Giving Feedback- Why Less is More- Part 1

In recent months the Tennis Academy where I am based have been challenging the coaches (including S&C coaches) to coach less explicitly.  This got me thinking, what types of feedback am I providing as a coach, and as the leader of my company?  Is my feedback impactful? Is it driving the quality of movement and athleticism that ‘transfers’ onto the tennis court under time and fatigue pressure? Or am I just fixing a skill that looks good in a drill?

In this three part blog I will first look at explicit feedback, this is the feedback given by the coach. I’ll talk about the difference between Knowledge of Results (KR) versus Knowledge of Performance (KP).

In the second part I will look at the different types of external feedback form the coach.  In the third blog I will look at implicit feedback, which is feedback that you get from your interaction with the environment.  This is a way of getting feedback without conscious awareness of technique.

Part 1- Performance Playground

I must have written at least 10 blogs on how to create an optimum learning environment.  Only recently did I listen back to Craig Harrison speak on the Pacey Performance Podcast about what we can learn from the skate parks that kids love to spend hours at.  For one, it’s a place where there is no formal coaching taking place!  yet they will happily spend hours and hours there just trying out new tricks with their mates.

Craig spoke about + – = coaching

+ These are the children who are older and/or slightly more advanced than you- so you have someone to reach for

These are the children who are younger and/or slightly less advanced than you- so you have someone to help

= These are your peers and/or children of the same level as you who you can really compete with!

 

Feedback

In a skate park you will naturally see all of these children exploring together- and not one adult telling them how to skate!  I thought this was a nice analogy and I have previously heard both Nick Grantham and Darren Roberts talk about the ‘Performance Playground.’  I have to say I have struggled to fully embrace the concept of giving children a space to play in with obstacles that either I have created or ones that they have created…..and let them play and explore.  I think partly I have wanted to control the environment a bit more so there is more intentional OVERLOAD via repetition of a particular movement I want to develop- through ‘drilling the skill.’

I also think it is partly the curse of the parent! I often feel parents expect the children to be busy, and the time it takes to set up an obstacle course (which is part of the fun!) might be seen outwardly as a ‘waste of time’ if they are paying for ‘coaching!’  I somehow feel the need to appear ‘busy.’  This extends to me feeling like I need to be saying things more often and giving feedback and tips to correct their errors as soon as I see them.

For an excellent review of the literature on feedback check out Mattspoint latest blogs on the topic.  Part 1 and Part 2. Below are some extracts:

In Part 1 Matt talks about feedback types.

Feedback Types

When it comes to feedback types, at the core, there are 2:

  1. Knowledge of results (KR): this feedback type is related to the outcome.
  2. Knowledge of performance (KP): this feedback type is related to the quality of the movement, mechanics or process that produced the outcome.

In tennis, KR could be related to where the ball lands, how fast the ball is travelling, how much spin was generated etc. In the gym, it could be feedback on the amount of weight lifted, how far/high someone jumped, how fast they performed an agility task and so on.  Overall, KR is more number driven.  I often don’t provide any feedback on stroke mechanics as I want full focus on the target.

Knowledge of Performance

In contrast to KR, KP feedback relates to the movement that produced the outcome. KP feedback is a bit more complex as it’s less objective and thus can be more open to interpretation.  For instance, because KP deals with how a player executed a certain movement or action, we can use different forms of feedback to reinforce good mechanics or to correct a technical flaw.

  • Tell the player what they did or didn’t do well
  • I can show the player by demonstrating the movement
  • I can show the player by using video or still photos
  • I can guide the player to feel it by moving their racket
  • I can use a sound to let the player hear it such as clapping or making sound effects

Most experienced coaches will intuitively provide either KR or KP feedback, depending on the aim of the session/drill. Other times, however, it might be appropriate to combine the two types of feedback: “That ball landed short of the target line (KR), because you didn’t accelerate your hand/wrist through contact (KP)”.  

