I love it
And I always want to enjoy it
I want to enjoy it, especially in relation to the climbing that has usually preceded it
My intention is safety as a foundational given, and performance as the goal – I practice viewing and achieving these priorities, as one
Performance for me is indicated by speed, flow, enjoyment, deep presence, being very sensitive in my body, total time taken, efficiency of effort, and smoothness
I choose to see it as a surfing-based flow activity (surfing's my favourite thing to do)
Sometimes I'm deliberate with my outside straighter leg weighting, sometimes not
Overall I'm always trying to go faster with more flow
Though I've never lacked confidence on descents (only skill and experience), my recent new bike change has me feeling better – lower to the ground and better front to back balance over my bike
I use as much of the road as I can within safety, respect and legal constraints - I draw better lines that way
The further I can look ahead, I do – not just in and out of a bend, but to the road below a switchback or further ahead for example – I'm taking in as much relevant information as possible
I'm improving the balance of confidence in my ability with the risk of unexpected random things outside of my control eg. A pothole in a shadow, a kangaroo hopping out of the bush, a parked car on a blind corner, aggressive drivers etc.
I keep my body relaxed and soft – when it's a bit bumpy I lift off the saddle a little and let the drops rattle around ever so slightly within my grip – overall I let the bike jump around as it needs to, rather than my body and eyesight being bounced
There are times when I cruise without pushing it, times when I look for flow, and times when I go for top end speed (usually when I decide to keep up with someone who has overtaken me - ego)
I practice staying in the fleeting moments of uncertainty, where the thought of slowing down enters ("Do I need to slow down or do I just continue to see what happens?")
The technique of looking where you want to go through a bend rather than right ahead of you is a good one and I'm unsure how well I do it – I can't tell where I consistently look – Is this automaticity or lack of awareness & skill?
There is an energy cost to descending and so a good descent performance includes efficiency of energy output as well
The rough surfaces and bumps we have on Australian roads mean that I'm glad for strong wheels rather than weight-weenie, light, aero ones that may damage more easily
It always good to descend with someone a bit better than me – stimulates me to explore and develop further
The two best descents I've had so far were both in Italy in 2015. Down Passo Gaiu 7 hours into the Maratona Dles Dolomites event, and Passo Stelvio dropping into Switzerland. Both 25 kms of smooth road, flowing bends, spectacular scenery, great friends and respectful road users
Here in Melbourne when I descend the very moderate 1 in 20 climb, I practice not touching the brakes for the whole descent, and fully feeling the rubber of my tires in contact with the road during bends
Seeing myself on video would add to my awareness of how I descend, and the learning for future developmental opportunities
Yesterday I had one of my back molars sawn in half and then yanked out with pliers.
This came at day 3 of the current illness I've got — body-aches, fever, headaches, coughing blah, blah, blah. I went to the dentist with a bad toothache, knowing it wouldn't be good, she gave me options, I chose, and I came back in an hour to get it done.
So I was feeling terrible and weak already and I was going to get a big tooth taken out. The night before I'd thought of the people who have endured pain over time. People have tolerated incredible amounts of pain. From the after effects of stroke, to childbirth, to amputations while biting down on a leather strap, to ongoing chronic pain from accidents, to loss of life and cruelty. Not to mention people born with pain right from the word go. I guess I was doing this thinking to put my own situation in perspective and thereby lessen the perceived challenge. Reframing.
So what could be the challenge at the dentist? Well, they inject you with numbing stuff, so there's no real physical pain involved (they even put numbing cream on before the injection so the injections don't even hurt). What that left for me was fear and discomfort.
For me, the fear comes from lack of familiarity and also specifically trying circumstances. When someone is poking around trying to trigger pain spots or using a saw that you can hear inside your head even though you can't feel it, fear can take hold. For me, fear and anxiety is about strong concern for the future — what might happen. Those thoughts about “bad things” that might happen are then brought into and onto the present moment causing all sorts of barriers. This is us getting in our own way. That's not say that no fears are real, but when we hold them to the light they become just real circumstances. Fears exist in our fleeting thoughts. We need to bring them onto the table, examine them, accept them and then deal with their degree of “realness”.
