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Are you a good coach?

Are you a good coach? This is the question I asked the group of students to think about at the University of Hertfordshire, at my latest Guest lecture for David Turner and his final year sport studies students. Well, to be more specific I asked them to come up with an observation checklist that they could use to give David feedback on me to evaluate me on my effectiveness as a coach.  Would they give me a job to work at the University as a guest lecturer next year?

After all, many of us will have to go for a job interview at some point and will probably have to do a practical session.

So while I was setting up the drills for the physical warm-up session I let them get in small groups and discuss their checklist.  After I took them through the 20 minute practical I asked them to feedback on my coaching effectiveness. I really enjoyed getting the feedback.  To be honest I am pretty self aware of my strengths and areas for development.   But they did pick up on a few things that I can definitely improve on!!!!!  Before I get to that I just want to pull out a few blogs from the archives on the topic of ‘communication’ in coaching.  I believe that as coaches we should all strive to develop a philosophy that has a method but the successful implementation of that method will be significantly based on your ability to communicate your ideas to your athletes.  The coaching process is something I discussed with the students.  This blog will summarise my observation checklist.

Communication in coaching 

Communication is a topic I’ve written several blogs on this already and I don’t have too much more to add here.  If you’d like to read more the the links are below.  As a summary, effective communication has an Outcome and Process.

The outcome of effective coaching is that athletes are ”Listening, Learning and having Fun!”

As far as the process goes, I break it down into four parts: creating the environment, setting the scene, observing performance and giving feedback.

Creating the Environment

Lessons we can learn from Sir Alex Ferguson: in this blog I focus on how to Create the Environment.  It starts with Respect.  For less experienced coaches who haven’t earnt that through past results as a coach or an ex-player you have to be consistent to gain respect– set rules for behaviour.   Also think about your coaching style? Are you more directive or more interactive? Whatever your style is, you have to have a presence and grab attention.  Being passionate goes a long way regardless of your style! But most importantly, be yourself!

Set the Scene

Also remember to set the scene well by explaining the purpose of the session and make it clear what you’re expecting in terms of behaviours and execution of the drill

When you set up drills remember that the best drills are:

  • Fun – games based drills and positive praise
  • Challenging– set the bar high as it ensures focus- let them know what world class look like!
  • Competitive– keep score

Observing Performance

Communication: the secret ingredient to becoming a top coach:

In this post I look in a little bit more detail at observing performance and checking if the athletes are achieving the outcome. ”Are they doing what you’re expecting? So if you’ve done a good job of setting the scene and explained what you’re expecting, your first job is to observe that they are doing this.  Then you can look at the processes to see whether they are focusing, and if they are focusing on the right things!

Giving Feedback

Are you a good teacher?

Most of my blogs talk about giving feedback in terms of the timing and type of feedback.  In this post I talk more about constraints based instruction (feedback) and Discovery Learning.


Usually we give feedback during the drills to aid performance and correct errors.  If they are doing well then you can cheer success and praise them for the great job they are doing.  We may also then ask the athlete for feedback after the performance to find out more about how they think they performed, what they were focusing on, and how they can improve it next time.


Set the ‘Challenge’ and the outcome you want.  Then sit back and let the body self organise.  This is known as Discovery Learning.  We are not saying don’t coach. Clearly the athlete may search endlessly for a proper movement solution (and never get the ball in the hole).  Athletes may learn poor movements and adopt bad habits. Instead, the coach or trainer can guide the athlete by providing purposeful intent (outcome), ideas about where to focus attention, and clues to key perceptual cues (process).

So How did I do?

It’s a really good reflective practice and I’d like to share with you what I learnt by asking for feedback.  The students had lots of criteria for effective coaching based on ability to get knowledge across and linking it to practice (theory and practice).  They wanted to see if the coach could help them learn something and they could see how it applies to their sport.  They were looking for someone who is confident and in control.  They also wanted to observe how well I accounted for different ability levels, as well as how positive I was during the tasks.

Interesting they didn’t really have any criteria for the human element- we talked about how if this really was a real job interview you have to take into account whether you think that person will fit in with the team. Do they seem passionate, positive and motivating.  David Turner said that Clive Woodward talked about the 24 flight test, ”would you be able to survive sitting next to this person for 24 hours in a flight? Also think about someone’s coaching style.  Does it compliment or add to your team dynamic?

What I did well:

=> I had a strong presence and they felt confident to follow me

=> I was clear in the objective, the expectations for behaviour and gave good demonstrations

=> I linked how each part of the warm-up and drill aids performance

=> I gave choices in some drills so people could work at slightly different levels of challenge

What I can do better:

=> I asked everyone to do the same drill in many cases and didn’t account for the fact some athletes will have found doing things like squats, lunges, press ups very advanced.  Perhaps some athletes would need to do a regression

=> I forgot to give a few of the drills names.  When I checked for learning at the end by asking them to describe back to me the things we did, it wasn’t a coincidence that they didn’t remember the ones I didn’t name!

=> During the drills I didn’t give much feedback or encourage.


It was great to get feedback.  I don’t really work with mixed ability groups.  Most of the athletes I coach are fairly competent and if they are a bit off the pace I can usually manage it because they stand out like a sore thumb and I can work with the odd one or two to help them while the others can get on with it.  Or I have an assistant that can support the less able.  So it made me think about how I might need to modify my ‘standard’ routines.

I was actually disappointed in myself about the lack of encouragement.  I pride myself on doing this but for some reason I just observed performance with most of the activities and then praised them after for doing a good job.  There was a bit of encouragement but no where near where I would normally set the bar for myself.


Where I am next presenting?

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE


Hope you have found this article useful.  Remember,

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APA Job Opportunity and Conference News!

Excited to bring you news of further opportunities with APA.  We are looking for S&C coaches to work with our Partners at Gosling Tennis Academy (Hertfordshire) and Challenge Tennis (Bucks).  Full details are below in the PDF



Racketedge Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Also don’t forget I will be presenting at the above conference on Dec 9th.  My topic will be titled ‘5 S’s to Live By: the Key to a Successful S&C programme.’  In this presentation I will be examining the five most important components of fitness and how we test and train them in Tennis players at APA.

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE

Periodisation for Teenagers

This week I had a few comments from parents who were concerned about their children lifting weights.  I also had a great meeting with a tennis team about the annual plan of a 13 year old boy and discussion of his strength & conditioning goals for the year.

It’s funny how various coaches I admire and share ideas with can be thinking of the very same topics as I do- but then I guess it’s no surprise as we are constantly all looking to answer the same question- namely how to maximise athletic performance.

Only this week two of my favourite S&C bloggers Eric Cressey and Matt Kuzdub released blog posts on topics that relate to these very issues! Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) coach, John O’Neil wrote a three part series on Periodisation for Teenagers which is the inspiration for this blog, and Matt has been putting some great ideas out on how to apply the Force-Velocity relationship to Tennis Training


Why we need to Lift Weights

I never feel disappointed that I have to answer this question so many times because I totally understand why parents may have initial concerns.  But once you look at three facts it can be easier to get the parents to come around.

1– Olympic weightlifting is one of the safest sports on the planet- less injuries per 1000 hours reported than any other sport.  Resistance training per se is very safe.

2– There is no scientific data that it has adverse affects on growth and development.  In fact any observable physical changes such as muscle mass increase can only be a good thing for protecting the tendons, and ligaments.  Bone density will increase through impact from controlled landings, where we teach children to absorb forces properly.  Furthermore, flexibility will be enhanced with appropriate full range lifting techniques.

3– Newton’s Law of Motion

Remember Newton’s 3rd law? For every action, there is an equal (force) and opposite (direction) reaction. Therefore, the more force we apply to the ground, the more force will be exerted- meaning we can move more explosively around the Tennis court!.  You can only apply so much force into the ground with your bodyweight.  To apply more force you need to work against weight of external resistance- the kind you stick on your back when you squat, for example!! That’s why weight training works.  It makes you have to apply more force to stand up!  But what’s really cool is that if you lower that weight carefully it teaches you to absorb more force as well!