The issue as I see it, however, is that players are getting this type of feedback too often – sometimes after every single shot! This is the frequency part of the equation (which we’ll explore in next week’s post). But there’s one important factor we must consider in all this; whether a player knows it or not, there is always an internal dialogue in their heads – i.e. self-feedback.

This self-feedback is called intrinsic feedback; while KR and KP feedback (which is provided by the coach or could be by some other observer/training partner etc) is referred to as extrinsic (or augmented) feedback. Here is Reid et al’s (2007) take on this:

“The provision of too much extrinsic feedback is suggested to breed an over-reliance on the coach, and impair an individual’s ability to independently process and evaluate information. This may manifest on-court with some players becoming anxious at the prospect of having to problem-solve without direct, extrinsic feedback or guidance.”

As coaches, we all want what’s best for our players – at times, however, that might mean to let them be. I’ve dealt with this situation many times; a player constantly looking towards me after every lost point in a practice set. While my instinct is to provide them with the solution, I try to bite my tongue and give them the platform to ‘figure it out on their own’. In the moment, they aren’t always happy, but after the fact, they realize the benefit of this coaching strategy.

A lot of this is dependant on the level of the player, and their subsequent stage of learning. Motor learning literature (Reid et al 2007), does suggest that as player’s skill develops/augments, there should be less and less reliance on extrinsic feedback, allowing intrinsic self-talk to carry the brunt of the work.

[Daz comment]  I always say to my coaches that every drill should have a clear outcome (KR) and process (KP).  I also say that with naturally competitive people you need to ‘keep score‘ to keep them engaged.  Naturally, KR lends itself to this so you can do a speed drill and time them or simply see who crosses the finish line (target) first!  But I also like to keep score with ‘how well’ someone performed the exercises (KP) and award points for the best performed movement even if it wasn’t the fastest.  Obviously ideally we need both- fast and high quality movements!

As a coach I have to say I know I have a tendency to give quite a bit of KP feedback, perhaps too much! With poor moving athletes I have a tendency to start with a high level skill and then try and correct all the errors that I see with KP every rep! What I am experimenting with is starting with a more simple skill and then adding progressions so that they maintain the basic skills without too many errors and have time to make corrections themselves as the level of difficulty increases.

For example:

Level 1- Sidesteps across court

Level 2- Sidesteps from middle of court out to one side and back to middle

Level 3- Sidesteps to Left or Right according to coach signal

Level 4- Sidesteps to Left or Right but you start from a standing on one leg position

Level 4- Sidesteps to Left or Right AND when you get back stand on one leg

 

If I let them perform several reps at each level this will allow for a range of abilities.  It does mean the most capable athletes will be waiting for a few reps before the task gets more challenging, but in the meantime they can still stay motivated by having a race with their peers!

 

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Pacey Performance Podcast REVIEW- Episode 183- Derek Hansen

This blog is a review of the Pacey Performance Podcast Episode 183 – Derek Hansen.

Derek Hansen

Website: www.sprintcoach.com

 

Background: 

Derek is 48 yrs old now and coached track as early as 18 yrs old when he was in college.  In his career he has been coaching young kids, college athletes, elite athletes jumpers and sprinters and made the transition in the late 1990s to working with athletes in different sports as a strength & conditioning coach.  Now a consultant with professional teams (NFL, NBA, MLS) and upper level NCAA College Teams.

Discussion topics:

Derek on it being en vogue that guys that have track backgrounds are being involved as a strength & conditioning coach in Team Sports

‘It’s a really good foundation to be working in a physiological based sport, whether it’s track, swimming, maybe cycling.  I like to think that most team sports involve running- everyone has to run, so running is kind of an important thing and I think a lot of people forget that.    When you say, running is kind of important you often get the response, but what do you mean, don’t I get to lift a weight?!  You have a leg up on a lot of coaches because you understand how to get the locomotion piece going”

Derek on the challenges he came across when he made the transition into team sports

”The biggest one is that everybody perceives running as one unified thing- work capacity type running.  A coach will often feedback, ‘Oh we want you to work on speed, but a lot of people are standing around they’re not moving around the whole time, to which Derek replies, well, yeah, that’s because I’m working on speed!” Sprinting versus working on the glycolytic or on the aerobic systems. Know the difference.

