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Excelsior Blog by James Marshall - 3h ago
‘Make GAIN 2019 a personal audit’
Vern Gambetta welcoming attendees

 were the opening remarks from Vern Gambetta at the GAIN conference in Houston last week.  He set out a vision for the conference that I took to heart.

  • What are you currently doing?
  • What do you want/need to do?
  • Gap analysis: what is necessary to close the gap?

I have some personal reflections and tasks to do as a result. Below are some more general points that may be of interest.

1. Decision Making: Len Zaichkowsky
Breakfast with Vern, Len and Peter Vint.

The author of ‘The Playmaker’s advantage’ talked about developing excellent games players. The performance separators between the good and the great were an athlete’s ability to:

  1. Search for cues.
  2. Decide quickly and accurately.
  3. Execute flawlessly.

As coaches, we need to then design practices that help develop these qualities. Len called it ‘Overspeed training for the brain.’

Tight area drills and small sided games are two ideas that can be used.

If you remove thinking and decision making from the players in training, how can you expect them to produce on the field?

2. A Hard Look at Evidence: Dr Grace Golden

The path to informed expertise and reasoning is not certain, it’s a journey.’  Grace is an Athletic Trainer and course leader at Oregon University.  She crammed 3 hours of information into a one hour seminar which was enlightening.

She gave an overview of definitions of evidence, and how we can gather it to inform and improve our practice. In the UK there is much talk of ‘Evidence based practice’ which is usually interpreted as ‘Only do it if you read it in a journal.

This has never sat well with me, because my own observations, reflections and feedback from athletes that I coach have influenced me as much (if not more) than studies I have read. Of course, if I only rely on my eyes, I am subject to bias.

Grace said we need to filter the evidence to counter this bias. She gave a hierarchy of evidence, with randomised controlled trials (RCTs) at the pinnacle.

The Parachute RCT control group?

However, due to ethics and logistics, RCTs may be unsuitable or unfeasible. She gave the example of studying the efficacy of using parachutes when jumping out of a plane.

Who would want to be in the control group that didn’t get to use the parachute? There has been no RCTs studying parachutes, but we all agree that they are a pretty good idea.

Evidence based practice

Grace showed how medicine has moved from evidence based practice to evidence informed practice.

Evidence informed practice

The assessment, treatment and then reassessment of interventions lead to informed practice. ‘Evidence doesn’t make decisions, clinicians do.’ Haynes (2002).

Grace then spent some time on the art of questioning. She said that informing yourself is not about acquiring knowledge. We are drowning in data (or funky exercises). Increased knowledge can make us more ignorant. We ignore what we see and hear in front of us.

A key point was to question our questions. Allow athletes the time to question us and for us to think and respond.

3.      Planning: John Kiely and Eddie Jones

The plan is the outcome of the process, not the central part.’ John Kiely.

Several of the presenters mentioned planning. What was interesting was that all looked at it as more of a framework, rather than a detailed, longitudinal work.

John was talking about rethinking adaptation and gave a detailed critique of Selye’s work on stress adaptation and how it had been appropriated for sports. The periodisation concept puts the plan at the heart and centre of what is being done with the athlete.

John suggested a different approach.

The plan is the outcome
  1. Philosophy: The coaching teams; belief system, created by the blending of critical analysis of evidence, experiences and opinions (See point 2).
  2. Process: The set of linked actions designed to track, analyse and review relevant information (lots of ways of doing this) from coaches and players and other sources.
  3. Plan: The training detail emerges from the process outputs and the hard constraints imposed by logistics and competitive schedules.

John likened the detailed planning as kind of like writing a letter so Santa. It is more of a soother for coaches, than something that is likely to happen. (Gary Winckler said something similar here).

Rant alert:

My #1 bugbear when working with NGBs is being asked to send my ‘Annual periodised plan’ to a spotty youth straight out of University without any idea of what the coaches are doing, or what the players do outside of my sessions. It is a total fiction and a waste of my time. It does allow the spotty youth to ‘show nice graphs’ to justify their job.

Rant over.

Relying too much on the plan can reduce your agility. Planning isn’t an excel spreadsheet and we need to move away from thinking that a good programme is a well- executed plan.  This was an excellent seminar.

Eddie Jones on planning

Eddie Jones gave an overview of some of the things he has done with Japan Rugby and now England Rugby.  He said that you have ‘Got to plan and get on with it,’ and that ‘It’s better to have a good plan today than an excellent plan tomorrow.

Working within the confines and pressures of International fixtures are examples of the ‘hard constraints imposed by logistics and competitive schedules.’ John mentioned.

                Eddie said that as a head coach it is important to plan, but don’t get fixated. Don’t let tradition suffocate you.  ‘Traditional thinking stops you from changing. It takes COURAGE.’ to try something different.

  ‘You can’t love something if you are copying something else.’  Eddie was very keen on infusing the plan with passion and purpose.

4.  Selling the message to players: many presenters.
Trying to dodge Jim Radcliffe

My personal bias maybe meant that I was tuning into any tips on how to present evidence or explain the purpose of what we do and why to the athletes I coach. But, many of the presenters did mention this.

Grace Golden suggested sharing your verbal pitch with athletes. Draw a picture of what you are trying to achieve. She said that not empowering the athlete to engage in the process was a mistake. They need to have a voice.

Greg Gatz showed his ‘Carolina Performance Newsletter’ and communication noticeboard at the University Of North Carolina. He uses these to share success stories and create buy in.

Bill Knowles talked about ‘Inspiring stories of world –class recoveries by average athletes’ was as important as stories of world-class athletes.

