You can find my latest blog for Freelap USA here. In it, I discuss what the scientific literature has found about sleep and athletes, and discuss some strategies to help athletes get the most of their sleep.
A weekly round up of cool and interesting (by my definition) things I have come across this week:
FREE BOOK – Like books? Like books on how to improve your performance? Don’t like paying for stuff? Then we are kindred spirits. Check out this free ebook from Lee Ness.
SUGARY DRINKS & DNA DAMAGE – If you’re reading this blog, hopefully you’re reasonably athletic and sporty, and therefore healthy. You should know that sugary drinks are bad for you. But just incase you aren’t, there is this from the guardian.
DELIBERATE PRACTICE VS GENETICS METANALYSIS – So, which camp are you in – genes/talent vs hardwork? The reality, in my opinion, is a combination of both. You need the genetic framework to give you talent, but you also need plenty of hardwork. This recent metanalysis on deliberate practice further fuels my theory.
TEA – From the guardian again (what can I say, I’m a lefty) on how to make the perfect cup of tea. If you love tea, you’ll love this. Maybe.
EATING WITH OTHER PEOPLE MAKES US FAT – the guardian (AGAIN!) has a really interesting article on how eating with other people is making us fat. Anecdotally, I can confirm this is true.
POACHING ATHLETES – My friend and sometime pole vaulter Paul Walker (not the actor) has written this on poaching athletes. It sums up my feelings on the subject perfectly. I’ve never understood the thought process that if a coach discovers an athlete, that coach has the right to coach the athlete for the rest of their career.
REF! – Complaining to the referee has no impact on the amount of decisions given for or against a team. It does, however, lead to an increase in bookings for the player committing the foul. Don’t be that guy.
WHAT HAVE I BEEN UPTO?
And now for my weekly trumpet blowing. This week I had my birthday. I’m now 28 years old, but because I’m still a big kid I like to drag out my birthday as much as possible. This year, my girlfriend woke up early, placed out my presents and made me a very carb heavy breakfast that included indoor fireworks. She’s also taking me out to a posh restaurant tomorrow.
Aside from that, I’ve done some coaching, planned some training programmes for athletes that I coach online, and also wrote this article for FreeLapUSA.
I’ve started to read a new book too – Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs. It details him spending a year of his life trying to get as healthy as possible. If that sounds like something you’d be interested check it out- Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection
Have a good weekend!
You can find today’s blog post, entitled “Mistakes: Why do they happen?’ here. In it, I look at a high profile mistake that I carried out, and then look at what caused this. I then ask what can we do to ensure mistakes don’t happen in future.
I have been asked to write for Freelap USA, and so from time to time (or maybe even more regularly!) my Monday blogs will be on there. I will always direct you to the right link, so you will never have to miss any of my incredible wisdom (sarcasm).
I hope you enjoy!
High Fat Diet For Runners – This article from Outside magazine (and written by a really good endurance scientist) looks at the changing role of fat within training. Whilst it is primarily aimed at endurance athletes, most individuals not taking part in regular high intensity exercise could do with a higher fat and concurrent lower carbohydrate intake. The scientific consensus on fat has slowly been changing, and over the last year or so this has really come into the public eye.
The Brain – Following on from the book I have been reading (The Future of The Mind), I found this article on the brain and elite athletes. Its an interesting read. I personally think that the brain is the next frontier to crack when it comes to improving athletic performance.
Stuff I’ve Been Doing
Sportivate Visit – Last week I visited a session with disability athletes in Exeter. You can read about it here.
New Book – I finally managed to finish my previous tome, so now I have made a start on “Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery” by Henry Marsh. It’s a fascinating autobiography from a brain surgeon, discussing operations he has done, and various risks that exist. I’m really enjoying it.
New Workshop – Finally, I am running a workshop at Crossfit Exe on Saturday 1st November. If you’re in the area and want to attend, tickets can be bought here.
In the last blog in my series on talent transfer, I discuss three more key points that I feel would contribute to a successful transition. If you missed the other two blogs, you can catch up with Part One and Part Two.