Team and coach need to understand that to get better at very short distances they need to run really fast and then rest for a bit with a specific approach- you can’t just get it from practising.  People think people should look tired when they run- oh you didn’t get a good workout because you’re not huffing and puffing and your heart rate is through the roof.  We must feel like we’re exhausted.  Everyone wants to feel like they got their ass kicked.

The best athletes who have a lot fast twitch fibres don’t want to do the work capacity stuff.  They want to move fast and be high quality athletes.  It’s intuitive to them.  You might need to appeal to the coaches slightly differently, as they want to look like they’re doing something and they’re busy. You have to talk to coaches about deliverables and end results- GPS data has been useful to show them what a typical game speed has been.  If we work on speed we can raise that average up by getting to higher top speeds.  In the final analysis we will have numbers that show your guys are getting faster and will get to the ball faster etc.

Derek on micro-dosing (loading)

During some taper periods for track & field athletes with Charlie Francis he asked him in a 10-day taper how do you change things? Typically in the main part of the training season he would have a high and a low day.  In a tapering period he would do high intensity qualities every day!  Doesn’t this deviate from your high low approach Derek asked Charlie? Yes but we are probably operating at 40-50% of the volumes for the high intensity components so you’re not going to have the same impact on the nervous system, so you can actually do high intensity training every day and not have the same negative impacts because we’ve dropped the volume.  So I asked why can’t we do this all the time? It actually may be a great way to maintain high intensity explosive qualities.

When we look at classical periodisation we think of blocks and the problem with blocks is you think you have this space of time where I need to plough all this volume and all this work in (plyo, aerobic, lactic, weights, speed).  When you can probably do things every day in smaller amounts, less overall volume but maybe a higher volume of higher intensity components because you are stripping away all this crap! It’s a more precise way of dispensing work, in smaller amounts where the effect on the organism is more profound.

Derek on sprinting In-season

Yes but you have to do it in the off-season too! So if my volume in the off-season is 100 units then it’s not that difficult to bring it down to 30 in the season. So if you don’t accumulate a certain amount of work in the off-season then you’re very limited in what you can do in-season.  You have to build a base of work in the off-season so you can be exceptional in-season and have more tools available to you.

Derek on what an in-season week would look like in a Team sport

Be strategic with what what you do.  You are very limited with how much time you have with a professional sports team.  You ask the Head coach for 30 minutes for warm-up and they say, Well How about 10 minutes?

Within that warm-up that’s contact time you have everyday, so how can I use the warm up to get some explosive elements in? Whether it’s an explosive med ball throw, or an acceleration, a sprint from different positions (off your back, off your front), plyometrics.  Rather than doing locomotive stuff (sidesteps, carioca and all this other bulls@#t  muscle confusion etc) let’s ramp people up a bit quicker because (1) we habituate very easily as human beings so if you place less demand on people guess what, they’ll expect less demand,but if we start ramping people up a little quicker and we start getting in this habit of adding more high intensity elements progressively but more rapidly then you get quicker responses and people fall into being in a high intensity zone more quickly.  We should ramp up to sprints.

An easy way to do it would be short to long progressive sprints, 15, 20, 30 35 40m tc change up the start type to ramp up intensity (walk in start, falling start, 3 point start,etc).  Getting to a high intensity (1) get’s them warmed up better (2) we are chipping away at this microdosing principle of getting high intensity elements in that are not present in the practice.  So by the end of the warmup I get two reps of 30m sprints at 95% of their output capability that’s better than anything they are doing on the field.  Over a week that’s 10 x 30m or 300m of high quality sprint work that they weren’t getting in the practice, which will add up!! What is the exposure to stress and if it’s not happening in practice then you need to find ways to drop it in as frequently as you can- which is probably the most simple way of using micro dosing concept- by making it part of your warm up and sneaking it in.