As Matt says in his blog, ”In tennis, max strength is critical to both absorb high forces and to generate high forces. When referring to the absorption of forces, the most common scenario in tennis is deceleration. The higher the running speed before setting up for a ball, the faster will be the rate of deceleration and the more force the lower body must absorb. Eccentric strength is vital in this scenario. If you think about decelerating when tracking down a ball, you can associate that with the deceleration phase of a heavy squat. Strength adaptations are joint specific, contraction specific and speed specific. Believe it or not, deceleration in sport and the lowering phase of a squat have similar characteristics. There are even cases when more than 2-3 times a player’s bodyweight is acting on them during deceleration tasks…if they can’t handle these loads in the gym, they surely won’t have the ability when it comes to the tennis court. ”

Figure: Courtesy of Matt Kuzdub

In any plan we are really trying to develop the ability of the athlete to express different degrees of Force and Velocity according to the demands of the sport.  Whenever I work with my interns one of the first exercises I get them to do is think about where different types of tennis movements fall on the F-V curve.  Matt has done a great job of highlighting the main ones above.

Furthermore,  during each movement, different parts of the the F-V curve could be involved. For instance, when hitting an open stance forehand, strength-speed qualities would predominate when initiating the leg drive, while once we get closer to contacting the ball, we move down the curve into higher velocity segments.

Bottom line- we are looking at increasing the force generating and force absorbing capacity of the body!!!  This is vital because the tennis player is exposed to these every time they step on the court.  We have a duty of care to prepare them for these loads by enabling them to experience these loads in a controlled safe environment- rather than just the high stress environment of the court!

So we have to do a great job of educating the parents (and coaches and athletes!) that strength training which includes lifting weights- is the most effective way to increase the force generating capacities of the body.

But isn’t bodyweight training enough?

A parent recently said to me that body weight training is more than enough for their pre-pubescent child to get strong.  I actually couldn’t disagree with this comment in the context of her daughter’s current development.  She is just starting her S&C journey.  The bodyweight squat is the first step in a progression which follows on to a goblet squat and later barbell squat as we see here in this example.



I will touch on this further in the main topic below.  The key thing to remember is that bodyweight training is not going to prepare the body for the stresses of sport which are often several times bodyweight.  But the real key point is who says you have to wait until after puberty before progressing to external resistance? This is a belief which is perpetuated on a myth that resistance training is unsafe for children.  As I said earlier, there is no scientific data that it has adverse affects on growth and development.

When we determine what the most appropriate resistance should be for an athlete (of any age) we need to consider whether they can:

=> perform the activity with perfect technique

=> perform the activity with the required tempo- meaning under control

If a child of 11 has already developed their technique in a given athletic skill with bodyweight and we determine that they can continue to meet the above criteria with an external load, then there is no reason not to add this, assuming that the bodyweight exercise is no longer proving challenging!

How we Periodise for Teenagers

One of my favourite books of all time is ‘Special Strength Training for Sports,’ by Yuri Verkhoshansky.  In the preface he mentions that the goal of his methodology is to allow the athlete to execute his or her specific competition exercise with greater power output using a ‘conjugate-sequence system’.  This basically means the goal is to be able to be more powerful at the movements you actually perform on the court!

Much of his research has been applied to elite athletes who are very advanced, and most of those athletes came from the sport of athletics.  He talks about a conjugate-sequence system.  To better understand this we need to define some terms.



Taken from Supertraining (Siff, Verkoshansky), a concurrent model “involves the parallel training of several motor abilities, such as strength, speed, and endurance, over the same period, with the intention of producing a multi-faceted development of fitness.”


You might of heard of this term in languages or even maths.  In a strength & conditioning setting it means a form of periodisation (planning) where we  build ‘connected‘ components of fitness on top of one another.


  1. 1.
    coupled, connected, or related, in particular:

A conjugated sequence, as defined by Periodization (Bompa), is a “method of sequencing training to take advantage of training residuals developed within periods of concentrated loading.”

In terms of ‘sequencing’ we need a plan which takes into account the sequencing of exercises from two standpoints- the fitness component(s) you are emphasising for a given time period (time) and the intensity of the exercises used for that fitness component (intensity).  I refer to the time period as the ‘X’ axis and the intensity as the ‘Y’ axis.

Y axis: So what exercises come first in a sequence?

As alluded to above, there are always two elements to factor in when making any plan- what I call the ‘X’ factor and ‘Y’ factor.

The Y factor- for a given type of fitness (let’s say Strength) we need to choose the most appropriate ”intensity” of exercise.  The least intensive forms of exercise are close to the X axis.  The most intensive forms of exercise are furthest away from the X axis.

Verkhoshansky deduced that training means with the ”same” training direction (meaning exercises that work on the same type of fitness- in this case strength), but different training potentials, should be incorporated into the training plan in a definite sequence.   As it relates to novice athletes, this sequencing relates to progressively increasing the training intensity of exercises.

In order to determine an exercise’s place in the sequence you need to know about its training potential.

Think of it like filling up your fitness bucket!!

Every exercise has a training potential- the capacity to increase an aspect of an athlete’s fitness towards its motor potential (a full bucket). It is more suitable to use the training means with lower potential first, followed sequentially by those having a high training potential.

So going back to our bodyweight training concept these exercises have the lowest training potential and represent the start point of a training process.  But once these exercises can no longer provide an adequate training stimuli it is time to add external resistance.  Remember also that we adapt to different exercises at different rates- we might find a press-up or a pull-up really hard for many months and even years!! But a bodyweight squat which uses the strongest biggest muscles of the body might become easy after only a few weeks!!

For any athlete, it is not appropriate to use high-intensity training stimuli (training means having high training potential) at the beginning of the training process– since the body is not yet ready!!

For young athletes, and those with less training history, the training is aimed not only towards improvement of their performance in current competitions, but also, and above all, to their preparation for highly intensive and specialised training in the future.  You don’t need to give your ace cards away with young athletes.  Training exercises with lower potential will still cause an adaptation to the body with novice athletes.

They will adapt and respond to exercises with lower training potential.  Over time we will need to gradually substitute these exercises with new exercises having higher training potential.

At APA we describe exercises on a continuum of Basic to Advanced.  The goal is to progressively introduce greater amounts of Advanced exercises into an athlete’s training programme.

X axis: What should be the focus at different times of the year?

In terms of the focus of the training for the year we need to refer back to Matt’s explanation of the Force-Velocity curve and the article by John O’Neil.  With a beginner the bucket is practically empty in all aspects of Force and Velocity.  You have heard me say time and time again that at APA we train fitness components concurrently, meaning we train everything all of the time, speed, power and strength.

This is where we refer to the ‘X’ axis.  What are the fitness components we want to emphasise at different times in the year?  With younger athletes we tend to give them a bit of everything at all times of the year.

Complex sessions for Beginners:

Programming for these athletes won’t have anything resembling a block- where we focus on just one component at the exclusion of others; instead, it will focus on mastering the fundamentals of training so that by the time they’re able to have higher levels of output, they won’t need to spend immense amounts of time learning technique.  So in terms of an annual plan we might stick with similar exercises and themes for 12-16 weeks- just manipulating the sets and reps, gradually building intensity and reducing volume.  I refer to these as ‘complex’ sessions where in a given session and a given week they will do a bit of speed, a bit of power and a bit of strength.

What will change is the category of speed (as an example) that we focus on so in a typical year we might move through speed in the following way:

=> deceleration skills => straight ahead speed => first step speed => sport specific speed (footwork)


Cressey Performance train their teenage athletes this way too.

”At CSP, we use a concurrent/conjugate style of programming that doesn’t strictly adhere to principles of block periodization. The more advanced an athlete is, the more their program might look like it’s block periodization.”

”The reasons are simple: we train primarily athletes who need to train a multitude of qualities in off-seasons ranging 3-6 months – and they don’t need to be peaked for any individual event. Rather, they need to be ready to perform for periods of greater than half the calendar year.”

[Caveat: having said that with full-time athletes 13-16 years who I work with in various Tennis Academies they are doing 10 hours of S&C per week.  So in that situation I do cycle through blocks of work that have a slightly different focus moving from volume to intensity emphasis over the course of the 12-16 weeks- so for full-timers it has a bit more of the feel of the conjugated model that advanced athletes do below- but the phases are more focused on learning skills.  So we might move through a block that emphasises endurance=>strength=>power=>power endurance.  But when we get to strength and power for example it just means we do more skill development work in these areas.]


Conjugate sequence for Advanced athletes?