We will start with a quick reminder of the key points so far:
1. Consider Your Options
2. Approach People In The Know
3. Have a Taste
5. Set Goals
6. Become An Expert
7. Understand the Skill Learning Process
8. Compare Yourself To The Best In Your Field
So, without further delays, on with the final three tips:
- Accept That You’re Starting A Long Way Behind
The people that are already in your field can be ten years, maybe more, ahead of you in terms of experience and skill. The good news is that:
- Skill development is greatest in the first few years of doing something
- 80% of results are brought about by 20% of the causes (Pareto Principle).
This means that by doing a few things well, you can quickly catch up and get into the same ballpark as the experts.
There will be set backs that make you question if you can do this. For me, my second and third bobsleigh competitions went terribly. I was really really out of my depth (which in hindsight contributed to a lot of learning, but was incredibly uncomfortable), and I genuinely questioned whether or not I could do this. Fortunately, there were also times that reaffirmed my belief that I could be successful; my fourth bobsleigh competition in Sochi went exceptionally well, as did on-ice testing for selection before the Olympic Season. Then I endured a tough few months where I failed to integrate into the GB1 set up, and again I started to question whether I was cut out for bobsleigh, until I dropped down to GB2 and competed in Igls. I felt I competed exceptionally well there, which again reaffirmed my belief and spurred me on to being a part of the GB2 team that managed to qualify for the Olympic Games.
- Remember What Made You Good In The First Place
When you transfer from one area to another, something about you has made you think you can be successful. When I transferred from athletics to bobsleigh, I thought I could be successful because I was quick. Whilst I was learning all the new skills and becoming an expert (see #6), I still had to make sure that I kept the attribute that made me good in the first place; speed. It would have been a big mistake to neglect this aspect of my training whilst trying to make up for what I lacked.
Conversely, sometimes your strength can make up for deficiencies in other areas. Because I lacked the explosive power and acceleration ability of many of the top pushers, I played to my strengths by being as good as I could from 20m onwards. Instead of investing a lot of time and energy by trying to be the best over the first 5m, which would have been costly in terms of training time, instead I tried to get even better at what I was better than most at. I still worked hard on my first 5m, but I knew it was never going to be my strength, and so my focus was on not losing too much time in this area.
- Successful Integration
If you’re transferring into something new, you have to successfully integrate into the team that’s already in place. I’m a big believer that teams don’t have to get on and be friends to be successful, and I’ve definitely being part of teams where I have disliked someone, and in teams where I know I’ve been disliked. But there does have to be a mutual respect and shared goals. If you’re transferring, you have to work hard to cultivate that mutual respect. This was the element I found the hardest, and arguably was the element in which I was least successful. I found it difficult from the off, because I was immediately placed within the GB1 squad for competitions, despite having not gone through the qualification pathway. Again, with hindsight, this decision by the performance director enabled me to learn very quickly, but I wasn’t performing well, and I know that there was a lot of talking going on behind my back from both team-mates and staff. I also imagine that a lot of people thought that I though I was “big time”, which absolutely wasn’t the case; but I did whatever I could to try and remove that opinion of me. I also kept working as hard as I could and tried to perform as well as I could at testing, in a bid to gain the respect of the group.
Unfortunately, two incidents at the start of the Olympic season illustrated to me that I had failed in this aspect of my mission. I’ll only elaborate on one here in the hope that the person who made the comment has forgotten that it was him – I can’t describe the other incident as the person involved will definitely know who I’m talking about. Having scored really well in both single and team push testing, I was placed in the GB1 squad for the Olympic Season, and we traveled out to pre-season equipment testing in La Plagne. The brakeman who pushed at the back of the sled the season prior was injured, and I was taking his place. As we were preparing our bobsleigh for a training session, a group of competitors from another country came over and started looking inside it, and one member of my team remarked that some modifications on our sled had been made so that when the injured athlete came back and inevitably replaced me, he would be more comfortable. This made me feel like I really didn’t belong, and incidents like that continued throughout the year, to the point where I decided to re-asses my goals, and requested to move to the GB2 squad. I felt like I integrated into this squad much better. Due to this, I felt much happier and performed much better, and as a result helped that squad to qualify for the Olympics in what ended up being my last competition ever.
