Guest Blog Post with Johnny Parks- COACH THE BEST TO BE BETTER

This week’s Blog is a guest blog from Johnny Parkes, Manager of Player ID and Development

I met Johnny while he was studying a Masters degree in the UK in 2012 and was coaching out of Gosling Tennis Academy as a consultant tennis coach.  We stayed in touch after he went to the states in 2015 and he now has a fantastic role with the USTA focusing on all facets of Player Development from 10 and Under to the professional game.

As part of his role Team USA offers support to US juniors through supplemental training opportunities via camps around the country and trainings at the USTA National Campus. Johnny was recently able to attend the GAIN Network, set up by an iconic Strength & Conditioning coach Vern Gambetta.  It’s something I have thought about doing before as a great form of professional development and opportunity to connect with the GAIN network.

Its $2000 to attend the four days the first time you go and then $900 every time after or $300 to access the network site if you don’t go.  Here what Johnny had to say below!

GAIN NETWORK 2018

Rice University in Houston Texas was the location of this year’s GAIN Network brought to us by Vern Gambetta, a world renowned athletic development coach. In its 11th year, GAIN brings together Strength and Conditioning/Athletic Development Coaches, sports coaches and sports medicine professionals into one location for high level collaborative professional development. Going into the program I didn’t know what to expect from the packed 4 days. Our Director of Athletic Medicine at the USTA National Campus and good friends with Vern had recommended me for the program. I was excited to dive into an area that I have ingrained as part of my personal philosophy developing tennis players and being exposed to this side of the development spectrum was going to be exciting.

The agenda was packed starting off at 6:30am and finishing around 8pm (10pm if you’re counting the interactions with other attendees and faculty staff). So rather than go through every presentation I will take you through some that stood out as it pertained the world I am involved with in tennis.

1. Theme of the Week:

We started Tuesday evening with Coach Gambetta setting up the theme for the week “Connecting the Dots – Getting back to basics”. Networking was the unsung hero of the week, where you got to connect with professionals from all walks of life from all over the world. This in itself is where a lot of the learning and sharing was done over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

 

2. Morning Madness:

Each morning started off at 6:30am at the Track and Field facility with “Morning Madness”. This was three 20 minute stations presented by faculty coaches of the GAIN network.

“Educational Gymnastics” – James Marshall from Devon, UK delivered a session on the basics of human movement, rolling, jumping, blancing, which made you feel like an excited 10 year who couldn’t wait to get out of math class to get to PE.

“Sticks and straps” by Steve Myrland was a personal favorite due to the shoulder stability/mobility related to overhead athletes. It was fun and collaborative focusing on internal and external resistant exercises using only sticks and straps with push-pull motions in certain stances. Something I will be applying with athletes as it beats the standard band work most tennis players are bored with and perform with poor quality.

“Locomotor patterns” and “Reaction based games” by Greg Thompson delivered two purposeful game based warm-ups going through many different movement patterns in teams. It highlighted the FUNdamentals in a fun dynamic environment.

Sprint mechanics was emphasized in both class room and on the track. Coach Jim Radcliffe from the University of Oregon presented two sessions he calls “the rehearsal” with his athletes in the “Oregon warm-up” and “Plyo Progressions”. His ability to teach without saying many words and letting you work through the exercise was a great quality, and I took this as a lesson in how to take something complex and the danger of over coaching can exist and simplify it for students.

The rest of the morning sessions were rounded up by UK’s Nick Hill and Gold Medal Fiji’s Rugby 7’s coach Naca Cawanibuka on “Robust Running”, Nick Garcia and Dan Noble on dumbbell complexes. Nick also presented his periodization plan with his football athletes, which was well thought out and detailed. I really liked the concepts he presented, but tough to apply in tennis with no real defined seasons especially in the junior world.

All morning sessions can be incorporated with tennis athletes especially juniors. The generalized athletic movements are a pre-requisite to reaching the top of the game now and in the futre and must start early in the child’s development, but as I look at how to impact our athletes, the need to be combine this early on with tennis specific movement patterns on the court is essential.

