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Testing Times

Testing is used a lot at all levels of sport – sometimes for the right reasons, and sometimes for the wrong reasons. There are a whole host of reasons why a coach may employ testing of their athlete, and there are also a wide range of tests that are available to the coach to use. In this article, I will examine the pros and cons of testing, the reasons behind it all, and the selection of tests that may or may not be useful.

 

Why Test?

 

The first things to discuss are the reasons behind testing. When deciding to test an athlete, it is important to consider why you are doing so. In my opinion, the main reason behind testing an athlete is to monitor the training response – are the changes you are putting in place having the desired effect, and improving the athlete’s performance? Their performance on the battery of tests used can provide some very valuable feedback on this, and utilised at the right time can allow for changes in the training programme to be made to reflect the current shortcomings of the athlete. In the same vein, tests can be utilised to see where the athlete is at that very moment in time, as a snapshot of their current state. This allows the collection of data that could be very useful – for example if you test an athlete at a flying 30m, you can compare that to his race performance during that year to see if there is any correlation between that athletes flying 30m testing performance and their 100m performance. If you decide that there is, then you can use the flying 30m during training blocks to see how close that athlete is to their peak condition, or even if they are exceeding it.

 

The correct application of testing can also be used to increase the motivation of an athlete you are working with. Athletes generally respond very well to competition and pressure, and the use of tests can motivate them to perform both above and beyond their typical training performance. If athletes know a particular test is coming up, they can focus on performing well on that. For example, regular use of body composition testing ensured that I took my diet seriously, and made a concerted effort to lose fat and score well on the test (whether this was actually positive or not is up for debate!).

 

As I mentioned in the previous point, athletes usually respond well to pressure and competition, and there is an importance that they can do this. Competition, especially at higher levels, tends to exert large amounts of pressures on athletes, and these athletes need to have the mental resilience to be able to cope with and thrive under this pressure. The timely application of performance based tests can serve to place these athletes under simulated competition pressures, and enable the coach and support staff to identify people that perhaps need a bit of a helping hand at dealing with this pressure. Mental skills training is something that is often overlooked, but mental skills are just as trainable as physiological aspects, and so monitoring this side of the athlete’s performance is important.

 

Why Not Test?

 

So far, it seems like there are some very good reasons for coaches to use testing as part of their training design and monitoring programmes. However, for each of the points discussed in the previous section, there are counter-points which need to be considered when deciding whether or not to test an athlete. Firstly, whilst tests can be used to monitor the training response, this is only true if the test is both valid and reliable. I will look into these concepts a bit later on, so don’t want to dwell too much on it at this point, but essentially validity means that the test measures what it claims to measure (and then the coach needs to decide whether what the test measures is actually important), and reliability means that if the test were to be repeated, the results would be the same. So, as an example, if you use one repetition maximum testing to monitor how well your athletes are responding to a training programme, this could give you a mixed bag of results. If your athletes improve their 1RM, what does this actually mean? It could mean that they are stronger. It could mean that they are more powerful. It could mean that their lifting technique has improved (this is especially true in highly technical lifts like the snatch and power clean). Does any of this mean that the athlete actually performs better in their event? Well, no, not really. A stronger athlete is not necessarily a faster one, and an athlete with better lifting technique is almost definitely not a faster one. This leads to the creation of surrogate markers, or markers that the coach or athlete use to monitor improvements in place of actually seeing if the athlete has improved in their event. We see this quite often, especially in the UK with regards to power cleans. Often, as athletes lift more weight in the power clean, they expect to run faster. The end result is that athletes can chase power clean improvements in the mistaken belief that these improvements are correlated with race performance, whilst in truth the correlation is probably weaker than they might have thought. So, misleading test data, through the poor selection of tests, can lead to improper variables being monitored and measured, giving a poorer indication of race performance.

 

Another aspect to consider is that, whilst tests may increase athlete motivation, they can also be incredibly stressful for the athlete. This effect can be further compounded if the athlete is using a large amount of surrogate markers in a bid to monitor how fast they are going to run in upcoming races. In these situations, testing takes on an even greater importance in the mind of the athlete, and performance in these tests becomes the main focus. What if an athlete performs sub-par in these tests? How will you enable them to bounce back? Can they regain their confidence? All things to consider when deciding on whether or not to utilise testing.

 

 

What to test?

 

Let’s be honest here – the only real test that holds the upmost value is when your athlete lines up on the start line, is started by a gun, and is timed on how long it takes for their chest to cross the finish line. If the time that elapses is shorter than the athlete has ever done before, they have improved; if its longer, they haven’t. Obviously, this is affected by environmental factors, such as wind and altitude. And also, at the elite level, running a personal best is actually less important than just running quicker than everyone else; arguably, in major championships your actual performance relative to your previous performance doesn’t matter, all that matters is your performance relative to other people.

 

Now we have got the obvious out of the way, we can discuss the actual tests that are used. It seems logical that we would want tests that would mirror very closely the competitive requirements of that event; so for sprinting we might test start performance, acceleration performance, maximum velocity performance, and speed endurance performance. As such, some tests that we might conduct include 10m from blocks (and thus test reaction time and start performance), 30m from blocks (reaction time and acceleration), and flying 30m performance (maximum velocity). These are pretty common performance tests, and they mirror quite nicely to demands of the sprint event. A test for speed endurance is a bit more difficult – in the past I have used time trials over 100m, 150m and 200m, or repeated sprint ability over 100m/150m, or even a double flying 30 (30 acceleration, 30 flying, 20 float, 30 flying). I liked the double flying 30 as you could compare the differences between the two flying 30 segments, but it was incredibly tough!

 

The above are all pretty specific performance measures, and can also be quite accurately measured – you can buy electronic timing very cheaply these days. Electronic timing is more reliable than hand timing, which depends on human factors, and can also differ between individuals. One small downside of electronic timing is that it is quite easy to cheat – I could throw my arm out in front of me to break the beam, for example.

 

We all know, of course, that these aren’t the only tests used. Quite often standing long jump is used to measure power. If you improve your standing long jump, it could well mean you’re more powerful, but would that improvement pass over into improvements in sprint performance? What about weight-room activities? If you improve your back squat personal best, you’re clearly stronger – but are you faster? Same with medicine ball throws – I’ve never had to throw a ball in a 100m race, so I can’t say with much certainty that adding 2m to my medball throw personal best will lead to any improvements in my 100m race performance. In fact, all I can say is that my medicine ball throw is better. This comes back to those surrogate markers I discussed earlier; markers that we use in place of actual performance data. Take VO2 max for example. Improvements in VO2max might be ideal, but VO2max in and of itself isn’t an event. So, improvements in VO2max aren’t really all that useful is event performance (say 5000m race) decreases. There is actually an interesting study from Andrew Jones looking at Paula Radcliffe’s VO2max against her 3000m performance, and the faster her 3000m race times became, the worse her VO2max score was. This illustrates nicely that direct performance measures are far more valuable than these surrogate markers. A similar example in the sprints might be that of standing long jump.

