Is British Judo on the rise?

With the fantastic results of the European championships this week there will be the inevitable response of how great British judo has become/is becoming since it moved to a centralised programme at Walsall but what do the numbers tell us?

First of all, this has been a valiant effort by the British team and I would like to congratulate all the athletes, in particular, the 5 that won medals.

Sally Conway – Silver

Ashley McKenzie – Bronze

Gemma Howell – Bronze

Lucy Renshall – Bronze

Natalie Powell – Bronze

So how do these results compare to previous years? I’ve decided to stick to this century and go back to 2000. It would be hard to compare going back much further and 2000 seems like a good break point to me. There are several ways to present this data, I could do what most people do and select the one that suits my agenda or what I want to say but I think that isn’t fair and to be honest, if I have an agenda its objectivity so I have decided to present the data in a number of ways and let the reader make up their own mind.

If we base performance solely on medal count then 2018 is our most successful performance this century (since 2000). Personally, I am not convinced medal count alone is a good measure but winning 5 medals, the most we’ve won in 19 European championships is great. Below I have broken our medal tally at the European championships down by year and equating medal colour to the current number of points awarded on the IJF world ranking list. I think this is a fairly good way of presenting the data.

 

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Figure 1: World ranking points that would have been awarded based on the current world ranking points systems from 2000 – 2018.

 

If we ranked the results in order of points awarded then 2018 would be our joint 3rd most successful year. Table 1 shows all years ranked in points order.

Rank Year gold silver bronze score
1 2006 2 2 2100
2 2005 1 2 1 2030
3 2003 1 1 2 1890
4 2018 1 4 1890
5 2000 3 1 1820
6 2004 2 1 1330
7 2002 1 1 1190
8 2016 1 1 840
9 2007 2 700
10 2010 2 700
11 2011 2 700
12 2017 2 700
13 2009 1 490
14 2001 1 350
15 2012 1 350
16 2013 1 350
17 2008 0
18 2014 0
19 2015 0

Of course, there are the purists who would only like to count gold medals. Well, it is 12 years since we won a gold medal and in those 2006 European championships, we won two golds – Craig Fallon and Sarah Clarke. In fact, we have only won 5 European gold medals this century, the two above and Karina Bryant in 2005 and 2003, Georgina Singleton in 2002.

Of course, there are others ways to measure the performance, the number of fights won compared to the number of players competing (too much work for this post i’m afraid) and the quality of the fights are two examples. I did watch all the GB fights but I would want to watch them again without the emotion to judge that and give an opinion. My first impressions are that actually, our players are fighting very well at the moment. Natalie and Sally are extremely consistent and easily world class. This was Lucy’s first Europeans and she won a bronze, how Gemma has come through so many injuries and three weight groups to medal at this level is nothing short of miraculous and Ashley has achieved a second bronze despite fighting his opponents and the system simultaneously. If I was to pick one thing I find frustrating it would be this new habit of some British players to “beg for a score” or “beg for a score to be upgraded“. I don’t like this, I think they miss opportunities, particularly in transition to Ne-waza and arguing a score is arguably the coaches job, the athletes should focus on nothing but fighting. I don’t blame the players, there could be a number of reasons, lack of trust in the coaches, lack of faith in the referees, or the constant changes in rules (although not all athletes from all countries do it) to name a few.

So what do we conclude? Well based solely on medal count we’ve done very well, our best Europeans this century. I am sure most people would agree the medal tally of 2006 (2 golds and two bronze) is better than of 2018 (1 silver and 4 bronze) as we regularly see medal tables with gold medals taking up the top slots ie one gold medal would put you above teams with multiple medals (those pesky purists!).

I think the fairest way for me is the points system, its objective and based on this system we can also look at trends in more detail. There does seem to be a trend of improvement from 2016 onwards, in fact, may be looking in more detail we just had a number of ‘difficult years’ between 2007 – 2015 and really we’ve always been great in Great Britain!

Anyway, our best European championships since 2006 and a trend for continuous improvement over the last three European championships. We should be pleased with this and hope a similar trend is seen at world level in Baku 2018 and Tokyo 2019 over the next two years and of course at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games.

 

Sources:

http://www.Judoinside.com/uk

http://www.judobase.org

http://www.ippon.org

http://www.EJU.net (image source)

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Using athlete analyser in the taper

A recent research paper by Ritchie et al., (2017) entitled “Where science meets practice: Olympic coaches’ crafting of the taper process”  has supported a long held belief of mine that performance coaching is about science being applied artistically; in other words we apply scientific principles and knowledge to situations that are complex and human in nature. Ritchie et al., (2017) discuss the taper process and acknowledge previous research in this area that considers different models such a linear, stepped etc. The basic concept is to maintain performance by lowering volume and maintaining intensity and frequency. Ritchie et al., interviewed seven performance coaches in track and field, one of the key findings was that these experienced coaches had developed the scientific principles to deliver a taper but there was much more to the taper than just applying the science. Adapting the plan constantly, monitoring the process and collaborating with the athletes were almost more important in the taper.

