Graduating from Loughborough University in 2001, Ben taught PE in Secondary Education before moving into professional cricket as Head of Strength and Conditioning at Sussex County Cricket Club. Ben’s was also a consultant to the England U19 Cricket team in preparation for the U19 World Cup. In 2004, Ben was Assistant Basketball Coach at the Athens Paralympics with the GB Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team. In 2008 he worked in British Tennis for the LTA as Strength and Conditioning Co-ordinator for the South of England.
Ben remained involved in cricket as a consultant to Surrey County Cricket Club from 2009 to 2011. From 2008 until 2013, Ben was part of the AMS team providing S&C guidance for WTA tour tennis player Elena Baltacha. He is now a trustee of the Elena Baltacha Foundation and also Chairman of the Youth Strength and Conditioning Association. Ben set up the High Performance Athlete Programme at Reed’s School in 2009 and has delivered S&C and Sports Medicine support at the School for the last ten years…
1)What has led you into youth sport?
This is quite a challenging questionto answer definitively. On reflection, there have been many factors that haveguided me towards working in youth sport. As with many things in life, it has been anevolution, rather than a revolution. Therehave been significant events, people and experiences that have shifted my focusmore towards working with young people. I do still work with adults in performancesport, in a consultancy format and that gives me huge pleasure but the balancehas certainly shifted during my career towards working predominantly with youngpeople.
As a boy who played and trained in a variety of sports, who also had the privilege to be taught by a brilliant PE teacher, I felt engaged with sports coaching and learning almost immediately. This teacher also gave me great pastoral support during my adolescent life and I felt a calling towards coaching and saw him and other coaches as positive role-models I wanted to emulate in the future.
A formative experience that then led me toward the area of Strength and Conditioning with youth populations, was my own injury experience as a young, fourteen year old, cricketer. In the early 90’s I was an aspiring fast bowler involved in the junior England development programme and I encountered two significant challenges. The first was I got ‘called’ by an umpire for ‘chucking’ on some deliveries. This prompted me having to complete a process of action remodelling with sports scientist, Nigel Stockhill (who would go on to become the full England Men’s Cricket Team Physiologist).
This process led me to work on lotsof biomechanical elements and to have to think personally very carefully aboutmy own movement , body awareness and how to adjust it. This was a fledglingtime in Sport Science in the UK so the technical tools available werecumbersome compared with current practice. Sadly despite remodelling my action,as a very skinny 15 year old, I then sustained a pars fracture in the lumbarspine!
This prompted Nigel to prescribe me aresistance training programme including in time ‘power cleans’ as my end stage rehab programme. Very progressive in1994! This engaged me with training and rehabilitation work at a young age andan interest in resistance training was born.
At university as I shifted mysporting focus to Basketball and whilst trying to build on my playing careerand make some much needed money to support my university life, I took on a rolecoaching ‘playground’ basketball in some deprived areas in and around Sheffield.This was eye opening and rewarding and once again drew me into the world ofyouth coaching. From here a PGCE in Physical Education followed and a teachingjob was a logical progression.
As I transitioned out of educationand into full-time S and C work with Sussex Cricket Club I was able to workboth with professional and younger Academy players. Whilst working with seniorswas often exhilarating, I increasingly found working with younger players morerewarding as foundations and movement qualities could be ingrained earlier andwith less resistance to the learning process. This prompted a move eventuallyto work with predominantly young players and coaches working with young playersin British tennis.
After spending a bit of time working with Kelvin Giles and Narelle Sibte in tennis I decided to work in an independent school with foundation bursary roots. Inspired by Kelvin’s vision of physical competency and literacy development, I wanted to set up my own ‘programme’; within a school.
Thus for the last ten years my dominantfocus has been here at Reed’s School.
2)What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?
There have been great key coaches who have influenced my practice a great deal like Narelle Sibte, Kelvin Giles and Brendan Chaplin. However, my biggest influence has been simply doing the job since 2001 and learning from every situation, athlete and the range of practitioners and environments I have shared the experience with. I believe you are influenced most by the process of working with and coaching young people.
Working with young aspiring sportspeople, their families and all of the coaches and influences around them is sucha rich and diverse experience that you find the successes and challengesdevelop your coaching practice. In my career I have learnt a great deal frommedics and physiotherapists, technical coaches and more than anything elseyoung people themselves.
3) What isyour particular area of interest?
I have many areas of interest whenworking with youth sports people ranging from strength and power trainingprinciples and practice, through to developing mental skills and resiliencethrough the training and learning process. I would suggest that perhaps mygreatest interest relates to the understanding and management of cumulative load with young people.