 

Even selecting the right performance tests can lead to misleading data. In 2005 I ran a flying 30m personal best of 2.95 seconds, and ran the 100m in 10.22. In 2010 I ran a 2.78 flying 30, and clocked a seasons best of 10.38 in the 100m. Even between members of your training group, tests can give misleading data. During my indoors season in 2007, out of the three sprinters I had the slowest times to 10m and 30m from blocks in training, but the 2nd fastest 60m time in the world that year.

 

The more you test, the more stressful this can become for the athlete, because they know they are being tested, and they also perceive that if they perform poorly on this test then it looks bleak for their upcoming competitive season. The first time anyone does a test is lovely, because you have no data to compare it to. The second time you are likely to improve just as a matter of practice. But the tenth time? The twentieth time? Now it is starting to become more stressful. Testing is also really tiring – it involves a maximum effort, so too much testing in too short a period of time can cause problems. Tests involving external loads, such as 1RM testing, can also place the athlete under greater loads than they have ever experienced before – and so you have no idea how they will respond to this! It would be bad news if your athlete ended up injured because of the testing process.

 

What about timing of the test? As discussed, testing can be risky, both in terms of fatigue and injury. It might be a good idea to avoid testing close to competition. From a psychological point of view, it can be very tempting to test close to competition, as a good result here could increase the athletes confidence at the race; I know from experience that having run a flying 30m personal best 5 days before a big race that it can make you feel really good. But if the test doesn’t go well? How will the athlete bounce back? Again, having run a reasonably slow flying 30m a few days before a race, I speak from experience when I say it can be a weight on your mind. The best time to test is determined by your reasons for testing – if you just want a base line, then test at the start and end of each training block. If you want to collect information on what your athletes training performance looks like when they are in really good (or bad) shape, then testing closer to competitions might be a bit more useful. Testing can also increase motivation for the athlete, so a well-timed testing session can result in improved training performance.

 

What do I mean by testing? Traditionally, testing refers to a specific session or group of sessions in which athletes can prepare for, and data is collected. But what happens when the electronic timing gates start coming out on a regular basis? Is this testing? It would be naïve to think that athletes don’t pay much attention to their times in these sessions, and compare them to their best ever. Whilst you might think it reasonable and understandable for an athlete’s flying 30m performance to drop off a tenth or so in a training block, is the athlete mature enough to place it all into context? I know I wasn’t. And this then further increases the performance for a good performance next time, when fatigue might be even higher, creating a downwards spiral.

 

In sports outside of track and field, testing should also take into account positional differences. Another sport in which I was involved, bobsleigh, uses a specific set of performance measures in squad selection. One of these is a trolley push over 45m, with 15m-45m (i.e. 30m) timed, and comparison across individuals made. Consider for a second the individual performance requirements within a 4-man bobsleigh; the pilot tends to push for about 20-25m. The second man generally won’t push for more than 30-35m, whilst the last man (number 4) could conceivably push for the full 45m in competition. Is it therefore fair to hold all the different positions to the same standard – especially when what makes a good second man is not that same as what makes a good fourth man? Will the second man’s performance suffer in training for a good test performance, when instead he should be focusing primarily on the first 25m? Again, I’m not sure of the answer, but it’s certainly something to consider with squad based testing. Similarly in soccer, you wouldn’t expect a goalkeeper to outperform a full-back in a repeated run test, so why subject them to the same test?

 

In conclusion, it might seem like I am against testing. I’m not. I think testing is a powerful tool, especially for testing the mental ability and resilience of your athletes through graded exposure to stress. I do, however, think it can often be overused, or used for the wrong reasons, or even incorrectly. Hopefully this article has given you some questions to consider when it comes to testing, so that the performance of your athletes can be enhanced.

 

 

What Is Wrong With The Great Britain Men’s Relay Team?

Another year, another venue, a similar story.

 

Last night, the GB men’s 4x100m team once again failed to get the baton round. What went wrong? I caution that I have been unable to fully analyse the changeover on video (I cant get the BBC here), but I’ve seen enough. I’m also not privy to the biomechanical data, such as speed of incoming and outgoing runner, and checkmark reaction, which would make things clearer. Anyway, I don’t think it matters, because I have a good idea of where it all went wrong, and who is to blame. Essentially, last nights DNF could have been down to four factors:

  • CJ Ujah left too early
  • James Ellington was coming in too slow
  • The checkmark was incorrect
  • Some combination of two or three of the above factors.

 

In all truth, #4 is the likeliest reason the team were unable to get the baton round. None of this is Ujah or Ellington’s fault.

 

Firstly, I think it’s important to state that athletes don’t want to make mistakes. In an ideal world, they would do their best, and be rewarded for that. None of the athletes in the GB relay team have ever deliberately got disqualified. Yesterday, Ellington or Ujah didn’t wake up and go “Do you know what would be great? If I didn’t get the baton round. I don’t want medals anyway.” Instead, the failure of the relay team is a failure of the coaching staff. The job role and responsibilities of the coaches are to enable and empower the athletes to complete what is a pretty complex skill in a high-pressure situation. Time and time again, they have failed to do this. Let’s look at the GB Men’s relay team results from 2000-present day at the World Championships and Olympic Games (note, that a DQ and DNF are different things – however, the end result is the same, so I will class both as DNF).

 

2000 – DNF

2001 – DNF

2003 – Silver (retroactively disqualified)

2004 – Gold

2005 – Bronze

2007 – Bronze

2008 – DNF

2009 – Bronze

2011 – DNF

2012 – DNF

2013 – DNF

2015 – DNF.

 

Spot a trend here? When the team compete, there are one of two scenarios that occur. Either the team a) get the baton round and win a medal, or b) don’t get the baton round. I’m to blame for one of those statistics. I’ve written quite extensively in the past about my part in this debacle, and what lessons I have learnt from it all.

 

In fact, in pretty much every single one of those DNFs the outgoing athlete leaving early has been a significant causal factor in the team not getting the baton round. Is it the mistake of the athlete if the same mistake continues to happen, or is it a symptom of a coaching issue?

 

Why does an athlete leave early? This is usually down to the ability to handle the pressure of the situation. Although the general public might think that relay running is relatively easy, it isn’t. To be in with a chance of winning a medal at a major champs, GB need to exchange the baton at around three-quarters of the way through the changeover zone. The incoming runner will be moving in excess of 11m/s. The outgoing runner is rapidly accelerating away from the incoming athlete. The outgoing runner also cannot see the incoming runner, and so is essentially blind to the changeover. Add to the fact that you’re running in a stadium against the best people in the world, in a race where you might be able to win a medal, and the sound is deafening, it’s easy to see how mistakes do happen.