The other challenge is the simple discomfort of it all. Of having someone poking around your mouth for ages, of having your head lower than your hips, mouth open wide with metal chopsticks being stuck in there, being told to open wider again, and having to taste horrid substances. The drilling and sawing noises don't help either. Now in any situation where better performance is the goal, there is likely be discomfort along the way because this is part of change, and change is a part of improvement. When we want to change from what we are, to what we want to be, we'll be at our learning edge, a new unfamiliar area, and this can be uncomfortable in different ways.
Dealing with Fear & Discomfort: What I did In The Chair and What You Can Do On The Bike
Both fear and discomfort are realistic, significant challenges in any setting, be it sport, business or life. For simplicity let's apply this to performance cycling where we're in the red zone – specially where it's hurting like hell, we don't know if we can do it anymore, and we've just gotta get through this phase of the race.
Accept – I chose to have the tooth pulled and I accepted that it could be uncomfortable. After making that decision I left no resistance or arguments in my mind.
“I choose my involvement in competitive cycling and I know it is a challenging sport, I'm prepared to truly accept these challenges and perform to my best within this context. While there may be reasons for my performance levels at any point, I make no excuses. At that point in time, my performance was what I was capable of.”
- Consciously Distract / Engage - I didn't think about the appointment before time — I didn't make it more that that it was, I occupied myself with other things. I did what I doing and paid attention to it, and not what was upcoming in the future.
“I have prepared myself for this upcoming race, there's nothing more I can do now. If there is, I'll deal with it and be done with it. If not, I'm prepared, and I'll do something else and give myself to it fully. I am not waiting, I am doing something else and when race time comes I am ready. I may lightly rehearse the race beforehand, but I will not ride my imagined race eternally looping over and over, before time”
Task – I focussed on my job which was to lie still on the chair, keep my mouth open and communicate occasionally.
“Keep going at the required speed or stay on the wheel in front. Just that. Nothing else. Focus. Do it.”
Self talk – I kept reminding myself to relax in the chair — like an ongoing mantra.
“I'm feeling my legs and lungs starting scream and I don't know if I can keep the current pace >> Relax, spin the pedals, compose my breathing, let the discomfort be there and then deal with it, hang in there, they'll all be suffering too.”
Body awareness — I noticed when my body was tensing and subtly lifting out of the chair, and then I yielded back into it.
“Be relaxed on the bike right now. Feel the saddle, the pedals, the bars, and get back into my legs. Become one with the bike again. Let go of wasted tension and gripping in the rest of the body and put that energy in to the pedals — this may be hard to do under fatigue. Relax my face and smooth my breath.”
Calm place — I closed my eyes and retreated from outside world – I went deeper into myself.
“To go deep into my capacity I will need to narrow my attention. Narrow it, but leave enough space to still “see” the race. A soft narrowing.”
Breathing – I kept taking my attention back to my breath, and made it smooth.
“Optimise my breathing by making it smooth, more elongated and down into my lower torso, my shoulders are away from my ears.”
Presence - I used all of these tactics above to bring myself back to the present moment and breath
“One little eye for in-race planning, the other big eye on focussing on efficiently moving the bike within the surrounding discomfort.”
Ultimately all of these tactics are about not adding any psychological “noise” to the physical reality of the experience. To relax internally – mind, body, emotion – accept the experience, and act from there. Thoughts that we want to pay attention to, are ones that support the performance not impede it.
PART 2: THE TIME TRIALING MIND - High Performance Ways Of Being.
“TTs are about power to pedal, but mental strength is what can affect and impact on power application, in particular the ability to push into the red and hold it there. Gaining a mental ‘edge’ is a skill to learn and takes practise, practise and more practise.” - Felicity Wardlaw.
From any viewpoint, the TT is extreme. The physical position, the intention and demands, the social exposure and so on. When we're put in extreme situations and intend on extracting the most from ourselves, the real stuff comes out. And that's exactly what we want and need to be training - the truth of our mind and body, when we're under the pump. Yes the “race of truth” is aptly named for many reasons.
When looking at the enormous topic of the mind we first need to be very clear on how our cultural conditioning often leads to us seeing our mind as separate to our body. For convenience, the body and mind often get labeled individually, but the danger is that the two entities often get treated and trained in isolation. Why does this matter? Because, by dealing with them separately we shortchange ourselves. The bodymind is one functioning integrated system and it's in this integration our higher potential lies. So from this perspective, we can see the importance of training the bodymind as one.