The strategy with more advanced athletes can be a bit different.  The specific strategy will be based on the length of time you have to prepare for a competition.  If it is a sport with only a few major competitions in the year you might see a strategy which is based on focusing on only one thing at a time, before moving onto something else.

Sports with long preparation periods

Verkoshansky deduced that training means with ”different” training directions could be concentrated in different stages of the preparatory period, incorporated in the training plan in a definite sequence, which had a cumulative effect.  He found  that the sum of the individual parts added up to a greater effect when you add them on top of each other separately, rather than training them all at the same time.

Cumulative effect of exercises with different training emphasis

So in a typical training period you might progressively work on one theme at a time:

=>increase ability of athlete to produce a maximal strength effort (barbell exercises)

=>increase ability of athlete to produce a maximal strength effort in minimum time (jump training)

=> increase ability of athlete to perform specific exercises and technical event work (technical work)

Weight training is proposed by some to negatively influence speed of movement and it is fair to say that if you do it at the exclusion of other types of fitness for a prolonged period of time, this might be the case.  But special strength training (SST) is characterised by the use of training means (exercises) integrated into a system- a training process or ‘method’ to enable the strength increases to transfer into competition exercises in later phases.  You do the heavy strength training (or explosive strength in example above) in a concentrated block furthest away from the most important tournaments (which may have the possibility of causing a feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the muscles).  But after a period of reduced volume of strength training following the next power phase, you get supercompensation and a long-term delayed training effect (LDTE).

Sports with short preparation periods

For sports like Tennis and Baseball, I personally would go along with Cressey Performance where we don’t do strict ”block” phases with advanced athletes (only training one quality at a time like the original application of the Special Strength training method).

According to  Cressey Performance, ”Rather, it is more conjugated- conjugate periodization will have one main focus but will also be training other qualities as supplementary work.  The way I do this is adjust the blend of speed vs power vs strength exercises in the session.

When someone is more specialized, the programming will become more of a conjugate model. Exercise selection will be more geared towards training qualities needed for the specific sport. We might change loaded supplementary exercises more frequently to give athletes more exposure to joint positions they need to be strong in, and, each phase will have a specific focus.

Exercise selection, while more variable and through a much wider selection than the beginner athletes, will all have a specific purpose that relates back to performing at their sport. Instead of changing intensity/volume primarily and exercise selection secondarily, the intensity/volume will be scaled directly with the offseason of the sport. The exercise selection might vary more because we don’t want our athletes to become specialists at exercises they can load exceptionally well like deadlifts and squats.”

Application to the APA Method:

A max strength focused session as part of the early preparation phase (General prep) might have only one power exercise in the routine and the rest of the plyos would be low level exercises done in a separate session.  A power focused session (Specific prep) might have several power exercises and a low volume of Max Strength to maintain it.  This is how I develop the squad routines for our pro athletes.

Pre-season essentially the same approach but because we have several sessions per day and lower tennis volume we can afford to separate the strength and power sessions and give them more concentrated doses of both.  But the focus will still be determined by the needs of the individuals.   Our younger pros 16-18 years old with still do more max strength work.  Our seasoned pros with good training history will do more of a mixed routine.

Want to hear more?

I also have the following speaker engagements planned:

Coordination and Strength training for Sports

Dates: 29th October 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, AL86XE

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE



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The Key to Running a Successful S&C programme- 5 Numbers to Live By

Last Sunday I delivered a workshop on ”The Key to Running a Successful S&C Programme- 5 Numbers to Live By.”

This blog is a summary of the key take home messages from the workshop.  I have narrated the presentation.  If you want to listen to the whole thing I go for around 40 minutes but if you just want the key messages I have bullet pointed them below:

‘5’ Biomotor Abilities

Everyone who has a training philosophy will have their own pillars of Fitness that they refer to.  Often times, we use different terms but we are referring to the same thing.  However, we might have different views on what types of fitness to prioritise.  I once heard that any philosophy needs a ‘Strategy’ and ‘Tactics’.   The strategy is- how you believe you develop a component of Fitness.  So for speed, a common idea is the short to long approach.  Start with short distances with the required intensity and as they progress, increase the distance.  The tactics are the specific means to deliver this strategy, namely your sets and reps.

For simplicity, at APA we talk about the 5 Biomotor Abilities:

  • Suppleness 
  • Skill
  • Strength
  • Speed 
  • Stamina

When I first introduce myself as a Strength & Conditioning coach I like to make sure everyone has the chance to discuss with me what that actually means.  I always say the ‘Strength’ part is more self explanatory but what about the Conditioning? And does the the S&C defintion miss anything?  Conditioning in my book refers to the Speed and Stamina biomotors so in essence the Main role of a S&C coach is to get someone fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in Sports.  You will see me say that several times on the APA website.  This really refers to the Olympic motto CitiusAltiusFortius (Olympic motto).

But for me this speaks to the training part of the Performance Pyramid- when you’re trying to put some horsepower in the athlete.  Underlying that we need to spend some time teaching the body how to move properly so the missing pieces refer to Suppleness and Skill.


I know most coaches are more familiar with the term flexibility, however this only really considers the properties of muscle.  I prefer to talk about mobility- which is the available range at a joint.   Linked to this is stability because it is important to have control of this range.

This aspect is key to movement efficiency- to enable your muscles to function the way they are supposed to.  Having said that there has been a growing shift in S&C coaches who in my opinion are operating too much like a physio and this is not our expertise!! We need to have a good understanding of functional anatomy but we are not trained to diagnose injuries and we need to know when to refer on.


Even though skill is traditionally thought of as the domain of the sports coach there are a number of fitness components we can target to make it easier for athletes to acquire the skills of their sport.  These focus around balance, coordination and reactions training.  We are assisting the athlete to better organise their body’s by developing their senses especially vision, and proprioception.  I call these ‘Athletic Skills.’


‘6 Stages of Development’

Often referred to as Long term Athlete Development, the APA training system spans 6 stages designed to progressively develop athleticism.  I used to refer to Istvan Balyi’s model a lot (Fundamentals, Learning to Train, Training to train, Training to compete, Training to win) but more recently I refer more often to the key parts of the Tennis Academy programmes APA are involved in:

Mini Academy- Stage 1  (Basic 1)

Junior Academy- Stages 2 to 4 (Basic 2, Basic 3, Advanced 1)

Pro Academy- Stage 5 and 6 (Advanced 2 and 3)


Exercise Progression for every Biomotor:

The various parts of the Academy programme cross over the Basic to Advanced exercise progressions that we use at APA, with the idea that you can start doing more advanced training methods as you get to the end of the Junior Academy.

Another feature of the training system refers to what the priority should be in terms of which biomotor abilities are more important.  So in the early years emphasis should be on movement efficiency, then strength/power and finally conditioning.

20,000 Hours

This topic has been beaten to death and in the end I think it is impossible to be able to quantify exactly how much training is appropriate for every individual.  In the slide below I compare some ‘old’ guidelines from the Lawn Tennis Association (around 2003) versus new ones (2013). I highlight that if you do the recommended hours you will have accumulate 10,000 hours by 14 years, and then 20,000 hours by 20 years old.  I suggest that this means you become an expert in technique by 14 and hopefully the next 10,000 hours are about training the skills you have mastered!!

Don’t get stuck in the numbers.  It’s an average NOT a rule.  I can be talented and make it on 6,000 hours.  Less talented players might need more hours!! Its about deliberate quality practice. Of course it is possible that someone could make it on a 2 hour a day tennis programme!

Talent vs. Practice / HOURS will improve your talent or if you have moderate abilities iron out deficiencies but hours alone won’t do it- those will insufficient ability will get weeded out / Environment Parents like water: has an effect on fish, even if it doesn’t explain any of the differences in fish/ Inspiration and Perseverance Heritable but not completely deterministic TRAITS

‘9’ weeks per year

Nine weeks per year should be dedicated to physical training.

This is based on ‘emphasis.’  The LTA is saying that you need at least 9 weeks where S&C is the focus with rackets down.    This can come in mini-blocks of 3 weeks- which may involve little to no tennis so you can get a head start with your physical work.   I think the concept of a training block for a concentrated period of time with rackets down is an adult pro player model that is not appropriate to younger players .  For the top juniors/pro players I would do this.