 

So, why do I think that this is the coaching staff’s fault and not the athlete’s? Well, the coaching staff have to train the athletes to be able to handle and withstand this pressure. There needs to be pressure applied in training. The correct competitions have to be targeted, and the athletes have to compete in those to learn how to deal with the pressure. If the athlete shows signs of not being able to handle the pressure, or chooses not to race in the targeted races, then the result is simple: DO NOT pick that that athlete. GB have enough of a pool of athletes capable of running 10.1 or quicker that one substitution here would have a minimal impact on the overall speed of the team. And, if you can’t get the baton round, you can’t win a medal, so why take the risk?

 

The second reason athletes sometimes leave early is because they genuinely have issues seeing the checkmark. When you’re in the 3-point position, with your head upside down looking in-between your legs, spotting a white bit of tape 10m away can be hard. Then, under pressure, you have to do mental calculations, matching up the speed of the incoming runner, a moving object, and deciding when he reaches the checkmark. Remember, this athlete is moving at 11m/s, and if you leave 0.5m early or late relative to the checkmark, you’re likely to botch the changeover. This gives less than 0.1s for the outgoing athlete to decide that a) the incoming runner has reached the checkmark, and b) now is probably a good time to run. The athlete has to do this under considerable mental stress, whilst also filtering out the seven other incoming runners, some of whom may have very similar kits to your athlete. Oh, and they also could be running round the bend, which means that your incoming athlete might be obscured for a good period of time. How can you deal with this? Same as the previous point – expose athletes to competitive changeovers, either in training or competition. Film the changeovers, and then you can see if an athlete is leaving late or early. Are the consistently doing this? Then make them change this behaviour. Have they not changed this behaviour? Then don’t select them.

 

So, that’s point one covered. Hopefully you can see how the coaching staff might have been able to avert this problem. Now, there is point #2 – James Ellington was coming in too slow. This might be correct, or it might not be – I haven’t seen any data on the splits, so I can’t really comment. What I will say is this – running two relay races on the same day is quite physically fatiguing, so some drop off is fine. In fact, it is probably to be expected, or at the very least considered. It isn’t James’ fault if that did happen; he is a fantastic athlete and an incredibly reliable third leg runner, and I would pick him every day of the week. The issue here is whether or not the coaching staff predicted the drop in James’ speed (if indeed it existed), and made adjustments for that in the checkmark. Add this to the fact that Ujah didn’t run the heats, and so was fresh, and you can see how this might be problematic.

 

Ah yes, Ujah didn’t run the heats. Lets address this issue, because it is a really, really major one. In the heats, GB ran Kilty – HAA – Ellington – Talbot. So, the three changeovers were Kilty to HAA, HAA to Ellington, and Ellington to Talbot. In the final, they ran Kilty – Talbot – Ellington – Ujah, so the changeovers would have been Kilty to Talbot, Talbot to Ellington, and then Ellington to Ujah. See an issue here? NONE of the changeovers are the same? This is absolutely criminal, and a schoolboy error. The heats of the major championships are a perfect time to test your checkmarks, and then refine them for the final. It allows you to see what shape athletes are in ON THE VERY DAY of the race, and how the track is affecting their speed. Here is another key aspect – athletes generally fatigue at very similar rates, so if you decide to refine a checkmark from heats to final, you can be as sure as possible that both athletes will have a similar speed degradation (if any) come the final.

 

If the coaching staff, for whatever reason, wanted to rest Ujah for the heats and then have him replace HAA in the final, then they should have ran HAA last leg in the heats. That way, two out of the three changeovers are the same from heats to final. Granted, this wouldn’t have made any difference in this case, but it further reduces unnecessary risk. There’s an additional reason why Ujah might not have run in the heats – he might have made a strong case for not wanting to. I’m not saying whether this did or didn’t happen; I don’t know for sure – but obviously I’ve spoken to people involved in the team, and previous teams with some specific athletes. All I can say is, if I were the coach, he would either have run the heats or not run at all.

 

What confuses me further is that in all the pre-race videos posted by British Athletics, the order of changeovers is quite clearly Kilty – HAA – Ellington – Ujah. This means that either British Athletics are the king of pre-race propaganda and mis-direction, or someone has seriously bottled made a major decision very close to the race itself by deciding to swap HAA for Talbot in the final. I’m not saying whether this is a good or bad decision, merely that, from the media released into the public domain, this was a very late change – which increases risk.

 

So, even if Ellington was slowing down excessively coming into the changeover (and I’m not saying he was), this isn’t his fault. Or, if it is his fault, something should have been done to correct and allow for this.

 

#3 – the checkmark was wrong. You can test whether a checkmark is wrong or right by running the same team in the heats and final. You can also build up experience between incoming and outgoing runner by giving them a ton of competitive experience by racing together at relays, either at World Relay Championships, Diamond Leagues, and European Team Championships. Athlete refusing to compete in these races? Don’t pick him. If you go into a major championships final with an un-tested or uncertain checkmark, you as a coach have failed at your job. Therefore, I can only assume that the checkmark was correct – although obviously the heats would have been a great opportunity to practice and check this, with almost real-time feedback on the effectiveness of the checkmark. If you’re relying on a checkmark from mid-July, you could see how this might be problematic.

 

So, that’s why I think #4 is the most likely scenario, and I’ve explained why I don’t think this is the fault of the athletes, but instead of the coaching staff.

 

Now, it would be unfair of me, with the benefit of hindsight, to write all these things and not propose a solution. I’m very confident that the coaching staff involved with the relay squad are going to move on and learn from these mistakes. The timing right now will be raw, but there is a year to correct everything before Rio. The athletes themselves will hopefully learn from the whole process and come back stronger. Here are some of the changes I would make:

 

Culture

I have no idea what it is like now (although, from watching the coverage on TV last night, and reading the comments in the newspaper and twitter, I can guess), the culture with the men’s team is dysfunctional. When I was involved, at times it was toxic, and certainly not conducive to good performance. Cliques were formed, people would slag each other (and the coach) off behind each others back. I don’t believe that athletes need to get on in order to perform well together, but there certainly needs to be a mutual level of respect. At one relay practice I was involved in, an athlete arrived three hours late.

 

 

This is what I would do:

1) At the start of the year, have a meeting with all athletes who have the potential to make the relay squad at the following years major championships. Here, the athletes would agree amongst themselves what the minimum attendance criteria for training and competitions would be, as well as a code of conduct. The coaching staff should guide and support this discussion, but ultimately it needs to be the athletes choice. This would then get placed into a contract, and signed by all athletes. Then, its simple – has athlete A met the criteria? If yes, he can be picked. If no, he can’t – but it’s not that he wasn’t aware of the criteria because he himself agreed it.

 

2) There’s also a sub-culture with some (not all) sprinters who believe that they do not need the relay. These athletes are deluded, but that is their own choice. I would extend an open invite to these athletes, and their coaches, to attend relay sessions and competitions. But, I would also make them aware that if they fail to meet the minimum selection criteria, I would be unable to pick them.

 

3) Invite former athletes to come and talk to the squad about their experiences, and about what the relay meant to them. 11 years ago we had four guys who won the Olympic Games – perhaps hearing about their experiences would help? For some people, competing for GB has lost its value; this could bring that back.

