Weights vs Skills Debate

Weights vs Skills Debate

In case you missed it the other evening on BT Sport’s Rugby Tonight Austin Healey set about putting the S&C industry back 20 years when he decided to proclaim a number of the old ‘myths’ about weight training and young athletes were true facts. Stating on national TV they shouldn’t be lifting weights before they are 17 and that it would damage them and stunt their growth! You can check the clip out on Twitter here. Since then the debate has raged on about whether young players should focus on weights or skills as a priority.

Now whilst the educated viewer will know research has shown that resistance training is both safe and beneficial for young athletes, the danger now is that less aware parents and their kids who would directly benefit from resistance training, may now be put off the idea of engaging in a structured S&C programme as a perceived Rugby expert and role model has made these statements (Healey being a former England International and British Lion).

It was interesting to see the reaction on social media with a strong S&C community on Twitter. There was a backlash with many coaches pointing him in the direction of the many documents of recent research, and many high profile coaches stepping forward to try and rectify his views, but he seems fairly set on his beliefs and is unwilling to be educated on the area. We have even extended and invitation to him for the Child To Champion conference early next month, but we’re yet to receive his RSVP…

After my initial outrage settled down, I started to consider his point of view and whilst completely misguided and ignorant in terms of the ‘facts’ he presenting regarding the safety of weight training, don’t shoot me, but I think in there somewhere there may actually be some good messages or reminders in there that we can take away.

Having worked with a lot of young rugby players over the last 8 years, I think I do understand where he is coming from. With older athletes in the 16-18 range, that haven’t come up through a structured LTAD system, I’ve had to do a lot of work to undo pre-conceived ideas about training that are heavily biased towards upper body pushing exercises and bicep curls, which Austin mentioned, in the pursuit of increased muscle mass. Many of them completely ignore glaringly obvious deficits in their technical-tactical skill set or other physical capacities (e.g. speed, agility, cardiovascular endurance).

However, rather than remove weights from their development our job as technical and/or S&C coaches is to educate them in how to train effectively, guide and motivate them towards further developing strengths and addressing their weaknesses wherever they lie.

Here are some key things I think we need to consider:

1) We must pursue balance and address the needs of the individual athlete

It is important to keep balance in our programmes and ensure the technical, tactical and mental aspects are developed as well as the physical elements. For me it isn’t an either/or situation for physical preparation and Rugby specific skill training, it is both. To get the balance right we must consider the individual needs of the athlete. I can think of some phenomenally skilful players at our school that lack the physical presence to dominate the contact situation. Likewise, I can think of some monster strong kids who can’t catch a cold and just run straight into contact. We aren’t going to train them the same way.

As athletic development coaches I think we can take some responsibility for helping to developing higher level manipulation skills by incorporating challenging tasks with smaller objects (e.g. tennis balls, golf balls) to warm ups or expose them to a completely different sport skills with some skills that could transfer to Rugby, in some of my sessions recently with I’ve done 5 minutes in a warm up dribbling and passing a basketball with both hands, which has been a big challenge for some players. The athletes were switched on, concentrating and engaged from the off and we had a great S&C session after.

2) Weight training is only ONE of many tools

Weight training is only one of many tools that should be in the S&C coaches tool box, and we must understand why we are using it with a specific athlete. For me it’s about producing more robust players, that can produce high levels of force relative to their body weight.

However, there is also a lot of training that can/should come before we begin traditional weight training with dumbbells and barbells. As well as a lot of different training that needs to be done to complement it (see point 3). With a lot of our young athletes on the Elite Performance Pathway we spend a considerable chunk of time up to 1-2 years developing strength and grooving the fundamental movement patterns against their bodyweight then low/soft load resistance (e.g. bands, powerbags) in a wide range of progressive movements across the squat/lunge/push/pull/hinge/brace categories before getting into any significantly loaded traditional weight training exercises.

3) Develop a broad range of sports generic movement skills

“Sport is movement, if we improve movement, we improve performance” Ian Jeffreys

In addition, to the basic movements, it is important that we teach/coach young athletes a broad range of sport generic movements through effective movement training in addition to resistance training so they can safely and effectively accelerate, decelerate, cut, spin, jump, land, leap, hop and throw at a range of speeds, in all planes of movement.

If we do a great job of developing these movement patterns in progressively challenging and specific situations (e.g. closed -> open -> reactive/CHAOS) as well as enhancing the force producing/reducing and energy system capacities of the athlete we can see significant improvements in a players ability to exploit and use space on the pitch, rather than taking route one into contact all the time.

Movement training in open & reactive scenarios for me is vitally important for several of reasons. First, it provides a highly engaging and challenging environment that young athletes really enjoy. Secondly, it allows us to develop the perceptual-cognitive component of agility by challenging decision making and familiarising the athlete with common movement patterns they may need to read quickly/anticipate in defence and execute swiftly in attack.

