since there is no hard cost to them.

If you consider that commercial gyms in Australia can charge their personal trainers between AUS$200-$400 per week you are potentially adding $10,000 to $20,000 to your contract.

Think about using the facilities for some personal training or for holding presentations and courses.

Title Change

My fundamental belief regarding job titles is best summed up when I apologized to a highly ranked army official for using the incorrect title.

He replied “Don’t worry, those who care do not matter, and those who matter do not care.”

Of course, there are people who are legitimately living up to the titles.

It’s just unfortunate that there are many who aren’t actually ‘Directing’, ‘Managing’ or ‘High Performance’.

Regardless, there are decision makers to whom this makes a difference and that decision maker might be interviewing you for your next position.

In consultation with your organisation, look to ‘upgrade’ your title (ensuring it does reflect your roles).

Sponsors

Can you tap into the organisation’s sponsors? Can you negotiate for extra contra?

Airline sponsor? Free tickets? Free miles? Lounge passes?

Clothing sponsor? Extra casual clothes?

Supplements?

You get the idea.

While none of the suggestions mentioned above ‘pay the bills’ they do contribute to your overall package, especially if you are already paying for what the sponsors offers.

What about training the sponsor’s CEO and management? Or doing corporate bootcamps for them? While it may not be your ideal way to spend your time, the money you earn doing theses could be vastly more than your entire contact.

Professional Development (Paid)

[Before discussing PD, remember that most people in charge of a budget are very protective of their piece of authority and often fail to see the big picture.

So if you are able tap into another budget (even though it all essentially comes from the same place) you are more likely to have success.]

Since your organisation will almost definitely have a ‘Coaching Budget’ and a ‘PD Budget’ there will be less apprehension to explore this option.

In fact, this is a great conversation to have with your organisation as it shows that you are looking to improve, while at the same time, they are actually investing into their own program.

Think about attending the annual Coaching Conference, adding extra skills by attending seminars or workshops.

Remember, you can potentially use the Sponsors to help out.

Hotel sponsor? They can provide their accommodation. Car rental sponsor? There is your transport while you’re away.

A great knock-on effect is that your organisation looks good by having a representative at that course/seminar/conference.

Make sure you write a detailed report, with plenty of take home messages, about your experience and share it with those that helped you get there.

Professional Development (Free)

PD doesn’t have to be a paid experience. In fact, many of my most valuable learning opportunities were free: observing, interacting and having a coffee with people far more knowledgeable or experienced than I am.

Sometimes, though, it’s tough to get in contact with those people you want to spend some time with.

However, it’s amazing how small the Coaching and High Performance worlds are. We’re all probably one, maybe two, connections from each other.

Use this to your advantage by finding out who the other people in the organisation are connected to and leverage that.

Besides, you’re more likely to get that experience if you have a shared connection rather than just ‘cold calling’.

Many teams and clubs have ‘feeder teams’ (think AA, AAA, etc. in baseball) and if you happen to be a feeder team to another professional team then use this link to your full advantage.

They should be glad to have you on board – you’re working with the players that will populate their teams in a few years – and will probably open their doors for you.

Build Your Presence

Whether it’s social media, regular media, or the organisation’s newsletter, there are channels to explore that might increase your value by building your ‘presence’.

Sure, none of the examples add to the ‘bottom line’ but as we all know: It’s not what you know… It’s not who you know… It’s who knows you.

Write It In

Once you have agreed to terms, ensure that these terms are written down.

They are part of your contract and should be treated in the same manner as the financial aspects.

If you have any other ideas, please comment below or email them through.

The Anti-Fragile Kid

Most of us have a fairly good understanding of the term ‘fragile’ – something that is easily broken when stress (also known as volatility, chaos or disorder) is applied to it. Glass or a china tea cup are often offered as examples.

When we think of the opposite of fragile the two most common suggestions are usually ‘robust’ or ‘resilient’.

While these terms are in the right direction they are not really the opposite of fragile. Robust/resilient means they aren’t ‘easily’ broken but they will break with enough stress.