 

4) Create an athlete lead leadership programme within the squad. The designated leaders would take the lead on basic administration tasks, as well as form a go-between for coaches and athletes. These leaders would also be responsible for looking after an integrating new members of the squad to the team.

 

5) Create the ability to have open and honest feedback. This feedback should be two-way, from both coach to athlete and athlete to coach. Far too often ego gets in the way, and some people lack the emotional maturity to correctly receive (and deliver) constructive feedback on how to improve.

 

 

Coaching

  1. Put in place a skill-ladder approach to changing the baton. Firstly, can athletes adequately pass and receive the baton at walking, jogging, and three-quarter pace. Are their hands always in the right position? Is the spacing accurate? Then I would increase the demands by doing so at a full sprint. Then add in the outgoing runner going from the correct start position, and monitoring whether they left early or late, and the position of the changeover. Next, I would add some pressure, such as competitive relays in training. The next step would be exposure to competition

2. Increase the “relay literacy” of the athletes. Athletes need to fully understand the rules of the race, what determines checkmark positioning, what a good changeover time is, etc. To be fair, most athletes are very good at this, but I’m still haunted by hearing one athlete respond to criticism about a slow changeover with “Yeah, but it felt fast, and that’s what really matters.” I shudder when I think of the job role this individual now has.

 

3. Consider what value added support staff could bring (budget permitting). I mentioned earlier the issues regarding spotting and assessing the checkmark – could an eye coach help here?

 

Competition

  1. Put into place a competition structure that allows athletes to be progressively exposed to pressure. This will also increase their confidence, as well as their problem solving ability. By problem solving, I mean developing a library of solutions to “What-ifs”, which can be cultivated through both training and competition. Examples include “what do I do if the outgoing runner leaves early?” “what do I do if he leaves late?” “What do I do if his hand isn’t steady?”. It also gives athletes chance to develop their experience. Let me give you a specific example of this – let’s imagine you are the fourth leg runner. At what point do you go into your three point stance? If you go too early, then your muscles might fatigue. Too late, and you will be unprepared for the incoming athlete. These are things that athletes can only really figure out in competitions, which is why it is crucial.
  2. Only ever make one change, on either first or last leg, from heats to final at a major competition. Where possible, run the same team in both races.

 

Now, I know some of you will lead with “But the Jamaicans and USA are much more relaxed about it all and blah blah blah.” All valid. Of course, both teams have much larger pools of athletes that can run sub 10 seconds than GB, which means they are under less pressure to stretch the changeovers. They can afford to chop and change members because the changeovers can be much safer. They also both have strong domestic relay competitions; in Jamaica kids go through “Champs”, which exposes them to high-pressure relay competition. In the US, there is the NCAA system, which again schools them in relays and dealing with pressure. Believe me when I say that, whilst the English Schools and BUCS are good championships, they are a million miles away from those two competitions.

 

A quick note on the post-race behaviour you saw last night. Two of the athletes in particular have come in for immense criticism. It’s important to remember that in the heat of the moment, people are exceptionally disappointed. Add to the fact that that the two guys getting the most criticism are the two of the athletes who are most dedicated to the relay programme, and you can understand their frustration. Admittedly, they have made some mistakes in the things they have said, but it’s important to know that there will be a lot going on behind the scenes that you don’t know about. I’m not necessarily defending them, but I am providing some context.

 

I’ll sum up by saying that clearly last night wasn’t GB Men’s finest hour. It comes off the back of a history of making very similar mistakes. Mistakes are fine, so long as you learn from them – but if the same mistakes are being made, this is an issue. Hopefully now the squad will be able to learn, because they have the individual talent to be a successful relay squad. This could be a turning point for the team.

Salem

“Witch!” yelled the crowd outside the courtroom. “Witch!”

 

They had evidence. Other convicted witches had said that this woman was one of them. Parishioners had stated that, when this witch was around, their children had fits. Others had seen her image appear to them. There was physical evidence too – ‘witch’s teats’, a mark on the body that was insensitive to touch. Today, we might call these moles, or birthmarks. In the witches homes the investigators found pots of ointment, and books. Sure proof of sorcery.

 

Prosecutors used the best scientific methods of the day to catch the witches. They baked a Witch Cake, made of urine from people afflicted by witchcraft, and fed it to a dog. As was well known at the time, when the dog ate the cake, the witch herself would feel pain, because of invisible particles she had sent to the afflicted which remained in the girls’ urine.

 

Still, not everyone was convinced. Some of the witches claimed that they were accused because of a previous family feud, or jealousy. Some court staff resigned over doubts about the validity of some evidence. Experts cautioned on taking the claims at face value. The accused attempted to publicly show that they weren’t witches. But the mob knew best.

 

Rumours spread like wildfire amongst the villagers. Bridget was a witch because she didn’t go to church. Someone else had seen Sarah’s spectre in her home. Fingers were pointed at likely suspects who fit some of the criteria of witches. Just being linked to another witch was proof enough.

 

Overall, 150 people were accused of witchcraft. Nineteen were executed, and five others died in prison.

 

We know better now.

 

We wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.

 

Would we?

Do All Athletes Take Drugs?

I’ve thought long and hard about whether or not I should write this blog. Doping is an emotive subject, no matter what side of the fence you sit on. When addressing a subject like this, and trying to address people who don’t agree with your point of view, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance will occur – which can create an angry backlash. So go easy on me please.

 

  1. Do athletes take drugs?

 

Yes, some athletes take drugs. In anything where success is at stake, a certain amount of people will attempt to gain an unfair edge or advantage. In high profile sports, with more at stake, it seems likely that more of this would be happening. If countries put a large amount of emphasis on success in these sports, then a state-sponsored doping system may well be in place – think the GDR from 1960-1990, or Russia in more recent times. The effect of taking drugs is also going to be much more apparent in individual events, such as those found in athletes, which are not subject to team based factors that might dilute performance gains. The recent revelations further illustrate that athlete’s can, and sometimes do, take drugs.

 

  1. Do all athletes take drugs?

 

So, we can probably all agree that some athletes take drugs. The point of contention, therefore, is how many athletes take drugs. From my own experience, I believe this number to be very low. In my career, I can think of one incident that I have seen related to doping – I once found a discarded intravenous drip in a toilet at an athletics competition. Certainly, no-one ever offered me drugs, or even had a conversation with me about it. I would have been a perfect candidate for a doping regime too – someone on the cusp of being pretty good. If I had taken drugs, I might well have run under 10-seconds, possibly being the first white man to do so. And yet that conversation was never had with me. Should I be offended by this? Or is it indicative that, within the UK at least, there isn’t really much of a drug culture (or at least there hasn’t been since UKAD was launched).

 

  1. Why is there a perception from the public that all/most athletes take drugs to compete?

 

Think about the narrative that investigative journalists need to have in order to create a story that people want to listen to. Would you have watched Panorama the other night if it were about some athletes who hadn’t taken drugs? Or does controversy increase viewership? I think we all know the answer to that question, and if you are looking at a skewed sample, of course you are going to get skewed results. We see a similar narrative in programmes like “Benefit Street”, which further the notion that everyone on benefits is so because they can’t be bothered to work, and instead live an incredibly cushioned life. The reality is somewhat different.