3. Workshops:

The day was then scheduled with two morning presentations followed by lunch. After lunch interactive hands-on workshops broke up the day. These sessions were 1. “The Tensegrity model and how it changes the concept of stretching” emphasized the importance of extension. 2. “Balance and it’s Permutations” with Grace Golden was another favorite of mine as it allowed for creativity in team based environment. 3. A PCA and return to competition assessment took us through some exercises that we can do with our athletes to understand their instabilities and weaknesses which can inhibit their ability to perform certain movement. An example being an athlete has poor dorsiflexion of the ankles, which I see a lot in juniors, could be due to the ankle joint or down to tight calves, but this may affect their ability to squat or to get into a viable ready position with ease, thus then affecting their ability to accelerate. It truly is inter-connected.

The workshops were followed by two more presentations and finishing up with more discussion after dinner. In the interest of time, I will go over some of my favorite sessions.

4. SPEED:

Coach Jim Radcliffe, Strength and Conditioning Coach for the University of Oregon presented two great movement madness sessions as mentioned above, he also delivered two stand-out presentations. One titled “Orientating your compass – Finding True North” brought you back to the essence of coaching which is teaching and educating first, an art that is slowly becoming extinct. We have to teach the athletes to learn the concepts, not just the drills; this was the presentation that set-up the mindset that is a pre-requisite to becoming a master coach.

His second “Robust Running”, centered on the development of running mechanics and technique via the hip in creating movement efficiency negotiating the ground. The piston position was emphasized and demonstrated which followed up with examples of exercises that promote the correct technique and hip mobility and projection.

Peter Weyand, a professor at SMU presented on “Science for Speed” creating an understanding that developing speed isn’t based around leg speed it’s based on improving peak ground force reaction and contact using three inputs, 1. Contact time, 2. Aerial time and 3. Ankle motion.

5. “Rehab and Return to Play”:

Grace Golden out of Colorado had a refreshing holistic approach presenting what the athlete CAN DO on their journey to returning to play. Fundamentals before sport specific and her progressions through the planes of motion in getting her athletes back to full health ready to train and compete. I was a huge fan of Grace’s workshop. She had a variety of equipment from balls, sticks bands, dodgeballs, gym balls etc. The idea was to take us through the planes of motions while stressing our creativity by giving us parameters and then the freedom to come up with our own exercises. It was a very clever way to engage us in her approach. The first centered on the frontal plane then the sagittal plane, the parameters was it had to be a balance exercise involving a push pull. We got together in groups and it really sprouted some great exercises from the groups. Made me think this would actually be a great idea to do with the athletes in expanding their thought processes and promoting creativity

6. “Endurance for What?”:

Coach Magness stressed the importance of developing the capacity needed for the demands of the sport, develop the awareness that it is about the athlete not the system and it’s about people and not numbers. Another example of getting to the core of being flexible with each athlete understanding that their needs may be different. This message particularly hit home being in tennis as you have athletes operating in different energy systems, all at different stages in their development and of course there is game style to take into account. It truly is an art to figure out how to help each individual maximize their bodies so they can compete at the highest level their bodies allow.

7. “LTAD – Sense or Nonsense?”

I was excited by the title of this presentation. The USOC recently came out with their “American Development Model – ADM”, to create a drummed down version of LTAD models that have had 7 stages or 10 pillars or whatever complex system the research has come up with. It left me feeling that year maybe the information makes sense but the way its presented makes absolutely no sense to coaches that are actually out there living it each day.

