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.
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.
I have been involved in a few conversations recently about the worthiness of the GB ranking system so I thought I would put my thoughts into a blog post. As some who lectures in talent develop and identification this is an area I know a little about.
Firstly what is the GB ranking system? Well figure 1 below shows the current GB system as it stands for 2015 for seniors. Basically you accumulate points for placing or winning a medal at a variety of events and those points vary depending upon the level of the competition.
Its a very simple system in my opinion and to be honest I think it works pretty well, below I have outlined what I feel are the advantages and disadvantages. We have to remember that the ranking system is ultimately about two things – Talent Identification and Talent Selection.
- It means selection in not based on a single event – single event are well known for “missing talented athletes” often because they miss an event, have one poor day performing or a ill and sometime because of relative age affect
- If we consider it from a domestic perspective it can be argued that travel is split around the country with each area represented evenly and all four home country represented
- The system is tiered, what I mean by this is a younger or less experienced athlete can gain ranking points at area event; more experience athletes can decided to only look at home country events to secure points (because you get more points) while taking chances at European cups. Furthermore international athletes can focus on international events and still remain top of the domestic rankings. They do not need to attend these events although they may decided to do one or two home country one. What this means in effect is that athletes 8-10yrs from podium can focus on area events and home country events, athletes who are 8-5 year from podium can focus on home country and European cups whilst those likely to hit podium in this Olympic cycle can focus on world ranking events (these years boundaries a rough and off the top of my head! I appreciate many athletes need long at world ranking level and appreciate many have already come through the cadet and junior system)
- It is great for marketing and promoting judo. If someone is 10th in the +78kg in GB for example we might not think about it but going to that athletes college, university and local press they see this as a big thing and that really helps promote judo and support the athlete
- It allows athletes and coaches to start appreciating a ranking system and how to “work it” and this is very helpful when athletes progress through to world ranking events
- You’re still testing an athletes ability to “perform on the day” because of the weighting of points in relation to the British champs
- Arguably it can be expensive, especially if “chasing points” or you’re injured when the ones nearer to you are running. My personal opinion is if you’re “chasing points” you’re better off spending the money on some training camps or an extra nights randori a week and think about ranking the following year. of course everyones situation is different though
- A ranking system needs depth to work and unfortunately many, if not all, of our ranking events are lacking depth at the moment, below I have outlined why I think this might be. without depth the wrong players can end up ranked, in theory this should sort itself out at the British champs but not always
- You can end up with too many events if you’re not careful, I think in GB at the moment the issue is more around the somewhat horrendous calendar control though and this is quite frankly because of some areas poor understanding of the affect they’re having with the petty, mindless, bullshit politics
- I will talk more about quality control below but lets be honest, the way many of these are run is nothing short of appalling. People have to understand that this is our talent identification system and talent selection system, it does matter how good our centralised programme is if this system is wrong. We have a £7.4m budget for producing medals but we cannot do this is the wrong players are being selected or if the real talent is leaving the sport
Why are people not attending?
- Quality of the events – No care system, poor mats, manual score boards, awful venues, rood staff/officials, no warm up area… the list goes on. If we want a decent ranking system we need to change how we think about it.
- Quality of refereeing – of course referees make mistakes, no problem. With the CARE system there should be very few though. The level of referees at these events often need to be considered more closely and some areas are going to have to invest in paying for referees to travel and stay over because you haven’t got enough decent ones in your area – this is the price of neglecting referee education and training over the years i’m afraid. I love the comment we always get when we complain about refereeing… we’re all volunteers! Yes we know that but your travel and food is paid! Most of the coaches are volunteers to and their travel and food isn’t paid. And guess what? The athletes are paying customers and they don’t give a shit if you’re a volunteer or not, they have paid for a service. Like I said at the start, of course referees make mistakes, everyone does, no problem but for referees to not be using the CARE system properly or to have two kids sat there who don’t dare to overrule the IJF in the middle is not right and you know it!
- Calendar control – This weekend we have the Great North and the Southern area – how? Who let this happen? One was a cadet ranking and now isn’t…. come on!
- Centralisation – lets be honest, it has an affect and we all know it
- Online calendar – OMG!! Seriously no entry form the Welsh on the BJA site yet! BJA site still say no date for the Easter area ranking event that was in August. We cannot generate depth with such awful communication!!
Some ideas for improving the ranking events/system…
- Quality control similar to that of the EJU and IJF. Areas and home countries can still run the event but these are monitored by either the BJA events team or a bespoke team that is designed to manage British ranking events (PMG maybe!?!?!)
- Should the BJA have a set of mats, a CARE system (with two cameras per mat), score boards and TVs for the draw etc in a truck that goes around to every ranking event? Personally I think it has got to that stage or they should invest in this for each area
- If we sort this out, banners, decent mats, online registration, good referees etc etc could we attract sponsorship? I think we could argue it is pretty much a national league, maybe we could attract prize money or maybe they just pay for some of things we need to make it all more professional? The British champs are run well so we have a model already
- You know what I would really like to see, it would take some work but I think each home country event should be run on the first weekend of a school holiday or half term and they should all be followed by a hard training compound this camp should be part of our talent ID system
- The calendar needs aligning, British champs first, then Home country and then are and ideally they’ll alternate what end of the country the area ones are in to help travel
To be honest this little rant has gone on much longer than I thought and I need to get to training so i’ll call soremade!
Here’s the real question though, get rid of it and what do we replace it with? Please comment below!
I haven’t posted for a while so I thought I would write a quick post about a topic I have been teaching at university this week, autonomy supportive coaching, and relate this to judo.