Nassim Taleb proposes ‘anti-fragile’ is the opposite of fragile.

Anti-fragility occurs when stress increases the strength of the subject.

Wait, what??? Isn’t stress bad? What gets stronger with stress?

We do.

In fact, my income is mostly based on the fact that humans are anti-fragile: I apply a stress (often with a barbell, dumbbell or medicine ball) to an athlete and when they return a few days later they’re stronger and I apply an even greater stress.

So what does this have to do with being a Parent of a young Athlete? Why are we discussing this on a Athletic Preparation website?

Simple. Many of our (remember, I am a Parent too) well-intentioned actions, that come from a place of love, are making our kids increasingly fragile:

  • We wake them up for morning training (and then check on them if they’re not up after a few minutes).
  • We pack their bags (and rush to school if they left something behind)
  • We buy, prepare and cook all their meals for them.
  • We tidy up after them.
  • We speak to the Coach after they’ve been dropped and demand they be re-selected.
  • We drop them off, and pick them up, right in front of the school/training gates and we’re stressed if we’re a few minutes late (can’t have them waiting around!).

Each of the examples above will expose the fragility of our kids when a stress is applied.

The stressor may be we’re running late because a work meeting went over time… Or the another sibling is sick and we have to stay at home with them… Or the car is getting serviced… Or traffic is bad… Or life just gets in the way.

The key is to recognise the potential for these problems and to slide our kid from the Fragile end of the continuum, through Robust/Resilient to Anti-Fragile.

For example, if we’re running late to pick them up from training:

  • a Fragile kid: Meltdown, tears, didn’t know what to do.
  • a Robust kid: Went back to the club house and sat in a well- lit area with the Coach.
  • an Anti-Fragile kid: Found a safe area to do their homework.

See how the anti-fragile kid comes out better for the experience? The stressor (you being late) has strengthened them (they’ve finished their homework).

Following, we’re going to explore shifting our kids along the continuum in four distinct domains:

  • Transport
  • Nutrition
  • Chores (around the house)
  • Consequences

Transport

The response of your child to you being late or unable to pick them up from training is obviously age-dependent, so below are some suggestions that might be applicable to your situation to improve your child’s anti-fragility.

  1. Contact details – Children should know their Parents mobile numbers. Until you’re confident in their memory skills, a laminated business card with phone number which is easily accessible should be in the school and sport bags.
  2. Home address – Teach them the address and some landmarks they may use to help a trusted friend drive them home.
  3. Safe places – Identify somewhere safe they should wait if you’re late. Give them a task (e.g. finish your homework).
  4. Money – Each of their bags should have a few bucks that can help them pay for a taxi, uber or public transport.
  5. Bike skills – It may start off with you riding with them on the way to training and then on the way back. Make sure they have opportunities to lead you home (not just follow). They might not always have to take their bikes but it give them another option. 
  6. Public transport – On an uneventful day (e.g. Sunday), take public transport to and from training with them. Make sure they buy the tickets/card, etc. Even doing this once will build their confidence.
  7. Friendly rides – Identify which Parents/Coaches they may ask for a ride back to home.

Nutrition

How does your child respond during when they’re hungry and you’re not available to provide food for them?

  • a Fragile kid: Goes hungry, or worse, goes to McDonalds.
  • a Robust kid: Has a healthy snack (biltong, nuts, etc.)
  • an Anti-Fragile kid: Prepares dinner for the family.

They don’t have to be able to create a 3 course, 5-star meal; they just need to be able sustain themselves. Some basic shopping, preparing and cooking skills can go a long way in building independence.