For this years British championships I worked closely with two athletes. These athletes had a three week overload period prior to a two week taper. The overload period was hard and included two competitions, one of which was international, a week long training camp and a weekend of national squad training embedded within their normal training programme. Coaches normally plan the taper prior and manage a linear, exponential or stepped type of decrease in performance. Based upon the work cited above I decided to choose a different approach.

We use a programme called athlete analyser to monitor the athletes training load. Athlete Analyser uses the work of Gabbett (2016) to monitor training load and the software produces a live graph. The aim of my taper was to increase performance by lowering fatigue without diminishing fitness, this means decreasing volume whilst maintaining intensity. Using the live graph and collaborating daily (sometimes twice daily) with the athletes I manipulated the taper. One of the graphs are shown below.

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Figure 1: One of the athletes “training insights” on athlete analyser shows the previous 90 days training load. The dotted lines are predictive (this was screen shot 3-4 days before the event) and shows the athlete will ‘peak’ for this event.

 

Both athletes reported feeling very well prepared for the competition and were confident going into the event.

Issues

This method is very time consuming, as a volunteer coach I would struggle to do this with more than 3-4 athletes. There is also the consideration of the athletes mental state in the overload period and the taper, coaches have to remember how the athletes are feeling and whilst listening to them sometimes be prepared to move on and complete the sessions you wanted to. Lastly, if you have set technical elements you want to cover in the taper, you may have to accept you cannot.

We should also remember there are some factors not recorded by the software yet, illness, fatigue from work, fatigue from travel etc

This is something I am going to be looking at in a lot more detail, any feedback is welcome! I think working closely with the athletes to apply this kind of science is the key to successful performance coaching.

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Ph.D completion!

Well it’s been a long time coming but I have finally completed my Ph.D! The thesis was handed in back in September (seems ages ago now) and was 200 pages long. I successfully defended it in my Viva on Friday and now I just have minor amendments to go!

So many people to thank, it is easier just to add the acknowledgements below.

 

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The only people I think I have missed from here is Prof. Mike Lauder from Chichester University and Dr. Leonardo Mataruna-Dos-Santos from Coventry University.

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Any questions please fire away! Once papers are published, minor amendments are done I will be able to share some of the data on this blog.

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Youth Strength training

Following a Facebook discussion on the GB judo underground page I have decided to write a post about strength training for adolescents. There appears to be two common misconceptions, firstly that resistance training is bad for adolescence and secondly that they should be working on only judo skills. Hopefully I will dispel both of these.

Long-Term Athlete Development:

The LTAD model was introduced to British judo in 2006 and around this time to most sports in the UK. I am not going to discuss the rights and wrongs of this model in this post (although I am happy too in the future) but I will highlight what Balyi suggests in relation  to strength training.

Balyi suggests there are “windows of trainability” based upon an athletes developmental age (where they are in relation to maturation and peak height velocity). There has been huge criticisms of this because there is very little evidence to show there is accelerated adaptation in these stages but much of this criticism is based upon a lack of evidence and not evidence to the contrary. Balyi’s work did do something great for sport in the UK though, it suggested children could do strength training younger than 16yo and there is a lot of evidence, and consensus statements to suggest this is fine.

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Figure 1: Windows of trainability presented by Balyi.

Strength training is dangerous for adolescence:

There is a wealth of evidence that structured, progressive and guided strength training is hugely beneficial to children whether athletes or not. I work in an environment where we coach full-time athletes and to see “good judo players” come to us at 16-18yo who have never lifted is often difficult for us to comprehend (the judo is often very limited too but that’s another story!). Here are some of the consensus statements shared in the FB group with their conclusions underneath and these are just some of the many:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256929167_Position_statement_on_youth_resistance_training_The_2014_International_Consensus

“A compelling body of scientific evidence supports participation in appropriately designed youth resistance training programmes that are supervised and instructed by qualified professionals. The current article has added to previous position statements from medical and fitness organisations, and has outlined the health, fitness and performance benefits associated with this training for children and adolescents.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11019731

“With qualified instruction, competent supervision, and an appropriate progression of the volume and intensity of training, children and adolescents cannot only learn advanced strength training exercises but can feel good about their performances, and have fun. Additional clinical trails involving children and adolescents are needed to further explore the acute and chronic effects of strength training on a variety of anatomical, physiological, and psychological parameters.”

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445252/

“Youth—athletes and nonathletes alike—can successfully and safely improve their strength and overall health by participating in a well-supervised program. Trained fitness professionals play an essential role in ensuring proper technique, form, progression of exercises, and safety in this age group.”

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02640410310001641629?journalCode=rjsp20

“Based on the scientific evidence and expert opinion, resistance exercise can be positive when part of a balanced activity programme. Providing that professionals who understand the key principles of child growth and development adequately screen and supervise participants, then the combination of low risk of injury and positive physiological, psychological and sociological benefits can promote health and perfor- mance in all groups.”