James Marshall whose background with athletes of different sports, NGB’s and now inspiring many kids at his own gym in Devon, UK was very well-versed in this area. He made comparisons to LTAD models and what is actually delivered provided an insight of making sure we don’t get away from what is most important, which is providing opportunities for our children to explore for themselves. LTAD models are too complex fictional and no possible way to execute. I agreed with all of his experiences and observations as he took us into the day in the life of his son, which showed us the many opportunities he had to free play, some facilitated by James, but a lot was through the natural environment. He simply put the question back to us, how do you measure that in your LTAD models? Free play is dying due to cultural factors, government policies with regards to P.E. as well as many factors deter our youth away from daily exploration of what their bodies can do athletically. With Generation Z, the iGen generation coming through, they will be the first generation that is grown up in a technological world. We must find ways to inspire free-play and let kids be kids.

8. A High Performing Culture:

I needed the tissues for Dan Noble’s story from the Hill Academy in Canada with a powerful journey through his development as a person and coach. Tragedy and strong cultural values drives an environment to come together to inspire greatness into groups of athletes and human beings. He implements daily journal time, free thinking and reflection, free play, where he showed us a video of his kids coming up with obstacle courses to go through in between classes, stressing the importance that it’s ok to fail. When it all comes down to it, the culture will create the environment, and he has certainly done an amazing job of that.

We finished up on a great open discussion on “Integrated Performance Teams and Scope of Practice” stressing the importance of communication across multiple fields which are becoming increasingly segmented due to specialty within specialty fields. In order to provide and plan in the best interests of the player, the sports coach who leads the athlete, the S and C / Athletic Development Coach / Sports Medicine and Nutrition all need to come together as one. We need to eradicate phrases such as “staying in my lane”, and do whatever it takes in the best interest of the person/athlete.

9. Conclusion:

There were many other great presenters that I could talk about. Overall, I was taken back by the level of detail and quality of the presenters and my fellow attendees. The coaches were very knowledgeable, highly experienced individuals. A lot of the learning took place in connecting with other attendees, understanding their sport and challenges and how they overcome those challenges to deliver their programs.

I took a lot away as predominantly a tennis coach who has a strong passion for athletic development and the art of movement within our sport. I firmly believe we have to specialize in generalizing but we must also have a very strong grasp on movement patterns and how to be as efficient as possible in those movements within tennis and to be able to do it with grace and ease. This has to be taught, trained and coached from an early age if a tennis playing athlete is going to reach their full potential. The skill as a coach working with the tennis athlete is balancing out the times where we can focus on the overall athleticism with the times we need to specialize with efficient movement patterns.

Vern closed us out with “The Champions Choice” posing the question to us as coaches “Do we make the champions choice in our coaching and with our athletes”, do we help the athletes understand and recognize what the champions choice is and what it means? The qualities of a great coach are being able to lead by example but unlock the potential of an athlete by the relationships we build with them and the quality work we put into their development.

It was reassuring and enlightening, overwhelming but simple, creative and collaborative. I have no doubt that I would go again year after year for my dose of professional development as Vern continues his quest to COACH THE BEST TO BE BETTER.

Contact Johnny at:

Instagram:
@johnny_parkes
@teamusatennis
Twitter:
@johnnyparkes1

Where I am next presenting?

 

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning

Dates: 27/28 Oct 2018, and 24/25 Nov 09:00AM-17:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

What S&C Coaches can learn from Driving Instructors

Hey Everyone,

A couple of weeks ago I  presented at the APA Speed, Agility & Quickness Training for Sports Workshop.  If you have ever been to one you know it’s normally a four hour format and we cover the four types of speed that I refer to at APA:

  • First step speed
  • Straight ahead speed
  • Multi-directional speed
  • Sport specific speed

For this workshop I invited a few guests to present with me and we went for a six-hour format.  In the morning there was a theory based presentation from myself and Howard Green, and Ruben Neyens did a practical session.  Then in the afternoon we all did a practical. In the last blog I summarised my theory presentation (Speed Tips from World Class coaches- part 1) .  In this one I have taken inspiration from Ruben’s practical- this is part 2!