 

In addition to my point above I’m going to offer a slightly more controversial reason on why there is this perception: It provides a ready-made excuse for people who aren’t successful. If you believe you didn’t win because the people that are better than you are on drugs, then your own personal narrative is that you were cheated out of it, as opposed to just not being good enough. This is protective to that individual, as it stops them from viewing it as a failure. The pervasive belief in our society is that hard work triumphs over talent, and that is just not true. More often than not, people who outperform you in sport do so because they are better than you, or more talented than you, and not because they dope. I heard whispers during my career that I was doping – well if that was the case I’d want my money back, because they certainly didn’t work.

 

A friend of mine whom I used to train with has a 100m personal best of 10.7 seconds, making me 0.6s quicker than him over 100m. And I was a good athlete, but I certainly wasn’t exceptional. I’m not incredibly talented, I’m not that tall, I don’t have long legs, I wasn’t incredibly strong. In a lot of aspects I was far from the finished article. And yet I was significantly faster than my friend, without taking drugs. So, it isn’t that hard for me to believe that Usain Bolt can be 0.6s faster than me and also be clean. He can outperform me in so many factors, I’m actually surprised that he is only 0.6s faster than me!

 

  1. Is there a doping conspiracy in sport

 

Erm……. Maybe. I believe that some countries will either deliberately dope their athletes, or turn a blind eye to them doing so. History is full of this type of situation. But some countries actively have a great and effective anti-doping system. Do big sponsors enable their athletes to dope, or at least turn a blind eye to it? If we believe Steve Magness’s claims (and he seems like a very credible witness, and is someone that I have immense respect for) then it seems like this could be the case. But is this prevalent in athletics? I genuinely don’t believe so!

 

In the UK, we have an incredibly good anti-doping system. I used to be tested on a very regular basis (my record is 3 random tests in 5 days), and at various times. I never knew when a test was coming. I honestly believe that all high-level athletes that are based in the UK are not taking drugs.

 

  1. What level of evidence do we need to determine if someone is cheating?

 

Unfortunately, passing drugs test appears to no longer be enough to illustrate that an athlete isn’t taking drugs; we’ve had far too many cases of people not failing drugs tests, and later being shown to have been active dopers. So, it’s really hard to give a black and white answer on this (sadly). But, also, pure conjecture doesn’t really help. Comments such as “Well he was a bit tired and waiting for the end of the season, then a month later he broke such and such record, therefore drugs” are far below the threshold of evidence required, in my opinion, to illustrate doping. On more than one occasion I’ve felt very tired, and then quite soon after run a personal best. I’m not saying that the person making those comments is wrong (in fact, I believe they are probably correct), just that we need harder evidence of that. But I don’t know what that evidence should be.

 

 

So, there you have it. Yes, athletes take drugs. No, it’s probably not as many as you think. Deciding whether people are doping or not is difficult. With a lot of things, we will probably never know the full truth of it all, and I certainly don’t have all the answers. But please don’t think that drug use if rife in athletics, because I firmly believe it isn’t.

Speed & Footballers

FAO Editors and Journalists: Usain Bolt vs Footballers

 

I used to be a very highly-strung professional athlete. I took myself and my sport pretty seriously. I once spent 10 minutes arguing furiously with an official at the side of a track because he told me my blocks hadn’t slipped (they had). Once in a fit of rage at being stuck in traffic, I actually bit my steering wheel. I’m a much better person these days; years of pressure management techniques from sports psychologists have calmed me down. I practice mindfulness, meditate, and do yoga. If someone cuts me up on the road, I breathe deeply and carry on. I am, as my girlfriend would say, zen.

 

However, last night something awoke the beast within me. Something which caused me to use language that would make Malcolm Tucker blush. It was, of course, this article from the Mirror.

 

“The Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (emphasis mine) the headline exclaimed. I mean, Jesus Christ. I understand that journalists and editors are under time pressure, and often have to write about things they might not fully understand. It’s a hard life, I’m sure. I’m here to help.

 

The article goes on to explain that Hector Bellerin, the young Arsenal right-back, had recently broken Arsenals 40m sprint record, clocking a time of 4.42 second. It then states that, during his World Record run, Usain Bolt “only” clocked 4.64 seconds to 40m. Therefore, and I quote, “halfway down the track, Bellerin could have been a good few metres in front”. Want another quote? “… there it is in black and white – over 40 metres, Arsenal’s right back would win.”

 

First of all, let’s examine the logical fallacy of this headline/story. Is it likely that a young footballer, who has to practise a wide range of skills, including actually kicking a football, as well as tactical and other fitness demands, could be faster than someone whose job it is to just focus on covering distances of 200m or less in as short a time as possible? That someone with almost perfect genetics, who spends 6 days per week honing his unbelievable talent, would be beaten over 40m by someone who does a bit of sprint training? That the fastest person by almost a country mile to ever walk this planet is not as good at HIS job as a Spanish under-21 international footballer?

 

Clearly, it’s stupid.

 

Then lets examine the facts of the case. “Arsenal Player OFFICIALLY Faster Than Bolt” (again, emphasis mine). Presumably this is IAAF ratified then? There was a wind gauge? Electronic blocks were used to measure reaction time? The IAAF have sent someone to measure the track? There was an official starter, with gun and electronic timing. Has anyone seen the photo finish to ensure it was accurate?

 

Of course, one thing that people writing these articles always forget is that, in a 100m race, there is a reaction time component. The gun fires, which starts the clock. The athletes then have to react to the sound of the gun. This can take anywhere between 0.1 and 0.2 seconds, but is usually in the region of 0.15 seconds. In his World Record run, Bolt’s reaction time was 0.164 seconds. Let’s add this on to Bellerin’s time of 4.42, and we get 4.58. Still faster than Bolt, but much less so.

 

Then let’s consider the starting method. I have no idea how Bellerin was timed, but I would wager it is one of two ways:

  • Hand timed
  • Timing Gates.

If it’s the former, then that is an incredibly inaccurate way to measure sprint speed. Over 100m, it can be as inaccurate as 0.5 seconds, and it is routine to add on 0.24s to any hand-timed performance to convert to electronic timing. If timing gates were used, then did Bellerin have a rolling start? This doesn’t have to be over much distance at all – even a slight backwards lean would give him more forward momentum than Bolt is allowed from the starting blocks, and would skew the time significantly in his favour.

 

Let’s assume that electronic timing gates were used, and Bellerin went from a standing start. In a sprint race, a photo finish is used to calculate the finish time. The point at which the athletes chest crosses the finish line is where the time is taken from. Using electronic timing gates, once a laser beam is broken, BY ANY PART OF THE BODY, then the time stops. So, for example, an arm could be outstretched to break the beam, which would give a quicker time.