For the younger juniors I would try and plan work for the term according to my plan below and control how many weeks they are away each term.  I prefer to plan the work around 2 (double) or 3 (triple) main blocks in the year- when they are younger we might expect them to be away from base competing for only 6 weeks in 6 months, so there is plenty of time to train them without needing to put rackets down!  Post puberty they might be away for 2-3 months in a 6 month period.  By the time they are a top junior they will be away 2 months out of every four!! So we may need to look at a physical block.

The weeks devoted to training below are idealistic.  It is unlikely you will get 18, 15 or even 8 preparation (prep) weeks in a row to train with a tennis player without some kind of competition (comp) that comes bang in the middle of that.  But rather, what it does is give you a sense of how many weeks you want to emphasise on a particular type of training before you move on.  I’ll look to split the preparation period up into more general or more specific work depending on what is appropriate for the athlete.

’10’ hours per week S&C

So what exactly should you do with your training time? This again is almost as impossible to answer in a general sense as every individual is unique.

I’ve already touched on this before with the ‘6 Stages’ or levels of athletic development. In the slide above I’m actually referring the old LTA guidelines.  Skill is a big focus on 10-under and 12-under S&C.  Stamina and Strength become more important in later stages.

I liked Pat Etcheberry’s answer to this- six sessions a week, 2 speed, 2 strength and 2 stamina.  It’s pretty simplistic but a good start point for people wanting to build their general fitness.

I talk about ‘focused’ versus ‘complex’ sessions.  Athletes who are accessing our programme for 1-2 hours a week will do a complex session where in an hour we give them a ht of all the 5 biomotors.  If we are working with a fuller-time athlete who is doing up to 10 hours per week with us they will do a focus session- meaning each session will focus on a particular type of fitness.  I will then give each week a main theme for the week or training block so if it is speed, strength, stamina, or something else it is reasonable that more of the sessions will focus on that theme!

Want to hear more?

I will be presenting on these topics again later in the year as well as on my Level 2 S&C Certificate.  Don’t forget it’s not too too get involved!!!

Level 2 Strength and Conditioning Qualification

Next Dates: 21/22 October, 18/19 November Location: Hertfordshire


I also have the following speaker engagements planned:

Coordination and Strength training for Sports

Dates: 29th October 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Gosling Sports Park, AL86XE

Tennis Fitness, Sport Science and Coaching Conference

Dates: 9th December 2017  09:00AM-12:00PM Location: Sheffield Hallam University Collegiate Crescent Campus, Sheffield , S102BP

Book your ticket HERE



Tapering for Tennis?

Hey Everyone!! I am a bit embarrassed to admit it has been over a month since I posted a blog, it feels like I’m in confession!!  In truth, I made a deliberate effort to disconnect for a few weeks on holiday and then I wanted to take my time to digest and reflect on the information at the UKSCA Conference I attended almost three weeks ago on August 5th/6th.   In this blog I will review the conference speakers that I enjoyed listening to the most and then talk about some of my ideas on how I am going to improve my S&C programmes.


I have to say I felt this was one of the best conferences in a while.  There was a nice blend of Academic research review, evidence based practice and coaching practicals.  I have attended almost every one from the beginning in 2005- and it is always nice to meet up with old friends and new ones.

I was particularly pleased for Chris Bishop being elected to the Board of Director’s who I have known for several years, as well as James Baker being awarded Youth S&C coach of the year- and it was great to meet many new acquaintances in person for the first time.

James Baker hosted a fantastic Child to Champion conference earlier in the year and I have enjoyed seeing the development of his Elite Performance Pathway at St. Peter’s R.C High School, Gloucester.  In many ways his training system at High School mirrors the APA training system I use in Tennis for our mini-tennis, junior academy and Pro Team squads.  His award was certainly well deserved and his work is mapping the way forward for other school based coaches.

Finally, I’d like to say how fun it was to meet some of the contributors to a Facebook page I am a member of ‘Youth Strength & Conditioning coaches’ and meet the likes of Rob Anderson, Nick Ward, Des Ryan, Simon Brundish, Howard Green,  Andy Bruce and many more.

Highlights of the Conference

Jeremy sheppard, Des Ryan and Loren Landow were my personal favourite presenters.  Here’s what I took away from some of their presentations.

Des Ryan- Arsenal FC Academy

I had the privilege to hear Des talk at the recent Child to Champion conference.  How could I put it? At the end of the presentation both there and at the UKSCA conference I had a strong urge to want to work for him.  He just came across as someone who understands both management and leadership.  In his 3-4 years there he has:

  • Created a Team culture where coaches want to work there and players want to train there
  • Reduced injuries in his teams to below the league average
  • Created infrastructure to facilitate more individualised world class programmes by investing in staff and facilities.

Overall it was clear that Des was someone who wanted to invest in his team of coaches.  He reminded me of how valuable CPD is, done the right way, and I could see that he believed in his team and would support them in their decisions.  His does this by exposing them to world class coaches and then trusted them to use these experiences to come up with the Arsenal way, provided that they can support their rational and don’t make too many mistakes.

Loren Landow- Landow Performance

Loren gave us an energetic insight into how he coaches movement.  I was excited to hear him speak because a lot of his ideas spoke to my own philosophy.  He also echoed some of the points that Jay Dawes made in his practical ‘breakout session’ on Reactive Agility.  In the last few years I have questioned myself whether I have needed to do less technical coaching- use less coaching cues- use more chaos sooner etc but this restored my faith that first and foremost we need to learn the correct movement pattern.

  • Loren put it out there that Tennis athletes are perhaps the best movers of all sports- certainly in the context of agility.  No complaints from me!
  • He believes (like Jay) in building a movement competency base- before adding fitness and sport skill on top. Sure everyone (player and coach) wants a ball involved, or an opponent but sometimes they don’t have the movement skills to support the sport skills.
  • Drill the movement skill first before adding chaos.  Bruce Lee quote

  • We’re not talking about sports, we’re talking about laws of biomechanics: passive restraints (tendons/ligaments) are like the guard rails on a road.  We know they are there but it is the DRIVER who keeps us safe on the road- we shouldn’t need to rely on the passive structures to keep us safe.  We need to programme the neuromuscular system to perform movements akin to being able to drive with a degree of autonomy.
  • Pronation is a good thing– it’s the body’s natural shock absorption.  The best athletes decelerate flat foot footed (promoting dorsi flexion) but the amortisation phase is very brief.  Too much eccentric pronation on the plant foot will create excessive torques!
  • Whole-part-Whole coaching works best
  • Technical model- Piston (acceleration) versus Acyclical (top speed)
  • Programming- Linear day (high) versus Multi-directional (low) but if you want to emphasise high load eccentric work on the MD day then just do technique drills for the linear day to make that a low one.

Jeremy Sheppard- previously Surf Australia

  • Look for patterns– think outside of the box to determine the most appropriate biomotor abilities and assessments that will give clues to what the best ‘surfers’ in the world can do physically.  Is your athletic profile sensitive enough to detect differences in performance between the elite and the sub-elite? Put another way, are there tests you use that the best in the world consistently do better than the sub-elite?  Jeremy said that he went with his gut instinct to help him make decisions about what to test.  He would eliminate tests that didn’t reveal anything significant and keep the ones that he thought showed promise.
  • Reverse engineer sports performance– Jeremy shared with us some of his findings from analysing the surfers in training and competition on the water.  A ‘Needs Analysis’ is not a new concept but it was fascinating to learn more about surfing and see that for example, the best surfers consistently paddle at a higher speed.


What can we apply to Tennis?

So Jeremy got me thinking, what can I apply to my main sport of Tennis?  I talk about this in the first half of my latest Daz Dee TV Episode 14.

I am forever disappointed by the lack of available research on Professional Tennis.   I’m determined to uncover some physical parameters that discriminate between elite and sub-elite tennis players.    Yes we know that there appears to be no correlation between those players who score highest on an athletic profile (fitness test) and their ranking- meaning that the best athletes don’t seem to be the highest ranked players.

But there is hope that we can start to look for lessons from the competitive matches with the introduction of GPS and mechanical load monitoring which is a welcome addition to the physiological loading that has been available in Tennis for some time.

GPS in Tennis?

Rather than going into lots of details I am just going to post the Journal article here so you can read it.

