Thursday, November 27, 2008

Interview with Tim McLaren

Coaches – Interview with Tim McLaren
Monday, June 18th, 2007
Tim McLaren interviewed by Rowperfect
Tim is the Head Coach and director of California Rowing Club – a new club established 2 years ago and located next door to California University Berkeley Rowing Club’s shed. Rowperfect caught up with him in the final days of the Boat Race preparation. Tim has been a longtime hero for us achieving Olympic and World medal winning crews year after year.

When did you first start coaching?
I started with school kids when I was 19, coaching rugby league. I played for 18 years as an amateur and as professional against the UK in 87. When I was 25 I switched to fine boat rowing but I had done surf boats from age 16 to 25. I grew up on surf life-saving in summer and rugby in winter.

What is your coaching record?
I have not had many wins….[I think Tim is being modest here!]
Olympics – 1992; 2x, 1996 bronze in Lwt 2x and 4x; 2000 4- bronze; 2004 8 bronze.
Worlds – I have had some crews that won worlds.

Who taught you how to coach?
Nobody teaches you how to coach. When you start at 19 you do the best you can with the commonsense you have at your disposal. You approach it largely led by your personality. I will let others comment on my personality. Most coaches have a good work ethic and that’s probably what you need. Put the hours in and be diligent – the same stuff you tell the athletes. A bit of a carry-over from your own competition days.

Who has influenced your coaching method?
Everyone has a method. The people that coached me in surf rowing and rugby league and then John Williamson and Paul Rowe. He was a national sculler. Rusty Robinson, he was fantastic. He was outstanding and you remember the people more for their personality and how they handle situations. Reinhold Baatchi. All these characters you absorb stuff off them. Coaching with other coaches on the national team too. It is good to coach in a group. That is an art that Cambridge has mastered over the years the “cooperation in a good environment”. Donald Leggett, Robin Williams and Harry Mahon.

How would you describe your ‘perfect’ rowing / sculling stroke?
I am not into words. Every rowing book around the world is the same but we all row differently. Me explaining it to me you will be your own interpretation of my words but that may not be my interpretation. There are many ways to do it – but whether you are a pusher or a puller do it to high level and you have a chance of being competitive

What is your main focus at different times of the season?
I think that comes with the programme and how it shifts to technical sessions and as the need demand. Look at your crew. What’s in front of you? Deal with that – it’s just like football. You can be in the competitive part of the season and if the crew is average you may need to do technical sessions too. There is no foolproof method on paper. There is the normal theoretical framework which every coach has to work within. And there is always room for personal and collective improvement.

Do you have any advice for young coaches?
Try and get out with older coaches now and again. A trip in a boat and discussion; ask questions while you have the crew in front of you. Read a bit of history and get a good understanding of the sport. I think to be organised in a practical sense is important.

Plan your sessions… I sense a lot of volunteers are under time pressure and this gets cut. If you can organise the hour into sections with drills at various pressures, rates with slide work and body work. You improve concentration and their ability to carry that onto racing. Have a plan with your session. Warm up, drills, ratings, pressures, and times. Bring all those things to the session. Not just work on row 40 minutes steady state. You need to be doing rating, starts and teaching skills. Young people need to be organised to fit all those things in over a period of time. You need structure of sessions in order to get it all in. Young people want variety. In schools; coaches are organised off the water with equipment and crews and maintenance. But on the water they need the same degree of vigilance.

What is the thing you are most proud of in your coaching career?
I am not sure. I think wherever I go I try and create a culture around the club whether surf, football or rowing and bring that element of teamwork to the culture of where you coach. A social element with hard work which brings people together and makes a stronger unit and makes you a better competitor. I try to set a high standard and get people to rethink possibilities. Raise their level of thinking and to manage themselves really well. That is people’s biggest challenge. You aim to try and keep them developing not only in a rowing sense but in life.

How about national coaching styles?
When you work in a system you are dragged along by the philosophy of that system, often people try to replicate them from one country to another. They sometimes fail to factor in the culture of the people. Many countries moved to a centralised model and there are some more successful versions than others. UK is lucky because here is a healthy underpinning of strong clubs. Outside the national programme there is a lot happening in rowing. Lots of volunteers and people with a passion for rowing without the national programme being the prime focus. That is the result of the historical importance of rowing in UK particularly.

School rowing is very successful in many countries but it is that step after school when you have to catch them, coach and develop them and that often gets very shaky. I am looking at that in US now. I am looking at the best way to approach that and collect kids with ability who are interested in rowing at a higher level. There is a lot of development there.

How should coaches continue their learning?
Your perspective shifts a little when you get older. Coaches develop as well and they need to. It is not only your coaching knowledge but your management of yourself and your athletes. Coaches that are reading this will understand.

Athletes improve as they get older but coaches should do as well. Sometimes you can. Go back to who you learnt from and their influences. You learn a lot off the athletes too. Try different things and they are the litmus test of your method of feedback. It is good to have a group of athletes that can give you feedback. Learn through trial and error and athlete feedback. Trust your own intuition. Particularly if you have rowed yourself you have seen a lot of good athletes and you can learn from them and should try things and sometimes it is successful and develop those and carry on working on others. It is a patience game.

I do a bit with development athletes like Cambridge and sometimes the people are inexperienced. You can get good feedback off novices about what it feels like. Anyone can give it; some are better than others, more articulate.

Are there any common themes that all coaches can work on?
I once watched Thor Nilsen in a meeting of national coaches who were trying to describe the perfect stroke without a picture or a model. Everyone has a different interpretation of the same words. This is evidenced by the different styles in different countries. Look at the crews to see the outcomes. This struck me early on. Communication and interpretation are big things for thinking in coaching but in the end everything is limited by what you see. There could be more training teaching people to see a little better. One day I’ll do that.

Your athletic ability coordination and your understanding. Every athlete brings faults to the game. You are limited by how well it was explained when you first started, your understanding and how well you can transfer that understanding into action.

Rowing teaches you a lot about yourself.

Teaching Rowing To Children

Teaching Rowing – Teaching Rowing To Children
By Ariane Kissel and Werner Raabe
1. Aims of children's rowing
The main goal of teaching rowing to children should be to make the sport attractive to the widest possible range of children - as a positive emotional experience, both alone and together with other children. The training should enable children to approach rowing playfully as a sport as well as an experience and, most importantly, to find pleasure in an athletic activity.

This approach does not preclude a good, broad development of rowing technique or the general development of athletic skills. Only a comprehensive athletic training – in contrast to early, exclusive specialization - together with an education directed towards independence can prepare the children to later decide whether they want to continue rowing on the competitive of high performance level, as a leisure activity or in the form of pleasure rowing.

2. Requirements
The following will summarize the most important material requirements for children's rowing.

2.1. Area
A lake sheltered from wind, with shallow water - to make reboarding the boat easier - and without current offers ideal conditions for learning. Of course, it is equally possible to learn rowing on waters with high traffic and strong current, but a different approach is necessary under such circumstances. Thus, the approach depends on the area as well as on the situation.

2.2. Boats
Generally, children can row in all boats, which can be adjusted to children's measurements.1 According to the aims stated above - acquainting children with the varieties of movements that rowing offers - it is best to provide a wide variety of boat categories. It would be ideal if the club or organization could offer enough children's boats in the different categories. The skiff as a "cybernetic teaching machine" (Schröder) still remains the most important boat.

2.3. Opportunities for sports and games on land
In addition to rowing, it is helpful to offer other opportunities for games and athletic activities on land. Ball games like soccer, basketball, volleyball or handball are possible almost everywhere. In bad weather or in the cold season, an indoor gym is useful for games or children's gymnastics, aerobics, or circuit training. The rowing or bicycle ergometer or rowing in tanks is other options. But in the interest of a comprehensive training of flexibility, games should get preference over the often-monotonous ergometer training or rowing in tanks. Equipment and rooms for weight workouts are not required.

2.4. Motorboat
The use of motorboats makes sense not only in top-level sports, but offers many advantages in the children's area as well. The motorboat helps keep to direct contact with the team and to work with the rowers from a fixed point. In addition, the use of a motorboat allows the supervision of a larger number of children. Since it can be very helpful when assisting capsized rowers a motorboat is also a safety factor, especially in cold water and unfavorable weather conditions. However, it is not absolutely obligatory for the supervision of children. Depending on the circumstances, assistance can also come
- from another rowing boat (the supervisor rows next to the children, steering them, or rows with them),
- from the landing stage,
- from a bicycle.