John Kiely shared four points from science that underpins the art of coaching:

  1. Build Awareness: Education (gradually).
  2. Signal competence (with humility).
  3. Build belief and promote expectation.
  4. Consciously design processes, environments and messaging.
  5. Be YOU, but your best possible You (don’t be a charlatan).

John said that people respond to signals of competence, so think about your communication very, very clearly.

Eddie Jones talked about creating a vision and making the athletes feel part of something special.

Len Zaichkowsky said to treat your clients like gold and have your passion be contagious.

One of many impromptu discussions. This one on neck strength with Andy Stone and Dean Benton.

Vern Gambetta said that ‘Culture is the greatest scalable opportunity for a competitive advantage.’

This last section is something I shall be developing at our club over the next couple of months.


Many people ask ‘What is GAIN?’ The headline speakers draw new people in; they are an eclectic bunch, with new speakers from different fields each year.

However, the reason I returned for an 8th time is the quality of attendees. The chance to share ideas and learn from professionals from many different countries, disciplines and sports is unique. I know that if I have a problem or an idea, then I can get in contact with one of the people I have met at GAIN and get an expert answer.

Andy, Jason, me and Dean reflecting over Tacos

Some of the best people you have never heard of gave me food for thought, so thanks to everyone who sat by me at meal times, or was training at 0530 in the morning with me.

I am looking forward to helping our athletes over the upcoming months, helping other coaches on our coaching courses.

The post Four takeaways from GAIN 2019 appeared first on Excelsior.

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Excelsior Blog by James Marshall - 3h ago
Time is precious, how do you budget it?

We all have 24 hours a day; it is one thing that unites us as humans. How we spend them differs vastly. Two Arnolds (Schwarzenegger and Bennett) have recently influenced my thoughts on how to spend my time. Here are some ideas on making the most of your time.

Wisdom from Bennett

I shall use quotes from the following:

  • Arnold Bennett’s excellent little book ‘How to live on 24 hours a day.
  • Cal Newport’sDeep Work’ which offers very constructive advice about maximising your time.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger’s motivational video (see below) about achieving your goals.
What do you want to do?

Before you start trying to be more productive, you need to know what it is that you want to do with an extra hour a day.

Without a goal you can’t plan
  • Look at more kittens on skateboard videos?
  • Practice your drawing?
  • Learn a new language?
  • Get fit?
  • Research your family tree?
  • Read a book a month?

Far be it for me to judge what your interests are, but if you don’t know what you want to try and achieve with an extra hour, you will lack the incentive to make changes.

I’ll live the focused life, because it’s the best kind there is.” Winifred Gallagher

Waking up every morning with a purpose will make a difference.

  • Step 1: Think about what it is you would like to do if you were given an extra hour a day.

Or maybe for work related tasks, ‘Think about what you would like to do if you ONLY had one hour in the day.’

Busyness as Proxy for Productivity: In the absence of clear indicators of what it means to be productive and valuable in their jobs, any knowledge workers turn back toward an industrial indicator of productivity: doing lots of stuff in a visible manner.’ Cal Newport.

Eliminate the unnecessary

Once you know what you want to try and do, then you can free up some time.

Excellent book on creating great work

Eliminate meetings, emails, social media, or put them in boxes. Have a digital sabbatical or a digital sabbath.’ Cal Newport.

20 years ago no one checked work emails at home; now a day off means only checking your emails twice. This means that valuable head space is taken up by thinking about work, rather than what you want to do.

 ‘If a man makes two-thirds of his existence subservient to one-third, for which he admittedly has no absolutely feverish zest, how can he hope to live fully and completely? He cannot.’ Arnold Bennett.

Bennett allocates 8 hours a day for work and 50 minutes each side of that for travel.  Even if you hate your job, he suggests it shouldn’t ruin the rest of your time.

It is easy for me to say as someone who is self-employed, but I have always resisted the urge to have meetings and send emails. I joke that those in the public sector often say ‘I’ve had a busy day with meetings and emails.’

Whereas I say ‘I got nothing done because I had to go to meetings and reply to emails.’

If you are employed by an organisation that likes to have meetings to discuss the next meeting, then good luck. Otherwise, think about how you can say ‘No’ to things that won’t immediately impact on your work.

Newport recommends the digital Sabbath- taking one day off a week from electronic communication (including skateboarding kittens). For more important pieces of work: books, revision, articles or projects, then take a digital sabbatical for several weeks.

This will be extremely hard for those people who insist on sharing every meal they eat or every dog walk they take on Instagram. Hence the need for that burning desire in step 1.

Step 2: Eliminate the unnecessary from your work life and social life.

How much time is left?

It is worth watching this video featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger’s quote ‘Sleep faster’ on how to allocate time in your day. Arnold Bennett in 1908 came to a similar conclusion; 6 hours a sleep is enough, and the rest is just habit.

If you have 10 hours for work and travel, 6 hours for sleep, that leaves 8 hours for you. Take away two for household chores, ablutions and meal times and that leaves 6 hours for what you want to do. 

Those of you with newborn infants, or caring for the Aged Relative will have additional responsibilities. This will eat into those 6 hours considerably.

When I had two children under 4, my brain was a fog and I learnt to exercise in 15 minute chunks as and when I could. I read Graphic Novels instead of books because I was so tired all the time. Relentless was the word constantly coming to mind.

Step 3: Work out how much time is left.

You will find an hour at least.  If you can’t find the hour, sleep faster. Ninety minutes is a good amount of time, any more than that and you are likely to lose focus.

Newport talks a lot about having ninety minute focus periods throughout the day, with no more than four periods (6 hours) total. It is very hard to do high quality work all the time.

When are you at your best?

Are you up when the lark is on its wing and the snail is on its thorn? Do you enjoy the peace and quiet once the rest of the family has gone to bed?