Do Running Activities of Adolescent and Adult Tennis Players Differ During Play

I am really encouraged by this article because I had always assumed that GPS technology is inadequate for a sport like Tennis, where the maximal changes in velocity and direction over short distances are misinterpreted as low to moderate intensities because the attained velocities are not high.   I am going to try and find out more about what they did to overcome this but it seems they have cracked it!

This could be a break through in technology advancement that could enable practitioners to quantify the mechanical load more accurately and finally determine the physical demands of the sport.



I’ve written about Periodisation in several blogs before.  I am always refining my ideas and currently I tend to adopt two or three variations of cycles. Even though tapering/deloading wasn’t mentioned in any of the UKSCA conference presentations this is where my reflections took me!

At APA we talk about a preparation period which will be defined by the athlete’s training age and athletic profile.

Advanced athlete:

In an ideal world a more advanced athlete would complete a cycle with a focus on ‘General’ work and then progress into a cycle which has more ‘Specific’ work focus.  A general preparation cycle has more focus on strength.  A specific preparation cycle has more focus on power.  The more experience the athlete has the less time they spend on general work.

An optimal preparation phase would enable a build up to a peak over 12-15 weeks, this would include a taper period. In Tennis there will be usually only 3-5 weeks of progressive loading as part of a preparation cycle.

It is rare that I get more than 2-3 weeks of consistent training at base before it is interrupted by a tournament, so I usually have a week or so of more general work then go into several weeks of specific work which combines max strength, power and anaerobic conditioning. Some athletes I will use more ‘between session’ concurrent training- meaning I might do sessions with power and strength focus on different days.  Others will do more ‘within session’ concurrent training where the strength and power is in the same session.

I am still trying to see if I can get certain players to lift while at a tournament but this is not always practical or desired.

As Alex Natera said, ”I am concurrently working on the qualities that are important for the sport until it’s time to balance fitness-fatigue.” so the goal is to simply prioritise what they need and get on with it for as long as you have them but leave enough time so they leave you without being too tired!

Less experienced athlete:

Basic strength should be the main priority right up to competition in a weak, young or less trained athlete. Not a massive need to periodize and plan multiple phases of differential qualities in the weaker/less trained athlete.

Alex Natera says: ‘My preference would be to stay away from high reps of 15’s, 12’s and 10’s. I would prefer to transition them quickly to 5’s or 6’s and doing multiple sets at those reps. I would look at the speed of the lift and use a passive loading scheme (extensive loading and repeat cycles) to dictate when I increased loads. The development of power in this type of athlete will be looked after in getting them progressively stronger however I would be introducing them to forms of explosive/ballistic lifting from a skill perspective.”


Beginner strength cycle


The figure above corresponds to the progression of loading for a primary strength exercise.  These are the exercises that have the greatest capacity to be overloaded such as squats, deadlifts, presses, rows etc.

The best opportunity I have to use periodisation is with our 10-13 year old athletes on the full-time programme who train every day and usually only compete at the weekend and in school holidays.  For these athletes I may initially use a linear periodisation cycle where every 4-6 weeks we increase the loading e.g., 3×15 => 4×10 => 5×5 for our strength exercises.  In the initial stages of a young athlete’s career I feel justified in progressively loading them.  In the deload week we will keep the same programme but reduce volume of sets from three to two or even one.  If they can’t squat or deadlift etc at the beginning then they would be learning these lifts with less reps and load, and the 3×15 for the quadriceps for example, might be a leg extension machine, split squat, step up, lunges, even leg press or whatever they can do with good technique and we can load a bit.

Hopefully by the time they move up to 4×10 or 5×5 their technique on barbell exercises is good enough to load.

At the recent Child to Champion Conference Alex Natera said when speaking about novice lifters :’Even in early GPP I shoot through the higher reps ranges with each week and by week 4 or so I am already down to 5’s.’  I might do that in the second half of the year but in the beginning I feel more comfortable in doing at least 4 weeks at progressive loads.

Intermediate strength cycle

The primary strength exercise in the above example is progressively loaded over a 12 week period but the sets x reps is constant at around the 5×5 level.  In the final week of each 4 week cycle there is a deload of volume while the athlete attempts to lift the heaviest load of the cycle.  You then repeat the cycle but with a slightly heavier load.  The general preparation programme for an intermediate athlete would have a mixture of strength, power and muscular endurance exercises in each week, or each session. Therefore rather than being linear periodisation is now concurrent.  Again, I need to stress that most tennis players don’t train for 3-4 consecutive weeks without a break so the deload week would rarely come into play.

Advanced strength cycle

There are not many athletes that I work with that I consider to be Advanced but in their Training blocks they would probably get into a bit more heavy work with the primary strength exercise.  However, if they are only in for 1-2 weeks then they won’t!!  If they have not lifted for more than 10 days then they might need to do a few sessions or even a week with more General preparation exercises and loads.  Therefore pre-season is often the time when we can realise their strength potential as I don’t feel comfortable going straight into >85% 1RM with these athletes.  The example above refers to a percentage of 1RM rather than a percentage of 5RM or 15RM like in the previous examples.


General preparation

As stated earlier, for beginner/intermediate athletes I still think strength is the focus- so we use general preparation cycles.  The general preparation phase for a beginner athlete will be more focused on building a movement competency foundation, emphasizing muscular endurance, core endurance, speed technique and aerobic capacity.  APA employ more basic methods here.  A general phase for an intermediate advanced athlete will have more focus on maximal strength and resisted speed.  APA use more advanced methods here.

They might still be doing some explosive lifts in the strength session (although not in example below) and with usually do their plyometrics in a separate session in the mornings.

The session below is a General Preparation cycle which I might have the intermediate athlete do for at least one to two 4 week cycles before we go into a more Specific Preparation cycle.  The deload is not shown in the example but could be achieved by doing 3×5 instead of 5×5 for example.

Velocity Based Training

Again if you wanted to be more precise in your timings to increase load / introduce deload you would look for adaptation plateaus. Use VBT to determine this.  This is something I am going to consider looking at too.  Watch out for new blogs on this once I have experimented more!


Specific Preparation week

Suitable for more advanced athletes who are already strong and have a high work capacity.  The example below uses ‘within’ session concurrent training of strength and power.  You could make the Wednesday a slightly lower intensity/higher volume session if hypertrophy was more a focus.  Equally it could be more power focused if you added in more explosive lifts.  You could put lower intensity muscular endurance into the alactic and lactate conditioning sessions.

The training week now how more focus on Power.  We may do 2-3 weeks like this before the deload week.  For the deload week we would increase the intensity further and do some Post Activation Potentiation (PAP), dropping down to just two strength/power sessions on Tuesday and Friday.

Deload week- end of a specific preparation cycle

As a general rule the Preparation period is what ever the athlete needs- in most cases they will do more general preparation cycles to build the strength.  As their training age increases and they are stronger we can move more quickly and more frequently into Specific preparation power blocks.


Tapering / Deloading

Tennis can be challenging to ‘periodise’ for, as competition is year round.  The concept of a full taper ahead of a major competition is most suited to sports with long preparation periods such as track & field.

This slide is a good summary for those of you interested in getting the main points.  For a running based sport you want to decrease volume by 21-40%, maintain intensity and frequency and taper for 8-14 days.

It is rare that I get to take a Tennis athlete through more than 2-3 weeks of training before it is interrupted by a tournament.  So the concept of building up enough training stress/fatigue that they actually need to taper from is some times lost on Tennis.  However, the stress of year round tournament play and training can take its toll so we still need to monitor fatigue, which I do by asking the athletes to keep a training diary.  I also monitor acute responses of fatigue with the reactive Strength Index (RSI).

For week to week training load management I am looking at the response of the Reactive Strength Index (RSI) of our athletes and seeing if it can be sensitive enough to detect fatigue.  My plan is to give our full-time players a deload week every 4 or 6 weeks according to their response to the training and the intensity of that training.  Our younger ‘newbies’ 10-13 years old will probably be fine with a deload every six weeks.  Our slightly older beginner/intermediate athletes 14-16 years old will need one every fourth week I expect.

As I said in Daz Dee TV I have found that my tennis athletes are not the best at it and before I scrap it I will see if the RSI score responds better to fatigue once the learning effect has been mitigated.  As you can see this athlete’s RSI kept improving every week for the most part so there is still a learning effect taking place in my opinion.  Either that or the training was not tiring enough!