Generally, supervision is more difficult, less effective, and requires more organization without a motorboat.

2.5. Megaphone
For clear instructions, especially from the motorboat, a megaphone is indispensable.

2.6. Stopwatch and stroke timer
Stopwatch and stroke timer are absolutely necessary aids for training children as well as adults. The purchase of relatively expensive mechanical watches is not necessary. Much cheaper digital watches, which often combine both functions, are completely sufficient for children.

2.9. Life jackets / neoprene suits
The use of life jackets is advisable in the following situations:
- in dangerous areas (rivers with strong current, heavy traffic, in locks, etc.)
- in cold water and/or cold temperatures
- for longer trips, especially on waters and lakes which are liable to experience wind and/or high waves
- for anxious or handicapped children

In this context, we have achieved good results with neoprene suits. In contrast to life jackets, they provide true protection against cold water. Thinner suits allow freedom of movement, they have good buoyancy, and are sometimes even less expensive than life jackets made especially for rowing.

2.10. Written agreement by the parents / health certificate
For the legal protection of both club and instructor, parents should sign a written statement that they agree with their child's participation in the sport. If possible, a health certificate should show that the child is able to participate. It is absolutely necessary for children who want to participate in competition.

2.11. Swim certificate
Children who want to row must be able to swim. This should be proven by a certificate or similar proof. If no such proof exists, the instructor should test the child's ability himor herself. An exception can be made for handicapped children, but they must be equipped with life jackets or similar aids.

2.12. Sportswear
Appropriate sportswear is necessary. It should be selected according to the weather and should allow sufficient mobility. Adequate sun protection is necessary in sunny weather.

3. Children learn to row
After this summary of the prerequisites for the instruction of children, the special features of a beginner training with children will be described in the following, beginning with the question of the right age.

3.1. When to begin?
Rowing can be learned at any age and under almost any conditions. According to different development psychologists, the best learning age is between 9 and 12 years. Children at this stage show a strong desire for physical exercise; new physical tasks are usually learned quickly and skillfully ("instant learning"). Our own experience confirms this. In recent years we have reduced the beginning age from 12 to 9 and 10 years of age. In this context, it is especially important to offer exercise forms (f.e. games) and equipment (f.e. boat and rowing equipment) adequate to the children's developmental stage and size.

3.2. How to begin?
The literature offers several methods of beginner instruction. All of them have advantages and disadvantages, and none of these methods is exclusively the best. Which method is chosen depends very much on the situation - water conditions, boat material, age and talent of the children, number of children, additional rowing equipment etc. On a shallow lake with little current, very talented children are could start in the skiff right away. On a river with strong current and with anxious children, this would of course be completely wrong.

Despite this dependence on the situation, the following will present some typical learning steps. They are suggestions based on personal experience, and not necessarily the only possible way.
3.2.1. Teaching a sense for the right movements
In our opinion, it is important to begin with giving the children a practical understanding of the correct rowing motions. A clear understanding of the motions coupled with knowledge of their function tremendously helps the rowing beginner. This understanding can be transmitted with the help of film or video, but children learn better when the instructor demonstrates the movement him- or herself. If the demonstration takes place on a rowing ergometer, in the rowing tank, or in a gig at the landing stage, the children have a chance to participate right away.

After a short demonstration, the children should get a chance to try out what they have just seen. In our experience, they usually master this very quickly. One practice unit on land is completely sufficient to get a sense of the necessary motions. Often, 20 or 30 minutes of introduction before the first practice unit on water and perhaps another before the second are enough.

Practicing the rowing movement on stationary equipment has several advantages:
- questions as to the motions can be answered immediately,
- mistakes can be corrected right away, before incorrect movements are learned,
- learning is interactive (the instructor can show what he or she means and does not have to use long verbal explanations),
- rowing ergometer and rowing tank provide an opportunity to "reduce," to go "from the easy to the difficult" - and the children can concentrate fully on the movement without having to balance a boat at the same time.

3.2.2. First practice unit on the water
Following the didactic principle "from the easy to the difficult" on the water as well, one should begin sweeping in the gig boat. In our experience, the majority of beginners has problems with the hand position in the scull boat (the thumbs touch each other) and find it difficult to feel the right position of the sculls and their correct depth in the water.

In the sweep boat, the children only have to concentrate on one side. They can learn the complete stroke including feathering and dropping the wrist. Rowing also often provides a faster sense of achievement because the children can cover short distances faster and with better technique. However, to avoid unbalanced stress, the children must switch from portside to starboard-side and back. Once the movements in the sweep boat have become fairly automatic, the children can concentrate on the correct hand position in the scull boat.

Of course, all important maneuvers - stopping, rowing backwards, wide turn, narrow turn, oars, sculls long - can be learned both in the sweep boat and in the scull gig.

3.2.3. First experiences in the children's skiff
When the gig is mastered to a certain degree - don't wait too long! - the children's single (skiff) is the next step. As always, a step-by-step approach can be advisable depending on the situation. Here, it is especially important to help the children overcome their fear of the unusual instability of the single. The following steps are possible:

Step 1: The instructor holds the boat while the child enters it. The child assumes the safety position - both sculls flat on the water, legs extended, sculls held over the knee. The instructor continues to hold the boat.

Step 2: Out of the safety position, several balance exercises can be performed. So-called "rocking exercises" are typical. For example, with blades flat on the water, the child is asked to lift the blades, first on one, then on the other side. If the portside blade is lifted, the boat tilts starboard, and vice versa. It is also possible for the child to push both inboard parts of the sculls into the boat and rock itself from one side to the other. In this exercise, the instructor can continue to hold the boat if the child still feels insecure.
Once the child has achieved a feeling of security, the exercise can be performed without the instructor's help.

Step 3: The next step is rowing ahead. Under constant extension of the sliding distance, both sculls are pulled toward the body, lifted, and recovered with the blade dragging on the surface of the water. In strong current, or to reassure insecure children, a safety line attached to the boat can secure the boats return to the landing stage. Usually, however, the children are able to master the following step immediately.

Step 4: Usually, this next step is rowing backwards. Similar to forward rowing, it is introduced under constant extension of the sliding distance. Once forward and backward rowing has been practiced a few times, other maneuvers are introduced, like wide turn, narrow turn, stopping, portside and starboard-side scull long, embarking, landing, etc.

Depending on talent of the children, these maneuvers can also be broken down into several steps.

Step 5: This should be a very important safety exercise for the skiff - reboarding the boat after capsizing in deep water. After an inadvertent bath, the children should be able to get back into position in the skiff without damaging the boat. This could be practiced extensively on a "bathing tour" in a plastic children's skiff, perhaps as a competition in which the time needed to get back in the boat is taken, and the winner crowned as "king of baths."

With the handling of the skiff, beginner instruction is generally finished. Usually, rowing in other boats does not present any difficulties after that.

3.3. Keep in mind!
There are some basic rules for beginner instruction:
- Becoming acquainted with the rowing equipment should be a regular part of the training. Use and function of different parts - sliding seat, footrest, outrigger, swivel etc. - should be explained.
- The children should be shown how to carry sculls, oars, and boats, and learn how to launch, take out, and later clean the boat.
- The children should help each other when carrying the boats.
- When explaining movements and tasks, the necessary technical terms and commandos should be used from the beginning.
- The instructor must continue to see that oars and sculls are positioned correctly and the footrest placed in the right position.
- The children should be introduced to the special features of the area - hydrology, dangerous spots, environmental protection, and traffic rules.

Within the German Rowing Federation, the introduction of a rowing skills certificate has been successful. When a certain level of achievement has been reached, boys and girls can pass an exam with their instructor or a representative of the club, which includes practical and theoretical questions. Depending on the level, there are rowing skills certificates in bronze, silver, and gold. If the diploma is not used to put them under pressure, it is usually a nice reward if the children have something to show for what they have learned.

4. Training with children
In connection with children's rowing, the word "training" assumes a different meaning than in competitive sports. In accordance with the aims described above, repeated, continual exercise should improve the children's motor/technical and psychological abilities (like motivation, well-being, willpower) as well as their fitness.

Children's training, in contrast to the training of youths and adults, does not aim at selection and/or early specialization. Aims are rather:
- long-term attachment to rowing as a sport,
- development of a wide variety of different forms of exercise (games, exercises on land, other sports),
- development of a broad basis for individual motivation and skills.