The Power of Observation
Examine any field of human potential, be it spirituality, leadership, performance, psychology etc. and the essence of them all will be around developing awareness of self. It's from this awareness we're able to 'see' clearly, develop choice, act with purpose, take responsibility for ourselves, and create the outcomes we want. The key that allows us to become more aware is the ability to observe. You might use different a word or description but it all gets back the same thing, the ability to pull back, and become more aware of the full picture - to see the forest and the trees. Both “marginal gains” and major breakthroughs in performance have come from athletes and teams becoming more aware. The more powerful our observations, the more powerful we become. So when considering TT performance, the physical discomfort, and overall challenge involved in riding at your edge, becoming a “better” or different observer, is fundamental to doing faster times. It's pretty deep, but if you want to change your TT times, change your way of observing.
Way of Being
As a coach, one way I assist my clients to become more effective observers and create better outcomes is with the Ontological “Way of Being” Model. This model has big backstory** I wont go into here but it can be a powerful tool to get the most out of yourself, and of course make you go really fast on your bike.
This model proposes that as humans, we exist in 3 interrelated areas: language, emotion and body.
Language consists of our listening and speaking, the words we use or don't use, what we listen for, and our internal dialogue, self talk, narratives and thought. It's also in language where we create meaning for ourselves.
Emotions (e-mote: Latin: to move), as the name suggests, are precursors to action. We are in emotion at every moment. The emotions we experience are largely based on the meaning we make for ourselves in language. Emotions influence the quality of how we feel and the way we act. The better our emotional vocabulary and acuity the better we can create optimal ways of being.
Body is not only our physical form and experience, but also the embodiment of our language and emotion - our way of being is embodied and shows up in many ways but especially through our habitual postures, muscle tension, and breathing and movement patterns.
It's in our Way of Being that our perceptions and attitudes lie, and it's the active interplay between language, emotion and body that determines our beliefs, behaviour, an ultimately, TT performance!
Below are some TT examples in each area, but just as important as the individual observation is any relationship between observations in different areas.
Language Observations - TT Examples
Race lead up:
“I own the the time trial”
“I've gotta get good result here to get another contract”
“I haven't done enough training”
“It's my kind of track, I can't wait!”
During the race:
“Wow I'm feeling good, much better than usual”
“Push” or “Go, go, go”
“Shit, wrong gears”
“My legs are dead, I can't maintain this wattage”
“This time won't be good enough, it's not my day”
“You're not passing me, no way”
Ongoing Personal Narrative:
“I'm better than you, and you, and you”
“I was born to do this”
“I don't belong here”
“I don't deserve this”
Emotion Observations – TT Examples
- Anxiety, doubt or excitement waiting to start, or before you settle into the ride
Anxiety or panic as you feel yourself starting to blowup
Anger, resignation or determination if you get passed by someone else, or get a flat
Fear - not living up to your own standards, or of what might happen if you're successful
Doubt about whether you can do it
Excitement when you feel up for it and well prepared
Pride, arrogance, anger, resentment, curiosity, hunger, uncertainty, acceptance or resistance, fearlessness, helplessness, justification, persistence, patience, calmness etc.
Body Observations – TT Examples
Shallow, fast breathing into the upper chest waiting to be counted down at the start
Smooth, steady and fluid movement of the bike (e.g. Tony Martin)
A sensation of pedalling in squares or triangles, not in circles
Face scrunched up and tense (pain face)
Feeling an even spread of weight at the 6 contact points - saddle, bars and pedals
Head, rib cage, and bike rocking side to side with each pedal stroke (e.g. Andy Schleck, 2011 TdF stage 20, Grenoble ITT, 1m:45s mark)
Over gripping with the trunk muscles to stabilise for the legs to push
Springy, resilient, powerful legs
Quads stiffening, body “locking up”
Uneven left-right weighting on the sitting bones in the saddle
So how do we use this to help us?
When we become more self aware by observing our Way of Being, we have a better understanding of what's going on. From here we can either decide to leave things as they are, or make a change - and the learning required for ongoing improvement and better performance, requires change. So if we identify that our current, or typical Way of Being for our TT goals may be limiting us, we can make a change. We can shift from our current, or “old” Way of Being, and bring in a new, more effective one.
7 Steps To Create New High Performance Ways of Being
Choose a part of the TT you feel will give you the biggest return on investment if you improve it. It might be your overall attitude to TT, the night before, waiting at the gate, or some point during the run when you're at maximal physical and (self imposed) mental suffering.