Hopefully you’ve found this blog mini-series interesting. If you have any other questions, or any other topics you want addressing, then please leave a comment or get in touch.
Welcome to week 2 of “Interesting And Cool Stuff This Week”, where I pass on things that I have found interesting and/or cool over the last 7 days (with the disclaimer that you might not find the links either interesting or cool. If you missed last weeks post, you can find it here).
ONLINE DATING! – Obviously I’m a stud and in a very happy long term relationship, but I’m aware that not all my readers are. This article uses data to illustrate some of the dating trends that are being seen, which is really interesting, and provides some tips (should you need them).
OVERUSE! – Training-Related Risk Factors In The Etiology Of Overuse Injuries In Endurance Sports – Interesting study highlighting the requirement for adequate rest, as well as age related issues (e.g. tendon overuse injuries are more likely the older you get).
NEESON! – Throughout his films, Liam Neeson’s characters have killed a lot of people. This map illustrates the reach and quantity of his reign of terror.
PLANK! – Athletics Weekly ran an interesting article on their website this week regarding the plank exercise, and whether or not we should be doing it. Personally, I still use the standard plank once a week as a “core” endurance exercise, but since my visits to the British Olympic Association’s Intensive Rehabilitation Unit (or, as the cool kids call it, the IRU) I have been using much more dynamic based stabilisations in my training. But then again, I’m hardly a good advert for spinal health.
SHARKS! – I like sharks. A lot. Not a weird amount, but a higher end of normal amount. I also like Hans Rosling. Here is his talk, which covers, amongst other things, how shark attacks affect what we know about global poverty.
Book I Am Currently Reading – I’m still plugging away with Future Of The Mind. It’s long, and I’ve been busy, but it’s really enjoyable. This week I have been learning about memories, dreams, CIA mind control, and mental illness. The mental illness chapter was interesting, it covered OCD, which is essentially a breakdown of feedback loops, and Joan of Arc, who heard voices from God, and therefore probably had temporal lobe epilepsy. In fact, up to 40% of temporal lobe epilepsy suffers have hyperreligiosity. You can use that as your interesting fact of the day.
Perhaps the most interesting chapter was on Einstein’s Brain. I found it particularly interesting as it provided a look at the genes vs. hard work arguement that is played out in various books, such as The Sports Gene, The Talent Code, Bounce, and Talent Is Overrated. The question of “Are geniuses made or born” was explored. The author concluded that Einstein was a genius because he spent a lot of time thinking (up to 10 years on each problem), and his personality suited it; he was a bohemian, and so it was natural for him to rebel against the physics establishment. The author also noted that Einstein’s brain was quite normal in terms of it’s physical characteristics. It was slightly smaller than average in size, but with larger than average areas associated with abstract thought. Overall, the author felt that “genius is perhaps a combination of being born with certain mental attributes and also the determination and drive to achieve great things.” This sums up pretty well my stance on genes vs. hard work; all the talent in the world won’t make you successful is you don’t have the determination and drive. Conversely, all the determination and drive won’t lead to success if you have zero talent.
Have a good weekend!
Following on from last Monday’s blog, where I examined the decision making process that an athlete or person considering transferring their talents should go through, today I will expand a bit further on some ideas regarding how to best adapt to your new endeavor. Part Three will follow next week, and conclude the mini-series.
- Set Goals
Specifically, you need to have an end goal, and then plan your process goals leading up to it. Once I had fully committed to bobsleigh, I went through this goal setting process. My outcome goal was selection in the Great Britain Team for the 2014 Winter Olympics. Within this goal, I had a “Dream” goal, which was to win a medal as part of the GB1 4-man team, and a minimum goal of just getting selected for the Games. All my process goals were set with the dream goal in mind, and the minimum goal as a back up. My process goals addressed how this maximum goal was to happen, and were time phased.