The other thing you can do is micro dose low intensity components as part of your cool down such as tempo runs that don’t have the residual fatigue affect but you can get things moving and accumulate aerobic abilities with this high frequency approach.

Derek’s thoughts as far as a Saturday to Saturday week in season

There could be a rise and fall depending on what’s happening.  One day is more skill based and one day is more work capacity and full field based.  Look at what your coach is giving the players and then you need to work on the other end of the spectrum.  So if they’re doing something that is work capacity focused then you need to step up your high intensity components as that is what is lacking in the practice. You’re always looking at what you’re missing and then trying to sure it up by adding in these micro components.  I do not want to provide what is being provided in practice nor necessarily in games because that is already being done.  So I have to look at other training components that aren’t being worked on, going back to the idea of preparing players to not get injured by building qualities that aren’t being addressed in practice and making them more resilient.

Derek on Tempo running and why he would use it

It’s basically shorter interval runs- 100-200m segments where you run them on a soft surface like a grass surface probably from anywhere from 50-70% of maximum speed.  Now you have to be careful with that because a 100m sprinter who runs 100m in 10-seconds would do 70% at 13-seconds which is still pretty fast.  Fitness based activity but also a recovery modality, which is also accumulating a pretty decent amount of volume if you do it three times a week.

Basically you are using the shorter segments to target the aerobic system.  Charlie Francis said whatever the velocity of the first one, then let’s say you do fifteen, the fifteenth one should be completed at the same time.

Sprinters typically do 2000m of tempo runs three times a week so 6000m per week. So I started to think why couldn’t I do 1000m six times a week? So I started to gravitate towards more of that approach and the results were as good as good if not better. The idea of doing something every day is interesting to me because I think it helps with your ability to achieve readiness quicker– rather than do this undulating method of going high intensity and exhaust you and then low intensity and try to recover you.  Why not do a steady baseline of work that keeps you ready all the time but also improves your fitness over time.  He will still do more of a high low approach throughout but he will not have any hesitation to doing things on consecutive days in the early part and also the later part of an inseason scenario as well as tapering and peaking, and even for NFL combine prep.  When you test in a combine scenario or a track meet you have to perform on consecutive days.

He used to have people do sprint training and then wait until they started to have a couple of bad reps.  So if they were at 10 flat for 100m he would wait until they went to 10.5-sec after a couple of reps and then stop.  He said rather than wait until then, nip it in the bud a little earlier with less volume, so I can do something again the next day.

Author opinion:

It is worth considering whether in your training philosophy you want to ‘contrast’ or ‘compliment’ the work that is being done in practice in a particular day.  Derek is suggesting he would probably contrast it with work that is being done.  ”One day is more skill based and one day is more work capacity and full field based.  Look at what your coach is giving the players and then you need to work on the other end of the spectrum.  So if they’re doing something that is work capacity focused then you need to step up your high intensity components as that is what is lacking in the practice”

At APA it is more likely that the S&C work will compliment the main theme of the practice- so if the practice is more neurally fatiguing we would be doing a neural session such as sprints, plyos and heavy weights day.  If the practice is more metabolic then the S&C would likely be either a metabolic day with light cardio (such as tempo runs) or a metabolic day with higher intensity cardio (such as high intensity interval training-HIIT).

However, in both approaches what is common is there is a high low approach.  Furthermore, APA believe in the micro dosing approach to speed, strength and coordination to name but a few.  Most of this takes place in the form of a targeted warm up to get a daily dose of a few high intensity sprints, a few bodyweight strength exercises and regular hand eye coordination.

 

Round up: want more info on the stuff we have spoken about?  Be sure to visit:

www.sprintcoach.com

www.simplifaster.com  www.strengthpowerspeed.com

 

You may also like from PPP:

Episode 227, 55 JB Morin

Episode 217, 51 Derek Evely

Episode 207, 3 Mike Young

Episode 204, 64 James Wild

Episode 192 Sprint Masterclass

Episode 175 Jason Hettler

Episode 87 Dan Pfaff

Episode 55 Jonas Dodoo

Episode 15 Carl Valle

 

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Middlesex Student Conference 2019

It’s a little bit later than planned but just wanted to do a review of the 10th Annual Strength and Conditioning Student Conference, at Middlesex University London, Saturday 9th March 2019.