Either by remembering previous TT experiences or by simply being aware of it during your next TT race or training, observe and write down what you notice in your language, emotions and body. Don't analyse obsessively but the more precise you can be, the more likely you'll get to the heart of the matter and create real possibilities for change and breakthroughs.
Give your current identified Way Of Being a name, label or description. Eg. “the avoider” or “cold”, “black” or “honest” - whatever you feel best represents you in that situation. This will help you quickly identify when you're moving into this way at the “wrong” time.
In contrast to this typical Way Of Being, identify and generate alternate language, more helpful emotions, and sensations and posture on the bike, that will work better for you. Again, writing it down helps most people.
Label this new Way Of Being. Maybe it's “fire” or “relentless” or “Chewbacca” or even the name of a time trialist you admire. Whatever resonates for you that you can rapidly embody in the moment. For example I loved Felicity Wardlaw visualising herself as a panther. This helped her embody fast, relaxed, smooth, powerful and lean.
Practice your Way Of Being and the overall feeling it gives you. This will be obviously be done in the specific situation, especially in training, but it can also be in quieter moments away from the bike. Also, practice bringing on your old way until you can really feel it, and then alternate with your new way. This'll help you contrast between the two and improve your awareness of what state you're in.
At your next TT, whenever you notice yourself in your typical “old” way that you don't want, simply bring in your new way and carry on toward your goal!
Important Note: All this could sound complex and laborious, but once familiar, the whole process of practicing is quite simple and can take just a few minutes. On the bike during a race it only takes a moment or two once you are skilled with it. Also, the value of this work can only be fully realised and appreciated by actually doing the work (not just considering it) with intent and as much application as any other part of your preparation.
To tap into our full potential, whether it be the TT, other cycling, or life, it helps enormously to see our body and mind as one. The basis of many human potential movements is to become more self aware via clear observation. The Ontological Way of Being model is a powerful approach that helps us observe ourselves in the domains of language, emotion and body. It offers opportunities for insight, learning, improvement, performance and ultimately, deep satisfaction.
Until next time, bring out your inner panther.
Part 1 of this series looked training philosophy, and how you can maximise your TT performance by artfully keeping your preparation and training “close” to the event. This article covered creating optimal ways of being for time trialling, and any pursuit for that matter. In the 3rd and final instalment, we'll look at improving movement efficiency in the body to create more sustainable power on the bike, with less pain, discomfort and injury potential.
* Image: HeraldSun: Colleen Petch
** “Coaching to the Human Soul – Ontological Coaching and Deep Change” by Alan Sieler
I loved Helen Kelly's article on CyclingTips "How To Become A Better Time Trialist" so much, I was inspired to contribute some additional perspectives. In this 3 part series I'll offer some other ideas around preparing your mind, body and training philosophy to get better returns in time trialling, and for that matter, any cycling where high performance is desired.
PART 1: TRAINING PHILOSOPHY - The 51% rule and Return On Investment
One of my favourite things as a coach, in designing preparation and training, is playing around with the principle of specificity. In very simple terms this principle says if you want to improve in something, then practice that something. And if you want to get really good? Practice that something a lot.
What works even better for me is an applied version I call the 51% rule. Practically, this means that if something is important to you and you want to improve it, at the very least, 51% of your total preparation time (including racing in the lead up to targeted events) wants to be practicing that exact “something”. For example, if you want to ride better, hours on the golf driving range are unlikely to help. More relevantly, if you want be a better climber, lots of overspeed red zone reps on the flats isn't going to yield maximal return on investment (Or is it? More on that later). But even more importantly, in a sport like cycling where objective measurement such kms, cadence, HR, zones, reps, sets, watts, gearing etc. are such big drivers of training decisions and behaviour, it's very easy to be seduced. Sometimes we focus on a particular isolated component at the expense of others. The assumption is that all the components, including the one we've been focusing on, will integrate when the time comes later on. Well, some of it will, but some of it doesn't.
So back to simple? If you want to be a better time-trialist, not only do you have to ride your TT bike a lot more often, but you also need to do/create as many TT races as possible within your constraints of time and other resources. I'm talking the whole of Time Trials here, not just the bike, effort, speed and time goal, but also the “one off” nature of it. An audience, the whole race and event routine from when you get there, the one-shot-only factor, sleeping in a different bed, being consistent with food etc.