I will then use that as an objective guide along with my coaching instincts and programming to determine the best time to deload.  This way I hope to advise athletes on a more individual basis the right time to deload based on their response to the general and specific preparation cycles.


Tennis Specific Endurance Test

In this post I introduce a couple of Tennis Specific Endurance tests.

As I explain in the video above there is a big difference between running in a straight line and running sideways with a tennis racket in your hand.  They require different physical qualities.  Below is a summary of some of the traditional performance tests I have used, or currently use.  I finish by giving some examples of some drills that could be used instead of traditional straight ahead running drills to test tennis specific anaerobic qualities.

Aerobic Performance Tests

At APA we currently use the Yo-yo Intermittent recovery Level 1 test to determine endurance in our Tennis players.

I used to use the bleep test but switched to the Yo-yo around 5 years ago as I liked the intermittent nature of the test. I am considering using the 30-15 Intermittent Fitness test but haven’t done this as of yet.

For a comprehensive review of the tests and their pros and cons you can check out Science for Sport.

My thoughts?

I wanted to use an endurance test that challenged an athlete’s change of direction so any of the tests I have already mentioned tick that box.  I moved away from the bleep test because that was a continuous test.  The yo-yo test is an intermittent test run over a distance of 20m, with a 10-seconds walking rest. I like this because the time it takes to run 20m there and back and the time they have to rest are well matched to the demands of tennis.

I am tempted to move to the 30-15 test because the athletes are covering 40m and keep going for 30-seconds- which in my opinion makes this harder.  So if the goal is to match the demands of the sport I think I’ll stick with the Yo-yo as 20m is a more suitable distance than 40m.  But if you want to choose the hardest test- which will ask some questions of their will power to go through some pain- you might want to try the 30-15.


Anaerobic Performance Tests

Running-Based Anaerobic Sprint Test (RAST)

Developed in the UK in 1997 by Draper and Whyte (1) at the University of Wolverhampton, the Running-Based Anaerobic Sprint Test (RAST) is a testing protocol designed to measure anaerobic power and capacity (2). The test involves six sprints over a 35-meter distance, with a 10-second recovery between each sprint. Due to its accuracy as a test and its simplicity, the RAST is commonly used by exercise professionals to monitor performance.

This is a running based test, running 35m straight and then having a 10-second recovery.  It might take 4-5 seconds to do the 35m. So you’re looking at a work to rest ratio of 1:2.

What about Sport Specific Anaerobic Performance tests?

As I show in the video above, there are a number of drills you could do to test anaerobic endurance qualities- all of them are based on First Step Speed Endurance.  This may give you further insights into an athlete’a ability to endure more sport specific movements.

Drill 1 Figure 8 (Lateral)

Work for 10-30 seconds: Rest for 10-30 seconds- you can determine the work and rest intervals that work best for your needs.  I like to do 10-seconds of work and 30-seconds rest, and 3 rounds

Drill 2 Figure 8 (Forward)

Work for 10-30 seconds: Rest for 10-30 seconds- you can determine the work and rest intervals that work best for your needs.  I like to do 20-seconds of work and 30-seconds rest, and 3 rounds

Drill 3 Forehand drill

Work for 10-30 seconds: Rest for 10-30 seconds- you can determine the work and rest intervals that work best for your needs.  I like to do 30-seconds of work and 30-seconds rest, and 3 rounds.

With drill 3 and drill 4 you can count as follows.

The athlete starts the movement with the left foot on the centre mark on the baseline (if moving to the right hand side).  The athlete scores ‘1’ every time they run to shadow a forehand in line with the cone and return to the start position. You can award marks as follows:

0.25 if they get half way out to cone

0.50 if they get out to cone and complete the stroke

0.75 if after the stroke they get half way back

1.00 if after the stroke they get all the way back


Drill 4 Backhand drill

Work for 10-30 seconds: Rest for 10-30 seconds- you can determine the work and rest intervals that work best for your needs.  I like to do 30-seconds of work and 30-seconds rest, and 3 rounds.  Below are some targets for different age groups, based on data from Pat Etcheberry.

Drill 5 Service box shuttles

Work for 10-30 seconds: Rest for 10-30 seconds- you can determine the work and rest intervals that work best for your needs.  I like to do 30-seconds of work and 30-seconds rest, and 3 rounds



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Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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Nutrition 101- what you can and can’t say to a client without a Nutrition qualification

Hi Everyone.

If you’ve followed my stuff over the years you will know this isn’t the first time I have ever posted about Nutrition.  In fact Nutrition is an essential part of the three pillars of APA’s Philosophy.

APA’s training philosophy is a holistic approach to developing a Peak Performer.

  1.  Develop a Peak Performance MINDSET
  2.  Develop a Peak Performance ATHLETE (Body)
  3.  Develop a Peak Performance APPLICATION (Lifestyle)

You could make a case for Nutrition being part of each Pillar.  We put it in the Application pillar as a ”Nutritional Strategy” is an essential part of the your application to achieve Peak Performance.  If Mindset is the attitudes and thoughts you have- what you think about setting out to do- then your application is your actions- the habits and behaviours you actually deliver on a daily basis.

I wanted to write a short blog on the topic because APA have recently started working with Adult clients again who want to improve the way they look, and they often ask for advice about Nutrition.  I’m always reluctant to go into a deep dive of their nutritional habits because bottom line, it’s not my expertise and I am not qualified to do so.

However, I do think we can give our clients basic advice about healthy eating and what types of foods to eat.  What we can’t do is prescibe an eating plan.  I spoke to Phil Learney, to get his advice on the matter.

”The only thing you can’t do is offer prescriptive advice for the treatment of conditions or to determine what someone should eat with respect to foods etc. Setting macros and helping people find foods etc within those macros is fine as long as you’re qualified to be able to give the advice and get insurance to do so”

I go into this in a little bit more detail on Episode 12 of Daz Dee TV.  Check it out below:

If you’re interested in Phil Learney’s Advanced Coaching Academy you can find out more about it HERE

I for one will be considering taking the APPLIED NUTRITION COURSE which includes the AfN Certified applied nutrition and supplementation certification.

If right now, you simply want to be able to give your clients some basic nutritional advice- in the form of a booklet that they can read themselves- or just use it as a reference for yourself then feel free to download my FREE Ebook on Nutrition which you can get below:


Click Here



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  • 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

Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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Physical Competency Assessment

Whenever I take on new coaches at APA one of the first things we go through is the Physical Competency Assessment (PCA).  In this week’s blog we take a closer look at this assessment.

I’ll previously written about one of the assessments- the Overhead squat in a previous blog- which you can read here

The assessment methods described there are slightly different to the ones we use at APA.  I have to give credit to Kelvin Giles for first putting me on to the Physical Competency Assessment.  I had tried the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) but just felt it was too time consuming and replicated some of the musculoskeletal assessments the physio was doing.  I met Kelvin at one of the early UKSCA conferences where he was presenting.

Use with Lawn Tennis Association

At one point Kelvin was also a consultant advisor to the Lawn Tennis Association and introduced it into the profiling that was done with National level players at the National Tennis centre.  This has changed and evolved over the years.  Below is a snap shot of the current profiling taking place at the LTA.

The flexibility, y-balance and core endurance assessment is the domain of the physio team.

With regards the physical comps, the tests have remained the same (OH squat, SL squat, Forward & Lateral hop & hold and Press-up) for quite some time.

The purpose is to assess range, patterning and stability in bi-lateral, uni-lateral and dynamic balance exercises plus a measure of trunk / upper body stability & function too.

In rather simplistic terms, a score of 1 represents poor range and dysfunctional movement, 2 is fewer and/or smaller dysfunctions, 3 is appropriate and repeatable technique.

Over the last 9months, feedback has almost exclusively been related to OH squat as there was enough to highlight here rather than open a bigger can of worms with the single leg exercises.


Use with Athletic Performance Academy (APA)

Rather than type lots of words here I will simply share with you a video that I made for my coaches.  You can have it too!