Find the best time for you

When I started being strict with my 6 hours of sleep a night, I realised I had a choice: stay up later, or get up earlier. When I looked at what I achieve in the day before 0700 compared to what I achieve after 2100, the choice was clear. Get up earlier.

I get a head start on the day before the family awakens and descends down the stairs placing their various demands. You may prefer having your time at the end of the day. What is important is that you find the fit that works for you.

Then plan your hobby/ task at your best time of day.  You want to start easily and build up. This is very important.

A failure at the commencement may easily kill outright the newborn impulse towards a complete vitality, and therefore every precaution should be observed to avoid it. The impulse must not be over-taxed. Let the pace of the first lap be even absurdly slow, but let it be as regular as possible.’ Arnold Bennett.

If you are trying to learn to play the piano, then Chopsticks rather than Chopin may be the best place to start. Gain some satisfaction in making time for yourself, and achieving step one.

If you compare yourself to a more accomplished / experienced practitioner, you are likely to quit. If you say ‘I could never write a short story as good as Margaret Atwood, so I won’t try,’ how will you ever improve?

The ridiculous comparison is an easy way to avoid failing at a task (I see it in athletes all the time).

I will not agree that, in this business at any rate, a glorious failure is better than a petty success. A glorious failure leads to nothing; a petty success may lead to a success that is not petty.’ Arnold Bennett.

Step 4: Start simply and gradually, build on small successes.

Enjoy the Journey

Life is a destination, not a journey‘ was my motto when I was competing. I was so focused on the outcomes, results and selection for squads and teams that I spent little time enjoying the moments.

That is the only thing I would change if I had the chance to repeat the experiences.

Once you have the inclination, the time and the purpose for your new task, set yourself up to enjoy the process. It may mean having a separate room, converting your garage to a gym or creating a ritual to transition from life to hobby.

Create your own ritual

The proper wise, balancing of one’s whole life may depend upon the feasibility of a cup of tea at an unusual hour.’ Arnold Bennett.

I ease my way into the day with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, thanks to my automated coffee machine.  Once that is drunk, I can then start creating or doing, rather than consuming.

You may like to celebrate completing minor tasks with something rewarding. I would suggest matching the reward to the task, or at least not contradicting it. There is no point celebrating losing a kg of weight by eating a chocolate orange.

Step 5: Enjoy the journey, celebrate minor successes and learn from the failures.

Remember that you will stumble and fall, that is normal.

The path to Mecca is extremely hard and stony, and the worst of is that you never quite get there after all.’ Arnold Bennett.

Good luck with finding out what excites you -that is the hardest part. The rest is just logistics.

Further reading:

How to change habits part 1

Recommended reading list for teachers and coaches

The post How to live on 24 hours a day appeared first on Excelsior.

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Coaching the Art and the Heart
Wayne illustrating the talk

Yesterday we hosted the Making Sport Better workshop with Wayne Goldsmith in Willand. He gave two great presentations on coaching today’s generation of athletes, plus answered many questions at the end. Here is a brief summary.

“Coaches are the masters of change”.

Nobody changes by being yelled at or being given pieces of paper and being told “do 6 or 9 of these.”  Many coaches assume that the athlete is doing their session with the INTENT that the coach wrote it with. The coach puts thought into the content, science, volume and frequency, but if the athlete does it half- heartedly, then the results will be different from intended.

Michael Phelps

Wayne constantly illustrated the talk with anecdotes and examples. He talked about watching Michael Phelps doing a simple drop set session with dumbbells in the gym. He had a set each of 40kg, 30kg and 15kg dumbbells. He pressed the heaviest set as many times as he could, and then went to the next set and repeated it. There is nothing complicated about it.

But Wayne said it was how Phelps drove himself and worked. The INTENT was there, so he achieved.

“What is talent?”

Wayne asked this of a very experienced football coach, who thought about it and tapped his chest and said “Ticker.” The heart to drive and succeed and the commitment to the programme.

I can measure Heart Rate, but I can’t measure Heart.”

Success is a choice that athletes make; the days of yelling and telling are over. So we need to change how we do things. How about rating their skill, saying “that was a 6/10” and seeing how they can improve.

You can be hard, without being a BastHard”; Wayne talked about having standards and setting them with athletes, the emotion you should show when is coaching is “love and kindness”.

Confidence = belief x evidence
Fill this can with evidence

Wayne spent a good part of the session looking at ways of building confidence. The coach’s job is to create an environment and opportunity for people to succeed. He used a diagram of an empty can (I can) and how we can help the athlete fill their can with evidence. This can come from training, from good lifestyle habits and from results.

Confidence comes from knowing, knowing comes from doing.”  If the coach can help the teenager believe in themselves, they will go on and do more.

Wayne said that having the can model and the definition

confidence = belief x evidence

gives him something to work with and coach from. Without that model, it becomes too abstract.

Culture is what you do, not what you say.” It’s about behaviours.  By creating a challenging but supportive environment, you help the athlete fill the evidence can to the top.

Guided discovery

I then took the coaches outside to do a warm up activity and introduction to jump training using guided discovery for twenty minutes.

Coaching the athlete: Inspiration not just perspiration
Coaches learning by doing

Wayne’s definition of resilience was “It’s not about what happens to you, it’s how you choose to respond.

He said that definitions of Mental Toughness changed from athlete to athlete and is situation specific (I said that for my daughter it was just getting through the school day sometimes).

Wayne gave the example of a grid he used with a rugby team to identify behaviours that would help improve the team.

  On field Off Field (Gym) Game Day Social
Hard Work        

The players then identified key behaviours so they see what these words mean in real life to them.

You have to make the intangible tangible, the unreal real.”

By writing these behaviours down and managing them and getting the athletes to respond, you build a culture of improvement. This then leads to evidence that can be put in the can.