Certainly, the feedback we’ve had from our Rugby coaches at the school is that the boys who have been involved in this combined approach of strength development and movement training over the last couple of years have significantly improved their performance on the pitch.

In summary, I think it is vital we keep our eye on the big picture and not become to obsessed/biased towards any one type of training. In my opinion we need to be developing players who can efficiently and effectively produce high levels of force using appropriate means for their stage of development, and then ensuring they are capable of utilising it in a broad range of movement patterns at varying speed. Crucially this shouldn’t be developed at the expense of technical and tactical skills rather a solid working relationship with open communication channels should be established between the Rugby coach and the S&C/Athletic Development coach to ensure a rounded development of the individual player into a highly skilled and physical, elusive runner.

If you are interested in learning more about Long Term Athlete Development you can join a host of practitioners from across the developmental continuum at Child To Champion on April 9th & 10th 2016 in Gloucester.

Hip Hinge Teaching Progressions

Hip Hinge Teaching Progressions

Over the last few months I’ve been working with two new groups of athletes within the Elite Performance Pathway at St. Peter’s R.C. High School.

The athletes are all 11-12 years old and there are 15 athletes in one group and 19 in the other which presents logistical challenges when trying to coach and teach them all new movements.

Over the first two half terms we focused on developing Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull and Brace movements and recently we began learning the Hinge.

The first couple of lessons were pretty unproductive with the athletes really struggling to grasp the movement and with such high numbers in the group and only me in there to make adjustments I decided to start playing with some different progressions using an external constraint in the form of a resistance band to help the get a feel for the correct movement.

Having now completed a few sessions using the bands the athletes have progressed much further in terms of nailing this movement down. We’ve also added in a wooden broomstick held across the shoulders (back squat position) to reinforce a retracted shoulder position throughout the hinge.

If you are interested in joining in with more discussions around LTAD check out the upcoming Child To Champion conference.

 

 

Mike Young #ChildToChampion Podcast

Mike Young #ChildToChampion Podcast

Yesterday I had the pleasure of chatting to Mike about his upcoming presentations at the Child To Champion conference on VBT, Best Practises for Speed Development across the Developmental Continuum and Advanced Strategies for Elite Strength & Power Development.

We recorded the chat so you can hear what you’ve got to look forward to seeing if you are attending the conference. There’s a bit of an echo on sound as we didn’t have the best connection via Skype last night, but hopefully you can enjoy it all the same.

If you haven’t signed up yet but want to see Mike deliver these talks live we still have a limited number of tickets available for you to attend the conference. Including just 2 at the discounted Early Bird rate which you can purchase below.

Child To Champion – What were we thinking?

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Child To Champion – What were we thinking?

Now the title probably sounds like we think we’ve made some mistake launching this LTAD conference, far from it! But what we want to do is give you more of an insight into our thought processes as we assembled the line up to hopefully help you understand what you will get out from being part of it!

Our aim as an organization is to help coaches become better coaches to help them further their career by providing opportunities to learn, share and connect with leaders in the field of strength and conditioning. So we are always going to aim to bring in some heavy hitters from the industry!

When we started to plan the event it was initially going to be a youth strength and conditioning conference. So the initial discussions with Ian and Rhodri about getting them involved began back in June 2015 so it has been a long process to get to where we are now with a full line up scheduled.

The concept for the conference evolved as Mike and I spent more time considering the best way to approach the subject of LTAD. I think sometimes we can fall in to the trap of just focusing on where we are in the developmental journey, with few opportunities to maybe communicate with coaches who’ve been involved before us or who we will pass athletes on to afterwards.

From my experience working with young athletes and implementing a LTAD programme in a secondary school environment, I’ve always felt I needed to understand what the athlete had been exposed to from a physical development perspective and then what they were going to need to be able to do to be able to make the transition to the next stage up from us.

It was this thought process that drove us to the final concept for the conference where we decided we wanted to pull together presenters with experience working at different stages of the LTAD continuum from primary school aged kids right through to elite international athletes.

We want attendees who join us to leave with a complete picture of what has been successfully applied and delivered in the wide variety of environments in which we find athletes across their developmental journey including schools, professional clubs and international teams.

At a primary school age range we have Simon Brundish from UK Strength Lab providing an insight to his Physical Literacy programme with a superhero theme and a progressive movement system based around the work of Kelvin Giles and Rhodri Lloyd.

To cover the next age bracket up we have a number of presenters providing perspectives from different environments. I’ll be providing a presentation and practical based around Integrating S&C into Secondary Schools, with an insight to the LTAD system we have running from Year 7 to Year 13 at St. Peter’s High School.

Through our Future Leaders Programme: Kev Paxton and Shayne Murphy will be providing insight from the Premier League football academies from Leicester City FC and Manchester City respectively around age related performance benchmarking and injury occurrence around Peak Height Velocity. Along with Tom Rusga who works at the EIS with GB Hockey will be providing an insight to his work with there.

