Athletic Evolution

2019 Child to Champion Conference Review

Believe it or not, but this was my first trip down to the Proformance Child to Champion Conference. Previously, it has fallen in April which has ruled me out of attending for numerous reasons. However, this year I was able to capitalise on it being later than usual! Knowing it would be a great weekend, I committed to the 6 hour drive from Edinburgh to Hartbury College in Gloucestershire. It was a weekend jam-packed full of incredible value, brilliant conversations and fantastic theoretical presentations and practical activities.

Day 1

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A historical perspective of LTAD

Joe Eisenmann kicked off the conference with the first of his 3 presentations over the weekend by giving the background of LTAD. This was a great presentation, initially asking the questions:

  • What is LTAD?
  • Can you describe LTAD?
  • What is an athlete?
  • What is atheticism?

Each of these were followed by both dictionary definitions, as well as what we as coaches would also anticipate as answers. He followed this with the origins of LTAD, beginning in Sparta with the “Agoge” and development of children into soldiers. He also examined the Soviet and East German systems of athletic development before arriving at the more recent developments such at the Canadian Sport for Life model, American Development Model and the Youth Physical Development Model, Athletic Skills Model and NSCA Position statement on LTAD. This was actually the first time I’ve heard someone walk through the history of LTAD and found it fascinating. Some of the key take home messages were:

  • “All models are wrongs, some are useful.” – George Box
  • “Knowledge isn’t power until it’s applied.” – Dale Carnegie
  • “Elite athletics and mass participation in sport are compatible and complementary, one needs the other” – Botterhi
  • LTAD requires community integration across sporting contexts – not a pathway for isolated sports operating in silos
  • If there is a problem then there is a solution, and the key is in understanding people and building relationships

Joe left us with the following quote from Mahatma Ghandi, “A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

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The UTS Youth Academy – Fun, Energy & Learning From Loads of Mistakes

Neil Parsley gave us a candid overview of the journey and evolution of his business Underground Training Station and their delivery of youth-focussed classes. His very open and honest reflection on building his business was thoroughly engaging, with many videos of what sessions look like at UTS, including calisthenics, obstacle races and family fitness classes. He introduced us to the core values of UTS: Integrity, Unity, Growth Mindset and Hardwork, before discussing the philosophy of the Youth Academy:

  • Make it Ridiculously Fun (This was emphasised and re-emphasised!)
  • Educate the kids
  • Coaching not childcare
  • Basics down to the highest level

He discussed the programming style of the classes, using 3 planes of motion to explore the fundamental movements while building in starting, stopping, climbing, landing, flipping, turning and combat. All this is hidden in ridiculous fun!

Neil finished on highlighting the errors he made in taking too long to realise how to get the non-sporty kids engaged, not having soft play kit (kids love equipment!), trying to test/collect data too much simplifying it down to broad jump, agility and a bleep test.

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Starting The Athletic Journey: Bringing Structure To The Unstructured

Howard Green kicked off our first practical session, exploring the RB-RADIO concept for coordination:

  • Rhythm
  • Balance
  • Reaction
  • Adaptability
  • Differentiation
  • Interoperability
  • Orientation

Howard then coached us through practical examples of each including: manipulating the speed of skipping to a metronome varying at different speeds to teach rhythm, utilising a single leg tennis ball touch drill to teach balance, reacting to a partner dropping a tennis ball at different heights and directions, constraining the athlete with different conditions (right hand, left hand, single leg landing etc,). This isn’t an exhaustive list but gives you the idea!