Performance practice

Wayne talked a lot about the myth of technical perfection. He said the model was usually based on elite performers who were outliers. Coaches then became slaves to this myth and thought that mindless repetition will fix a problem.

He then listed 3 stages of learning:

  1. Skills- teaching
  2. Mastery– becomes automatic
  3. Practising under pressure– can they do the skill reasonably well at high speed, or under fatigue or under emotional pressure?

Wayne gave the example of an NRL player who dropped a ball in a big match. The obvious response is to get him to practise high ball catches in training. But this could be only part of the problem. Maybe it was the wet ball. Maybe it was the fear of three 100kg players running at him. Maybe it was the anxiety of the big match.

If we just use repetition in search of perfection, we are only using a quarter of the solution.

Dynamic core

I then took the coaches out to show them a series of progressions of dynamic core work. You can see some of in these two videos:

Shoulder and core exercises for injury prevention - YouTube
Example of the floor work we did
VIDEO0158 - YouTube
Dynamic core Summary

We finished with a series of questions to Wayne and I.  I didn’t write a full account because I was hosting the workshop. I did find the attendees asked some insightful questions, with a genuine desire to learn.

We tried to offer our advice and experiences, although we definitely don’t have all the answers! I set up this time because it is rare that we get to just chat and discuss problems that we all face. One of the coaches said “I’m glad it’s not just me.” 

Wayne was friendly and approachable throughout the day. It was great to see coaches from sports including: handball, basketball, rugby, fencing, equestrianism, tennis, triathlon and cycling, as well as school teachers.

Thanks to everyone who attended and to Willand Rovers F.C. for their hospitality.

Our next course is the one day “Foundation in Athletic Development” for sports coaches and teachers looking to help get their teams ready for next season.

The post Making Sport Better with Wayne Goldsmith appeared first on Excelsior.

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“Having nothing enhanced my career”

Bill Knowles doesn’t have any magic answers or quick fix exercises.  His approach to injury rehabilitation based on good coaching and insisting on excellence in every exercise means injured athletes getting back to competition readiness sooner.

Knowles delivered a quite extensive review of his methods and some research on “Return to competition strategies for the load compromised athlete”. This included video clips of his athletes working and also his ideas on creating the right environment and team for athletes to excel within.

He started out having to work with big groups of people and not much kit, so he had to innovate and adapt right from the beginning.

Planned Performance Reconditioning (PPR) not injury rehabilitation

Knowles started with talking about why he doesn’t use terms like “prehab” or “rehab”. These imply start and end points and a medical based model. The athlete would then walk back on to the pitch, start competition and get reinjured.

Instead, the PPR should be an opportunity to get the athlete better and to ensure that they are stretched, challenged and engaged throughout the process. “Ultimately injury is an opportunity to become a better soccer playing athlete and potentially a better soccer player”.

In high performance sports you should STRIVE for a better soccer player.

In order to evaluate and plan what you are doing you need to combine Evidence Based Medicine (Science) with Experience Based Evidence (Art).

The coaching of the rehab process was emphasised time and again, the athlete and the exercise must be coached well. “Exercise is something you do, movement is something you feel” get the athlete out of the injury and remember who they are”.

 A Joint Compromised Athlete is a Load Compromised Athlete

JCA            LCA

The joint is not to be trained in isolation, it is part of the whole body and the loading has been compromised too.

Once you are a LCA you are always an LCA. That is why you need an “Athlete Sustainability Programme”. This is something that is included throughout the year to prevent lapses.

This is a Performance based model, compared to a Physio or Medical based model: they are not experts in planning performance training.

This was a theme that came up several times over the conference (And Rob Newton mentioned this at the RFU conference too about Australian sport) where teams are now letting physios lead training sessions with “Pilates” or “core” and wondering why they are not performing on the pitch!

 “It’s a brain injury dude”

Knowles explained something called “Arthrogenic Muscle Inhibition” (AMI) which is the change of the sensory receptors due to injury. This results in an inability to completely contract a muscle.

This is a bilateral situation: Quadricep activation deficits of 7-26% in the unaffected limb have been measured. After an ACL injury the athlete is more likely to tear the opposite knee, and more likely to get reinjured than the non injured athlete.

The AMI is severe in the short term, plateaus at about 6 months, and slowly declines over the next 18-33 months! So, training the rest of the body is important to prevent that getting weaker too. This must be continued for nearly 3 years!

The brain has to be worked and rehabbed too: so lots of new challenges, games and activities must be included to ensure the athlete is ready to play and compete.

The knee bone is connected to the head bone”.

The Central Nervous System has been affected, so this must be trained too: “It is not a race to get them back, it is a process to get them better” Gambetta.

Envelope of healing

The upper limit of the envelope is for the elite athlete, but too much work leads to inflammation. Too little work is safer, but it is not causing enough adaptability.

There are no time frames for the rehab procedures, instead criteria based progressions are needed. Function leads to the next stage. For example, biologically running might be right after 8 weeks, but mechanically the loading ability isn’t ready.

The LTAD process gets interrupted by an injury, so other areas need to be worked on during the recovery. Contact sports players need to be “toughened up” to prepare for training, others can develop volume, load or skill ability. It can be a time to “increase the player’s bandwidth” of exercise competency.

There are so many things that can be done to “stop the bleeding of skills and mindset” when injured.  Knowles gave great examples of working with golfers and soccer players on using limited skills, or slower actions with severely injured players very early on in the rehab process.


It was great to see how a World Class expert in rehab works, and how he is passionate about coaching athletes.  The videos we watched and practical demonstrations we saw and did later really opened my eyes. (Physiotherapist Sarah and I discussed this when doing the rebounder exercises).