To look at this another way, what do you reckon Lionel Messi spent most of his time on when he was a junior? That's right, it wasn't endless sprints or even cone to cone passing drills, it was 3 v 3, 5 v 5 or 6 v 4 small sided games in tight spaces where it was about beating your mates and hopefully showing them some awesome skills as well. And now, guess what he's really good at? It's also why when British Cycling was setting up their Academy they initially baulked at including an up and coming Mark Cavendish. He didn't hit the numbers in the lab tests. But fortunately (for them) they realised that the year before he'd won 20 races. By demonstrating the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, even in a very measurable sport like cycling, Cav was in.***
Now this concept may sound incredibly obvious or even naïve, but the amount of coaches and riders out there reducing their training and riding to get a kick-up in a specific area, while forgetting all the other integrated factors involved in high performance, is amazing. This is especially so due to the sport science, data driven nature of a sport like competitive cycling. In the western led culture of a more reduced approach, we often underestimate the effectiveness of staying very close to what we want to get better at. We often don't even look for subtle but effective opportunities for improvements within the specific task.
So if you want to be better at TT? The single biggest thing you can do is get as much experience and practice of a TT. Things like the lead-up, short term preparation, official countdown, the clock, accountability of the performance and the singular attempt, are all critically important to practise as part of the whole – the actual thing you want to get better at. This applies even more so to those with restricted time availability, which lets face it, is everyone from the weekend warrior up to Ellen van Dijk or Tony Martin. The art then becomes how to balance this with other contending priorities in your cycling program and life.
In the following articles I'll discuss ways of optimising your mind and body for time trialling. Until then, enjoy the hurt.
* Image: New York times Christophe Ena/Associated Press
** Image: Zimbio David Ramos/Getty Images Europe
*** “Sky's The Limit: Wiggins and Cavendish: the Quest to Conquer the Tour de France” by Richard Moore.
I've got a mate and professional colleague, David Darbyshire, who lives in Hawaii, and works with mostly golfers on the US mainland and triathletes in Hawaii.
His approach, like mine, is to work with the athlete's body so it can move and produce the required forces of the chosen activity more efficiently.
Typically this approach in training and performance isn't really appreciated because:
it's often subtle work - not obvious
it needs a skilled practitioner
people don't understand how the body works
it's a whole approach, not a conveniently partial one
it requires people to become powerful observers and learners rather than just “hard workers”
and so on
With an efficiency based approach, the results someone gets are only as good as their body awareness during training and performance. It requires a coach who understands how this all fits into their athlete's bigger sporting performance picture, and how to effectively facilitate it in the people they work with.
It doesn't work if someone wants a quick fix, to be told what to do, to just go off and mindlessly punch out reps and sets, or is after child-like guarantees from the coach. No, it's a shared responsibility and development approach. But the upside, if you needed more, is that you get deeper and more sustainable improvements.
The benefits of improved movement efficiency are pretty obvious:
more output from less effort – more energy efficient
far less chance of injury
more attentional space for other elements of the sport / performance
better and more satisfying performances
David knows I'm working with cyclists (mostly road and triathletes), and sent me this photo the other day.
If you want to develop yourself; before reading on, what do you see?
What I see is typical in that setting. A group of what appear to be triathletes, motivated (you gotta be to do wind-trainer-type sessions), working “hard”.
How do I know they're working hard? The positions they're in. We've all been in situations where we're going all out, require a lot of effort and we do whatever it takes to produces the force and movement required. I definitely know this position on the bike.
The problem is, despite their efforts, they aren't getting the most out of their bodies and minds. Here's just a few problems:
That head down, super curved spine shape on the bike is a postural disaster and shuts down efficient force available from the body, and through the legs, to turn the pedals.
Space for lungs to expand and breathe is greatly reduced
The spine can't stabilise efficiently to link with the arms to provide a stable base for the legs to pedal
The powerhouse muscle in the Tri / TT position, the glute max, gets shuts down due to poor mechanical and neurological advantage
The neck has to work and tighten more than necessary affecting general and shoulder function, but also swimming (if you're a triathlete)
Hip flexors and the overall anterior sling (critical for running) tighten and weaken more than necessary
More permanent negative postural adaptations occur which further reduce power, efficiency, ease of movement, increasing the metabolic load to produce the same output, and injury risk
Mindsets and thinking with this position go from mindful, strategic and aspirational to survival, desperation, lock down and wanting to be somewhere else.