 

Common themes throughout these are –

  • Progressive/structured
  • Supervised
  • Safe

You should focus on skills:

I would argue that for 10-12yo’s (just a guide because we’re talking about developmental age) skill training should be prioritised. They’re in What Balyi would describe the “learn to train stage” and I wouldn’t agree with this structure approach. This doesn’t mean they cannot do both and it doesn’t mean the coach cannot support the athlete in this. For example, how many coaches “walk around the mat” to “flush lactate” after a session, especially Randori? So with a young group why not practice unresisted squats or squats with a broom handle to “flush out the lactate” instead? Whether pre-adolescents need to flush out lactate or not is another questions but regardless wouldn’t this be a better way to end the session?

So what should you do?

I understand that this is an area that worries parents (and probably coaches) quite a lot and I am not trying to be flippant in this post. The real question is what should you do? Well, the answer is above really – structured/progressive and supervised. So how do we do this?

My honest opinion, and some won’t like it, is that I wouldn’t trust anyone to take my S&C classes without at least degree knowledge and if I was a parent paying I’d want an S&C MSc and UKSCA qualifications. The days of trusting someone who is a “personal trainer” who has probably done a two week YMCA course is gone I am afraid. If you get the right person then the structure and progression should look after itself.

Summary

There is a wealth of evidence to support the use of strength training in children and adolescent, the general consensus suggests this should be structured, progressive and supervised in order to be safe.

I think it would be good to have some sort of coach education and parent education in this area because judo is a demanding and often brutal sport, strength training will help athletes throughout he tough transition stages and help prevent injury.

 

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Training Load in Judo

A new research project I am embarking on is considering the use of training load in judo. I am working with one of Comberton judo clubs coaches/athletes who is a student at Anglia Ruskin University where I lecture.

What is training load?

In it’s most simple form training load is the amount (volume) and the intensity (how hard you work) of training in a given period, often a day, week, or month. It has been suggested that training load monitored well can help predict injury (Gabbett, 2016; Gabbett & Domrow, 2007) but other reasons include appropriate planning and ‘peaking’ for an event.

For a few years now I have monitored athletes training load and in recent years I have considered training load in terms of fatigue (chronic/28days) and fitness (acute/current daily load). I started doing this using dropbox and excel, then moved to google docs and I am currently using Athlete Analyser. The numbers we get from the athlete are basic, number of hours training and intensity (RPE), this worked in google docs and excel pretty well but now that we’re collaborating with Athlete Analyser it is much easier and we can collect a lot more data.

 

Reading the data…

The numbers produce a graph and this allows us to consider training status and likelihood of injury. Once we have collected more data I will write a blog post showing how we use the graphs to predict injury and plan a taper.

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Figure 1: Screenshot of training load take from Athlete Analyser.

What is our research looking at?

Myself and Holly have been working with the team at Athlete Analyser to develop these training insights because one of the issues we faced with dropbox and google docs was athlete adherence, they’d constantly need chasing up to fill in the documents whereas now the Athlete Analyser app alerts them on any smart phone and reminds them to record their data.

Our research project, which is part of Holly’s final year project at Anglia Ruskin university, is considering training load as a predictor of injury and a variety of other assessments that might help us predict or avoid injury such as strength, functional movement, percentage body fat, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. We also work closely with our club physio Ben Whybrow in terms of injury prevention, I am closely monitoring the taper to see if we can develop research on this and I am working with a masters student on some periodisation research that I will write about in another post. Our participants in the study are full-time athletes and AASE athletes at Comberton Judo Club.

I’ll be posting more about this research and other work we’re doing in due course! Please ask any questions int he comments below.

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What a great weekend for Comberton Judo Club!

This weekend was the 2017 Eastern Area Closed. This event decides who are the area champions across a variety of ages and it is used to ‘rank’ clubs within the Eastern area.

Comberton judo club finished top of the table for the first time. We took 18 athletes and to be honest we wanted more, we were aiming for 30! We were missing some strong athletes too who I am sure would have won a medal. You can read more on our medal haul here and see some pictures here.

The reason for this post though is not about our performance at all. This has been a year of turmoil for me personally and the club and things are coming together really well. We won gold for the women team in May at the Eastern area team league and the men secured silver. We have five athletes competing at the British junior and senior championships in December, we have been to Japan, we have competed in two European cups …….. things really are great. But this weekend was different, it wasn’t all about performance and making those ‘inch by inch gains’, it was about the club coming together, it was about the younger players being able to watch the performance players, for me it was great just to coach kids again!

I am pretty pleased with how things are going, creating a culture for a performance team is not easy so to have to do it twice in two very different environments has been a challenge but right now, things are great!

Some pictures from the Eastern area closed, you can see more here

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PhD Thesis Submitted…

It feels like ages ago now but on the 18th September 2017 I finally submitted my PhD thesis – “A Time-Motion, Technical and Tactical Analysis of Lightweight Women’s Judo”. This is a journey I started on in 2010 and to be honest it’s felt longer lol

I am in the process of editing three new papers from the experimental chapters (one already published). One will be on techniques and tactics, another on penalties and another one on time-motion analysis.

I have a mock viva on the 21st November and the actual viva on the 24th. Hopefully just minor amendments after that.

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