What really struck me was the learning environment that Ruben created.  You’ll get to see more of what I’m talking about if you go to this year’s Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) National Conference- he’s a keynote speaker.  He talked about the performance playground idea- a concept I first heard from Darren Roberts. It actually felt a little bit uncomfortable for me to see the child stumble through the exercises.  Ruben would set up the task- and then let the child practice it while he spoke to the audience for a few minutes.  My instinct was to want to step in and give the child more information on how to do it better!  It really benefited me to see his approach because I would say I’m a reluctant observer- I want to be at the centre of the learning.

I took the time to reflect on ”how children learn new skills” and this was the basis of the staff in-service training I gave last Friday.  Below is the summary of the presentation.

If you want to see the full presentation I will put the video below.  One of the key discussions about how children learn new skills is the concept of ‘Discovery Learning.’

Discovery Learning- the ‘How’

At the beginning of his coaching practical Ruben said that he preferred to set up a drill and then leave the children to practice it without the coach saying anything.  He thinks an important part of talent ID is finding out which children are open to learning, and actively seek out opportunities to learn.  Most of the time, children with a healthy attitude to learning would ask him ‘to watch them to see if they were doing it correctly,’ or they would ask him to show them something more difficult.

After a few minutes he might ask, ”Would you like a tip?” to which they might reply Yes or No.  Then he would give them just one or two instructions to ‘draw their attention to something that will improve the movement.

It was also noticeable that in more complex movements such as changing direction he would use a ‘constraints based’ coaching approach.  So in order to learn how to decelerate more effectively when changing direction the child had to place a round circular cone on a large traffic cone.  This ‘constraint’ using specific equipment required a strategy involving precise movement which by its nature made the child take more care to slow down in preparation for this task.

In all cases it was noticeable that there wasn’t a lot of instruction and verbal coaching.  Ruben was more of an observer and would respond to the athlete.

Education of Attention

The process of an more experienced coach selectively introducing the novice to the right aspects of the environment is known as ‘education of attention.’  This involves:

  • Showing them landmarks that orientate his or her activities
  • Helping them Learn what to notice and do

Assisted Imitation

Mimikry is one of the most powerful ways to Learn what to do, and that’s why doing a demonstration and then asking the child to copy is such a central part of the coaching process.  Ruben would give a good demonstration and then would let the child copy him.  He didn’t really use many words to describe or explain what he was looking for- he mainly showed it. If the child was not quite doing it right, he would ask them if they wanted a tip.

Progression not Regression

Ruben said he preferred to start with a simple skill and progress.  This was every child is able to feel confident in their ability to get involved and do the task.  You can then progress it for those individuals who need a higher challenge.  Ruben would take a simple task and add layers of complexity to it until he reached the limit of the child’s ability and the skill started to break down.

He also said it is important to have an idea of where you would like to go with the session but as far as strict session planning goes he said no- he prefers to have a box of tools and then he will go to his toolbox depending on how we feels the children are responding to the tasks.

I had to reflect on this myself as I tend to want to change the stimulus independent of how the children respond to it.  I move on because my session plan and my watch tells me it’s time to!! This is something I will reflect on.

Frans Bosch talks about Dynamic Systems theory and the complexity of the human motor apparatus. He talks about needing a ‘Psychophysical’ environment that provides a setting to exploit movement variability as a mechanism to enhance an athlete’s adaptability.

For me personally, you can either  start with the end in mind and regress if needed, or start at the bottom and progress (as Ruben demonstrated).  I don’t know if you can say that one is right or wrong as both will have consequences.  The consequence of starting with the more simple skill is that advanced athletes will get little challenge from the easier progressions.  The advantage is that it is inclusive and enables all the group to feel confident- and you can slowly dial up the difficulty until everyone finds the level of challenge appropriate for them.

One thing I think we need to talk about besides ‘Confidence’ gained from Competence is Safety.  I’m all for starting with the end in mind- or at least moving quickly to where the athlete is challenged if we do in fact start at the easiest progression.  I understand that part of ecological psychology is to let the person learn to manage risks in their environment.  If you take away the risk you take away their capabilities to assess risk because you remove it- such as what many councils do with playgrounds.