At the elite end of the spectrum we have Neill Potts and Mike Young bringing their experience working with the highest level athletes. Neill will be walking us through the challenges he was faced developing and implementing a system to produce International Rugby players for Scottish Rugby.

Whilst Mike is bringing his expertise in speed development to discuss best practices across the developmental continuum and also how to put the icing on the cake in the latter stages of the developmental continuum with advanced strategies for developing elite strength and power.

In addition to that we have another two world reknowned coaches, researchers and educators in Ian Jeffreys and Rhodri Lloyd. We are looking forward to Rhodri presenting some of his latest research on plyometric training for young athletes.

Ian will be presenting a theory and practical session on Effective Movement – what it is and how to coach it which will know doubt be superb with his passion and enthusiasm!

We hope you’ll agree with us that this is an exciting opportunity to take a journey across the developmental continuum with practitioners from a wide range of settings. We are really looking forward to the weekend and if you would like to be part of it you can book a ticket here.

At present there are a VERY limited number of Early Bird Tickets available – just 2 tickets remain at the time of writing this.

>>CHILD TO CHAMPION LTAD CONFERENCE TICKETS – BUY NOW<< 

 

#ChildToChampion: James Baker – Integrating S&C to Secondary Schools

#ChildToChampion: James Baker – Integrating S&C to Secondary Schools

Back in September I managed to get my first article published in the UKSCA‘s Professional Strength and Conditioning Journal providing an insight to the LTAD system I have developed and implemented with the help of my colleagues at St. Peter’s R.C. High School in Gloucester, the host venue for the Child To Champion LTAD Conference.

Certainly in the UK, strength and conditioning in schools is still a developing area. It is quite well established in the independent sector with many schools adding S&C coaches to their full time staff, and those guys are doing some outstanding work furthering S&C in Schools

In contrast, in the state sector it remains largely under developed which is something I certainly hope will change in the near future as such a large percentage of young people in our country are educated in the state schools – 93% of them in fact!

The article in the UKSCA journal provides an overview of the programme and some case studies of the impact a year round strength and conditioning within the curriculum has had on the pupils enrolled on the Elite Performance Pathway.

The presentation and practical I will be delivering at the conference will be based around the content covered in the article and will hopefully provide a detailed insight into realistic, effective and engaging ways strength and conditioning can be implemented by state schools; with an insight to our programming at the different stages, how we have applied the research, the challenges we have faced and overcome whilst integrating S&C in to the PE curriculum across 5 school years.

You can download the full article below and you can check out the full conference line up & book tickets here

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Download the full article here

#ChildToChampion: Simon Brundish – Move Like A Superhero

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Simon Brundish: Move like a Superhero

Without a doubt this is one of the presentations I am looking forward to most because, crucially, Simon is a guy who is out there coaching and  making a massive difference to primary school age children through his physical literacy programme that is running in over 20 schools.

His practical, real-world experience working with such an important age group will provide a brilliant insight to the challenges of working with kids in schools.

He will be presenting his progressive programme of movement skills, fundamental to the development of body control and movement efficiency, the times tables of movement. Giving children the tools to use in sports specific actions such as running, jumping, catching, kicking and throwing.

The programme has been developed from elite sports to provide a structured long term athletic development pathway for 5 year olds through to their pubescent years of physical development. Incorporating the works of one of our keynote speakers, Rhodri Lloyd and Kelvin Giles his system has been developed for use in both Primary schools and youth sports teams. We have 24 levels of 5 exercises, based around the push, pull, lunge, brace, rotate, squat, hinge patterns of Kelvin Giles system.

Simon uses the Superhero’s system to engage the children. each movement has 5 points of good technique each earning a star. The points are aggregated from each level giving the individual children a point average for each exercise, Hulk, Ironman, Spiderman, SilverSurfer and Thing. Their scores are plotted and monitored on a radar chart, looking for outliers to promote ‘gifted and talented’ or help under achievers.

Are you interested in seeing the full presentation at the conference? You can check out the full schedule (including a FREE Velocity Based Training workshop) and buy tickets here.

 

#ChildToChampion – Future Leaders: Kev Paxton

#ChildToChampion – Future Leaders: Kev Paxton

Last night we took spent some time chatting with Kev Paxton, Head of Academy Sport Science at Leicester City FC, about his upcoming presentation at the Child To Champion LTAD Conference through the Future Leaders Programme.

In the video, Kev gives us an insight to what attendees can expect from his presentation titled: “Age Related Performance Benchmarking” as well as some discussions about how they implement their benchmarking system within the Academy set up.

Are you interested in seeing the full presentation at the conference? You can check out the full schedule (including a FREE Velocity Based Training workshop) and buy tickets here.