  1. Take them shopping – Of course, shopping with kids will often double the time it takes to do the job but it needs to be done. Send them on small tasks (e.g. ‘get the milk’) so they’re at least get an understanding of the lay out of a typical supermarket.
  2. Get them to unpack – Learning which foods should go in the fridge (almost all over them!) and which go into the pantry is part of the process.
  3. Involve them in the prep – Very young? Ask them to wash the veggies. Older? Get them to chop the onions. Early teen? They’re in charge of the salad. Late teen? Thursday nights they’re in charge of the whole meal.
  4. Family BBQ – Firstly, it’s outside so there’s less mess. Secondly, it’s hard to stuff up, so giving them the task of cooking the meat is a great way to build their confidence.
  5. Teach them to cook – Some essentials kids should start off with:
  • Eggs (highly nutritious, can be prepared multiple ways and are delicious);
  • Mince and Veggies (melt butter, add garlic and onions, add mince meat, add frozen veggies and maybe a sauce);
  • Stir Fry (similar to previous);
  • Smoothie (make sure this doesn’t just become a sugar hit).

 Chores

Often we use the excuse our kids are so busy that it’s unfair to add more work to their daily schedule yet we are probably robbing them of opportunity to learn to contribute to society, build self discipline and responsibility.

The key here is to start small and build gradually.

Some basic chores every child should be completing is:

  1. A Chore Board. A visible board (e.g. on the fridge) with everyone’s duties that can be ticked off each day/week.
  2. Share them. Divide the chores amongst the family and have a (weekly?) rotation. This way, no one is stuck with the worst one(s) for too long.
  3. All in. Rewards or fun activities can only be done when ALL siblings have done ALL chores. Eliminate yourself as the ‘bad person’ and use ‘positive’ peer pressure to get the results you want.

Consequences

The easiest way to ensure your kid is fragile is to eliminate the consequences to their actions.

  • When they get bad grades due to lack of study, do you meet with the Department Head and blame the teacher?
  • When they’re dropped from the team, do you tell your kid it’s ‘all politics’?
  • When they’ve left their PE clothes at home, do you drop everything you’ve planned and rush to get it to them?

Each time we perform similar actions to the ones listed above we’re making our kids increasingly fragile.

Eventually they’ll be in a place where you (the sports agent, manager or Coach) can’t remove the consequence and that’s where their fragility will be exposed. And chances are, it’ll be too late.

So start introducing consequences as soon as possible into their lives. Start when the consequences are ‘inconsequential’.

  • When they’ve slept through their alarm clock? They can buy a second one.
  • When they forget their tennis racquet? They can pick up balls for the session.
  • When their grades drop? There’s less socialising for the next few weeks.

In the big scheme of things these consequences are nothing but little lessons that our actions (or inactions) matter. They’ll teach ownership and help keep our kids grounded.

Conclusion

No one wants their child to be fragile; yet there is a real possibility that we unintentionally cause this very thing.

Life is full of stress, chaos, disorder and volatility. We can either protect our kids from this for as long as possible (and probably feel good about ourselves) and accept they’ll be fragile in the long-term.

Or, we can prepare them for life.

One key thing to remember is your child isn’t a swimmer, BMXer, tennis player or athlete… They are a person who should grow into a valuable member of society.

That’s the long-term view and should help us keep perspective.

Evolution of this Coach

EOTC is a series of reflections, thoughts, anecdotes and growth spurts that have occurred in my coaching career.

Some of these will show wholesale changes in direction while others might just be a continuing refinement.

Hopefully you can either learn something or identify from this evolution.

Changing Focus from Tolerance to Improvement

As a young Physical Preparation Coach, I felt a sense of pride watching my Athletes gasping for air at the end of the session – nothing left in tank.

Much of my coaching involved trying to squeeze every last rep, last kilogram, last second out of the Athlete.

How could I get them to do more? What was their tolerance?

After each cycle I’d reflect on the work completed and the improvement in performance and assess whether they could do more.

In most cases, the answer was ‘yes, they can do more.’

After a few years it became obvious that my Athletes could tolerate more work BUT as their rate of improvement decreased I had to ask whether it was worth the extra effort.

Framed another way, what was the cost of working disproportionately harder to make ever smaller gains – the relationship is non-linear.

This isn’t ground-breaking. But it does need to be applied.

Instead of asking:

How much can they tolerate?’

I should have been asking:

‘What is the minimum I can program and still get an improvement?’