4.1. Training schedule
In our experience, the following frequency and length of practice units is sufficient:
Age 9-10 11-12 13-14
Number units/week 2 2-3 2-4
Rowing km/unit 5-7 7-10 10-12
Rowing km/year 400-600 600-800 700-1200
Hours/week 3 3-5 4-6

These numbers are of course only guidelines. Special circumstances, like excursions, rowing camps, before competitions, etc. can change the schedule for short periods of time.

A warning: however, against too much permanent stress at a young age. Especially with a view towards a possible career in competitive sports, exaggerated training frequency and length tends to be counterproductive. The best rowing age is between 22 and 27. A child that begins rowing at the age of 10 still has to train for at least 12 years before he or she reaches the right age for top-level achievement. Daily practice with a high number of kilometers at a young age may lead to quick successes in the beginning, but it prevents a steady improvement from year to year. Often, such rowing "careers" end before the junior level because the rowers are "burned out," because they have academic problems in school, or because they have lost contact with other young people outside of rowing.

4.2. Training content
We have already mentioned that children should receive the widest possible form of athletic stimulation in the form of games. In general, the younger the children, the higher the percentage of playing exercises on the water and the higher the number of different games and competitions. This does not mean that the children should paddle around aimlessly on the water - although that is, of course, also allowed every once in a while - or that they be artificially kept at beginner level. The children should rather be confronted with a variety of different challenges, which they should be able to tackle with increasingly better solutions. It is obvious that working with different boats and forms of rowing leads to a wider selection of exercises and games. Only a few ideas can be presented here as examples. They should motivate the instructor to develop his or her own, new ideas and to try them out with different groups of children.

Examples for practice exercises:
- Balance presents a permanent challenge. One exercise for advanced rowers in the skiff is "flying." Here, the children push the inboard parts of the oars into the boat and hold them there without letting blade touch the water. Exercises in the sweep boat could be rowing with only one hand (inside hand, outside hand), hands crossed, rowing without shoes or without fixing the feet.

- To understand the interplay of motion and perception, exercises with reduced perception are helpful. It has been shown to be effective to let children row with their eyes closed. In addition to a better feel for the boat, this exercise teaches getting the stroke and team coordination.

- Varying the force of the stroke also promotes a good feel for the boat. Example: alternating strokes with force and without force, or alternating strokes through the water with strokes in the air or catching water. Alternating emphasis of middle phase of stroke, finish of stroke, leg kick, upper body, etc.

- A feel for the boat as well as for ones own body is also promoted by performing motions at different speeds or sequences. Examples are rowing in slow motion; rowing with pauses, e.g. after hand deployment, or before catching water; isolating partial movements, e.g. by rowing with fixed seat, or rowing with quarter, half, three-quarter slide; varying stroke rate or variations in stroke rate and force, e.g. the so-called "mounting-five": one fast stroke with pressure, one slow without pressure, then 2 fast strokes, 2 slow, continuing to 5 and 5, and then counting down again.

- Tasks under conditions which make mistakes impossible, e.g. if the rowers revolve the blade in the water, one could let them row with blade feathered.

- To correct movements, it can be useful to exaggerate, e.g. rowing with an extreme starting position if the length of strokes is too short, or rowing with extremely upright upper body if the rowers use their legs and hips before the catch.

- Of course, all exercises can be combined with each other, e.g. rowing with eyes closed and blades feathered at different stroke rates.
Examples for games:
- King of turns: who can do the fastest three 360¯ turns?
- Powerman/woman: who needs the least number of strokes over a fixed distance?
- Powerslider: who is the first to reach a fixed goal rowing backwards?
- Master of balance: who has the best balance; who can stand up in the children's skiff without holding on to the sculls?
- Boat-ball: a good-sized ball is played towards a goal with bow, stern, or oars.
- Rower handball/basketball: the children try to score goals or baskets by throwing the ball.
- Relays: depending on age, skill, and local situation, the distance in a relay should be between 200 and 500 meters.

As already mentioned, the rowing exercises should be complemented with or (especially in unfavorable weather conditions) replaced by athletic activities and games on land. Practically all forms of sports and games that promote motor abilities and skill and which help to increase fitness are possible. Moving in many different ways and forms helps children learn something about themselves and their own bodies as well as about the boat and the reactions of their partners in the boat. Developing fitness components such as strength and endurance is certainly a hoped-for by-product. However, the emphasis for children lies in the development of skill and technique.

4.2. Competition for children
Within the German Rowing Federation, certain forms of competition which on the one hand connect to the playful forms of rowing discussed above, and on the other hand prepare the ground for moving on to the junior level have been successful.

- Slalom: A course marked with buoys must be passed with the skiff as fast as possible. Although time plays a certain role in this competition, the playing element is still fore grounded.

- Combined competition: Here, children have to show versatility and teamwork.
Playing is still emphasized, e.g.
1. 3500m long-distance rowing in the four with coxswain
2. Basketball competition
3. 1000m. obstacle-race
4. Test of skill (e.g. attaching a disassembled swivel to the outrigger)

- Stroke rate rowing: Here, a certain distance (500m, 1000m, etc.) must be covered with the least possible number of strokes. A minimum stroke rate (e.g. 18 strokes/minute) must be reached. The absolute number of strokes multiplied by the time determines the result. In this form of competition, team spirit and a good technique are necessary. Time and performance of the rowing movement in its fastest form is not yet necessary.

- Combined middle (1000m) and long distance (3000m): For older children (13-14 years) with advanced rowing technique and a sound basic fitness, a combination of middle and long distance is offered. This form of competition prevents the tendency to power through which can often be observed in the short distance (500m), and which leads to uneconomic motions. The combination of middle and long distance also promotes the longer workouts with medium intensity which are favored by doctors.

Tips for the Speaker

Presentations – Tips for the Speaker
1. Tell 'em what you are gonna tell 'em, tell 'em, and tell 'em what you told 'em. (Repetition gets the message through.) Also known as preview, present and summarize.
2. Check out the room before you speak and make sure everything you need is there, and you know where everything is that you will need in your presentation.
3. Know the program schedule. Start and end on time. Allow time for more than one and less than 7 questions if you intend to answer questions.
4. Don't distract the audience from your message. Don't look at your watch in a way anyone can detect, or they will look at their's. Be conscious of time, but try to make sure your audience is not. Avoid nervous repeat movements.
5. Ask for a simple introduction. Avoid big buildups that may leave you disappointing the audience. The time for hype is when it will get the audience in the door. Once there, establish reasonable expectations of what they will gain from listening to you.
6. Always repeat every question for the benefit of the audience (who may not have heard it) and to make sure YOU heard it clearly.
7. When you say "in conclusion", conclude. Don't drag it on. Know how to stop speaking.
8. Have a central theme to your talk and emphasize it from several perspectives. People have limited memories. Make sure they leave with your main point clearly in mind. When the audience leaves the room, a friend will ask them, "what did Coach so and so say?". Make sure your audience can answer the question.
9. Make sure your subject is appropriate to the level of the audience. Check this out well in advance, and make adjustments at the last minute if the crowd turns out to be different. Be flexible!
10. Never explain that you are going to tell a joke. Either you are one of the people who can tell jokes, or you are not. If you are not, don't repeat your mistake and be dumb as well as boring.
11. Beware of jokes. Most of them will offend someone, at some level. You can exhibit a sense of humor without telling a joke. (If you have a sense of humor, that is.)
12. If you must read your speech, make sure you can deliver it well. Better, don't talk about something you have to read. Notes are fine, reading a speech is usually very boring.
13. Don't shout, don't wave it about. Almost all great speakers from history were quiet, brief and meaningful. A great idea delivered quietly will make more noise than a lousy idea that is shouted.
14. Make eye contact. Have a conversation with your audience.
15. Don't rush, take your time.
16. Deliver a message you believe in. Above all else, speak with conviction.
17. Don't begin anything by apologizing for speaking on this topic. "I don't know why they asked me to speak on this topic, so many others know it so much better...." Your audience may immediately agree with you, and/or wonder why you are then wasting your time. Likewise, don't begin by apologizing that you haven't had enough time to prepare. If you accept a speaking engagement, you prepare, and you deliver. People don't care how much time you took to prepare, they care if you deliver a meaningful message.
18. Know what you don't know. Don't use words you are not absolutely sure of the meaning of, or words you are unsure of the pronunciation of. Your personal credibility is at stake.
19. People have a hard time holding more than three major ideas in their heads. Three points work well. Five is overload, and they will forget all but the first and the last.
20. Connecting with the audience is key to success. If you can tie an audience member directly to your message, do so...tell a story, ask a person for their (brief) opinion, etc. Plus, people love to be recognized.
21. Tell your audience why what you have to say is important to them. Tell them this FIRST.
22. If you use Audio-visual aids, make sure they are good, well organized and ready to be presented. Fumbling for the "right slide" or overhead is an audience loser.
23. Talk about your topic. Don't go off on tangents, unless you are great at it...and the tangent has a big point.
24. Know your audience. Know your audience. Know your audience. (The three most important things in great speeches.)
25. Enthusiasm, as a quality of presentation, cannot be over-rated.