The “Progression, Variety and Precision” that Ed Thomas talked about were very apparent in Knowles’s work.

One of the good things about GAIN is the interaction between different professions. Everyone was learning from each other and recognising the transfer across areas.

Come to our clinic

If you want your sports injury rehabilitated, then you can come to our physiotherapy clinic based in Willand, Devon. Physiotherapist Sarah Marshall and myself have helped many athletes return to competition from injury.

The post Planned Performance Training: Bill Knowles appeared first on Excelsior.

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Learning from great teachers
Coaching is teaching.

It is just applied in a different context. Whilst we can get caught up in the Xs and Os, or the latest buzzwords- “constraints led coaching!”, if we look back, we can learn from those that preceded us and find out what truly stands the test of time.

In the book “Doctrines of the Great Educators”, Robert Rusk reviews the principles of 13 great education minds and how they influenced others (1).  I have written some notes from the book, and added comments on their applicability to coaching and also to schools and their physical education.


For any p.e. teachers reading this, arm yourself with these quotes when your curriculum is being squeezed.  According to Steven Rose, we have Descartes to thank for the current dichotomy of mind versus body in education (2).

The seventeenth century Catholic philosopher and mathematician divided the universe into the mental and the material. It separated the mind or soul from the body. This then influenced science and medicine that divided into cognitive or somatic streams later.

As you may well be aware, the two are intrinsically linked.


P4 His first task was to lead men to self-examination and self-criticism. “herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself: he has not desire for that of which he feels no want.”

P5 Three stages of knowledge are described:

  1. Opinion– the individual is unable to give valid reasons for his knowledge or assumed knowledge
  2. Destructive or analytic stage– the individual realises he does not know what he assumed he knew. Contradiction and perplexity arrives.
  3. Knowledge– the individual’s experience is critically reconstructed and he can justify his beliefs by giving reasons for them.

P7 “Were not the laws which have the charge of education right in commanding your father to train you in music and gymnastic?

P19 “Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind…. Then do not use compulsion; but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to find out the natural bent.”

P33 “The most important part of education is right training in the nursery. The soul of the child in his play should be guided by the love of that sort of excellence in which he grows up to manhood he will have to be perfected.”


P 44 “Children must be allowed relaxation, but, as in other particulars, a mean has to be preserved; deny them play, they hate study; allow them too much recreation, they acquire a habit of idleness. Play also reveals their bent and moral character, and Quintilian observes that the boy who is gloomy, downcast and languid, and dead to the ardour of play affords no great expectations of a sprightly disposition for study.

Thomas Elyot

P58 “The first duty of the tutor is to know the nature of the pupil, approving and extolling any virtuous dispositions which the latter should happen to possess and condemning in no hesitating manner which might lead the pupil into evil. He should also take care that the pupil is not fatigued with continual learning, but that study is diversified with exercise.”

John Locke

P 141 “It is forgotten that these urchins who gambol upon village-greens are in many respects favourably circumstanced- that their lives are spent in perpetual play; that they are all day breathing fresh air; and that their systems are not disturbed by over-taxed brains.”

P143 “He that hath found a way how to keep up a child’s spirit easy, active and free, and yet at the same time to restrain him from many things he has a mind to, and to draw him to things that are uneasy to him, he, I say, that knows how to reconcile these seeming contradictions, has, in my opinion, got the true secret of education.”

Jean Jacques Rousseau

P186 “A feeble body makes a feeble mind.” “All wickedness comes from weakness.” “The weaker the body, the more imperious its demands; the stronger it is, the better it obeys.”

“Would you cultivate your pupil’s intelligence, cultivate the strength it is meant to control? Give his body constant exercise, make it strong and healthy, in order to make him good and wise; let him work, let him do things, let him run and shout, let him always be on the go; make a man of him in strength, and he will soon be a man of reason.

As he grows in health and strength,   he grows in wisdom and discernment. This is the way to attaint to what is generally incompatible, strength of body and strength of mind, the reason of the philosopher and the vigour of the athlete.”

Our first teachers are our feet, hands and eyes. “To substitute books for them does not teach us to reason, it teaches us to use the reason of others rather than our own; it teaches us to believe much and know little.”

P190 “Teach by doing whenever you can, and only fall back upon words when doing is out of the question. Let all the lessons of young people take the form of doing rather than talking; let them learn nothing from books which they can learn from experience.”

Johann Herbart

P246 Quoting Pestalozzi  “I would go so far as to lay it down as a rule that whenever children are inattentive and are apparently taking no interest in a lesson, the teacher should always first look to himself for the reason.

P249 “Let the main ides which are introduced into a child’s education be few and important, and let them be thrown into every combination possible.”

P254 On discipline which can be broken into two parts:

  1. Regierung: orderliness or teacher’s control of pupil’s behaviour. 
  2. Zucht: character training or self-discipline.

The former serves primarily the needs of the teacher, the latter those of the pupil. Regierung secures merely external conformity, whereas the work of Zucht is not to secure a certain mode of external behaviour but rather to develop insight and the appropriate volition in the mind of the pupil.

(Interestingly, Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden made the same observations (3))

Discipline need not be repressive: “When the environment is so arranged that childish activity can spontaneously discover the road to the useful and expend itself thereon, then discipline is most successful.”

“The foundation of control consists in keeping children employed.”

He expands further into how the translation of both into English becomes “discipline”.

 This can be misconstrued where “A well-disciplined school may be the worst possible institution for the development of character, since it may leave no opportunities for the practice of such actions as are initiated by the pupils’ own motives nor afford occasion for the exercise of self-discovery and self-imposed discipline.”