A variation of the Mini-Max principle sums it nicely: The Minimum effort for Maximum results.

This is especially important when we stop treating Athletes as some kind of machine and acknowledge they are people first and foremost.

They have other stressors – work, relationships, financial, day to day living, etc – and each stressor can detract from their ability to recover from training.

Of course, there are periods, cycles & sessions where we might need to re-calibrate the central governor (see our ESPN Search for Hurt episode) but these are exception rather than the rule.

Now days, I pride myself on watching my Athletes bound out of the gym, stimulated from the recently complete session and ready to improve for the next one.

Grant Jenkins is Physical Performance Coach who hopes others can learn from his mistakes. Contact him here or follow him on Twitter @Grant_Jenkins

I was fortunate to attend the prestigious University of Stellenbosch where the academia was robust, the sports was intense and the socialising was plentiful. While most students might be consuming cheap beer in a dingy pub, we had the privilege of sipping on internationally acclaimed wine from the surrounding vineyards.

The occasion would commence with some wine-tasting (none of us had the funds to spit) and we’d throw around terms like ‘bouquet’, ‘fruity’ and ‘velvety texture’. Of course, less than an hour later someone would be tackled, half-naked into the duck pond and we’d be asked to leave.

It was during those initial, cultured stages where I was chatting to a vintner about the growing of the vines. Discussing soil types and regions and weather he astounded me when he said he hoped the rains during the vines early life would be somewhat sparse. Not drought-sparse, just less than ideal.

Confused, I asked him to clarify.

Apparently, if the rains are plentiful during seedlings early life they grow quickly and look healthy. Unfortunately, their root system remains shallow – they have no need to develop deeper. This is alright if the rains are abundant throughout the vines lifecycle. However, if there is a decrease in rainfall, the shallow roots struggle and the vine withers.

For those vines whose life-cycles start off a little harder, with less than ideal rainfall, their roots grow deep. This stands them in good stead later on in life and ensures their survival during the harsher years.

I am reminded of this lesson every time I read about ‘state of the art’ training for developmental athletes.

Having been involved in developing young athletes for over a decade, I understand how no one sets out to deliberately handicap any player. In fact, we all try to help them as much as we can.

We provide nutrition, and coaching, and feedback, and training, and facilities, and equipment, and sports science, and sponsorships, and guidance, and recovery sessions.

We minimise school, and distractions, and hassles, and decision-making, and life-skills, and balance, and consequences, and problem solving.

We water our young seedlings with the best intentions. We want to give them the best, but sometimes the ‘struggle’ is the best.

The struggle of imperfect equipment and uneven playing surfaces; the struggle of long distances, early mornings and late evenings; the struggle of hot days and cold nights; the struggle of the search; and the struggle of failure.

All these struggles force the young athlete to dig, deeper than they would had it been laid out for them. All these struggles will help them later in life, if they ‘make it’ or not.

So if you’re involved with developmental athletes your job is to make them struggle a bit, take them out of their comfort zone, and help them grow roots and their ability to handle things when it gets a bit tougher. You’ll probably be doing them a massive service.

Grant Jenkins is passionate about helping developmental athletes. For more information follow him on Twitter @Grant_Jenkins

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Dear Former Athlete

A reply to journalist Peter Fitzsimons

Fast-tracking & Pine Trees

How to Choose a Physiotherapist?

 

Regardless of their level, if your child plays a sport there is a good chance you’re going to need a physiotherapist (or physical therapist) for some kind of injury or rehabilitation.

Just like mechanics and surgeons and waiters, there are better physiotherapists and some that are not as good.

With all the complicated words and theories, it can be difficult for a parent to know if their Physio is any good.

Below is a list of factors that could help you have a more informed opinion based on almost 2 decades of working with physiotherapists.

1) Facility 

Heuristic: The closer the physiotherapists facility looks like a gym the better.

If you only see beds and tables crammed into little cubicles this will give you a clue as to the type of rehab your child will have (see point no. four).

There should be space to move and exercise.

There should be equipment that is conducive to improving strength (think: dumbbells, barbells, weights, benches, etc. Don’t necessarily think: machines & elastic bands).