  • 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

Since you’re here…
…we have a small favor to ask.  APA aim to bring you compelling content from the world of sports science and coaching.  We are devoted to making athletes fitter, faster and stronger so they can excel in sport. Please take a moment to share the articles on social media, engage the authors with questions and comments below, and link to articles when appropriate if you have a blog or participate on forums of related topics. — APA TEAM

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FREE Ebook: Endurance training for kids

This blog is one I am really excited to write.  I have been really enjoying being part of a Youth Strength & Conditioning forum on Facebook.  So in the last few days a couple of questions came in that got me fired up and excited to contribute to the discussion.  One question was about sport specific training for children and another was about endurance profiles of children.  I thought I would share some of the learnings here and I’ll address the second topic in this post!  You can also read more about this topic in my FREE Ebook:

To see the entire APA Stamina Training System download the FREE EBOOK below:

Click Here



”Random question…from an adaptation perspective kids are aerobic animals and can play all day quite naturally without much/any training…was just wondering if anyone could shed some light on where this ability (effectively work capacity or aerobic capacity if you will) disappears to as kids get older? Is it simply that their aerobic system has adapted faster than their body size so relative to bodyweight they’re aerobic system is in better shape than it will be when they reach adult weight/height?

Just wondering why most kids can seemingly play all day if given the chance despite no/minimal training yet most adults can’t? I’m sure there is plenty more context (young kids are much less sedentary than adults for example) but interested to hear what literature people have come across…”

I have underlined two statements above which I want to focus on.  Let me start by setting the scene.

Long term athlete development

Youth Training is one of my passions.  I think practitioners like Rhodri Lloyd have done great work to pave the way for new understandings of the training process and long-term athlete development (LTAD) principles.  It’s thought that when working with children certain biomotor abilities such as speed, strength and stamina have ‘windows of opportunity’ wherein they seem to develop at an accelerated rate in response to growth and maturation.  However, I’ve never been comfortable calling them ‘windows.’  First of all it implies that the opportunity is only open in a discrete period- ie at any other time the development of these abilities will be less.  It also implies that growth and maturation status should be the determining factor for tapping into a specific biomotor- ie. don’t focus on strength and stamina until after peak height velocity (post-puberty).

Figure 1. Lloyd, R. S., & Oliver, J. L. (2012). The youth physical development model: A new approach to long-term athletic development.

The YPD model above highlights that all physical qualities can be worked on all of the time but with a different emphasis.  This model was acclaimed for showing that strength should be focused on THROUGHOUT the training journey.  As it relates to Endurance and metabolic conditioning, it suggests that Endurance should receive more focus toward mid to late adolescence, in the years post Peak Height Velocity (PHV).

This supports the argument that children respond better to endurance training once they are physically mature.

What does the Research say?

As a headline I would be more inclined to extrapolate the same findings on strength training to endurance training- namely endurance capacities are trainable throughout childhood.

Take a look at the article below:

The influence of training status on the aerobic and anaerobic responses to exercise in children: A review

Muscle fibre type

Are children aerobic animals as the coach points to in his opening question?

I have always been taught to view children as ‘metabolic non-specialists.’  This means that young children are equally happy and adept at running a school cross country event or a 100m sprint race, and show a capability to do both well.  They can respond well to training of both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems at all ages as the research paper above shows. However, once they reach PHV the body will develop the muscle architecture and energy pathways that favour accelerated development of these systems.

So what did the coaches make of this debate?

”I wouldn’t say kids are aerobic animals adolescents and adults will still out perform kids. Kids anaerobic system is yet to develop meaning they rely on type l fibres. Kids show increased aerobic enzyme activity (SDH & ICDH) & decreased anaerobic enzymes (PKF) compared to adults. A result of an under developed anaerobic system means decreased anaerobic byproducts leading to fatigue.”

One of the coaches kicked off the debate by talking about muscle fibre type

”From what I know, it is linked to muscle fibre type, kids can’t develop type 2 fibres, only type 1, so they’re naturally built (in a way) for aerobic activity.”

Another coach adds:

”Their lack of an ‘anaerobic’ system means that they are reliant on predominantly aerobic substrates for energy. As they hit PHV, type II fibers grow and neurogenesis/left and right brain hemisphere cross education brings more of a balance between aerobic and anaerobic contributions to a task.  It’s down to muscle type differentiation, so type II fibers exist, but they mimic the characteristics of type I pre PHV and transition with maturity.”

Click on the PDF Link below for some fascinating insights into this topic.  This concurs with the observation that children are not fully capable of utilising the recruitment of type II muscles so they mimic the characteristics of type I.

Child Adult differences in muscle activation

This might explain why younger kids hit top speed sooner because their anaerobic systems aren’t as developed, and that’s what impacts their sprint speed over longer distances? They have type II fibres but they are not yet efficient in being recruited maximally.

The UKA Athlete Development Model speaks to the Physiological adaptations in more detail and says that the anaerobic glycolytic system does NOT fully mature until after puberty.

It also says that there is little variation in the ‘alactic’ system with age.

In terms of the Biomechanical factors it shows that the capacity to utilize the energy return is a function of improved strength through firstly coordination (recruitment) followed by cross sectional area.

On this point a coach says, ”Plenty of studies that show kids do adapt to anaerobic training and it isn’t contraindicated at any age….I have no doubt that in years to come science may tell us how these adaptations occur differently in a child vs adult. I think of sports like 400m and boxing that will come with high lactate regardless…but then I also think if kids aren’t very powerful…they won’t be producing much lactate anyway...”

In addition to the discussions on muscle fibre type there were a few interesting discussions on some related topics such as fat mass and role of skill in running economy.

Running economy

Body composition:

Children have less visceral fat and also less muscle.

Role of Skill:

Check out this article below.  Despite the above advantage of the older children having larger body composition (and probably more muscle mass) the results indicate that in both females and males, individuals with larger body composition had faster speeds but individuals with smaller body composition and with greater technical skill were as fast as or faster than those with larger body composition regardless of technical skill.

The Relationship between Speed and Technique in Young Speed Skaters


Enzyme Utilization

There is also a reduced ability to produce anaerobic enzymes?


At this point I’d like to get involved in the discussion.  I majored in Exercise Physiology as an undergraduate and did my Masters in Exercise physiology so I’m passionate about this.  As I have stated before in the previous blog about misunderstanding of principles biomechanics and motor learning, there is also a fair amount of misunderstanding about physiology too!

Aerobic Endurance

All data from personal communication and presentations by Alex Ferrauti, ‘Characteristics of the Endurance Demands of tennis,’ European Coaches Symposium, 2008.’

Biochemical profile: children in comparison to adults

Anaerobic markers • Similar resting values for muscle ATP and PCr • Lower glycolytic enzyme activity (e g PFK) lower adrenergic stimulation • Smaller glycogen stores, less fast‐twitch muscle fibres? • Lower maximal blood lactate concentrations • Better regulation of blood pH and blood [H+] Schwankungen

Aerobic markers • Quicker VO2 response • Higher relative volume of muscle mitochondria and aerobic enzyme activity • Lower RER with better fat utilization

Children ‘seem’ to have lower anaerobic capabilities (in terms of enzyme activity, glycogen stores and blood lactate concentration) and a good capacity for aerobic exercise on the first view of their biochemical profile, but this has no implications for aerobic and anaerobic fitness and endurance training!

Let me explain!!! Research has now shown us that while children have a better aerobic profile than adults in as much as they can attain steady state quicker than adults, the biochemical profile does not correspond to aerobic performance.

The fact remains that older children always outperform younger children on running tests even when matched for VO2max relative to body mass.

VO2max related to body weight has no indication for aerobic performance. Running economy in children is lower (force production, co‐contractions).

In spite of a high biochemical capacity, the aerobic performance has biomechanical limitations!

Anaerobic Endurance

Just as with aerobic exercise, anaerobic capacity is adapted to body composition meaning adults always outperform children in terms of the absolute amount of power that they can produce repeatedly. Evidence to support this inability of children to work anaerobically comes from the research which shows that children produce a lower concentration of Blood Lactate ([BLa]).

However, as the figure depicts below, children have a lower relative and absolute muscle volume and a relatively higher blood volume.

As a result of having less muscle volume and more blood volume children will not produce as much blood lactate. But this is no evidence of a lower anaerobic fitness– if you define anaerobic fitness as ability to repeatedly work at a high intensity within a defined drop off of power. Adults will continue to produce more and more blood lactate as they repeat the same anaerobic work whereas children will only produce so much blood lactate. They have a smaller engine but they produce smaller emissions. They are efficient at being able to reproduce fairly stable levels of power!