But what if the child lacks the physical (and sensory) abilities to ”actively [and safely] explore the possibilities afforded to them by the environment?  Isn’t their an argument for a basic level of motor skills?

Frans Bosch say that the relationship between strength and coordination needs to be better understood and they should in fact ”be treated as a single unit.  Since force has a strongly coordinative component and motor control limits production of force, the laws of motor learning are important within strength training.”

My personal opinion is that even if it is true that a ‘precisely taught lifting or jumping/landing technique will not be remembered, for it is not universally applicable’- we need to first determine a stable technique.  So can the athlete control their joint position in a squat- then a counter movement jump and finally a drop jump? Let’s get it stable first and then add variability to the movement patterns.

According to Bosch:

Stable yet flexible movement patterns do NOT develop by learning techniques PRECISELY, but through self-organisation from COMPLEXITY.

My personal tendency is to start at the bottom and work up.  Think of a driving instructor.  Would you expect a driving instructor to take a novice driver on to the main busy roads on the first lesson if they have no prior experience? No, they have to learn the fundamental driving skills first of how to put the car in gear, accelerate and decelerate.  Once they have basic control of the vehicle they can they take it on the main roads and learn how to interact with a dynamic environment.

This leads me onto the second part of this blog.

Functional Movement Skills (FMS)- the ‘What’

I believe it is important to explore a range of FMS in early development.  I also believe that ‘targeted’ FMS will augment/accelerate performance in Sport Specific Skills (SSS). Like nearly every aspect of Strength & Conditioning there seems to be a number of categories of FMS according to different organisations.

For example:

And here are some more:

For me I like to keep it simple- FMS are basically forms of Locomotion, Manipulation and Stability.  To make it even simpler I refer to Coordination (Locomotion and Manipulation), Balance (Stability) and Reaction Speed

I’d encourage you to check out the video below.  I have also included the journal article for more info. Youth Physical Development Model 2012

As I said, I believe it is important to explore a range of FMS in early development.  However, I also feel it is important to ask yourself what you expect to happen by doing a range of movement skills? Is the belief that elite athletes become elite because they played several sports as a youth? I don’t believe that.

I think elite athletes who were famous for being great in several sports and had a choice which sport to go into- were just supreme athletes who were going to make it in spite of the system they were in not because of it.  They probably would have succeeded regardless.

No, that’s not why I encourage children to develop a broad encyclopedia of movement skills (Fundamental skills). It’s because I want to give them options in later life to feel confident they can try a range of sports.  I never did gymnastics as a child- I wish I had.  I now have a fear response to falling, tumbling, rolling and it makes me nervous about trying activities that require these skills, even related skills like diving off a diving board etc.  When they are young (5-10 yrs) let them learn how to move in all kinds of ways.

As an extension to their development it’s also for that same reason why I would encourage them to play a range of sports in their early years (10-14 yrs) before they specialise.

Do Fundamental Movement Skills enhance Sport Specific Skills?

As I said earlier, I also believe that ‘targeted’ FMS will augment/accelerate performance in Sport Specific Skills (SSS).  If you go to the end of my coaches presentation I will show a research study highlighting that those children who performed best in a FMS- ‘surmounting obstacles’ using a specific task- running across obstacles- were also the best at performing gymnastic skills.  The highest correlation between running across obstacles was with a gymnastic task involving a springboard jump on the vault.

It’s not surprising that children best at running across obstacles would also be best at using a springboard to jump on a vault.  So the degree of transfer from a FMS to a SSS is going to be based on the similarity of the two skills!  This shouldn’t be a surprise- and it’s not a case for specialisation.  It’s simply saying that learning is task specific.  Give children lots of different movement experiences in early childhood so they have options in later life.  As they increasingly specialise and training transfer becomes increasingly important then naturally the pool of activities that you choose from on a daily basis will narrow to those most similar to the actions of your sport.