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Developing Players for Gloucester Rugby – Bringing Parents & Players To The Table

Kevin Mannion, Academy Performance Manager for Gloucester Rugby, gave a great overview of his journey into professional rugby league as a player, before entering rugby union as a strength and conditioning coach. He then discussed the need to recognise parents as a key stakeholder in the youth development process, as they facilitate so many aspects of the journey – transport, nutrition, home environment etc. He discussed the importance of parents understanding what we do, why we do it and how we do it. Equally he mentioned how no 2 clubs, academies of organisations are the same and culture cannot simply be replicated elsewhere. He then posed some key thoughts/statements:

  • Can we strategically load cognitive/emotional load?
  • Coach the player NOT the program
  • Growth the player’s capacity
  • Identify values and drivers (they might not be what you think!)
  • Don’t expect them to know
  • Trust those you work with – be vulnerable
  • Simple things done effectively and appropriately
  • Make players accountable

He discussed the non-negotiables of a Gloucester player: Earn the right, Be robust, Be resilient, enjoy it, support each other and respect everyone. He gave examples of how these were being practically applied in the academy such as players washing their own kit and cooking their own breakfast. Kevin then highlighted the “off pitch” development program they insitute for their players include engaging in the local fire/rescue service, marines, NHS, Gloucester City Mission, Gloucester City homes and the local homeless shelter. This isn’t a “one shot” obligation, but many players choose to continue the commitment for months or years after the initial project ends.

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Promoting Evidence-based practice in the traditional environment

Nikos Kolokythas gave a great introduction to the art form of ballet, it’s historical beginnings and traditional environment, including very high workloads (605-1,296 hours per year) from a young age, coupled with a lack of proper strength and conditioning training. As expected this results in a lot of injuries, particularly overuse injuries and particularly in the lower limb. Multiple factors risk factors play into this in additional to the workload: Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome (REDS) early specialisation, growth & maturation as well as anatomical, technical, physical and psychological factors.

Nikos then gave us an overview of some of the barriers to positively impacting the traditional environment of ballet such as tradition, a lack of both qualitative and quantitative research, as well as a lack of proximity or follow up to previous data collection. He then gave us an overview of some of the positive impacts he has managed to achieve, such as decreasing injury by a massive 40% by implementing just 2 x 30 minute sessions per week of prescribed exercises in the 11+ dance program. He finished by suggesting that Change = disruptive innovation + pedagogy. He also gave the insight the one of the original Greek meanings of pedagogy is to “raise the spirit of the youth.”

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Translating Speed in Team Sports

Ruth Waghorn and Liam Mistry lead us through the second practical of the day. Initially Ruth discussed her time at Speedworks under Jonas Dodoo and then her difficulty in implementing some of the concepts and drills, when transitioning to her new role within the Women’s program for the England Football Association. The technical model and practical focussed on the principles of:

  • Projection – projecting centre of mass through limb extension, horizontal to vertical
  • Reaction – responding to the ground in long to short contacts, foot placement
  • Switching – complementary switching of contralateral arm/leg

What followed was a great practical showing a brief taster of how some basic activities might be used to teach and reinforce these components of acceleration technique in a team sport setting. These included crouched med ball throws, resisted A style marches, resisted bounds, resisted free runs, explosive bench jumps, pogo and scissor bleeds and raised switches from plates.

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The Adolescent Growth Spurt: History, Assessment & Impact on Performance

Joe Eisenmann closed out Day 1 with a comprehensive presentation on the Adolescent growth spurt. He discussed the difference between Growth (increase in body size or segment size), Maturation (the process toward biological maturation) and Development (Behavioural competence). He then gave us a great overview of some of the indicators currently used to assess maturation status:

  • Somatic
  • Skeletal
  • Sexual
  • But Not dental of morphological

He also discussed the primary methods of assessment such as Tanner’s stages (now ethically outdated), Maturation Offset and Khamis Roche method. Additionally, Joe discussed the factors which influence maturation including Genes, Hormones and Nutrients. Whilst mentioning that 80-90% of final height is heritable, many inflluential growth components include race, climate, season, socio-economic class, exercise, smoking, geographical area, family size, quoting Tanner “Growth is a mirror of society.”