To make the GB1 4-man squad, it meant that, realistically, I had to be in the top-3 brakeman. This ranking is decided from a combination on single man pushing, team pushing, and other subjective and objective criteria (the list is too long to write here, but you can find the Olympic Selection document here; and, even if you had fulfilled all the criteria and reliably outperformed other brakeman, they could still appeal your selection through a well set out legal process).
To be ranked good enough for selection to GB1, I decided I had to, at worst, finish 2nd in the on-ice individual tests at the start of the season. To qualify for this camp, I had to finish in the top-8 at push-track testing in Bath a few weeks before, so that became another goal for me. For these two goals to occur, I also set plenty of physiological and skill based goals, again which are too numerous to go through here. I constantly reviewed these goals to see how I was getting on, and used them to measure my progress. Knowing you’re outperforming your goal is a strong motivator, as is knowing you’re falling behind!
- Become An Expert
One question I am often asked at seminars and workshops is “If you could offer one piece of advice to an up and coming athlete, what would it be?” My answer is to become an expert in what you do. If you want to be the best at something, you’re giving yourself a head start if you become an expert in it. Learn all there is to know about what you do. This obviously takes a long time. With my transition, I tried really hard to become an expert, going from knowing absolutely nothing about bobsleigh to being able to hold my own a year later. To do this, you have to immerse yourself in it fully. You can definitely learn via osmosis, so spend time around people that are already experts. Ask plenty of questions; I must have sent Jacko (John Jackson, the GB1 Driver) and Bruce Tasker mental by always asking questions. Fortunately there were very patient with me. I listened to what my coach, Michael Khmel said, and learned as much as I could from Chris Woolley, the bobsleigh performance coach. At competitions and training camps I watched the best in the world push and load, trying to learn from them. I watched videos on youtube. I did video analysis of myself and other GB athletes performing. I downloaded the bobsleigh rules document (it’s a tough read). I decided I had to become proficient pushing on each handle of the bobsleigh, not just the one I hoped to be selected on. I traveled out to Switzerland a few times to work with possibly the best bobsleigh coach in the world, Dominik Scherrer. I thought long and hard about how my technical ability and physical traits needed to be modified. I tried to fully immerse myself in the culture of bobsleigh, to become as much of an expert as I could.
- Understand The Skill Learning Process
Becoming an expert isn’t enough; you actually have to have to perform well in your chosen discipline. This requires you to learn many new skills. Running 100m on a track was something I was used to. Running 40m downhill on ice, holding a handle and having to jump into a moving object wasn’t. You have to learn by doing, and so you have to do it time and time again. If you’re transferring into something new, you’re taking on people who are already experts in this field. You’re playing catch up all the time. British Bobsleigh decided that 200 pushes was a good number for all the brakeman to achieve come the Olympic Games. I decided that, as I was playing catch up, I had to double this number, so 400 pushes became my goal. To achieve this, I did a 5-hour round trip to Bath pretty much once a week in order to use the push track there. I tried to collect as much data as possible on all my pushes, including video, so I could analyse what was going well and what wasn’t. If I ever got an opportunity to push, I took it.
One thing I knew was that skill learning happens best when you are right on the edge of your ability, and feeling uncomfortable. To achieve this, I was constantly pushing myself, pushing in different positions and combinations on the sled. My rule became that if something came up that scared me or that I didn’t want to do, I had to do it. I would break the skills down into chunks, so that I could work on them separately. One day I would work on the hit, another on the first 5-10m, another on 10-40m, and another on loading well. Then I would try and layer them together, so I would have a good hit and first 10m, and in another session a good 10-40m followed by a good load. Then I’d add them together more, until I could perform the whole skill well. I’d make the sled heavier, so that it would be slower to push, magnifying my technical errors. I’d invent my own drills to get better at various aspects of pushing and loading. I’d practice little and often, as opposed to pushing myself into fatigue, which is counter productive. In the end, all these little things added up and I became pretty good at my new skill. (As an aside, if you’re interested in learning more about skill learning, you should read “The Talent Code” or “The Little Book Of Talent”, both by Daniel Coyle).