What is Autonomy supportive coaching?
Autonomy supportive coaching has been described by many authors including Gillet et al., 2010; Alvarez et al. 2009; Conroy & Coatsworth 2007; Amorose & Anderson-Butcher, 2007. A lighter yet informative read can be found here written by Australian Sports Commission. I would describe it as “a coaching pedagogy that is underpinned by a desire to develop athletes as self-thinking, personally motivated and innovative individuals” (Something like that anyway!)
Why is this important?
I think it is important for athletes to be autonomous for several reasons, at the end of the day when they go out to compete they’re by themselves. Their task is to win medals and if they can operate autonomously then our support is enhancing an individual who is far more advanced and therefore you can dedicate time to higher level support. Consider it this way, as coaches we have all worked with athletes who constantly need support with really basic things on competition day – nutrition, warm up, they lose their kit (especially belts), they’re always the one who has a kit that doesn’t fit etc etc Then you look across the hall and there is this uber organised athlete, he/she knows where everything is in their bag, they have appropriate food and fluids for immediately after the weigh in, they’re taped up and ready to warm up early, they have kit to stay warm after the warm up, they check the draw themselves, they know what colour kit to where, it always passes judogi control, the back patch is always sewn on properly – you get my drift! The point is you can be checking they have their belt etc or you can be focussing on higher level support.
What can judo coaches do to make their athletes more autonomous?
I think it is important within coaching sessions to empower athletes and allow them to make mistakes and reflect upon what they’re doing. It is also important to not intervene too much and when they need support in learning or planning to turn the help into a discussion rather than a straight forward answer. This takes patients and often means they do not progress as quickly as others initially but eventually they develop a much deeper understanding. Here are some examples of the strategies I use to try and develop more autonomous athletes:
- After competition we watch the videos, this is either done with me and the athlete so we can discuss the contest or (more often than not) the whole group. We sit as a group, watch each persons fights, the players and coaches make notes and then the player in the video is asked to make any comments, then the other athletes are asked for their opinions and then the coaches. This is very time consuming but very effective. One important point to note though is that this can be quite daunting for new players in the group so I normally do theirs one on one.
- Have you ever been to a judo session, its coach led, he does whatever technique he wants that week, then maybe some randori and you think “I really want to practice x” We do a lot of this, I just pair the players off and let them work on whatever they want, I just walk round observing, asking questions and making suggestions. This is a kind of experimental learning and is much better for developing a deeper understanding.
- When giving feedback `i also try to use questions….. this is not easy to begin with. So a simple example might be that you notice someone is not pulling high enough with their hike-te grip and thus not breaking balance correctly. Rather than dive in and tell them it is wrong just ask them how it feels, they’ll probably say not strong enough or something like that and then you ask “what could you do differently?” if they don’t know ask the partner… try to always get them to find solutions rather than give them too them. It will make them much more reflective and critical in their understanding.
I think judo is a sport full of tradition and this is a good thing but equally we shouldn’t be scared to progress and develop. I often see very regimented classes, coach demonstrates, athletes copy, coach corrects etc etc and this kind of coach centred approach to developing athletes can be vastly improved.
Here are some pics from last weekends BUCS, more to follow soon….
Ruskin Men’s team
Matt Kavanagh throws Emannual Nartey
Ruskin judo team
This weekend was open national squad training. This is the GB squad training that is open to anyone who is at a suitable level and there were about 130 on the mat. The format is quite simple, predominantly randori. There is a picture bellow of the programme and this is pretty standard.
Who we took 7 players although unfortunately not all of them could be there all weekend – Michal Stewart, Glenn Miller, Matt Kavanagh, Natasha Collins, Tara Fitzjohn, Natasha Gregory-Waterhouse, Alex Hemming.
We also took a physiologist for the weekend – Vivian Merbach, volunteered to help us out. She tested the players lactate at rest and then after each randori. The aim is for us to collect data over a period of time (not only lactate) and then develop a better profile physiological of competition and training judo. We current have data from our players, some students and some Croatian players.
The weekend was good, a great atmosphere and some very strong randori. I would highly recommend this for all dan grades who want to improve their competitive judo, I believe the next one is in June.
We now have a new research assistant at Anglia Ruskin, Natasha Collins, who will focus on performance analysis in judo.
Physiology during judo contest – Lactate testing and heart rate
Natasha was originally an undergraduate at Leeds metropolitan university and then transferred to Anglia Ruskin for her final year to train as a full-time judo player. Her undergraduate dissertation focussed on time motion analysis and kumi-kata in British judo and compared juniors to seniors. This has subsequently be edited for publication and is currently being peer reviewed.
She will support a variety of research topics including the coach-athlete relationship, LTAD and athlete monitoring but her main focus will be performance analysis in judo. This will support my PhD work and the work of Glenn Miller.
Natasha will also continue to work as the judo programme administrator and one of our AASE coaches.
Anglia Ruskin has a thriving judo research group that collaborates with academics around the world. We currently have around 10-15 members of staff focussing on judo research including performance analysis, physiology, coaching, the history of judo, child protection in judo and many other topics as well as three PhD students currently focussing on judo topics. The number of PhD students will hopefully increase this year.
Here are some of our research pics…
Physiology – VO2 max
Physiology – VO2 max
Judo contest physiology
Physiology – VO2 max
If you would like more information on the judo research group or the judo programme at Anglia Ruskin University please visit http://www.anglia.ac.uk/judo or email firstname.lastname@example.org.