Is there space to hop and jump and run freely?

Look for a stationary bike too.

  • Green Flag: Looks like gym with space to run.
  • Amber Flag: Some space, some equipment but mainly machines or Pilates).
  • Red Flag: No space, limited equipment. Mainly crammed cubicles.

2) Principle v Employed?

When physiotherapists graduate they often are employed until they’ve gained enough experience to branch out on their own. Then they’ll typically taken on other young physios until they too have gained enough experience to move on.

In other words, if you want the most experienced physiotherapist working on your child, you’re probably going to want to see the principle physio at that practice.

Chances are you’ll pay more to see the principle and they’re usually more booked up. Often, there is a reason for this: they’re better than the new grad.

However, this isn’t always the case.

Question: How good are they if they can see you easily?

It’s up to you to make the decision.

  • Green Flag: Might take a week for the appointment.
  • Amber Flag: Can see you in a day or two.
  • Red Flag: Can see you any time from now.

3) Diagnosis? Talk, Test, Scan

Once you’ve made the appointment and you’re in the room with the physio, take a look at the diagnostic process they’re going through.

Most of their diagnosis should be through asking your child questions (please, let your child answer!) and listening to their answers.

The therapist should be listening for clues as to what the pain or the injury is.

If the pain is worse in the morning than the evening… That’s a clue. If the pain is minimal at the beginning of training but gets progressively worse… That’s a clue. If the pain is described as bring sharp, dull, searing or stabbing… These are all clues.

At this point the physio should have a fairly good idea what the issue is: perhaps two to three options for the diagnosis.

The next step should be to physically assess your child to gain a greater insight into the problem.

They’ll ask your child to perform certain movements, changing a few things (example, shoulder angles) to rule some of the potential issues it could be.

If they do this, MOST of the time they should have an exact idea of what the issue is but SOMETIMES they might need additional confirmation. It is only then should they request a scan (MRI, etc.).

  • Green Flag: Thorough discussion and movement testing.
  • Amber Flag: Rushes through diagnostic phase.
  • Red Flag: Sends for a scan in minutes.

4) Rehabilitation

Most of the rehabilitation they give your child should be exercise- (or at least, movement-) focused.

(See the importance of point no. 1?)

If, in the initial stages, the exercise portion isn’t the main component of the rehab, don’t stress. BUT every session should have progressively and substantially more movement added.

This movement should be ‘overloaded’ often – more repetitions, great range of movement, more speed, more weight or any combination of the preceding list.

They should give your child a Home Program to complete, with specific goals to achieve before the following session.

If they spend most of the time massaging (yup, it might feel good) or with a machine sending some electrical/light/sound waves into the area it’s probably best to change therapists.

  • Green Flag: Mainly movement based. Gets a sweat going.
  • Amber Flag: Some movement, some soft tissue work.
  • Red Flag: Soft tissue work and machine.

5) Sport/Training Recommendations

In addition to the Home Program, the therapist should give your child specific instructions on what they CAN’T do and what they CAN do.

For example, if you child has a knee injury the therapist should seldom say ‘No training’.

Rather, they should say ‘No sprinting’ or ‘No squatting below horizontal’ and then follow it up with ‘…but you can jog’ or ‘…but you squat above the horizontal’ or even ‘…but you can do single leg squats on the other leg.’

We have a philosophy in our gym of ‘Injured one limb? Train the other three!’

Continuing with the knee example above… The knee might hurt but your child could probably still do work on the ankle (e.g. calf raises), and the hips (e.g. gluteals, groin, etc.).

  • Green Flag: Specific CAN’Ts and plenty of CANs.
  • Amber Flag: Generalised CAN’Ts and generalised CANs.
  • Red Flag:Generalised CAN’Ts.

 

6) Repeat Bookings?

In the sports world, there are not many times your child needs to see the therapist more than once a week for rehabilitation.

And, with the exception of a few injuries (think: ACL), there are not many times your child should be seeing the therapist for more than two to four weeks.