Friedrich Froebel

P274 “To have educative value the play of the child must not be a purposeless activity; his play impulses must be directed and controlled by the employment of definite material  necessitating an orderly sequence in the feelings engendered and in the activities exercised.”

P275 “While play is the characteristic activity of childhood, work is that of boyhood. Interest in the process gves place to interest in the product. Whereas during the previous period of childhood the aim of play consisted simply in activity as such, the aim lies now in definite, conscious purpose.”

P277 “Every child, boy, and youth, whatever his condition or position in life, should devote daily at least one or two hours to some serious activity in the production of some definite external piece of work.”

Maria Montessori

P286 “The duration of a process is determined not by the exigencies of an authorised time-table, but by the interval which the child finds requisite to exhaust his interest.”

P287 “When the environment is so planned that childish activity is directed along the lines of the useful and expends itself thus, the result is the most effective form of discipline .”

P288 “Montessori has devised certain formal gymnastic exercises to develop the child in coordinated movements. She disapproves of the child practising the ordinary gymnastic exercises arranged for the adult.”

John Dewey

P325 “The great change of outlook in biology in the nineteenth century- Darwin’s doctrine of evolution- was not achieved by experiment but by observation and deduction.


As you can see, all of these great minds have influenced later generations of teachers. Most of them have expressed the need for mental activity to be balanced with physical activity.

Never did they express the need for a competitive sports based curriculum, led by adults, for adult entertainment.

Thanks to Mandi Abrahams of Castle Books in Beaumaris for sending me this book.

  1. Doctrines of the Great Educators. Robert R. Rusk. 3rd edition Macmillan (1965).
  2. Steven Rose in How Things Are: A Science Tool-Kit For The Mind. p202. Ed. J. Brockman & K. Matson. Phoenix (1997).
  3. One Knee Equals Two Feet. John Madden with Dave Anderson. Jove Books (1987).
Further Reading:

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Excelsior Blog by James Marshall - 1M ago
How Can I get Bigger for Rugby?

I was working with a group of young players this week- pretty new to physical training.

I outlined the plan over the next 10-12 weeks. We are going to work on efficiency of movement, becoming more robust and develop your athleticism.
I then asked what did they think that involved… getting bigger was the immediate response.

Getting bigger without having a solid foundation of movement (or structural integrity ) will result in an immediate short term (about 12 weeks) improvement.

In other words the hypertrophy will take about 12 weeks to take effect and then another 12 weeks can be improved upon as well. So, at the end of nearly 6 months training you will be bigger.

3 key tips to getting bigger
  1. Lift heavy for longer. Do big lifts, under loads, for some time. Strongman training, deadlifts, squats are all good ways of gaining mass. If it is just pure mass, with little function, then you are best off learning from some of the Strength Training Legends.
  2. Eat well. There is no point eating junk food, you will become obese. Instead eat a well balanced diet that contains lots of natural foods. There are many sources of protein and testosterone that can be found in your normal diet. It is a lot cheaper than buying fat shakes too.
  3. Sleep. It is when you sleep that your body recovers and repairs itself. Most teenage rugby players are not getting enough sleep.
The Downside

If your focus is purely on getting bigger, then there are 2 potential downsides:

Injuries: if you are a rugby player you can look forward to shoulder and hamstring injuries because they are the 2 most common ones, and a season of rehab. Is it any wonder that the RFU injury audit shows an increase in rugby injuries?

Slow: If you don’t work on the application of strength through a full range of motion, and at speed, then you might end up getting slower as they found in Australia.


Hypertrophy work– getting bigger- is a goal in itself, but should not be the first thing that young rugby players work on.

If it is, it will hamper your Athletic Development and your rugby skills.

Younger players should look to grow up before growing out. You will be getting bigger as you get older.

Coaches who tell 14 year olds they need to get bigger, are missing the point. 

This video shows some of the work I do with the tight five in rugby to make props and second rows more agile:

Rugby warm up for tight 5 - YouTube

The post How to get big for rugby appeared first on Excelsior.

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Army Physical Training Manual

The Manual

The British Army used to produce some excellent training manuals. My copy of the 1931 manual contains many pertinent coaching points.

It is worth considering what has gone before us. Whilst the weaponry may have changed in the past 90 years, the human body and psyche remain fundamentally the same.

Individualisation of training is an old concept

Consider this:

“1 The Physical training of army boys cannot be undertaken without first considering their individual character. Collectively they can be said to possess the definite ambition to function as soldiers from the very start of their careers; consequently they have a strong inducement to exert the necessary effort required for the progress.

By reason of their youth, they are active, energetic, healthy and have acquired some idea concerning discipline; but their will power, and with it their character requires to be trained in the right direction.

The importance of this factor must be realised by all instructors, who should set themselves the task of developing each individual character rather than forcing all into a uniform pattern.”

How about “functional fitness or “cool exercises”?
  • “The exercises employed in a system of physical training, if they ensure as they should the harmonious development of the whole body, will at the same time correct the faults engendered by one-sided work and so put the body in a better state to perform any other work that may be required of it.
  • At the same time as he develops his body he must be taught to realise that he himself achieves this by his own effort, and is merely guided by his instructor. Interest in the possibility of his own power and the capacity to produce that power beget self- effort. Self-effort can therefore be produced.
  • It must be borne in mind that the performance of the various exercises is only a means to an end and that training is not merely for the sake of the exercises themselves but for the ultimate effects of those exercises.”

In those 3 paragraphs you have a basic guideline for people who are beginning to coach:

  1. Have a systematic plan
  2. Engage and educate the athlete so they motivate themselves
  3. Remember that their ultimate goal is to do well at their sport, not be gym rats.

Guidance for the Physical Training Instructor

“The Instructor should remember that exercises which are well known to him, and which have become easy by practice, are new and often difficult to the pupil. he must not, therefore, be impatient of faults, neither must he expect perfection of execution too soon.