A Road Map to Success

Training Design – A Road Map to Success
By Dave Shrock, Modesto Junior College
Following these assertions, coaches should be guided by the knowledge of what the crucial tasks are that must be accomplished in the demands of the athlete’s event/position and of the sport. Tudor Bompa, an authority on periodization, states ‘a coach is only as efficient as his or her organization and planning’ (150). Bompa continues by stating that periodization is one of the most important concepts of training and planning, as structured phases of training lead to the highest level of preparation and performance. Training design, or periodization, provides guidance, direction and scope to training; yet needs to be simple, suggestive, and flexible so it can be modified to meet individual circumstances or changing environments.

Will Freeman, in his periodization book entitled Peak When it Counts (2001), suggests the three fundamental purposes of periodization: 1) to enable an individual or team to peak at the ideal moment, 2) to achieve optimal training effect from each phase of training, and 3) to make training an objective process. To create the objective process, coaches can measure and test athletes to assess progress towards goals, while at the same time, providing comparisons and objectivity so that the coach can make modifications to workouts, if necessary, and fine-tune progress towards the training objective.

Often when we hear the term periodization, we think of it as a recent phenomenon. On the contrary, periodization began back in the ancient Olympics with Philostratus’ training of the athletes. U.S. collegiate athletic teams in the early twentieth century utilized more evolved systematic training, while the Germans in the 1936 Olympics began refining periodization with four year training plans. The concepts were further refined by Eastern bloc state-funded regimes after the Second World War. In 1965, Leonid Matveyev published what has become the classic model for periodization in the West. (Bompa 1999).

Periodization for Individuals and Teams
The application of periodization varies between team and individual sports. Considerations of training are determined by the sport’s specific requirements, and the discipline demands of each athlete- such as power-speed positions versus endurance based (Olbrecht 2000). Ledger (1998), suggests utilizing the strategy on two levels. While the development of the individual is important to facilitate their positional and individual potential, team development can be addressed with periodization to produce an efficient and cohesive unit. Often, individual and team concerns can overlap and complement each other depending upon their time of season.

During the off-season, or preparation phase, individual conditioning and strengthening plans can be utilized to raise the level of fitness and expertise of each player, while during the season, training as a unit should be utilized at every opportunity. An excellent example of combining individual and team related technical training involves the use of game related movements for conditioning. It has been suggested that undulating, non-linear periodization, which will be discussed shortly, best suits team periodization when planning for the year. Variation within microcycles does remain important for team sport players, and this variation of training loads and volume depends on the training age and experience of each player (Gamble 2006). Studies have determined that the variable summated periodization approach, progressing from extensive to intensive on a three week loading; and a one week restorative, or unloading approach is well adapted to team sports and many individual disciplines (Plisk & Stone 2003).

Creating an Effective Periodized Training Plan
Before embarking on setting up any training design or periodized program, the coach needs to determine both long term and intermediate goals or objectives for the individual and the team. Evaluation begins with general considerations such as the physical, physiological, psychological, and technical capabilities of your athletes and team along with specific demands and expectations of the sport, the level at which athletes and team compete, and the time available to train plus prepare for competitions.

Considerations should include which competitions are considered developmental, and which competitions, or group of competitions, need the athletes to be at optimal preparation. The evaluation of the athletes includes their training age, level of skill, as well as their occupation and financial support, awareness of nutrition, level of motivation, and support to achieve established goals or objectives. In the creation of an objective and measurable training plan, routine testing of athletes in controlled sessions or competitions is important so the development can be measured; including areas that need to be addressed in a holistic approach to training (Bompa 1999; Sellers 2007b; Stone et al 2007).

Once all parameters of the sport and season are identified, along with the attributes of the athlete and team, the coach needs to identify the focal or major competition. From this date, the coach can begin to work backwards, aligning the components outlined below to create a road map or an effective periodized plan.There are several components to the periodized plan. These periods refer to training with specific and distinct, yet linked goals. By establishing a periodized plan, training loads can be applied in a progressive, cumulative, systematic fashion, with the goal being optimal performance achieved at a specific time.

Four year or quadrennium period: Used in fundamental long range planning which fits well into the Olympic cycle and U.S. scholastic and collegiate systems
-Annual period: Culminates with the focal completion identified for that year.
Macrocycle: Term used for phases of preparation and competition leading up to a season or series of focal competitions. Often coaches implement a single, double, or tri-cycle model of periodization depending on the number of seasons, or focal competitions, the athlete or team has in any given annual plan or year.
-Mesocycle: Matveyev, in his classic periodization model, utilized natural monthly bio-cycles to construct ‘meso’ or monthly periods of four weeks. Within each mesocycle, intensity and volume are gradually increased in each microcycle creating a summated model until the last microcycle, which decreases load and volume for a restorative or stabilizing effect.
-Microcycle: The building blocks of a mesocycle are the microcycle, normally seven to ten day periods, where load and volume of work are interspersed with recovery.
-Training Session: Depending on the demands of the athlete or team, and their training age, the coach may incorporate one or several training sessions into a daily routine.
-Training Unit: The smallest of the periodization units, a unit describes the specific activity prescribed during the training session. It should be noted that sequencing units is important for each session’s effectiveness. Well orchestrated programs utilize continuous warm-ups, specific to sport demands, before progressing to motor skill demanding activities while the body is less fatigued, before initiating endurance activities, culminating with a cool down.

Overlapping this periodized approach is the concept of phases that emphasize thematic or training emphasis. The initial phase is called preparation (prep) or conditioning, phase which may last several mesocycles. Athletes in the prep phase address conditioning and fundamental sport skills so that they will be able to adapt to the increasing demands of competitive environments. The preparation phase is usually divided into the general and specific prep phases. In the general prep phase broad, multilateral training takes place and then moves into overall strength, flexibility, stamina, and coordination. Building on the general phase, athletes move into the specific preparation phase where the improvement of sport specific skills is emphasized. Training volume is often high during this prep phase to allow conditioning, while intensity is low.

Depending upon the length and complexity of the season, the majority of the competition season is called the competitive phase. The athlete has evolved from the prep phase with stable fitness and the ability to accomplish position and sport specific demands with minimal fatigue. As the competitive phase progresses towards the focal competition, training volume begins to decrease while intensity increased with event and sport specific training emphasized (Bompa 1999; Counsilman & Counsilman 1994; Grosso 2006; Sellers 2007a; Sellers 2007b; Stone et al 2007).

The crescendo of a competitive phase is the taper, or peak, when all components of the cumulative training plan converge to enable optimal performance for a period of time. Tapers are initiated one to three weeks prior to focal competitions and are determined by the training load and level of fatigue on the athlete to that point in the season. Studies on the tapers of swimmers, cyclists, and track athletes identify a performance increase of .05 to 6 percent enabled by increased blood cell volume and muscle glycogen content, giving the athlete greater stamina and energy (Karp 2007; Ledger 1998).

The final phase of periodization is called the transition phase which lasts one to four weeks beginning after the focal competition and allowing athletes to heal injuries and recover from previous training. While the inclination is to immediately stop training after a focal competition, athletes are better served to gradually reduce volume to facilitate recovery. The goal of the transition phase is to maintain some level of fitness while allowing the athlete’s body to recover, and the athlete to rejuvenate (Stone, et al 2007).

Training design and periodization have often been compared to cooking with many ingredients, compounded by innumerable factors beyond the coach and athlete’s control. The key is to begin with a simple systematic plan and to keep records so that the coach and athlete can review the progression afterwards and make informed assertions and refinements from the training plan. There are many sources available for the novice coach willing to increase their effectiveness by utilizing periodization or training design. Several are listed in the reference section below, and additional resources are available through NGBs or the USOC. Tudor Bompa declared that periodization is one of the most important concepts in training and performance. By structuring phases and periods which lead to the highest level of speed, strength and endurance in athletic competition, all athletes can succeed at their highest level (Bompa 1999). Negotiating the road to success is most effectively achieved by utilizing the road map of periodization.