 

Where I am next presenting?

 

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning

Dates: 23/24 June 2018, and 21/22 July  09:00AM-17:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help

Speed Tips from World Class Coaches- part 1

Hey Everyone,

I had a fun day presenting at the APA Speed, Agility & Quickness Training for Sports Workshop.  If you have ever been to one you know it’s normally a four hour format and we cover the four types of speed that I refer to at APA:

  • First step speed
  • Straight ahead speed
  • Multi-directional speed
  • Sport specific speed

For this workshop I invited a few guests to present with me and we went for a six-hour format.  In the morning there was a theory based presentation from myself and Howard Green, and Ruben Neyens did a practical session.  Then in the afternoon we all did a practical. In this blog I will summarise my theory presentation.  In the next one I will summarise Howard’s presentations and finally Ruben’s!

Daz Drake- The Key to a Successful programme

In my first presentation I wanted to set the scene for our day of talks/practicals on speed.  In the first half I was talking about the overall importance of athleticism (which I define with the 5 Biomotor abilities- suppleness, skill, speed, strength, speed, stamina).

  • Mindset first- don’t evaluate speed unless you know they are giving 100%
  • LTAD- move well => move fast => move often
  • Moving well means having mobility and stability, built on foundations of suppleness and skill.
  • Skill is about perception-action coupling- identify, filter and attend to sensory information quickly
  • Motor skill learning- Discovery learning using implicit constraints based coaching and external cueing
  • Strength is key to development of force- which enables you to accelerate.

In the second part I talked about the APA Training method, how we plan speed and Debunked some myths about First step speed technique.

  • Planning principles- gradual change of focus moving from general to more specific speed overall course of training cycle

Multi-directional speed (stopping) => Straight ahead speed (acceleration) => First step speed => Multi-directional speed (cutting) => Sport specific speed

  • Importance of evaluation both at start of training cycle but also within each session
  • Use of chaotic games and actual tennis play as real time assessment
  • Key progressions for speed: establish technique => add distance => add resistance =>add repetition
  • Acceleration model- what to look for
  • First step speed- debunking myths- the key to get off the mark explosively is to step back first!
  • Definitions of first step according to direction travelled- dig step (forward), drop step (backwards), directional step (sideways)

Straight ahead Speed- Acceleration Mechanics

Notice the three highlighted aspects of acceleration to look for.  The athlete in the bottom is executing them better. Large first step (approximately 1.5m on first step) / High knee on second step (approximating the hip level) and good separation between knees on third step.

First Step Speed- dig step

Notice the ”repositioning” of the centre of mass.  The body doesn’t move back- it actually moves forward!! It’s just the eye sees the foot moving back.  This is a natural reflexive action to initiate movement explosively from the athletic stance and is based on laws of physics- the equal and opposite force principle, and the stretch-shortening cycle of muscle contraction.

 

First step speed- dig step.  Look out for Fabio Fognini’s explosive first step forward!

 

Look out for Henin’s first step speed- directional step to move to the wide forehand!

 

Check out Rafa’s running steps when he was pushed out wide.  At APA First step speed is defined explosive movement in any direction. A key point is that the movement must be sprinting based, meaning the athlete is running to the ball. Since most movements on a tennis court are submaximal (such as side steps and cross-over steps) I like to group them under the ‘Sport specific Speed’ category.

Where I am next presenting?

 

Level 2 Certificate in Strength & Conditioning

Dates: 23/24 June 2018, and 21/22 July  09:00AM-17:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, Welwyn Garden City, AL8 6XE

Book your spot HERE

Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

  • If you’re not subscribed yet, click here to get free email updates, so we can stay in touch.
  • Share this post using the buttons on the top and bottom of the post. As one of this blog’s first readers, I’m not just hoping you’ll tell your friends about it. I’m counting on it.
  • Leave a comment, telling me where you’re struggling and how I can help