Any endeavour to obtain correctness of execution too suddenly is contrary to all sound principles of physical training.

Just as the progress of the recruit from week to week and month to month should be steady and gradual, so also should the correction of faults in each exercise be gradual. All the faults in an exercise should not be corrected at once, but the most important faults should first be put right, and later on those of less importance.

The capabilities of the men must be carefully observed, and judgement must be exercised in deciding when to exact perfection of execution and when to be satisfied with a reasonable attempt.”

This is the essence of coaching! 

Character development

“The characteristics which should be chiefly stressed are accuracy, self-respect, energy , punctuality, obedience, tidiness and cleanliness.

Of these, the first- accuracy- is perhaps the most important as it inculcates the habit of performing every act with precision.  It should therefore be continually kept before the boys’ minds in order to perfect them through their own efforts.”

Again, character development is emphasised as heavily as physical development here- would we now call that “training to train”? This is what used to be taught in physical education classes in schools before they became games lessons.

3″ Over-enthusiasm leading to unnecessary strain must, however, be avoided, and exercises acting directly on the will, such as balance exercises should predominate. In particular the absolute control of the body should be insisted on after any agility exercises have been performed.”

4 “Throughout the whole training the instructor must study each individual, and must never lose sight of the fact that he has in his hands the power to advance or curtail the development of the boy’s character.”

It is this last aspect of coaching that is predominant in a lot of sports, but is missing in strength and conditioning coaching– Young people are not just guinea pigs or numbers on a spreadsheet.

A lot can be learnt from these old texts, and a systematic approach to coaching, education and physical development is the most important thing for me.

Further Reading: See how the Army influenced Gymnastics in schools.

The post Manual of Physical Training -1931 appeared first on Excelsior.

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“A pessimist complains about the wind, an optimist waits for it to change, a leader adjusts the sails.”  

(source unknown) sent by John Mallett.

  • Our young athletes are trying desperately to balance all the demands placed upon them with exams, sport and peer pressure.
  • Their parents are trying to make ends meet, be in two places at once and pay for petrol for after school sports and weekend competitions.
  • Their coaches are trying to plan sessions, put tactics and technical sessions together, but realise that the fundamental movements and physical literacy are missing.

Time and money are more precious than ever before. If we take shortcuts with our young sports people: they will break.

“I’m too busy to exercise, I need to revise”

Revision mounts up

I have heard this every year for the last 15 years at about this time. Young people, parents and teachers are all under pressure to get results.

But, we know that exercise improves mood, helps concentration and helps get better academic results.

So why do parents and school teachers stop encouraging people to move and socialise and be happy?

One parent (who is a surgeon) suggested his 3,2,1 method of revision:

3 hours in the morning, 2 hours after lunch and then 1 hour later.

This gives the young person time to have a life and to work as necessary. If your teenager is locked in their bedroom all day, do you really think they are being productive in that time?

I would suggest a phone ban during revision time, to help avoid distractions, allowing it out at certain times only.

An hour of exercise a day (at least) will restore balance to their young stressed minds.

We live in a flawed sporting world: life and circumstances are often against us. I am trying to help parents, coaches and the sports men and women get better.

photo ©LovegroveDesign&Photography

The post Pre season training and exam pressure appeared first on Excelsior.

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Excelsior Blog by James Marshall - 2M ago
“Each man delights in the work that suits him best”

Homer, The Odyssey

Odysseus had his 10 year journey home to Ithaca, Jason his search for the Golden Fleece, Percival his Grail Quest and Frodo had to destroy the One Ring.

All these Heroes had to:

  • Travel long distances
  • Enlist the help of allies
  • Defeat enemies
  • Overcome obstacles
  • Make many sacrifices

Does this sound familiar in your training or coaching? 

(Female quests are under represented in literature: Dorothy trying to get back to Kansas is one example.)

“If you give them silk pyjamas, they won’t get out of bed”

Rob Gibson, Rugby Coach.

Whilst all of these Heroes had a destination in mind, it was the journey, the struggle, the life changing process that was the real story.

(I always question why Frodo walked when he could have hitched a ride on an Eagle).

As an athlete, having things laid out on a plate for you may not always be the best thing. Giving players underfloor heating in a changing room may be nice, but what happens when they have to play away?

Nice facility, but coaching matters more

“Talent needs trauma” by Dave Collins is an excellent piece on why obstacles and hazards are needed as part of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).

I see athletes I have worked with moving to “Institutes” and becoming Institutionalised: they start moaning if they have to fill their own water bottle, or that the wrong music is played in the gym, or that they had to wait for an hour in between training sessions!

A smiliar problem occurs with coaches who want to gain experience at a “bells and whistles” facility. They become fascinated by kit and use that first, rather than thinking about the athlete and the process.

Put them in an empty room with 30 kids and say Get them fit and they turn round and ask “Where’s the force platform?”

Earn the Right

I have a philosophy of coaching that the athlete has to “Earn the Right”. I can show them the way, but they have to take the steps. Rather than turn up to the Athletic Development Centre and get some fancy stash, they have to start working and assessing their own ability.

Young rugby players ask “when are we going to do cleans?” I answer “you have to earn the right” that means being able to move well and efficiently first. Can they do a single leg squat? Can they do 50 hindu press ups and 100 hindu squats? Can they do a dumbbell complex first? Can they overhead squat 50% of their body weight?

It is easy to get popular in the short term by giving away kit and jumping on the latest training bandwaggon.

Will that approach help the athlete when they are face down in the mud on a cold December night with a hairy-arsed monster stamping on them? Will it help them as they try and apply that power in the open field?