Bompa, T. (1999). Periodization: Theory and methodology of training (fourth ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Counsilman, J., & Counsilman, B. (1994). The new science of swimming. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Freeman, W. (2001). Peak when it counts (fourth ed.). Mountain View, CA: Tafnews Press.
Gamble, P. (2006). Periodization for training of team sport athletes. Strength and conditioning journal, 28 (5), 56-66.
Grosso, M. (2007). Athletics training program Modern athlete & coach, 45 (1), 27-31.
Grosso, M. (2006). Training theory: A primer on periodization. Modern athlete & coach, 44 (3), 7-14.
Karp, J. (2007). Hey! Back off! Marathon & beyond, 11 (3), 20-27.
Ledger, P. (1998). A guide to planning coaching programmes. Leeds, U.K.: National Coaching Foundation.
Olbrecht, J. (2000). The science of winning. Overijse, Belgium: Olbrecht.
Plisk, S., & M. Stone (2003). Periodization strategies. Strength and conditioning journal, 25 (6), 19-37.
Sellers, C. (2007a). Sequencing your workouts. USOC Olympic coach, 19 (2).
Sellers, C. (7 August, 2007b). Training design for fencers. PowerPoint presentation at USA Fencing Coaching Camp, Colorado Springs, CO.
Stone, M., M.Stone & W. Sands (2007). Principles and practice of resistance training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Holy Grail

Methodology – The Holy Grail
By Vern Gambetta
Why is it that each generation of young coaches has to go in search of the Holy Grail, that place or person who has the answer? Over the past several months I have run into too many coaches starting out in the field or early in their career who are seeking the answer. The problem as I see it they do not yet know what questions to ask. They have not made enough mistakes yet to sharpen their skills.

I do not know who said this, but truer words have never been spoken – It takes twenty years to be an overnight success. That certainly reaffirms what I have seen. The other quote that resonates for me is from is from Gertrude Stein – “The answer is there is no answer.”

The fact of the matter is there is no Holy Grail or fountain of knowledge, nor is there no one answer. The challenge is to keep learning, keep asking questions. Formulate a philosophy and that should not change. Your philosophy is your guiding light, your core beliefs. These core beliefs should then guide your search for answers, it should provide a context to evaluate what is good and what is bad in what you are doing and adjust accordingly. It is my opinion that there is no entitlement in coaching, you have to prove yourself at each step of your career.

Frankly I feel sorry for some of the coaches I have seen thrust into positions they did not earn or are not ready for. They quickly become experts who do not know what they don’t know. Unfortunately there is too much of this today. Coaching and the ability to coach is special. It demands a focus and commitment second to none. There is no simple way to prepare for this except to acquire hands on experience. I think every coach should start out at the elementary school or middle school level that is the real world. The basics and the skills you learn in teaching and coaching at that level are invaluable. The other day at volleyball practice I flashed back to almost 40 years ago when I was working with one of the girls on throwing. A simple skill that is a precursor to much of what happens in striking a volleyball. Without my experience teaching Junior High School gym class I would never have learned that. The JV coach asked where I had learned that. I must have had a class somewhere but all I can remember is that early on I had a bunch of kids who could not throw so I had to teach them. There is no substitute for that kind of experience.

The last thought here is to remember that coaching is high touch not high tech, there is no substitute for being able to demonstrate the skills. Enjoy the journey, make up your mind to continually learn. Don't be satisfied with one answer, keep asking questions.

Routines, Rituals and Performing Under Pressure

Routines, Rituals and Performing Under Pressure
By Sean McCann, PhD, Performance Services USOC Sport Psychologist
From Olympic Coach Spring 2008 Vol 20 No 2
I have a pre-shot routine for every shot, but none is more important than when I have to hit a big drive in a pressure situation. Not only does my pre-shot routine allow me to focus on the task at hand, but it also keeps me in my natural rhythm. Every 300-yard bomb in my bag starts with a preshot routine that has a calming effect on me as much as anything. - Tiger Woods

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. – Aristotle

Pre-competitive routines have been studied by sport psychologists for a long time, and there is good evidence that routines increase consistency of an athlete’s thinking, feelings, and pre-sport behavior. Because of these effects, routines also produce more consistent sport behavior. This produces better results. Routines therefore, can make you a better athlete. There are a number of reasons why routines work, but you may find that many of your athletes resist routines. At the USOC, I have heard all sorts of reasons for this resistance, including:
“It slows me down”
“I don’t want to get locked into anything”
“I like being flexible in case things change”
“I used to do it, and it was helpful, but I just stopped. I’m not sure why.”

My personal opinion is that many athletes don’t develop effective routines simply because nobody ever taught them how important and helpful they are. Take Tiger Woods, for example:
My pre-shot routine, taught to me years ago by my father, didn’t come naturally or easily. Like most kids I was of the grip-it-and-rip-it mentality. I had to learn patience and how to find my natural rhythm. Pop finally convinced me a preshot routine was necessary for consistency, and I’ve used the same one ever since. - Tiger Woods

If even Tiger Woods resisted routines at the beginning, why would you expect your athletes to suddenly embrace them? As a coach, you need to develop a sales pitch that gets past initial resistance and makes a compelling argument for change. One tactic is simply to list all the things that routines do for you, by both ensuring good things happen and preventing bad things from

Routines- Helping an athlete do the right things
1) A routine increases the sense of familiar in a new environment. Routines are portable, transferable, and adaptable. Remind your athletes that an iPod and headphones can mentally transport you from a treadmill in a hotel basement to a familiar run in the woods when you last listened to this music. Similarly, a routine can make even the strangest sport environment seem normal, familiar, and most importantly, comfortable. This is a powerful effect when the environment of the competition is full of distractions.
I cannot overemphasize how helpful this has been to countless Olympic medal winners I have known when faced with the circus of the Games.

2) A routine helps an athlete stay active and focused on useful behaviors. One of the worst things an athlete can do in a high pressure environment is to stop and think about it. At the Olympics, when I see an athlete starting to freeze up, glaze over, and think too much (usually about the dreaded “what ifs”), I will try to get them talking, moving, and laughing. Much better than this emergency interaction by a sport psychologist, however, is a routine that keeps an athlete moving, on a schedule, and focused on the things that help.

3) A routine enhances feelings of control and confidence. Going through the same routine in practice and competition is a useful reminder that you have done this a thousand times. The old
expression of “practice like it is a competition, compete like it is a practice” describes an athlete with an effective, consistent routine. I have heard from countless athletes that simple routines enhance a sense of control and confidence. The Tiger Woods quote at the top of this column says it plainly. A routine helps an athlete feel in control, no matter what the stakes of success or failure.

4 Routines help make useful behavior automatic. Some psychologists believe that over 90% of our behaviors are automatic habits or unconscious, learned behavior patterns. This is why parents and first coaches in a sport play such a critical role in introducing positive behaviors. If you learn how to do something the right way at the beginning, you don’t have to fix mistakes later, because you always do it the correct way, without any conscious thought. John Wooden was famous for teaching his Freshman basketball players the correct way to put on socks and tie sneakers.

As a coach, if you invest the energy at the front end, you have the opportunity to create a positive routine for your athlete’s entire career. These routines will become automatic and help the athlete
avoid all kinds of challenges that many athletes struggle with.

5) Routines increase the opportunity for the brain to focus on the proper things. Our brains have limited capacity. The remarkable increase in the number of accidents for people on cell phones is an example of this. Routines that take care of all the little things an athlete has to do to get ready, free up brain space to focus on the things that really matter. If you want to have an excellent warmup, you must be fully focused on the warm-up, and not wondering about something left undone.