But what is interesting is that even with this smaller but stable amount of blood lactate in the blood stream children are still able to regulate their pH at a constant level. This compares to adults where as the [BLa] increases there is a reciprocal decrease in pH. Consequently during repeated sprint activity children will achieve lower absolute power output values in every bout but the drop off in performance will be relatively lower as a percentage and they can maintain a higher overall level of performance!

Training Application

Develop their aerobic system fully or try work on improving what they aren’t as good at naturally (glycolytic)?

According to one coach:

Develop the aerobic adaptations through high intensity aerobic games.

”It would be a bit of waste of their time to develop their lactate system as you wouldn’t see a great deal of adaptations. As others have noted, the FT fibres aren’t recruited as much so they wouldn’t adapt to the stress. I would imagine that hormonal changes after puberty have a massive impact on glycolytic enzyme and LDH production after this longer high intensity work, but in pre-pubescent children, we wouldn’t release anywhere near the amount of hormones to cause significant increases to their ability to utilise the lactate system. This type of work would impact on mitochondrial density, the heart, blood and vascular system… but you’d be better off getting these adaptations from repeated high intensity work with shorter rests (e.g. playing a tag game), or longer duration work at a low intensity.”


I personally wouldn’t say it would be a ‘waste of time’ but I understand the sentiment.  I would however agree that playing some high intensity aerobic based games would be well suited to the younger athlete.

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What is sport specific training and how much should kids do?

This blog is one I am really excited to write.  I have been really enjoying being part of a Youth Strength & Conditioning forum on Facebook.  So in the last few days a couple of questions came in that got me fired up and excited to contribute to the discussion.  One question was about sport specific training for children and another was about endurance profiles of children.  I thought I would share some of the learnings here and I’ll address the first topic in this post!


Hey Guys,

Just looking to start a bit of a discussion on sport specific training.

I was asked the other day if I would be giving their 12 year old daughter sport (tennis) specific training. I simply stated I would be working on the fundamentals that underpin any sport such as movement competency/efficiency, strength, mobility, balance/coordination etc and that this would be most beneficial for his daughter. The father did not seem very convinced after our short discussion. Maybe I should have stated that the child needed ‘individual specific training’ in order to make her the best she can be.

I was wondering what you guys would say to any parent who asks for sport specific training for their child?

I’ve already written quite a bit on this topic.

How much should junior athletes train?

Early Specialisation: To much of a good thing?

I personally think that of the 170 + blogs I have written since 2012 the early specialisation one is perhaps my best one in my opinion.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

There was some good suggestions which spoke to the importance of global parent education around topics such as:

Health Education

=> overuse injury

=> burnout

=> proficiency barrier 

In my blog I refer to research that show that the incidence of injury goes up significantly once adolescents are doing more than 16 hours of one sport per week.  It’s a good idea to educate parents on the risks associated with doing high volumes of sports practice (including sports specific training!)


Agree the definition

It was also suggested to define clearly what the parent meant by the term sport specific. It’s best to ask the parent what his definition of specific training is first. Then explain you will be programming individual, sport, maturation and training age specific training.


Set the context

It’s amazing how much more buy in you will get if you just take the time to show how something will improve performance indirectly.

‘Link it back to their specific sport. Show the parents how mobility/balance/strength will improve their child’s performance. I find most parents idea of S&C or any sort of performance coaching is very uneducated. They don’t understand how the body works and are then quite sceptical about anything they haven’t “seen before”. If you can give a clear example of how a certain exercise will improve their kids physical performance (in the specific sport), in my experience, they are far more accepting of my methods.

So basically, if you say you will be working on the fundamentals that underpin the physical demands of tennis, then give an example, you’ll get a far better reaction. Of course the fundamentals underpin every sport, but the parents are paying you for tennis specifically, so gear everything you say back to tennis performance.”  Cathal Murtagh.


Agree on some level with the notion

According to one coach.

1. Tennis is an early specialization sport so their parents are right

2. If the athlete hasn’t trained before then a general strength program will make the most improvements and set up for power training later.

3. Make the dad happy and yourself…compromise.

4. Use things like med balls (or back it up to isometrics) for the extra power and can work on techniques right away. I’ve worked with many female tennis players and parents at this stage.


Understand Long Term Athlete Development: It’s all in the Blend!

Every athlete should do a blend of training that falls on the spectrum from very general to very specific.  This wasn’t mentioned in the discussion but for me it’s the big piece of the puzzle that needs to be discussed.  If you read my content regularly you’ll hear me say it time and time again.  My APA Training System is all about concurrent programming of all the biomotor abilities.  This means that in any given training session or training cycle there will be a blend of different types of fitness components (suppleness, skill, speed, strength and stamina) AND……….there will be a blend of means and methods that develop both general and more specific qualities.

So in the example above the 40% proportion of the training session might be very general in nature for a athlete with limited training experience.  The same 40% might represent very specific training with a more advanced athlete.  But the question you need to educate your parents on is why???????? Why is it necessary to do exercises that don’t look like the sports movement???

Here’s what I had to say:

”There is a difference between specificity and specialisation. Specialisation infers you have a major focus in one sport. We don’t encourage specialisation in most young athletes. However, specific training simply means that you are training the particular skills of a given sport at a moment in time. You can be specific in training without specialising. This is appropriate.

When a young child comes for a tennis lesson the parent expects the coach to be teaching the ‘specific’ sport skills or ‘techniques’ of tennis- not necessarily doing skills like football passes, rugby throws and so on- ie multi sports. They want forehands, backhands and serves. In S&C the parents therefore have the same impression- that you will be doing ‘physical skills’ that are specific to tennis. I can see their logic- maybe they expect to see multi directional sprints, throwing a medicine ball using the same muscles as the shots etc. Therefore we have to appreciate why the parent might have this perception.

However, where we are different is that the child probably has sport skills coaching from different sports coaches which allow that child to develop a broad range of sport skills (throwing, catching, kicking etc)- think of it as a sport skills foundation. But they probably don’t have that same multi-lateral physical development because we may be the only coach they see for S&C. Imagine if they were seeing several S&C coaches- one S&C coach for speed, another for strength, another for endurance etc then maybe they could come to you and say we want you to be the ‘speed’ guy and do a narrow type of fitness specific to that sport ( I get asked to do tennis specific speed work all the time because it happens to be an area I am well known for)——> but I also totally agree that even if that was possible for kids to work this way we really ought to all be developing a general base of physical skills for the reasons everyone has already mentioned a) injury reduction: early burnout, over use and b) proficiency barrier => maximise performance”

Proficiency Barrier


APA’s slogan is ”Maximising your Athletic Potential.”  Potential takes time to be realised.  I compare the athletic potential journey to the academic learning one.  Apart from the 2% outliers of proteges who are members of MENSA- the society for bright people who have an IQ in the top 2%- most of us need time to develop our knowledge and skill. But the good news (see Figure above) is that if we start them early doing Strength & Conditioning they have a greater chance of realising a higher neuromuscular performance potential!! Most important for this discussion is that the potential is higher than doing sport alone.

However, starting early doesn’t meaning rushing through or skipping steps.

You ‘cook em slow’ and build them up to more advanced training methods.  You wouldn’t expect a child to be grasping complex aspects of University maths and physics. Unfortunately most parents (and coaches) don’t understand principles of sports biomechanics or motor learning!!!  They want them to be doing things that look like the sport.  However, what most people fail to recognise is that sport is VERY STRESSFUL on the body.  We need to prepare the body for the demands of it and that’s why we need to do general work to prepare for the more specific high intensity high speed work that is part and parcel of sport.

Let’s look briefly at sports biomechanics- understand the difference between kinematics and kinetics.


Parents (and coaches) focus in on the kinematics- they want to see the movements that look like the sport (same acceleration, velocity, position).  I get it! But they don’t make the link that it is FORCE PRODUCTION that is the underlying cause of motion.  To get more explosive you first need to build a general foundation of strength.  The END.

As Des Ryan said in the forum, ”Tail doesn’t wag the dog!”

Specific training is the ‘realisation’ and expression of those qualities that we need to build in a general sense such as movement efficiency (balance, coordination, mobility/stability, basic strength). We can then apply those physical skills to more high intensity and high speed sports skills. When the kids are young I am comfortable that they get most of their ‘realisation’ opportunities from playing the sport. Let’s work on the foundation in the early years.”


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