Finally Joe, highlighted the physical performance characteristics which are affected by growth and maturation including Power output, strength, muscle mass, fat mass, fatigue and recovery ability. He finished by dispelling some of the myths surrounding biobanding.

Day 2

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Superheroes Practical

Simon Brundish kicked off day 2 with an early morning practical session, which served as a bit of a wake up to many coaches. Getting us moving with some basic animal movements. Then utilising his unique superheroes movement literacy system, he took us through some variations of the Superman, Spiderman, Hulk and Thor movement streams. He finished off this session with a great game of dodgeball between 2 teams. There were plenty of practical examples of how this could be implemented with kids as well as reflections on his experience of how these work day to day.

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Hurricanes, Stock Markets and Predicting future champions

Joe kicked off day 2 with a master class on Talent Identification and predicting talent. Differentiating the difference between Talent Development (support or infrastructure to develop those identified), Talent ID (processes involving screening of multidisciplinary attributes) and Talent Selection (ongoing identification of athletes).

Joe discussed some of the predictors used for Talent ID such as height, weight, maturity, endurance, speed and change of direction ability. Indicating that although these are used, widely they actually have low levels of significance and a lack of consistency in terminology across studies.

He then moved on to discuss some of the key personality and cognitive predictors. Including preparedness, work ethic, concentration, focus, self-confidence and competitiveness. He highlighted that although hardiness and resilience only have a modest role, they can be inlfuential to other aspects of success. For example, long term commitment to training. However “grit”, described as perseverance and passion for long term goals, only explained 1.4 to 6.3% of the variance in success.

Joe discussed the need for a multidisciplinary best test battery including anthropometrics physiological technical tactical and psychological factors however these require more complex statistical modelling. He then moved on to discuss heritability, highlighting height, BMI, fat/body composition, VO2 Max, and type 1 muscle fibres as being largely heritable. Also highlighting that the human genome has been sequenced, leading to human gene map for fitness phenotypes. Unfortunately, this has lead to the gray area of widespread commercial DNA testing to the consumer.

In conclusion to highlight the early talent ID is no guarantee of success in sport let alone long term success into adolescence and adulthood 4.

There does not seem to be a clear set of variables to predict performance. Joe suggested following guidelines.

  1. “Wait and see”
  2. Young athletes/adolescents are children/adolescents with the needs of children/adolescents.
  3. Is it all just about LTAD?
  4. Keep as many in the pipeline for as long as possible so they can access quality coaching
  5. Move away from early selection
  6. Talent development is dynamic, multidimensional and complex
  7. We need to develop the “athletic toolbox” including mental skills
  8. We should focus more on the individual capacity to learn, than current performance/experience and physical maturity

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Enhancing LTAD Pathways with Gymnastics & Parkour

James Baker then let us through what is possibly the most enjoyable practical session I have ever been involved in! Initially, he discussed the theory behind gymnastics and parkour and the benefits he sees including developing body control, body/system tension, as well as being able to responding to the physical environment. He uses these activities to combine movement with a decreased structure and to incorporate free play in sessions. He also quoted Craig Harrison and said its about ”the ability to move in and out of position, freely and efficiently.” He also highlighted how one additional benefit of this type of training is that it challenges athletes outside of their usual sport and performance environment, encouraging them out of their comfort zone. This was immediately plain to see! Ironically, many coaches declined the opportunity to get involved in the parkour and stayed int heir comfort zones!

James let us through an initial ground based movement warm up, including lots of animal shapes and low level gymnastics trunk work. This was followed by an introduction to gymnastics including tripod holds, frog stands, headstands, handstand walks and hand stands to wall.

Next came the fun part as James let us through a variety of parkour courses, which involve change of running start, positions of entry, as well as different vaulting styles and rolling styles. This was a fantastic practical example of linking movements with the outcomes of: incorporating a range of static and dynamic positions, a range of jumping, hopping, leaping, landing, rebounding as well as the ability to brace and control tension.