Tactical options are shut down and pure grunt mentality takes over. Of course there are times when this is required, but we want it as a last resort, and to stay away from it as much as possible
Consider the accumulative cost of these positions across weeks, a season, and a career.....
In this position the mind and body are definitely disconnected and not integrating for best performance output. It doesn't take a genius, or even an expert, to look at these positions and know they're not right.
As much as possible on the bike, even allowing for aerodynamics, the spine wants to be long (not round) and the head position an extension of the spine (not hanging low).
The ultimate challenge in physical pursuits where we want maximal (or optimal) output through our body, is to be aware of our whole body, how easily we are moving, and maintain this “zone” while intensity increases.
This is the art of training and preparing.
When we're competing, racing or even participating in targeted important events, we need to just go with what we've got. Don't think of anything except our intention. Just do it. And get it done.
But everything else?
We want to be training the highest of our quality and ensuring movement efficiency, while over time, raising key indicators such as speed and volume.
Cycling and Triathlon have explored a ton of understanding from a metabolic physiology perspective which develops the “engine”. And there's a big emotional attachment to this. It's now time for these athletes and coaches to incorporate the “chassis” to maximise potential through effective force transfer to the bike.
Get in touch if you reckon there's more in you that you can't get out.
What happens to our performance and potential when we are challenged by fatigue, load or complexity?
In this 4 minute audio piece I discuss the concepts of "Degrees of Freedom" and "Lockdown Strategies" in relation to a ride I did this morning, and other possibilities to stay open, curious and at our potential.
If you want to drop weight to pump up your power to weight ratio on the bike, then try this:
1. Every time you go out on a big early morning ride, leave early, therefore you won't eat breakfast - the energy you need for the ride is already stored in your body anyway.
2. Eat as required on the ride - a little bit every hour or so, or even less if you don't have to be at full intensity the whole time.
3. When you get home or to work at some point in the morning, don't have breakfast. You might have a small snack or a coffee if you want, but don't eat until a little bit later at lunchtime.
4. This isn't as great for rapid glycogen recovery, but it will challenge your metabolism and force the body to use your excess mass instead.
A simple but practical strategy that can form part of your 'dropping weight' approach.
The other day on twitter, @Grant_Jenkins wrote an brief article summarising the responses to a question posed by the Australian Strength & Conditioning Association: "What are 3 exercises every young Strength & Conditioning Coach should learn?" I saw the responses on twitter at the time, also read Grant's article and felt compelled to write:
Hi Grant, good idea to write this article.
Just to clarify, I'm uncomfortable with the amount of bilateral exercises in the survey, but my comment was actually more in relation to most of them being bilateral through the legs, more so than the arms. The way I see it, so little human movement occurs symmetrically through the legs or arms, that I don't understand why it would be emphasised so much in training. Unless of course the intention is to move as much external load as possible, as a measure of training success. Which if so, always seems to me, to be a superficial understanding of the demands in sport/movement.
Regarding your bench press comment, I'm wondering where the return on investment is for a tennis player? I see them serving (whole body multi-planar sling with rapid ER/IR at the shoulder), volleying (positioning to the ball and trunk-arm relationship) and hitting (the body throwing the arm and racquet head). Amongst other things, I see bench press being bilateral, no trunk or hip rotation and almost no shoulder rotation, very slow speeds in relation to tennis movements, performed lying on the back, and with a decent chance of developing chronic impingement/tightness due to decent tennis players “often” having long arms and hyper-mobile shoulders. How strong does someone have to be in bench press to hit a ball skilfully and when required, powerfully, and to stay away from injury?
It feels that the “typical” thinking/education/way of seeing for “typical” S&C coaches is around fitting a pre-selected group of exercises to the sport, athlete and person.
The other observation I make is the nature of the question asked by @ASCA_Conf: "What are 3 exercises every young Strength & Conditioning Coach should learn?" Does this mean that S&C is really just about advanced weight training/lifting exercises? Or are there other aspects that are just as critical?
This isn't mean to be an attack on you of course, and I'm not trying to argue supremacy of ideas, but more just to express how I see it. Maybe the label of "Strength & Conditioning" is part of the problem in how coaches see the role of what they do.