Routines- Helping an athlete avoid doing the wrong things
6) Routines help reduce thinking and decision making. When an athlete is stressed, anxious, and concerned about outcomes (a typical state for many athletes at their biggest competitions), thinking often transforms to worry. In addition, decisions about simple things become overemphasized, and athletes will often freeze up, wasting valuable time as they agonize over which pair of shoes to put in their backpack. Athletes weighted down with worry or unable to make a decision are wasting energy. At big events, energy is a precious commodity. An effective routine eliminates decisions (because, if you always do it the same way, you don’t have to decide), and keeps an athlete too busy to think too much.
7) Routines help prevent dumb mistakes. Under greatest pressure, athletes begin to leak energy, and become more vulnerable to a variety of distractions and challenges. When an athlete is
preparing intently for a key performance, the last thing they should be doing is making critical decisions. Unfortunately, I have seen Olympic medals lost by athletes who decide to try something new, or do something new, based on a decision made under pressure. An effective routine keeps an athlete busy, productive, and reduces the probability that the athlete will make a bad call, making a mistake that they cannot recover from.

The Coaches Role In Building Routines
Coach Shula had a very strict schedule in the last two days before the Super Bowl. He never let us go more than 2 hours without checking in for something. It helped us stay focused on the game. – Larry Czonka, member of 1972 “Perfect Season” Miami Dolphins

We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.- John Dryden

While most coaches will not follow John Wooden’s example by teaching their athletes how to dress properly for practice, all coaches can benefit from understanding the value of this effort.
By starting with the most basic aspects of a sport, and ensuring that athletes develop great routines, a coach begins to develop the foundation of great performances. While it can take a tremendous investment of effort by a coach to develop new routines, the cost of not making this investment can be high. As the Larry Czonka quote suggests, Don Shula knew the cost of losing focus at the Superbowl, and invested energy in creating a program that prevented that loss of focus.

On the other hand, an argument can be made that a coach will end up using a great deal more energy if they don’t help athletes develop great routines. As the John Dryden quote suggests, an
initial investment of energy in developing good habits will create a great return down the road. I see this all the time in sports, and I’ll never forget what a great coach once said to me. “Why are all these coaches screaming from the sideline? If they had done their job in practice they wouldn’t have to say anything during a game.” If a coach develops great routines, and the athletes develop great habits, then the habits make them great players.

Identifying, Understanding and Training Young Athletes

Developing Athletes – Identifying, Understanding and Training Young Athletes
By Peter Twiss and Janice Hutton
Who will be the next Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan or Venus Williams? Many parents believe that, given the right amount of training, coaching and perseverance, it could be their child. There is a certain mystique about talented athletes, whether they are amateur Olympians or professionals, because of their sports mastery and the skills they display. It is not an easy path to success, and few achieve this dream at the highest level.

A lot of parents hope their child will receive an athletic scholarship, not just to help finance expensive postsecondary education, but also as a prestigious feather-in-the-cap for both the proud parents and the youth. While only a tiny percentage of athletes advance to the university varsity level or higher, the other 99% will enjoy and stay in sports for life if they can improve their skills and have a positive experience.

Predicting success in sports is a challenge at any age, because so many factors impact long-term performance. When children are young, it is very difficult to determine whether they have the right physical, psychological and sociological make-up to be top-level athletes. Combine this with the unknown outcomes of growth and development through puberty, and trying to accurately predict athletes' future performance levels can be like playing the lottery.

With this in mind, we can attempt to create a better experience for all involved-kids, parents, coaches, scouts and recruiters-by doing what we can to analyze and predict long-term sports success. By quantifying the athletic talent required for success, we can help parents harness their enthusiasm, focus their expenditures and spend more time en joying the childhood and youth sports experience. More than 50% of North American children have their first experiences in organized sport by age 8 or 9, and participation rates continue to rise through the childhood years (Malina, Bouchard & Bar-Or 2004). Parents who understand the athletic attributes needed for sports and who know where to source specialized coaching can allow children to enjoy their athletic development as they follow tangible steps to improve their sports abilities in measurable ways.

From a coaching perspective, understanding athletic ability and potential gives greater vision in athlete selection and overall team development. Coaches of young athletes may prioritize training that improves athleticism as opposed to focusing on the immediate desire to win. The goals should be to encourage healthy activity for inactive kids, teach life skills, develop a long-term enjoyment of sports and give naturally gifted athletes the tools that will help them perform at an elite level.

Predicting athletic success is challenging. If a child excels at a young age, there is no guarantee that this will carry into later childhood or the teen years. Young athletes exist in a continuum of ability from below-average to exceptional. While some of them will excel, as many as 70% of children will not pursue sports past their teenage years (Brown 2001).

Gone are the days of free play with neighborhood friends -they have been replaced with organized sports and scheduled activities to support athletic success. Many athletes are specializing in one sport at very early ages in hopes of a professional career, encouraged by parents who may have specific dreams or plans for their child. Kids who are streamlined into a single sport early in life are robbed of more varied experiences critical to developing overall athleticism. A lower athletic base ultimately limits their sport-specific improvement potential and can lead to burnout. The focus should be on helping young athletes develop skills they will draw on at an older age when they are actually ready to capitalize on sport specialization.


The development of athletic talent is a long-term process. Through the athlete development cycle, an athlete progresses to the highest level of his or her ability based on a well-designed plan that allows for long-term improvements. Scientific research has concluded that it takes a minimum of 10 years and 10,000 hours of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels (Ericsson & Charness 1994; Salmela et al. 1998). This translates into more than 3 hours of training daily for 10 years (a commitment that few can or will make). In sports circles, this is referred to as the "10-year rule," and in the preparation of Olympic athletes it is supported by both the U.S. Olympic Committee (2202) and Canadian Sport Centres (2006).

Over the past decade, the sports conditioning field has seen considerable growth in science and practical training alike. In the past, programs had focused on the development of sport-specific skills, strategies and tactics, with most training coming from coaches during regularly scheduled team practices. Sports coaches simply mimicked the sport-specific movements in the conditioning setting without paying much attention to injury prevention, overuse syndrome or overall development. Then, head coaches in some sports began enhancing the training by improving physical traits rather than just replicating specific movement patterns; for example, to improve sprinting ability, track coaches focused on leg strength, power and speed through multijoint lifts and plyometrics. Along with this trend came the use of strength and conditioning coaches who devoted their role to improving each athlete's unique physicality.

Later, as the personal fitness trainer (PFT) field grew, specialty education helped trainers working with athletes to differentiate their skill sets. Today, there are certification programs that designate PFTs as sports conditioning specialists so they can address specific sport-related demands and injury epidemiology.

Athletes and coaches are constantly seeking an advantage over the competition and searching for new tools (including the intangible factors that can make the difference between winning and losing) to help them achieve this edge. There is a constant drive to go faster, jump higher and be stronger. The focus of sports conditioning goes beyond training, marking the difference between having a ripped, more fit body and eliciting peak athletic performance from a smarter, more skilled body. This is reflected in the sports conditioning workout curriculum and long-term plan.

To develop a great athlete, a sports conditioning specialist must design an exercise program that considers many unpredictable situations in which the athlete is forced to read and react to events quickly. Reaction speed and efficiency often determine an athlete's success in beating a defender, preventing a move from an offensive player or even avoiding objects (as in skiing and snowboarding). Ultimately, the ability to read a situation, react and skillfully maneuver the body could decide the outcome of a game or sporting event. Success in sports is based on the ability to move in multiple directions in a smooth and coordinated manner. Winning each "small" challenge along the way is what adds up to a final win.

Program Design for the Youth Athlete
Sports conditioning programming has become less about mimicking sport-specific movement patterns and more about enhancing the physical tools for athleticism. This is even more crucial at younger ages. As a general rule, the younger the player is, the more the program should have a general focus. As a sports conditioning coach, you want your program to

-improve fitness;
-increase athleticism;
-build the physical tools that sports participation draws on;
-provide immediate upgrades to the experience of playing sports;
-give athletes the physicality to excel at any new sports they may pick up;
-produce results so that improved sports competence keeps athletes in the game; and
-provide an experience that will secure a positive link between working out and feeling good about sport

Physical size seems to play a big part in children's sports, as greater size translates to more strength, longer levers, enhanced speed and other sport-specific skill advantages. When describing the physical attributes that contribute to success, we focus on physical size, strength, power, strength/power endurance, speed, quickness, agility, movement skills, deceleration, balance, reactivity, aerobic power, anaerobic capacity, flexibility, coordination and body awareness.

Each sport requires a different combination of these physical characteristics for success. When designing sports conditioning programs for young athletes, it is important to match the appropriate skills with each sport's requirements, while also evaluating the strengths and weaknesses each athlete has in the above areas.

