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.


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.




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.


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:

“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.”

“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.”

“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.”

“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.


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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Big changes……

Lots of people have asked me what is going on with “my job” at Anglia Ruskin so I thought it best to clarify my current position. I am a senior lecturer at Anglia Ruskin and was not employed for the judo at all, this was all something I did “as extra”.

In 2009 I started a judo club at Anglia Ruskin University, I remember telling the SU staff that I wanted it to be the best university judo team in the country and being laughed at. In 2010 the European judo union moved the performance coach awards to Anglia Ruskin with me as the course leader and this was the start of a “judo programme” that consisted of a high performance coach education pathway, full-time athletes, a community programme, the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence, recreational judo and a judo research group. I am quite proud of what was achieved here, predominately in my own time and with no extra pay. As much as I enjoy research and coach education my real passion is in athlete development and ironically it was this part of the judo programme that would prove its eventual downfall.

I set the target of providing 20hrs of training a week and we managed this with the same support as other clubs had (often less) for a sustained period of time but eventually things change. In my time managing and coaching the athletes at Anglia Ruskin they have performed very well in the British University and Colleges Championships, the results are shown below for this –

  • 4 x mens team champions at BUCS (the only Anglia Ruskin University team to win BUCS) plus one bronze
  • Women’s team bronze
  • 10 individual dan grade gold medals
  • 3 individual dan grade silvers medals
  • 10 individual dan grade bronzes medals

Over the years thats is 288 BUCS points for Anglia Ruskin University. Add to that around 15 peer reviewed journal articles specific to judo, three judo PhD students, countless students who have attended the university because of judo, income generated and the marketing i’d say it’s not a bad job.  Still the head of sport decided he didn’t want me involved in the judo anymore, this is his choice to make and I accept that decision.

So I move on! I will stay at Anglia Ruskin as a senior lecturer, a job I have enjoyed very much over the years to be honest and the one I am actually paid for. I think it is fair to say that my club that I have run for 18 years, Comberton Judo club, has suffered over the past 5-6 years with my main focus being on the Anglia Ruskin Judo Programme and the good news is that is changing and it is changing fast! Very fast! Comberton Judo club will now provide full-time training and many of the students who previously trained within the Anglia Ruskin Judo programme have moved to train with us.

I am now more positive and more confident in the judo I can deliver than I have been for a very long time, this might be a forced change but in many ways I feel it will be for the best. I would really like to thank the coaches and athletes who have stood by me throughout this two year period – Natasha Collins, Alex Hemming, Holly Newton, Ben Caldwell and Tara Fitzjohn have been particularly affected by all of this and have been strong throughout.

I will follow this post with another one about all the changes coming on board at Comberton Judo Club in the very near future (to be honest it might take more than one post!). In the mean time I wish the Head of Active Anglia and his new Head Coach, Michael Stewart, all the best for their venture into running a full-time training programme and we’ll see you on the mat!




Filed under AASE, Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence, Anglia Ruskin Judo club, Anglia Ruskin Judo programme, Anglia Ruskin Sports Coaching & Physical Education degree, British Judo, Coach Education, EJU level 4 & 5 coaching awards, Judo, Uncategorized