 

“But Bolt’s a slow starter” I hear you exclaim. In his World Record run, Bolt was winning the World Championships by 0.04s at 40m. At 60m, he clocked what I’m pretty sure is the fastest 60m time ever recorded. So don’t start that with me.

 

Hopefully you can see that there are some significant problems within this article, and the many others like it. I’m sure Bellerin is fast, but to say he is officially faster than Bolt, whose job it is to be incredibly fast, is, quite frankly, a pot of crap. Please, when reading/writing/editing articles like this, think logically. And if you use the word official, make sure it is official.

 

I’m off to meditate.

Quick Update

Hi Everyone – apologies for the lack of activity here in recent months. I have been pretty busy in a new job role, but I’ve still managed to churn out some new articles, both on FreeLap and Hmmrmedia (a new addition to my repertoire).

On FreeLap I discussed both 11 Mistakes I’ve Made (So You Don’t Have To), and 10,000 Hours and Sprinting.

On Hmmrmedia I am halfway through an article series looking an interpreting science for coaches and trainers. You can click the links for parts one and two.

Reading – I’ve raced through a great deal of books recently, including:

High-Performance Training for Sports

Legacy

The Little Black Book for Managers: How to Maximize Your Key Management Moments of Power

Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Cool & Interesting Stuff (30/1)

DATA – Great little read on the use of data in sports and other organisations.

FOOTSTRIKE – An interesting article discussing the use of forefoot strike in endurance runners. Fore foot striking is all the rage these days, but this article provides a bit more context and information.

FREEZING – It’s pretty cold in the UK at the moment (and even colder on the East coast of the US). But what is it like to freeze to death?

POWER – What effect does strength have on the adaptation to power training?

INTENSITY – Interesting piece in the New York Times on why training workouts should be high intensity (note: this is for recreational athletes as opposed to professional athletes).

POLARISED – I came across this from Joel Friel this week. Although it is over a year old, it provides some very interesting insight into the use of polarised training in high level endurance sport.

BOOK – This weeks read is Birth Order: What your position in the family really tells you about your character – an interesting book on the effects of birth order on personality traits. I’ll be using it to wind my brother and sister up!

Cool And Interesting Stuff (23/1)

Hi Everyone, hope you have had a good week. Mine has been pretty busy – I’m getting ready for some presentations I am giving over the next few weeks in the Netherlands and Canada. I still managed to find some interesting stuff for you to check out:

DETOX – Examine ran a really good article looking at the evidence base behind detox diets. Surprisingly there isn’t one.

ACL – Matt Jordan posted up some slides discussing ACL injury risk and prevention strategies. From my own prior research I can tell you that a key risk factor for ACL injury is having had a prior ACL injury – so don’t get one in the first place! There are also really promising genetic markers linked to this type of injury, which I think is a direction that professional sports are going to go down.

SITTING – Everyone knows (or should know) that prolonged sitting is less than ideal. Check out this article on Outside on what you can do about it.

CARDIAC SCREENING – Another article from Outside, this time discussing both sides of the debate on cardiac heart screening in sports people. Personally, I think it’s a good thing to have the screening available – I took up the option when it was offered to me in 2011.

FEET – When you run, the only parts of your body that touch the floor (all being well!) are your feet. It is imperative that you look after them and self treat. This blog from Athletes Treating Athletes examines the feet, and provides self treatment advice.

What I’ve Been Doing (aside from work):

BOOK – For Christmas I got Slaughterhouse 5, or The Children’s Crusade – A Duty-dance with Death from my girlfriend’s sister (sister in law?), who co-incidentally is one of the few readers of this blog. Thanks for the present @thelynnroberts. I’m about halfway through and it’s weird.

MUSIC – Bowing to popular demand (from Lynn), I will also tell you what music I have been mostly listening to this week: The new album from Enter Shikari – The Mindsweep

TV – Finally, and also by popular demand, I will tell you what I have mostly been watching on TV this week. I don’t really watch a lot of TV, but my girlfriend does, so our evenings have had a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race on. Wonderful.

What I Learned Reading 52 Books In 2014 (Part 4)

So, here we are, at the conclusion of my overview of books I have read in 2014. If you missed it, you can revisit Parts One, Two and Three before reading.

40. Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
by A. J. Jacobs (4/5).

 

This book was really really funny. There is such a large amount of information out there about what we should be doing to ensure we stay healthy, and most of it is impossible to do on a daily basis. However, over a two-year period, A.J. Jacobs has tried to do everything to improve his health. He has a list of over 1000 things to work on, and attempted to work through them all. Frustratingly for him, things seemed to get added to the list quicker than he could cross them off. It was good to see someone try a ton of health promoting things, and see his conclusions regarding what worked and what didn’t. It’s especially important given that a lot of the information we receive about health today can be conflicting, or difficult to do. I would definitely recommend this book as a light-hearted read.

 

41. Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Hooks, Helps and Hurts Us
by Murray Carpenter (4/5)

 

In this book, Carpenter looks at caffeine, and both its positive and negative effects on the human body. The book starts by providing a social view of caffeine, meeting cocoa and coffee growers in South America, and illustrating how the Western worlds reliance on this drug is helping, in part, to create a local booming economy in these regions. Carpenter then goes on to discuss the downsides of this, such as gang related crimes. The book them moves on to discuss the methods by which we get caffeine into our systems, whether these are safe, and whether caffeine in general is good or bad within our society. Again, really interesting points were made, and overall I really enjoyed the history of caffeine, along with the discussion regarding how “healthy” our caffeine habits are.

 

42. Psy-Q: You know your IQ – now test your psychological intelligence
by Ben Ambridge (4/5)

 

Yes! A popular psychology book. It’s always interesting to see how your brain works, and this book certainly does that, explaining some common psychological myths along the way. Overall, I really enjoyed this book, it exposed why some well known psychology experiments are a bit misleading, and was also full of fun little games and challenges used to illustrate the authors points on various aspects. Very good!

 

43. The Sports Gene: Talent, Practice and the Truth About Success
by David Epstein (5/5)

 

I read this book in two days. It is excellent! Epstein explores what makes elite athletes different from the layperson, and whether or not this might be genetic. It’s an adventure that takes us to Jamaica, Kenya, and other talent hotspots around the world. Throughout, Epstein discusses genes that might be linked to sprint or endurance ability, baseball, and other sports. Interesting aspects include a family in Finland with a genetic polymorphism that causes them to have very high levels of EPO – and they just so happen to be good at endurance sports; whether there is a gene that can place at increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s from multiple concussions, or a gene that increases the risk of sudden cardiac death. The genetics of the NBA was also very interesting.

 

Another important aspect of this book is that it adds to the 10,000-hour debate. Epstein does a good job at debunking this arbitrary score by illustrating that Donald Thomas won the 2007 World Championships at High Jump having only been doing high jump for a year. In my opinion, it seems like in sports where physical attributes are more important, such as athletes, genes play a larger role than in skill dependent sports, where skill-level and experience is also important. Throughout the book, Epstein also shows the important of a good environment to enable you to get the most out of your genes.