In essence, helping young people navigate their lives including the physical, mental and logistics pressures they face, whilst trying to achieve their athletic performance goals and stay healthy and improving in training.
4) How doyou think this particular area applies to youth athletes?
It is critical to help young athletesstrike an appropriate balance in their lives. We often hear about the youthobesity epidemic however, at the other end of the continuum there are childrenand adolescents who have incredibly over loaded physically active lives. Theyneed support and guidance in being taught how to rest, recover and manage theirtraining safely and effectively around their busy lives.
I have seen this a great deal inyoung athletic populations particularly in youth tennis and hockey players andin numerous multi-sport athletes. Kelvin Giles makes the superb point that toooften young people are developed with significant deficits in their generalathleticism and physical competency. I would echo this view and I would alsosuggest too often they are poorly guided and managed by significant adults asthey grow mentally and physically in their sports.
Putting in place measurement andmonitoring tools and educating parents, coaches and the young people themselvesin managing their cumulative loadings, recovery strategies and trainingintensities is a big focus area for me.
5) Whatis the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best piece of advice I have ever received was actually from a book given to me by my great friend and colleague Brendan Chaplin from Stephen Covey’s book: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
“Seek first to understand before being understood.”
I find in all areas of life andparticularly when working with young people, colleagues and team members,living by this mantra is a very simple way to achieve more success. I find itstaggering how many people do not truly listen to other people and try toempathise with their perspective.
By following this approach conflictsituations are far easier to resolve. I have found in recent years I have learnedthe painful lesson that very often life is not always a ‘right and wrong’situation. As a younger coach I was very driven by what I felt was ‘the right’course of action to take and this led to far more conflict in my life and onoccasion poor coaching decisions.
It is so valuable to step back andtruly try to see other people’s perspectives. If after being more open andreflective you feel your view point is actually still the course of action totake, then this process enables more decisive and effective action and I wouldsuggest a more evidence rather than emotion based approach.
6) Whatadvice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?
I have a few key principles thatguide my coaching practice and they are what I recommend to the coaches I workwith and mentor:
I believe a critical cornerstone ofany Youth S and C training programme is safe practice. This relates to thetraining environment and management of it, the loadings, prescriptions andvolume prescribed and the learning environment created. In essence the overallwelfare of a child in your programme must be constantly monitored every day inevery session and be at the centre of all coaching work completed. This isparticularly pertinent as young people do have the capability to unexpectedthings as they are maturing and learning new skills. Stay vigilant and create afantastic training environment for young people to thrive in!
Integrity- A values based reflective approach:
This speaks for itself. I feelstrongly that young people need to work with positive role models. Individuals theycan trust, feel safe with, who can inspire and engage them and who they knowwill work hard for their needs and have their physical and mental well-being atthe heart of their decision-making with them.
Working with young people is rarely alinear progression. There are many factors to consider and challenges for themon the journey. As a key adult, helping shape their future I personally believethat integrity driven decisions and coaching behaviours are key. This approach,will, most likely result in the young person a coach is working with having avery positive and enriching experience and that is what we want to be aboutright! Being able to make important decisions and help nurture and supporttalented young people is an important responsibility!
Empower through coaching:
As we suggest with the YSCA:
Coaching is absolutely critical to the development process.A good coach is part mentor, part teacher and absolutely is the catalyst to thelearning process. This is not about blowing the whistle and putting out cones.This is about empowering through being present in every way for the youngpeople you are working with. Being a coach to young people is a true privilegein life and fulfilling in every way.
Let young people shape their own learning and be a keyco-pilot to them as they work towards achieving their goals.
Follow a Telescopic and Microscopic approach:
At times particularly inrehabilitation settings, decision making re prescription decisions andmanagement of situations can be challenging. At times you need to be preparedto look super closely and analytically at a challenging problem. A highlydetailed microscopic approach isneeded!
In contrast in other situations onecan get too focussed on the detail and lost in minutia. In this instance beingable to ‘zoom out’ and take a more broad and telescopic approach helps a coach, find clarity and make excellentdecisions.
7) Can yourecommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?
There are so many valuable resources andtraining tools/courses out there for coaches working in youth sport and allforms of coaching. Here are some excellent ones I would recommend:
8) Wherecan people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websitesetc.)
- The Youth Strength and Conditioning Association website and blog articles: www.youthsca.com
- You can contact me via my YSCA email on firstname.lastname@example.org
A huge thanks to Ben for sharing his time and expertise with us For more great content like this follow us on Facebook!