Remember, they should have a home program.

So if the therapist tries to book your child in for multiple sessions in a week and/or multiple weeks be cautious.

  • Green Flag: Emphasis on ownership of the patient.
  • Amber Flag: Starts off with multiple bookings but decreases reliance.
  • Red Flag: Multiple times per week; multiple weeks.

7) Communication

If the therapist is genuinely interested in helping your child they should volunteer to send further information to your child’s coach, Physical Performance Coach and anyone else you might think important.

As an Physical Performance Coach, it is invaluable, and hugely appreciated, when the therapist communicates freely.

It gives me an opportunity to understand with crystal clarity how I can help my athlete from my side.

In fact, the three physiotherapists I refer to most regularly often call me while the patient is in the room with them. This helps prevent any ‘broken down telephone’.

  • Green Flag: Free communication. Volunteers information.
  • Amber Flag: Happy to chat but doesn’t initiate.
  • Red Flag: Won’t release any information.

Use this as a guide to make your decision. Not each aspect will mean the therapist is good or bad… Only you can assess if you want to continue.

As you might be aware, we ran an 8 Week Coaching Challenge. 

Below is a summary of some interventions that might help improve your coaching. 

1) Do not speak for more than 30 seconds. Make sure you have periodised your drills, games and interventions in such a way that nothing needs more than 30 seconds to explain, progress or adapt.

2) Write and display the entire session. This is as much for you, the coach, (you would have needed to plan and communicate the session to your assistants) as it is for your athletes (they can mentally prepare for what’s ahead in the program).

3) Give written feedback to your athletes. Again, the process of writing it down gives you an opportunity to reflect on your athletes progress while also allowing them time to read and digest the information.

4) Ask 3 athletes what their plans are for the weekend. Follow up on how their activities were. The best Coaches see their athletes as people first. Build your relationship with your athletes by taking an interest in their life away from sport.

5) Ensure your injured Athletes are still improving. An injury can be devastating to an athlete. Keep them involved in training. Give them coaching opportunities. Use the time to improve other aspects of their training.

6) Keep your training plan 3 weeks ahead of schedule. The fantastic win, the gut-wrenching loss… Even if these are outliers they can affect our training plan, rendering us reactive, short term, ‘playing-catch-up’ coaches. Make sure you keep the big picture in mind.

7) Invest in your coaching by spending time with an unlikely source of inspiration. Each sport has elements it does really well (e.g. athlete ownership, mental toughness, group coordination, etc.), so go out and learn from these sports.

8) Get evaluated. You test and evaluate your athletes. How do you test and evaluate yourself?

A couple of hours drive from where I grew up in South Africa we had some family friends who owned a pine tree plantation.

Those with an agriculture bent will immediately identify that pine trees are not native to the tropical South African landscape, and you’re correct.

Pine plantations were introduced artificially since the year-round sunlight, nutrient dense soil and plentiful rain would encourage a growth rate that could not be matched in the natural, colder climates that pines trees are more commonly found.

And this proved correct.

The pine trees flourished. They grew quicker; meaning when they were harvested there was more wood in the same time frame.

All this seemed very positive.

Except for one thing.

The accelerated growth rates also meant the wood was softer, not as good quality. It could not tolerate being under high pressure and was sold at a significantly lower price.

I think of this anecdote every time I hear a National Sporting Organisation (NSO) or professional team talk about ‘fast tracking’ – the idea that coaches, athletes or officials can be developed through special programs that will foster a greater rate of improvement in performance.

Experienced coaches, those who understand the slow, grinding process of progression, seldom mention the term. It’s the under-pressure coaches, administrators or failing NSOs who ‘need a result now’ that throw it around.

They are less concerned with the person’s ability to handle the expectations, or the media, or the criticism, or the accolades and more concerned about their own position. They rush development.

And, just like the pine trees in tropical SA, the product is softer, doesn’t handle the pressure well and isn’t as good quality.

PS A Coaching Heuristic: ‘Fast tracking’ is a sign the person or organisation is under-performing.

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