Thanks to Dr Anthony Turner who has done a terrific job in organising it over the last 10 years and will be handing on the job to Chris Bishop!  I’ll devote a whole blog to JB-Morin talk as I have a few more things I’d like to go through there!

Talk 1- Chris Bishop: Inter-Limb Asymmetries: Calculating Differences, Effects on Athletic Performance, and Methods to Reduce Imbalances

I wouldn’t be doing this justice with the slides I’m about to post as there was a lot of information.

Key Points:

  • Wide use of Methods for Calculating Asymmetry
  • Useful to Determine Day to Day ‘Variability’ before assigning significance to a change
  • Limb Difference Varies Across Tasks
  • Useful to note Direction of Asymmetry

It appears there is conflicting research regarding the correlation between asymmetry and athletic performance.  In one research paper showed us, a strength imbalance (asymmetry) did not make any difference to how well you performed a change of direction test.

  • In Chris’ 2017 Systematic Review he found 12 out of 18 studies may indicate a harmful correlation (negative) between asymmetry and athletic performance
  • In his 2019 Updated Review he found 19 out of 28 may indicate a harmful correlation (negative)between asymmetry and athletic performance
  • Eccentric Impulse is more stable than Jump Height
  • Strategy based metrics need to be investigated (the ‘How’) as well as the outcome of the Jump Performance (the ‘What’).

So what? Chris was astute to point out that in elite sport the bottom line is who finishes first! So he gave a hypothetical example of three sprint cyclists who have different levels of asymmetry resulting in varying power outputs between limbs.  While the rider A had the biggest asymmetry he was also able to produce the highest mean power most likely resulting in the fastest time.  So context is king and the process and the outcome have to be looked at together to determine the impact and directions for future training.

 

Talk 2: Professor Kevin Till- Who, What, How- Plan, Deliver, Review: A Framework for Decision-Making in S&C Coaching

Key Points:

  • Reflection is done better when Planning is done well!
  • The more time you spend planning the more beneficial reflection will be
  • Reflection IN ACTION – During session
  • Reflection ON ACTION – Immediately after
  • Role of Coach: Problem setter NOT Problem solver

 

Talk 3: Dr John McMahon- Optimising Force Plate Assessment of Vertical Jumping in Team Sports

This talk was arguably my favourite- not least because I’m on a personal crusade to better understand Forces in Sport and John did a terrific job of breaking down a Force-Time curve for me!

Key Points:

  • Set up (calibration) of the Force Plate is key!
  • Use simple and consistent cues and protocols
  • Drop jump (30cm box <250m/s) vs Depth jump (greater heights and would spend more time in contact with ground with increased knee flexion)
  • Be aware of Fall Height vs. Box Height (if an athlete raises centre of mass at take off rather than just stepping off could cause errors of 10% or more!)
  • Consider different types of jump profile for further assessment- such as Repeated jumps x 10 and his ‘Buy One Get One Free (BOGOF) jump which is a countermovement jump into a pogo jump)

I particularly loved the break down of the Force-Time curves for consideration of the different components we typically measure:

Notice how it is the Force that the athlete generates creates the Impulse which then causes the acceleration, which causes the velocity and so on…

 

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Daz Drake on Maximal Strength Training

I have Duncan French to thank for putting me on to a journal article in his 2018 UKSCA UFC presentation- when he was going through his needs analysis for MMA.  He actually didn’t even say much about it but as soon as I saw that slide a light bulb went off in my head and I knew when I finally got the copy of the presentation I needed to read the original journal article.

This blog is the cliff notes of the presentation Duncan gave and it sets up my rational for the importance of maximal strength.  This blog will make it more clear what maximal strength will and will not directly help in sports performance.