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Olympic Weightlifting for the youth athlete Practical

Paudie Roche from Arsenal’s Academy, then led us through an Olympic weight lifting practical workshop. He spent plenty of time discussing the key coaching points of both the snatch and the clean and jerk. He led us through his specific teaching progression using a “Top down” approach to the snatch.

This was a great and rare opportunity to see a world class coach using their progressions, variations and teaching cues. He also discussed utilising the power vs the full variations of the lifts with athletes of different anthropometrics or different stages of maturation.

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Eating you out of house and home: The energy requirement of elite youth athletes

Marcus Hannon then discussed the nutritional needs of youth Academy footballers and how the current prediction equations often undershoot the true energy needs/requirements of young athletes. He walked us through a day in the life of an Academy footballer ,from the moment they wake up until they go back to sleep. To say this was hectic is an understatement and it’s easy to see how many of them are underfuelling, due to the limited opportunities for feeding in their daily schedule. This was backed up by some of the research studies he has been clean completing as part of his PhD utilising doubly labelled water to calculate the true energy requirements of academy athletes across age bands/maturity levels.

He gave some great practical examples of how they had managed to integrate improved scheduling into the Everton Academy, adding in a “pit stop” upon arrival at the training ground. This allows the players an opportunity to grab an extra snack which gives them an extra 550 calories per day. Whereas previously they would have headed straight out to training, not feeding again until dinner time. He discussed their EFC slogan meaning “Every Feed Counts” which they used among their players.

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Change of Direction Throughout Maturation: A Deeper Look

Rich Clarke kicked off another theory session around maturation and its effect on change of direction ability. Highlighting the adults adopt a different movement strategy to use with a lower center of mass, posterior shift in the centre and shorter yet more frequent steps. In contrast, adolescents show a lower centre of mass, lacking the posterior shift and utilise longer and less frequent steps. The suggestion was that potentially their lack of mass and momentum allows them in affordance in this deceleration technique.

He then discussed some of the changes around Pre and Post PHV velocity in males/females using the protocol he has adapted of the 505. He discussed some of the applications in practical coaching scenarios, such encouraging a lower centre of mass, wider base of support and frequent braking strides in deceleration. This will help to improve centre of mass and base of support control in multidirectional and deceleration events. He suggested that we should expose our athletes to a variety of different tasks to allow them to adapt to different affordances and if we only focus on increasing speed/acceleration we are actually increasing injury risk and that counterintuitively we should spend more time focusing on deceleration ability then we probably do in current practice.

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Development of Sprint Mechanics: What To Look For, How To Cue & Use Video Effectively

Finally, Mike Young closed out the conference with a master class on speed analysis. Looking at the slow motion analysis of fastest human ever (Usain Bolt), he discussed some of the key positions and postures, as well as well as some of the unique idiosyncrasies that arise from Usain  Bolt’santhropometrics and scoliosis. He encourages us not to get carried away with the specifics of Bolt’s running style but to look at the commonalites across the top 10-20 in the sport. Some of the key take homes for me were:

  1. “Toe drag” is an overemphasis of a low heel recovery from blocks, actually dragging the toe will create more friction and is counterproductive
  2. Team sports acceleration position are fairly similar from step 3/4 of a track block start
  3. The shin angle is representative of the direction of force application to the ground and
  4. The trunk and shin angle should be fairly similar
  5. High knee position places glutes/hamstrings on stretch and allows for greater force production int the ground, aiding in propulsion
  6. The arms and legs match in flexion/extension, in contralateral harmony.
  7. In upright running, triple extension is neither desirable/beneficial and may create hyperextension
  8. It was easily visible in the last 20-30 m that those whose technique degrades most, find themselves toward the back of the field

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Overall, this was probably the most applicable, informative and enjoyable conference in the youth sport space. So a massive “congratulations” are due to James, Mike, and all the presenters on a job well done!

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