Coaches (and parents) can complete an anecdotal evaluation of young athletes to develop a general physical-skills checklist. Knowledge of growth and development trends can assist in this process by determining what can be trained and improved at different stages of maturity. Research published in 2005 by Balyi and others discusses optimal windows of trainability based on age and gender. All physical systems are trainable, but during the phases of growth and development there are specific time frames for females and males that should be areas of focus for sports conditioning coaches. Generally, for children ages 5-10, the training focus should be on flexibility, sports skills and speed. During the peak height velocity years of youth (puberty), there is an opportunity to make great improvements in aerobic capacity and speed. Once puberty has progressed, the development of strength should be the focus (ages 13-14 for females and 17-18 for males). The Canadian Sport System integrates all athlete/sport development programs based on the Long-Term Athlete Development model ( developed by Istvan Balyi. This model provides an excellent summary of valuable growth, maturation and sport-related research-as well as practical considerations-that all sports and conditioning coaches should understand. Trainers can also refer to IDEA Fitness Journal to access growth- and maturation-moderated youth training guidelines (Anderson & Twist 2005a, 2005b).

Development of the physical characteristics needed for sports success can be accomplished through a variety of methods. For example, an athlete can develop great balance and lateral quickness from soccer and then apply those skills to basketball. For focused, timely development, an athlete can work in a sports conditioning training center under the supervision of a specialist who can correct and perfect movement mechanics, which can also reduce the incidence of injury on the playing field. Research shows that athletic training and competition do not appear to accelerate or decelerate the growth and maturity of young athletes regarding height, body proportions or sexual maturation.

However, athletic training does have a significant impact on body composition (decreased body fat), motor skills, aerobic power, bone mineral content and skeletal muscle development, giving athletes performance advantages and long-term health benefits (Malina, Bouchard & Bar-Or 2004). Also, the earlier the athletes establish neural and motor improvements, the sooner these upgrades can be used to accelerate their progress.

Without proper sports conditioning, physical skills will disintegrate under duress and fatigue-even in athletes with the mental and emotional attributes and stamina to be the best in critical competitions. In other words, athletes don't rise to an occasion-they sink to the level of their training; so the training bar needs to be set high.

What Separates the Good From the Great?
In addition to good genetics, there are other physical and mental attributes that "great" athletes have in common. These include the following:
-leadership skills
-a vast understanding of their sport (both innate and learned)an intense work ethic
-a killer instinct
-exceptional read-and-react skills for anticipating their opponent(s)
-standing strength that seems to exceed their weight room strength
-phenomenal speed
-coordinated agility
-a fluid body capable of advanced skill execution
-emotional stability
-mental toughness
-a positive attitude
-realistic goals
-a competitive nature

The training style for youth that we advocate at Twist Conditioning has been packaged into three primary pillars of training:
-sport movement: agility, quickness, multidirectional speed, external reaction skills, coordination, acceleration and deceleration
-sport strength: muscular, whole-body, multi-joint strength; muscular endurance; explosive power; power capacity; acidosis tolerance; and recovery efficiency
-sport balance: stability, kinesthetic awareness, proprioception, neuromuscular pathways, transitional balance and internal reactivity

The primary fitness characteristics of aerobic endurance, flexibility and body composition compose the general fitness base from which all athletes build their sports conditioning. The anaerobic energy systems, which drive all three pillars, are more intimately tied to sports conditioning.

The Twist Sports Conditioning Paradigm (see Figure 1, above) shows the discrete and interconnected variables of the three pillars of conditioning. Trainers manipulate stimulus to stress specific systems in order to challenge and grow each distinct ingredient within each pillar. The entire training plan is athletecentered and should be based on the following considerations: age, gender, growth stage, psychological development, physiological strengths and weaknesses, specific sport requirements and experience. The magnitude of this list shows the complexity of developing a safe and effective training plan for children and youth.

Later-maturing youth are at a higher risk of being cut from their sports as they navigate the advancement hierarchies, which quickly narrow from community mass participation to a smaller pool of elite players. As this narrowing occurs at younger and younger ages, those kids who could-with time to mature and train-become elite athletes, are more likely to be cut entirely (Hutton & Narayanan 2006). These late bloomers need to receive training resources to get the most out of their physiques so they can stay competitive.

Sports conditioning is also important for early maturers so they can take advantage of their physical maturation. Children who succeed mainly because they have matured quickly are at risk if they ride that edge and train less than their smaller peers, as these are the same peers who will later catch up with and perhaps even pass them in physical size. Early maturers must be challenged in terms of athleticism, especially when they are not challenged sports wise by smaller competitors.

There are profound differences between training an athlete and providing a good fitness workout. Traditional fitness training considers the development of the primary components of fitness-endurance, strength, flexibility and attempts to build better-looking bodies from the outside. Though aerobic fitness, muscular strength and joint mobility are important to sports success, there are a few additional tools that athletes need. Sports conditioning for athletes includes the secondary components of fitness-multijoint strength, power, speed, quickness, agility, movement skills, deceleration, balance, reactivity and anaerobic capacity. This training approach helps all athletes enhance their innate abilities. A program that is grounded in scientific research and the development of athleticism is the key to success.


The schedule and design of a year-round youth sports conditioning plan is called periodization, or conditioning in cycles, where different physical components are developed at different densities, intensities, frequencies, durations and loads. Based on scientific principles and methodologies, periodization presents the best time and the best method for conditioning each physical component.

Every sports coach uses the concept of periodization, but the direct application varies by sport and performance level. There is a distinct difference between periodization for a house-league baseball player and periodization for an Olympic track athlete. Coaches begin with a macrocycle (usually 1 year) and then break the season into four phases-off-season, preseason, in-season and postseason or championship. Within these phases there are mesocycles, in which both the development and conditioning of the athlete are structured to build up different attributes-all with a focus on optimum performance at peak times of the year. Each mesocycle is broken into microcycles, which have specific training emphases and variables that contribute to the goals of that particular mesocycle. The more elite the athlete or sports program is, the more complex the plan needs to be. When designing an athletic plan, the sports coach dictates the periodization plan, and the conditioning coach develops workouts to complement that plan.

Periodized conditioning optimizes results, prevents overtraining and structures the routine so that the athlete peaks at key times. The conditioning should be complementary to the demands of practices and the game itself, with an eye to eliciting peak performance in games while simultaneously planning for the long term. Periodization requires understanding what variables affect overtraining and injuries; how to enhance recovery and regeneration; and how to recharge for the next game while handling the volume of training that comes with sports participation. Developing the right periodization formula for each individual athlete (even in a team environment) is one of the greatest coaching challenges.

Because of such challenges, trainer competence is essential for anyone wanting to work on conditioning with young clients who are progressing through critical growth years-any injury can be a serious setback in terms of timely growth and maturation, as well as lost games, practices and training time. Remember, youth athletes are not "little" adults. They have very unique needs, and sports conditioning coaches will make better decisions when they have a well-rounded understanding of these needs.

The Basics of a Sports Conditioning Plan for Children and Youth
-Developing a sports conditioning program for young athletes involves much more than exposing kids to fast-paced drills and innovative equipment. To train this population safely, you must carefully consider several issues. Start with the following steps:
-Understand the growth and development children and youth and the variations between female and male athletes.
-Learn more about the specific requirements, skills, strategies and tactics of the sport in question.
-Investigate appropriate assessment tools for evaluating athletes' individual abilities and deficiencies in movement skills, wholebody strength, balance and coordination; then use the results to determine the proper initial training focus and subsequent training progression.
-Study appropriate training methodologies for developing efficient sport movement skills (agility, quickness, speed, reactivity, coordination, acceleration, deceleration); then search for drills appropriate for the athletes (age, gender, growth), making sure you know how to modify each drill as necessary.
-Study appropriate training methodologies for developing whole-body sport strength and power, including elements of sport specificity and manipulation of emphasis on prime movers, stabilizers and force reducers; then search for suitable exercises.
-Study appropriate training methodologies for developing sport balance (stability, proprioception, neuromuscular pathways); then search for suitable exercises, understanding how to quantify, prescribe and coach balance difficulty.
-Work with a sports coach to develop a periodized plan (macrocycle + mesocycles + microcycles) that supports sport development.
-Create a weekly plan for each athlete (microcycle), addressing how you will train sport movement + sport strength + sport balance using a cyclical approach.
-Develop each sports conditioning workout based on the big picture: macrocycle, mesocycle, microcycle and sports coach requirements.
-Implement your plan, adjusting it within and between workouts.