I like the use of the word ”underpin” when referring to high force qualities and their relationship with high-velocity techniques.  He then followed that up with this slide which featured the journal article I was talking about.  If you want to get a copy of it for yourself click the link HERE.

What does this mean?

Well let’s start by exploring what these terms mean.  Rate of Force Development (RFD) is measured as the slope of the Force-Time curve obtained during isometric contractions.  This is important to study as the time allowed to exert force in a range of sports is typically very limited (~50-250ms).  In contrast longer time is needed to exert maximum muscular force (>300ms).

Critically for this discussion, RFD in various time intervals from the onset of contraction is affected by different physiological parameters.

In the study above they examined the relationship between voluntary contractile RFD and (1) voluntary maximal muscle strength and (2) electrically evoked muscle twitch contractile properties.  Maximal muscle strength is also known as Maximal Voluntary Contraction (MVC).

The main finding from the study was that voluntary RFD became increasingly more dependent on MVC and less dependent on muscle twitch contractile properties as time from the onset of contraction increased (Figure on the right).

Put another way, contractile RFD during the very early phase of muscle contraction (<50ms) is related to the intrinsic contractile properties of the muscle, whereas RFD during later time intervals (150-250ms) is related more closely to maximum muscle strength

The graph on the left indicates that the voluntary RFD measured at the time interval of 200ms was strongly correlated with MVC, where the explained variance (r=0.89) was 89%.  This means that 89% of the variance in voluntary RFD at 200ms can be explained by the variance in MVC.

In conclusion this means Maximal Strength training has a great influence on Voluntary RFD >90ms especially around 150-250ms which we might define as Late RFD.  So for things like acceleration in sprinting, jumping and change of direction maximal strength could have a big impact on directly enhancing sports performance.  When it comes to things like the ground contact during top speed sprinting and unloaded striking and kicking, maximum strength could ”underpin” high velocity movement.  However, training would need to be more targeted to early RFD training methods to improve these qualities.

 

How do you Measure Maximum Strength?

Now we know maximum strength is important how do you measure it?  The traditional weight training method is to determine your 1 Repetition Maximum on a Back Squat or Deadlift.

You can calculate the Peak Force in Newtons once you convert your body mass into weight, and add the weight of the bar.  A elite level of strength on the back squat might be around 2 x body mass so for a 85kg male (weight of 833 Newtons plus weight on bar of 1666 Newtons) that’s a total Force of 2,499 Newtons.  This is sometimes represented as a unit of acceleration as a multiple of body weight, which in this case is 3.0 times body weight.

The back squat is limited by your concentric strength in the weakest part of the movement (the bottom of the descent).  A preferred method to determine strength is using the isometric method.  Elite levels on an Isometric Mid Thigh Pull (IMTP) are as high as 4.0 times body weight.  We know that we can create more force isometrically than we can concentrically so a goal to aim for would be to develop 3.0 body weight concentrically and 4.0 body weight isometrically.

What’s next?

Having built Maximum Strength as measured by strength in the Isometric Mid Thigh Pull (IMTP), we need to transfer that strength into sport specific attributes.  I’ll go into this in more detail in a follow up blog but this is the first time I have seen the concept of ”Dynamic Strength Deficit”

(CMJ Fpeak / IMTP Fpeak)

Using the results of the study by Kawamori_et al (2006) they recorded a Peak Force on the IMTP of 3,177 Newtons, and 1,449 Newtons on the Counter Movement Jump.  Using this example the Dynamic Strength Deficit would be (1,449 / 3177) or 0.47 indicating extra training time should be spent on dynamic strength training.

In terms of Speed-Strength monitoring to see if the dynamic strength is improving, Duncan went on to share the initial findings they have been getting from the use of the Landmine punch throw– which I believe ”Boxing Science” first came up with.

 

In the next blog I’ll look a bit more in detail at the Power Protocol used here and the Jump profile I use in Tennis.  This way you can profile you athlete in terms of Force and Velocity.  I hope you have found this blog article useful and now understand how maximal strength can help improve sports performance.

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