It’s rare that you get the opportunity to see a master of a craft divulge the accumulated knowledge of years in the game. In my opinion, this was one of those rare opportunities and it did not disappoint!
Kelvin Giles is a former UK National and Olympic Track & Field Coach, spending 30 years in Australia’s high performance sport environment. He was Head T&F Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport and Head of the Athletic Development department at the Queensland Academy of Sport . He spent 6 years at t the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League team as Director of Performance and also led the Australian Rugby Union’s Elite Player Development section. He is a coach to 14 Olympic and World Championship athletes over a 40 year career. He is currently CEO of Movement Dynamics UK Ltd and currently consults across a range of National Governing Bodies and Federations and is the author of the Physical Competence Assessment resources. That’s a kind of pedigree you don’t get to come across very often!
Kelvin set the scene by painting the picture of what is wrong with the development of sport, not just in the UK but pretty much worldwide. A move away from a movement based PE Curriculum (he was taught to deliver as a teacher) to a competitive games based curriculum has been ineffective at equipping successive generations with the movement skills required for wellbeing and for sporting performance. He stated that “The Journey to High Performance and Wellbeing start in the same place – Development.”
Despite this, he suggested that for all the well meaning LTAD plans administered by governing bodies, he’s rarely seen an effective and consistent investment in Development – whether it be coach/athlete or teacher/student context. He discussed the misleading method of placing High Performance and Development in two separate silos – which are drifting apart at a rapid pace. He ran us through the battery of increasing statistics to show the rates of injury, obesity and inactivity in children and youth. He also highlighted that for every athlete development pathway, we need a coach development pathway and mentors to watch coaches in action!
Kelvin suggested that we critically appraise LTAD/Athlete Development policies with the following questions:
- Is participation increasing?
- Are injuries decreasing?
- Is the transition from junior to senior sport optimal?
- Are the 4 pillars (technical, tactical, physical, mental) present in every session?
- At the varying biological age levels?
- Using an an implicit to explicit continuum?
- Is anyone overseeing this at club level?
His challenge to us was – are we brave enough to say “NO” to a system that isn’t working and isn’t fit for purpose…
The Coaches’ Toolbox
He then showed us his “Coaches Toolbox”. As someone who often speaks of the skills we should be developing in an athlete’s toolbox – this resonated with me!
Kelvin then took us through each one of these components in both a theoretical and practical context. Many CPD events have coaches presenting their work only on slides – it was fantastic to have an opportunity to see a world class coach – actually coaching! Not once but at 6 different practical break outs throughout the day.
Now, there’s no way I have the space in this blog to go through each of these. After all – it took Kelvin an entire day! So I’m going to do my best to provide a short summary of a couple of the key ones that stood out to me.
1.Learning: Implicit (puzzles) to Explicit
Here he discussed how we should use a variety of methods to ensure we effectively communicate what we are hoping to see be produced. A key phrase was – “Just because you have taught it doesn’t mean they have learned.”
So we should endeavour to utilise
- Implicit > Explicit instructions
- Constraints based exercises
- Opportunities for self-organisation
- Internal > External focus of attention
- Outcomes and analagies
- Variability of movement
Within this framework he discussed an important checklist:
- Know the important “must do’s” for actions and postures (eg. Keystones, Attractors, Cores)
- Ensure appropriate journey to the core elements via a wide and deep movement vocabulary, running/kicking/catching/jumping/striking/throwing, then – sport specific skill (General > Related > Specific)
We then participated in a practical activity to demonstrate these methods. The key focus of the activity were the key running attractors – presenting the foot to the ground correctly (Dorsiflexed, stiff ankle) and to recover the foot in the right direction (heel to hamstring, Figure 4). To do so he utilised a few different methods.
Firstly – we completed some basic pogo jumps with a focus on the sound of ground contact. Then the analogy of a speed or bouncy ball vs a tomato rebounding from the ground was used to illustrate the stiff ankle rebound ability. Kelvin also manipulated how this was completed – hands on hips, arms up, forward, sideways, backwards. He then progressed us on to the heel to hamstring or “Figure 4” foot recovery – again utilising a “pop” target sound on the hamstring and having us listen with eyes close. He then progressed us onto the implicit constraint of having to run over mini hurdles – creating the conditions to express the desired result. This was again manipulated with arms down, arms up as well as incorporating a medicine ball to push overhead, lateral or overhead to communicate the notion of energy leaks through the trunk. So within that 1 practical alone we had the use of analogy, implicit and explicit instruction, self-organisation through external constraints, variability and many more methods.
Anyone who knows Kelvin, knows he is big on variability. He described variability as “wrinkles” or interferences to help athletes find the “attractors” or keystones of a skill or movement. Coaches should choose the theme (eg. dorsiflexion) and then create the wrinkles of variability to help develop that (eg. running with a skipping rope). He also reviewed the many variables that can be manipulated:
Fatigue, Reward, Goals, Equipment, Area shape/size, Numbers, Work zones, Surface, Weather, Lighting, Level of instruction, Movement, Action, Posture
Kelvin is often quoted as saying…
This was the journey that Kelvin suggested we should take our athletes on. He suggested the use of personal tests of skill by creating challenges for technical competence in order to create robustness is the creativity of the skill:
- How many
- How high
- How far
- How close
- How loud
- How soft
Kelvin suggested that we consider the follow questions when using Feedback:
- When? After the activity, During repeats but NOT during single efforts
- How Much? 1 word is better than 10, a little more to reduce the error, for the experienced athlete – a little less
- What? Analogy, Be specific – what element? Not just “good”, Ask them questions
- Who? Self-assessment, peer-assessment or coach-assessment?
These are all important questions to ask as often we as coaches want to be the fount of all knowledge and we need to let our athletes come up with the answers! The important thing is that we want to develop athletes who are able to self-assess and self-organise, so the important thing is that they are not dependant upon our feedback 24/7!
I apologise personally to Kelvin, as this write up hasn’t done him justice at all and is merely a drop in the ocean of the content he covered! However, in his closing marks he highlighted the keys to consider moving forward as coaching:
- Great coaches seldom move from the fundamentals
- Teach them upside down, inside out and back to front
- Not until they do it right – until they can’t do it wrong
- Each athlete’s path is their own, is not linear and is unlike anyone else’s
- Assume nothing, earn the right to progress
- Quality of movement – don’t load a poor movement
- Start at the lowest layers and progress
- Be as committed/creative with development as you are with the Elite
- Question your assumptions about development
Overall, this was possibly the best piece of CPD I have ever attended. The depth, breadth and quality of information was priceless. Thanks to Kelvin for sharing his years of experience and thanks to John, Pete, Jo and Sam at Jersey Sport Foundation for organising yet another fantastic event!