- Compare Yourself To The Best In Your Field
This tip isn’t specific to talent transfer, but it does make it much easier to decide on what things need to improved on to become an expert. As explained earlier, I was constantly watching the best bobsledders in the world push, including Bruce Tasker, and comparing myself to them. What were they doing that I wasn’t? I was also comparing myself to them on a physical basis; when I started bobsleigh I was about 85kg, and I noticed that the best brakemen generally weighed in-between 95-105kg, so I did a lot of work to get my weight up to this level. I would try to find out everything I could about the best bobsledders training programmes, to see if there was anything I could utilise, or if they were addressing any physiological or skill development issue that I had neglected, or were doing so differently.
Throughout this period though, I wasn’t just copying the world’s best. I was also considering if I could do things better than they could. Were there any skills or techniques or physical attributes that I had that meant I could do what they do but better? Could I do it differently? Was what they were doing optimum?
In the end, through a long process of research, asking questions and critical evaluation, I like to think I copied the right bits, and changed what I needed to, to get the best out of myself.
That’s it for this week. Check back next Monday for the final three tips on a successful(ish) talent transfer process.
The first in what will hopefully be a regular round up of cool and interesting stuff I have come across in the week. By cool and interesting, I of course mean cool and interesting to me. Given that I am neither cool nor interesting, you might not enjoy this!
FREE BOOK! – Brendan Chaplin has made his ebook, “It’s Not About Sets And Reps” available for the price of £0.00 on kindle. Get yours here.
Mobility Wod – Very soon, Kelly Starrett will be bringing out a new book, “Ready To Run”. If you don’t know who Kelly is, check out his website. I recently started right back at the beginning of his daily videos to refresh my knowledge on stretching, mobility, and improving performance. Kelly’s first book, “Becoming A Supple Leopard“, is also excellent.
Unbreakable Runner – for some reason, Brian Mackenzie of Crossfit Endurance has also decided to release a book about how to prepare your body for running. He and Kelly have even got the same co-author. You can read an excerpt of Brian’s book here.
DATA! – This week Liverpool and Middlesborough had a mammoth penalty shoot out, that stretched to 30 penalties! What are the chances of that you ask? Oh, about 1.5%.
MORE DATA! – The best book on Infographics I have ever read is “Information is Beautiful”. This week, a sequel was release called “Knowledge is Beautiful”. See an example infographic here.
RIVAL BLOG – In a move I can only assume was designed as a deliberate act of war, James Campbell has also set up a blog. James is both funny and a terrible human being, which means its probably worth checking out. There will be drama.
Twitter Recommendation of the Week – Yann Le Meur. Produces brilliant infographics of exercises science. My two favourite things.
Book I Am Currently Reading – The Future Of The Mind. If you’ll excuse the pun, this is absolutely mental. I’m 4 chapters in, and the author has already discussed; experiments where a question was asked to different hemispheres of the brain, and got a different answer; if you cut off the connection between right and left hemispheres, were stuff happens; telepathy is becoming increasingly real, as are surrogates (like Avatar). Definitely worth a read. Also check this video.
Stuff I’ve Done This Week – I’ve been busy working on some presentations (more on those soon), but I also managed to get involved with an Exeter University Athletics Club sportivate project. You can read about it here, if you so wish.
That’s it for this week – have a good weekend!
In this blog post, I will examine my journey from being an Olympian in one sport, to being selected for an Olympics in a completely different one. This process is known as “talent transfer”, and is becoming increasingly common. Within my second sport, Bobsleigh, everyone in the Great Britain squad started off in another sport. The most common of these sports is athletics, with sprinters and long-jumpers making up the vast majority of these. Globally, bobsleigh teams are increasingly recruiting from athletics; Lauryn Williams and Lolo Jones compete for USA, Jana Pittman for bobsleigh, and 2008 Olympic Silver Medallist Hanna Marien for Belgium. Outside of bobsleigh, Rebecca Romero successfully went from rowing to cycling, winning Olympic medals in both. Michael Jordan transferred from basketball to baseball, and back again. The opportunity is there for athletes who fancy trying something new, for whatever reason, to do so. So, below are my 11 tips for transferring your skills from one arena to another.