The same applies to coaches, you have to “Earn the Right” to work with athletes: at any level! 6 year old kids deserve the same amount of planning and preparation as does an Olympian.

Someone said to me this week that they couldn’t use their knowledge and techniques on kids that age. I said he had to “Earn the right” to work with those kids by improving his knowledge and learning different techniques.

Ultra Performance

Feedback from a recent speed workshop with coaches included “I reckon that you are a hard taskmaster”. Perhaps, but I was emphasising the quality of execution and precision of movement before progressing.

The Quest for Ultra Performance is about the journey, the struggle and the process for coaches and athletes alike. There are no shortcuts.

“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link of the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” Winston Chuchill.

  • We can learn from other people: mentors, senior coaches and fellow athletes to help us along the way: we then have to practice implementing that information.
  • We can enlist the support of allies (parents, friends, coaches, teachers): we then have to step onto the pitch, mat or court ourselves and have a go.
  • We can attend conferences, workshops and courses that help accelerate our learning: we then have to Plan, Do Review. It is called the Coaching Process rather than the Coaching Destination!

No one can input the passion and desire though, the opening quote from Homer is important to understand as an athlete or coach.

The only way we can attain Ultra Performance is by undergoing the Quest.

(Thanks to Rob Frost for the Headline)

The post The Quest for Ultra Performance appeared first on Excelsior.

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Become more agile in 5 days.

When fielding in cricket, you are putting your body under a lot of stress and strain due to the stretching/reaching and diving to catch the ball.

If the underlying strength and mobility behind these movements is poor then an injury is more likely.

To do these movements successfully you will need to have good hip and knee control, and good flexibility too.

I will be talking about how to improve agility and flexibility in order to get closer to the ground and show you a 5 day routine to help.

Learning to co-ordinate and control your body when you are off centre or unbalanced will help. Exercises on one leg or one arm that challenge your body to balance and control are particularly useful Some of these are included in our regular 5x5x5 work that all Excelsior athletes do.

Example exercises

Pigeon walks will get you to the ground in a low and long position where you are stretching and also working on moving through the stretch and keeping the joints strong and stable.

Arm reaches and lawnmowers will incorporate rotation which may be necessary to catch the ball. You could do the lawnmowers in a lunge position rather than a front support to feel a stretch and learn to control that low movement/position.

The important areas to stretch

Muscles that should be stretched are the hip flexors, hamstrings adductors, iliopsoas and glutes. All these muscles will be under pressure if you are lunging forwards to catch the ball.

 Static stretches

 Hip Flexor stretches

This picture shows a hip flexor twist stretch. It is the more advanced version and will also stretch your quads when you pick up the foot at the back.

Adductor stretch 

Hamstring stretch –

Glute stretch –

Iliopsoas and hamstring stretch –

 Example session plans for 5 days

 Aim – to work on control of own body and start to improve stability of hips, knees, ankles (very important for braking, turning and moving efficiently in game play).

Some shoulder stability too. The first few days will include basic movements that concentrate on control and stability. Later on, more complex drills will be included.

 Day 1

Warm up – 10x lateral squats, 100x skips – repeat x5

Main activity – Hip series 1 (repeat x2-3)  Mini band walks (forwards, backwards and sideways)


10 x scorpions 2 x rows of bear crawls 10 x overhead squats 2 x rows of crab walks

10 x lunge and lean  Repeat x 5

Stretches – include the above stretches. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Day 2

Warm up – 10 x sit through, 10 x overhead squats – repeat x5

Main activity – Hip series 1 and 2 (repeat x2 each)

2x 10 single leg squats  1x row of pigeon walks, 10x overhead squats at the end 1x row of bear crawls, 10x lawnmowers at the end 1x row of side rolls, 10x lateral squats at the end  Repeat x 3-5

Stretches – include the above stretches. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

 Day 3

Warm up – Multi-directional lunges, 100 x skips – repeat x5

Main activity – Mini band work (forwards, backwards, sideways)

Agility drill – set up 4 cones into a square roughly 10metres space between each.

From cone 1 to 2, sideways bear crawl with 5x lawnmowers at 2.

From cone 2 to 3, pigeon walks with 5xlateral squats at 3.

From cone 3 to 4, sideways rolls with 5x back twists each side at 4.

From cone 4 to 1, bear crawl with 5x lateral hop and holds at 1.

Go through once slowly and controlled for practice, then repeat x2 timing yourself.

 Stretches – include the above stretches. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Day 4

Warm up – 10x walk out press ups, 10x 6-way lunge – repeat x5

Main activity –  Hip series 2 and 3

Overhead squat and single leg squat work (re-enforcing lower body control and stability)

Rolls – forwards, backwards, sideways. Running / crawling into and out of rolls. Circuit

10x scorpions 2x rows of bear crawls 10x overhead squats 2x rows of crab walks

10x lunge and lean  Repeat x 3-5

 Stretches – include the above stretches. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

 Day 5

Warm up – 100x skips, 10 x alternate v sits x5

Main activity – Mini band work (crossovers, single leg push back and single leg push back with reach)

Agility drill (partners) – for this drill we will be adding the ball in to work on reactions.

Set up 2 cones, 10-20 metres apart. Person A will stand in the middle of the cones, Person B will stand in the middle, 10metres away from Person A.

Person B will roll the ball (slowly at first) to one of the cones and Person A will get there by any of the drills practiced, throw the ball back to Person B and run back to the centre.

Bear crawls Sideways bear crawls Rolls (forwards, sideways)

Repeat 3-5 times and swap over

– include the above stretches. Hold for 20-30 seconds.

This is just an example of training. Try it and see how it works for you.

The post How to get more agile and low to the ground for cricket fielding appeared first on Excelsior.

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