 

Please read this book, it is brilliant.

 

44. The Epigenetics Revolution: How Modern Biology is Rewriting Our Understanding of Genetics, Disease and Inheritance
by Nessa Carey (3/5)

 

Enthused by “The Sports Gene”, I decided to pick up another book about genetics. This one was still an interesting read, but based more about general health and well-being. Because my interest in this area isn’t so great, and this book goes into a good amount of scientific detail, I found it slightly harder going. It was well written, and good examples were given to simplify various aspects, so I was still able to enjoy the book. Of particular interest was the section on obesity – our grandparents and our mothers nutritional status at various points in their lives can have a big effect on how likely we are to be obese or not. Fascinating!

 

45. Ready to Run
by Kelly Starrett (4/5)

 

I’m a big fan of Kelly Starrett, and I think you should be too. Kelly runs the website www.mobilitywod.com, where he has regular videos showing and explaining the need for various mobilisations. Kelly’s first book, Becoming A Supple Leopard, was excellent, and really changed my thinking about how I move, as well as how I look after my body. In today’s world, we as humans are engaged in motor patterning and positions that wreck or biomechanics. These poor patterns and positions then lead to pain and/or injury. People involved in exercise at any level are then at an increased risk of injury and poor performance during physical activity. For example, most people slump at the shoulders, which causes issues at the cervical spine. Taking this forward into physical activity, a cervical spine that is not functioning correctly places unnecessary risk on the shoulders, and also reduces cervical rotation in certain exercises.

 

This book was written by Kelly for runners. The primary audience will be people involved in longer distance runs, but as a sprinter I still found it useful. Kelly introduces 12 different standards that he feels are necessary to be able to run injury free, and then provides ways to hit these standards.

 

His first book is a be better introduction into the general themes of human movement and mobility, but this book is also useful for individuals involved in running activities. If that is you, you should consider checking it out.

 

46. The Lazarus Effect: The Science That is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death
by Sam Parnia (3/5)

 

This is another book split into two parts – the first examines the historical and current practices involved in resuscitation, and the second is a slightly philosophical discussion about what happens to our consciousness when we die. The main premise is that with today’s resuscitation science, it is now possible to be dead for a longer period of time (hours), and then come back to life without any real negative effects. Take Fabrice Muamba, who in 2012 died on a football pitch, and was then successfully resuscitated. Fabrice was without a heartbeat for well over an hour, and in this time showed no sign of consciousness. So where were the constructs of Fabrice’s consciousness, the things that make him who he is, in this time? Do they just exist on a cellular level, as some people think, or are they a bit different? Parnia himself is particularly interested in near death experiences (or as he terms them, actual death experiences). He has set up a large, multi-centre study in the UK to examine the frequency of near death experience, and then record some of the individual’s experiences of this experience. It’s certainly very interesting, and it does raise some very interesting questions. However, the incidence of near death experience is so low (I think the study recorded two cases of NDE) that the questions aren’t really answered.

 

47. The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters
by Mark Henderson (4/5)

 

This is a really enjoyable book, exploring and discussing the role that geeks can play in shaping public policy. It looks at politics, education, the judicial system, and healthcare (among other things), explain what geeks can do to make these areas better. Similar to Ben Goldacre’s book “Bad Science”, there is a really good discussion of the scientific process, as well as how the scientific process has failed with homeopathy. I’m not a political person, but this book has made me more determined to ask for more evidence when politicians or people making decisions make bold claims. I want to understand the process by which they have arrived at these decisions. Anyone that likes science should take a look at this book to see how you can better shape the world you live in.

 

48. How to Take a Penalty: The hidden mathematics of sport
by Robert Eastaway (3/5)

 

This is an enjoyable short read about how maths shapes sport. Subjects covered include where to aim a penalty to increase your chances of scoring, the best tactic for average darts players, how angles affect snooker, and world record progression in athletics. Throughout these subjects, the authors introduce and simplify various statistical techniques, such an extrapolation, as well as a very light introduction to Bayes Theorem (they don’t call it that). Overall, very readable, and not too heavy on the mathematical proofs, making it very accessible.

 

49. No Easy Day: The Only First-hand Account of the Navy Seal Mission that Killed Osama bin Laden
by Mark Owen (5/5)

 

I’m sure just about everyone knows about the operation to kill OBL in 2011, in which US Navy SEALs carried out a raid in Pakistan, killing the leader of al-Qaeda. The film Zero Dark Thirty does a really good job of showing the whole process, and this book further adds to that. It gives really good insight into how SEALs prepare for missions, and tells a bit more of the story about what actually happened (as an aside, in November 2014 Robert O’Neill claimed that he was the individual who fired the shots that killed OBL. The author of this book, of whom Mark Owen is a pseudonym, disputes that – he states that a person ahead of him fired the critical shots, and then both he and O’Neill fired secondary shots into OBL to ensure that he was dead and no longer a threat. Newspaper reports with SEALs speaking anonymously tend to corroborate Owen’s account over O’Neills. By all account, the actual shooter, who is known only as “the point man” in this book, is an individual who doesn’t want any fame from this act. After firing the critical shots, he was rushed by two women who he thought were wearing suicide vests. He grabbed both of them and used his body to shield them from the other SEALs, in the expectation that he would absorb the bomb blast and save his team-mates. Fortunately there were no suicide vests, but this guy is undoubtedly a very brave, but humble, man). I really enjoy books like this, as they give a really good outline of the preparation involved. I always try to draw parallels between Special Forces and elite athletes; Special Forces are the military’s version of elite athletes, and they do things in training and preparation that have similarities between both. Really good advances come from the military that elite athletes can utilise in their training and lifestyle. The pre-mission prep that Owen describes is very similar to my own pre-race routine, checking and re-checking important pieces of kit. Obviously, the danger is much higher for him!

 

An interesting addition to this story is that the author is now being sued by the US Government for publishing this book, as they feel he has given away secret information. The author counters this by stating that everything is the book can be found in other sources. To check this, I watched the film “Zero Dark Thirty” after reading this book. The film mirrors the book’s telling of the raid almost exactly, to the point where I can pretty much determine which actor is playing the author. But Zero Dark Thirty was filmed before this book was released, which means that the author isn’t responsible for this telling. The book also doesn’t mention the use by the US of stealth helicopters, something that the US media widely reported. Overall, it seems a bit odd that Owen is being prosecuted for this, despite the fact a Hollywood blockbuster shows the raid essentially exactly as he tells it, and Owen purposely holds back other information.