We now know that long-term participation in a sport at the highest level of an athlete's potential requires coordinated movement, full-body strength, balance and overall enhanced mechanics to reduce the chance of injury and to improve performance. Sports conditioning grooms young athletes to be better able to apply their sport-specific skills.

Sports conditioning is considered one of the 10 top trends in fitness as amateur and pro athletes, sports coaches, parents, weekend warriors and adult recreationalists all demand this new training style (American Council on Exercise 2006). Traditional fitness training is great for helping people look good and achieve basic fitness goals (weight loss, basic improvements in strength and cardiovascular endurance, more mobility), but athletes of all levels and abilities need a more sports-oriented training focus. Kids handling multiple sports or facing early selection criteria must get on the right track sooner rather than later.

For health clubs and related businesses aiming to add sports conditioning to their revenue streams, hiring qualified coaches that stand apart in their specialization is paramount. Just participating in a gym environment is not sport-specific training.

Young athletes need unique exercises that feed into the skill requirements of their sports. Further, coaching these athletes takes more than memorizing and reproducing cool drills. Sports conditioning specialists have a full understanding of the science, training philosophy, exercise methodology, active coaching process, error detection and athletic mechanics required to build more talented athletes. Personal trainers are encouraged to read relevant publications and attend conferences that can help them work successfully within this culture. With this specialized knowledge, conditioning coaches are in a powerful position to impact young athletes in a positive and rewarding fashion.

If you'd like more information about the 10-year rule, here are a few places you can

Peter Twist, MSc, founder of Twist Conditioning Inc., is an 11-year veteran conditioning coach for the National Hockey League and currently consults for several pro players and agents from a wide variety of sports. An IDEA contributing editor, Twist has published more than 400 papers, authored 10 books and created 18 DVDs on athletic development. Visit him at

Janice Hutton, MA, is the director of specialty markets in the education division of Twist Conditioning Inc. She has co-authored eight new internationally recognized home study programs and is working with the Twist team to deliver live sports conditioning workshops in the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom.

ReferencesAmerican Council on Exercise. 2005. ACE makes fitness trends predictions for 2006.
Anderson, G., & Twist, P. 2005a. Trainability of children, Part 1. IDEA Fitness journal, 2 (3), 56-65.
Anderson, G., & Twist, P. 2005b. Trainability of children, Part 2. IDEA Fitness journal, 2 (9), 52-60.
Balyi, L, et al. 2005. Canadian Sport far Life. Vancouver: Canadian Sport Centre. Brown, J. 2001. Sports Talent: How to Identify and Develop Outstanding Athletes. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Canadian Sport Centres. 2006. Long-term athlete development: The 10-year rule.; retrieved October 23, 2006.
Ericsson, K.A., & Charnes, N. 1994. Expert performance: Its structure and acquisition. American Psychologist, 49 (8), 725-47.
Hutton, D., & Narayanan, A. 2006. Size matters at hockey camps. Toronto Star (October 24).
Malina, R., Bouchard, C., & Bar-Or, O. 2004. Growth Maturation and Physical Activity (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Salmela, J.H.,Young, B.W., & Kallio, J. 1998. Within-career transition of the athletecoach triad. In P. Wylleman & D. Lavallee (Eds.), Career Transition in Sport: International Perspectives. Morgantown, VA: Fit Publications.Twist, P. 2005. Keys to Training Youth, Audio Series 1.
Twist, P. 2006. Keys to Training Youth, Audio Series 2.
Twist, P. 2007. Complete Conditioning far Hockey (2nd ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.U.S. Olympic Committee. 2002. The path to excellence.; retrieved on June 1, 2006.U.S. Olympic Committee. 2003. Reflections on success.; retrieved on June 1, 2006.

Going from “are” to “wannabee"

Going from “are” to “wannabee"
By Terry ONiell
From Rowing Voice 30 December 2007
If I were asked to define training, I would say it is the technical, physical and mental preparation to complete a task. If knowing the task is the first step, then the next consideration is the current condition of the athlete. With these two pieces of information you know both where you are and where you want to be. A training programme is a map to get you from one to the other.

There have been huge advances in identifying the physical demands of the sport and ways to
train the body to meet them. Training courses are now available to coaches enabling them to
develop an understanding of different training methods. Most research has concentrated on high-level performance, and it is not always apparent how this applies to athletes at club, school and college level. As a result, some coaches return from a course and attempt to implement a regime that, although perfectly ok for the national team, is inappropriate for clubs and colleges.

An example of this occurred when a college boat club captain was speaking to a member of
the national team. He asked how much distance they rowed in an average week and the reply
was about 150-200 kilometres. The captain returned to his college to implement this regime,
but his crew was only able to row at weekends, and so the result was a total disaster. The aims and structures of national teams are diametrically opposed to those of a club. A national team is an exclusive group with the sole aim of identifying the best and eliminating the rest. A club is an inclusive organization with the aim of treating all its members equally, regardless of ability.

You cannot copy someone else’s programme, especially if that programme was written for a group of athletes whose abilities bear no relation to those you are responsible for. A programme is a plan of action that the coach writes to bring about improvements amongst his charges. As
time goes on it will be modified either because it is not delivering what the coach expected
or through circumstances beyond his control, such as illness or injuries to the athletes. What
is actually done can vary from the original programme by 25-30 per cent, and so in itself the programme is of little use.

Although it would make more sense to see the training diary of an athlete which tells you
what he or she actually did, this information is of little use either because there is no guarantee that the regime would work for anyone else.

There are several fundamental principles of training, and the first and most important is that it must meet the needs of the individual. Therefore the first and most important job of the coach is to identify what those needs are. The training sessions have to provide a systematic combination of quality and quantity that allows positive adaptation to take place. This requires due consideration to nutrition and adequate sleep and rest.

Here we will concentrate on the physical and technical requirements of competitive rowing.
The tools available for training are a combination of duration and intensity to practise the various elements of the task. Now we must identify the needs of the athlete and put the two together. The athlete’s needs will be further development of skill, physical condition or both. If we take as an example a college boat club at the beginning of an academic year, new recruits are likely to display low skill and poor condition, while returning third year students may have high skill but poor condition. So the training required to meet individual needs will differ according to Table 1
(below left).

To be really effective, a programme has to be written to meet the needs of the individual. The table is a broad outline but you need to look more specifically at the different aspects that make up the condition of the athlete. Rowing is an expression of power endurance. To simplify matters, you can consider four areas that constitute condition — maximum power, anaerobic capacity, specific aerobic capacity and endurance.

o Maximum power can be determined by doing a 7-stroke standing start on the Concept2 ergometer. With the monitor set to display watts, record the average watts over the 7 strokes.
o To determine anaerobic capacity, set the monitor on the Concept2 to 1 minute and record the average power in watts rowed flat out.
o Specific aerobic capacity is determined by the time taken to row 2000m on the Concept2, recording average power.
o Endurance is determined by rowing 5000m on the Concept2, again recording average watts.

Experience has shown me that a relationship between these four points can be drawn amongst good well trained rowers which is:
1. Take the average maximum power of the 7-stroke test as 100%.
2. Average anaerobic power measured over 1 minute should be 92–98 per cent.
3. Specific aerobic capacity measured over 2km should be between 55 and 65 per cent of average maximum power.
4. Endurance measured over 5km should be between 45 and 55 per cent of average maximum power.

Table 2 (below) gives example measurements taken from a fictional club eight using this
system. These results can be analysed, to show you which athletes need to work on specific
areas. From this you can begin to plan a training programme for them.

Analysis of Table 2:
Max power: poor KL; below average CD; average OP, MN, EF, AB; good IJ; excellent GH.
Anaerobic capacity: poor OP; below average CD; average KL, MN, EF, AB; good IJ; excellent GH.
Specific aerobic capacity: poor none; below average MN; average EF, GH, KL, OP; good AB; excellent CD.
Endurance: poor MN; below average GH; average KL, CD, EF, OP, IJ; good AB; excellent none.

A process called ‘progressive overload’ stimulates adaptation of the body and improves condition by gradually increasing the load to a level beyond that normally tolerated. Using a systematic approach for the athletes displaying anaerobic weakness, training will be biased towards sessions involving short intervals and lactic tolerance. For those displaying aerobic weakness, then emphasis should be placed on distance work and intervals at race pace. Strength training is most effectively dealt with through weight training.

Even though the aim may be to produce an eight, some training will take place in small boats. By training athletes with similar requirements together in small boats, individual needs can be addressed without detriment to the group as a whole.