This will be a multi-part blog, as it’s pretty long. In part one we are going to examine the decision making process that leads to transferring your talent. Parts two and three will look at the more practical aspects of actually transferring your skill, and integrating into a new team.
- Consider Your Options
There will likely be a stimulus for you wanting to consider something else. For me, a few years of relative underperformance and injury in athletics led to me being removed from funding at the end of 2012. This left me with two options; find a real job and continue with athletics, or find someone else who might be able to fund me. I thought I would struggle to balance athletics training and full-time employment, plus I was fed up with hoping that next year would be better in terms of performance. So I decided to consider other options. A very attractive option, and one that I had considered (fleetingly!) before was bobsleigh; my athletics coach was now employed as a coach by British Bobsleigh, and two of my training partners were bobsleigh athletes. The performance director also kept joking that he wanted to see me have a go; turns out that he was semi-serious.
After this stimulus, you need to consider your options. What are the pros and cons of a) doing nothing and staying where you are, and b) changing to another sport/job? Why would you want to Talent Transfer? The main pro for me was the chance to go to an Olympic Games within 16 months of first considering bobsleigh. This was especially attractive as I had missed the 2012 Olympics through injury. The chance to meet new people and have new experiences was also really attractive, particularly as athletics was essentially the same people and places year after year. Added to the fact that my 100m personal best wouldn’t even qualify me for the athletics team anymore, it seemed like a pretty easy decision.
- Approach People In The Know
Once you’ve had the stimulus to consider your options, and thought it through, you need to know if other people think it’s a reasonable idea. The first person I approached was my athletics coach, who was employed by British Bobsleigh and was a former bobsleigh athlete himself. I asked him what if he thought I had what was required to be successful in bobsleigh, and he was very positive. I then thought about the other bobsleigh athletes that I knew, and considered about whether, on a physical level, I could compete with them. I thought that I could. So then I approached the bobsleigh Performance Director, Gary Anderson, who was very keen to meet with me and discus options. Gary told me that I had been one of his target athletes for a few years – whether this was true or not, it was really good to hear, and added to my confidence that this could be a successful move.
- Have A Taste
The next step is to see if you will actually be any good at your new endeavor. You don’t have to be brilliant straight away, but similarly, if you show no potential, then it’s probably not a good idea to pursue this change. Before announcing that I was going to transfer to bobsleigh, I traveled down to Bath for an appraisal, which consisted of some of the standard performance tests British Bobsleigh carry out. I was incredibly nervous for this, as it was probably the time where I would have to decide whether or not I was good enough for bobsleigh; fortunately I tested incredibly well, which further fuelled my belief that I could successfully transfer across.
At this point, you’ve considered your options, you’ve spoken to people in the know about your idea, and you’ve given it a go. There isn’t anything left to do but decide, so make your decision and commit! Once I decided that I wanted to do bobsleigh, I fully gave it everything I had. I knew my athletics career was going to be significantly affected, if not finished, at least for the short term. And this was actually a relief to me. Having grown up wanting desperately to be a successful athlete, and (almost) every year of my senior career falling short of those goals, to be liberated from that feeling was actually a really positive feeling.
If you’re serious about transferring from one area to another, then you really do have to give it your all. If you try and keep a foot in both camps, then you’re stunting your potential in both. Being world class at anything requires you to live and breathe that particular thing. Failure to commit will lead to you becoming a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.
Here is a video of the speed training session I did at Salisbury AC. It was a really fun day working with the next generation of athletes; hopefully they enjoyed themselves as much as I did! Please get in touch if you’re interested in your sports club hosting one of these days.
Thank you to Ethan Ness for the videography.