 

50. Armed Action
by James Newton

 

James Newton was a helicopter pilot in a naval air squadron during the 2003 Iraq War. He was involved in conflict with Iraqi tanks in a dangerous environment, and as a result was well decorated after the war. This book was decent – I’ve certainly read worse war memoirs. I liked that it detailed some of the training that the crew had to go through to be war ready. One of the aspects that stuck out most to me was that they weren’t able to do much desert combat training in the run up the war. Instead, they had to fall back on their Arctic combat training. Apparently snow behaves very similar to sand when you are hovering over it in a helicopter – it billows up around you, reducing visibility and making you and easy target. The important lesson to take away from this is that you can’t always have sufficient training time in your “game” environment. Instead, you need to look for parallels and lessons learned in other environments. In addition to this, you need to think about how the “competition” environment differs from your usual, well-known environment, and what you need to do to offset this. So, using this example, flying a helicopter is pretty much the same across the board, with a few differences. In a desert, due to the heat it makes it harder to hover and take off, so the pilots had to find a way around this. In the end, they did a rolling take off, similar to a plane.

 

Another aspect covered really well in this book is that of stress. Now, of course the stress of being a competitive athlete pales into insignificance next to the stress of being in a combat zone, but it is still possible to learn from military personnel. Newton details some of the down time methods used by his team, and also mentions the decrease in performance he found with increased fatigue – a timely reminder that consistent rest in a high stress environment is important.

 

 

51. No Hero: The Evolution of a Navy Seal
by Mark Owen (5/5)

 

I really enjoyed this book, written by the same author as No Easy Day (#49 on my list). This book focuses more on the other missions and aspects of training during his career as a US Navy SEAL. Each chapter looks at a specific lesson or aspect, and then uses a real life example to illustrate this point. A lot of the lessons can be applied to sports, which is part of the reason why I thought this book was great.

 

One particular example regards the aspect of fear. As a SEAL, the author is put in extreme environments, such as having to jump out of a plane at night, or climb huge mountains as part of their training. In sport, we often also experience fear, although probably to a lesser extent, in the form of nerves. For big races in both athletics and bobsleigh, I used to stand on the start line not being able to feel my legs, and with my hands shaking. One trick the author utilised is that of the “three foot world”. In situations that were causing fear, he learned to only focus on things he could affect. So, when doing a night-time parachute jump, he focused on his gear and altitude, as opposed to looking around and focusing on how fast he was going, or how high he was. Similarly, when climbing a mountain, he would focus on his process, not how high he was. This crosses over into professional sport too; you have to learn to detach yourself from the larger goings-on and focus instead on what you can affect. So, in a race that is your performance – not the size of the crowd, or the people to your left and right.

 

Another useful lesson comes from the author’s experience of working within small teams of elite soldiers. These soldiers have all passed a gruelling selection and training process to get to this point. The parallel here with elite sport is that selection for high-level sports teams is also a selection process. For example, selection onto an Olympic relay team means that you have proven your speed and relay ability through both competition and training. What both teams have in common is that team-members do not need to be micromanaged. The author recalls a time where, as a team leader, he made the mistake of micro-managing a team member, who called him out over this during the after-action review. I’ve seen this quite a few times during my experiences with relay teams; once a coach starts to get a bit nervous close to competition, they start to micromanage the athletes. This can result in the coach passing his anxiety onto the athletes, or giving them too much information, which lessons their capacity to focus on the time in hand.

 

There are plenty of other lessons within this book that I think are applicable to sport, which over all made this book a very enjoyable read for me.

 

End

 

So that is the end of my 2014 reading review. As you can see, I missed out on getting 52 books by just one book. It was a really close call!

 

There were plenty of other books that I used in 2014, but because I didn’t read them cover to cover, I feel like I can’t count them in my list. Strength Training for Speed: Scientific Principles and Practical Application by James Wild was really useful for me when writing presentations on how to get people to run quicker, as was The Mechanics of Sprinting and Hurdling by Ralph Mann. I’ve read specific chapters from High-Performance Training for Sports by David Joyce, and really enjoyed what I came across. Stability, Sport and Performance Movement: Practical Biomechanics and Systematic Training for Movement Efficacy and Injury Prevention by Joanne Elphinston gave me some really good ideas for my coaching of younger children in fundamental movement skills. I aim to read all these books from front to back in the future, if not this year.

 

On top of these books, for 2015 I also want to read I Think You’ll Find It’s a Bit More Complicated Than That by Ben Goldacre, as well as re-visiting Bad Science by the same author to refresh my knowledge of the scientific process (my girlfriend says I need to do this). I need to increase my knowledge of endurance exercise physiology, and to that end I aim to read The Science of Running: How to find your limit and train to maximize your performance by Steve Magness, and Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise by Alex Hutchinson.

 

Overall, the end result of this challenge has been an increased amount of reading for me in 2014 compared to previous years. I have deliberately set aside times to read, usually pre-bed, and done all I can to protect these times. It has been a useful endeavour, although with some much new information I do tend to forget certain books that I didn’t find all that useful. I also found myself not attempting to read books that were more than 300 pages, as I knew I would struggle to finish. This year, with no specific goal in mind, I can relax a bit more, and read longer books if possible. I’ll update you on my progress this time next year!

 

 

 

 

Cool & Interesting Stuff This Week (16/1)

GENDER – Strength theory put up a really good article regarding the gender differences and their effects on training and metabolism. It’s the first in a 4-part series, so be sure to check out the other parts once they are released.

REACTION TIME – FreeLap hosted this interesting article by Dominique Stasulli this week, discussing reaction time in track and field athletes. During my dissertation on the sprint start back in 2009, I came across research indicating that having the right foot at the back of the blocks can lead to a better reaction time. One thing I do recall, and that this article doesn’t mention, is that by having the left foot at the back the athlete may sacrifice reaction time, but they tend to produce more force. This can be important in a 100m race, as sacrificing a few hundredths at the start in order to produce more force (crucial in acceleration) may create a greater effect come the finish line. I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer or not, but it is certainly something to consider! I have my right foot forwards in the block, and I tended to have a slightly slower reaction time than the people I was racing, the mechanism of which is explained in the article.

PARACETAMOL – I came across two interesting studies on twitter this week discussing the use of paracetamol as an ergogenic aid during exhaustive exercise in the heat. You can find them here and here. Whether we will start to see the use of paracetamol in sporting events becoming more prevalent or not remains to be seen – as will whether there are any negative health effects of this type of use.

FOOTBALL – The winning team in football makes less attempts on goal during the final 15 minutes than the losing team. An interesting article on loss aversion in sport by Dan Ariely.

HAMSTRINGS! – If you read to the end of this post, or follow me on twitter/facebook/email, then you will know that I recently wrote a FreeLap article on hamstrings (you can get the link further down). After posting that article, I came across this interesting study in the BJSM, which provides more current information within the field of hamstrings and sport.

MEAL FREQUENCY – This meta-analysis looks at the effects of meal frequency on body composition.

 

ME

HAMSTRINGS – My latest article for FreeLap was published, discussing the research regarding hamstring injuries, rehab and training.

BOOK – The most recent book I have been reading is Extreme: Why some people thrive at the limits. It examines human behaviour in extreme environments, such as Antarctica, Space, cave diving and base jumping. It’s pretty interesting, and some of the issues discussed definitely crossover into elite sport, which in itself is a reasonably extreme environment!