Ross Clark Jones is a big wave surfer paid to chase and ride massive ocean swells. I was reading a recent article on him the other day in the paper (he's got a doco out that features Tom Carroll and himself riding huge surf), and in it he describes his attitude and approach to the big wipeouts and hold downs that are all part of what he does. This is what was written:
Watching Storm Surfers 3D confirms that any reasonable person would believe being wiped out on one of these giant waves would be their worst nightmare. Not for Clarke-Jones. To survive these hold-downs, for the one-time party boy it's a night club down there. "I did spend a lot of time in nightclubs in the '80s and '90s" he says. "When I'd lose a heat in a contest around the world I was excited because you could go out now."
The research came in handy. When he's being held under a surging cauldron, Clark-Jones visualises a nightclub. "It simulates the energy (of a wipeout). You've got the flashing light and the flashing lights of the sunlight (underwater) because you're being spun around and you're spun around on the dance floor bumping into people.Your noticing the lights, the interior of the floor, all these little details that take time to think about, and during that time you're getting thrown around and it takes up the time when you should be panicking. So you've almost deluded yourself into thinking about something else and all of a sudden you're up, it's over.
That's the difference between Ross Clark Jones and the rest of us: our nightmare is his party.
So it got me thinking about situations we typically encounter that we might perceive as "stressful", that we could re-frame to be something much more "enjoyable" - or at least less taxing. Can we shift our perception of an event, to cope better?
Chipper Jones is a long time, one team Major League Baseballer for the Atlanta Braves. After 20 years in 'the show' he's retiring - but he's actually still producing good numbers! This is a quote taken from a recent article reflecting on his achievements, his character and his plans as a more available Dad: "With two outs and the based loaded in the ninth inning, I don't want anyone up there but me. That's the mentality I've always had and that's never gonna stop. I don't care if I'm 40 or 60."
It reminds me of another quote by Rickey Henderson, Major League Baseball's all time stolen base record holder:
"There aren't that many people that run like I do. I think a lot of guys might run more but are afraid of getting thrown out. If you throw me out ten straight times, you know I am going to get up and run again. You know that's my game and that's what I have to do."
The other day I sent out a big group email via the Ride to Conquer Cancer website requesting donations to raise money for the only public hospital solely dedicated to Cancer in Australia - the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (Click here if you'd like to donate and help people who really need it). One of the recipients was AFL Coaching legend David Parkin, who I worked with at Carlton Football Club for 3 years from 1999 to 2001. He made a donation so I followed him up with an email of thanks. Below is the brief exchange:
From: Scott Barrow [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Tuesday, 21 August 2012 5:36 PM To: David Parkin Subject: Thanks
Thanks a lot for the donation. Very good of you. I appreciate it.
Just so you know. I'm still pursuing the Goal Kicking Conversion Rates stuff.
I went and saw Laurie Woodman a while ago and he suggested I write an article (which I wasn't ready to do at the time), I might go back to him soon to see if I can present at the coaching conferences or something.
More practically, I'm actually doing phase 1 of my program at Melbourne FC right now. It's the "audit" part of the intervention. It consists of observation of their approach & methods, and interviews of players & coaches to get their perception on it. All through the lens of culture, ownership, training design and skill execution. From here I'll report back to Neeldy and Craigy and see where we go from there. I really reckon there's scope in this. Sort of like a "Moneyball" concept - looking at the game of football differently. I also reckon there will be significant shift in regards to all this, and whether I'm leading the charge or someone else is, it will happen as everything tightens up in the game. Just a matter of when. If the league average goal kicking % over the last 10yrs is about 59%, what would it mean to a club if they could bump their rate up to 10-15% points? Especially in grand finals?
So if you think of anyone I could talk to about this, or anyone who might be interested at club/senior coach level, please let me know. But they've got to be able to listen outside of their normal "football expert" filters. This I know from experience.
Thanks again for you generosity.
On 22/08/2012, at 11:56 PM, "David Parkin" <email@example.com> wrote:
Appreciate your follow up. Expect your reciprocation when I ride with 28 other blokes across Australia ( on posties motorcycles ) next April – The Male Bag Ride – to raise awareness for and research money to assist, prostate cancer.
My theory, not mentioned amongst the factors you provided, that its very little to do with technique etc, but simply the lack of mental skills which Australian Football has been unable to develop via sports psychology, in the manner that other sports eg golf. If we can run at 19 kph and hit a moving target 40-50 meters away, why does a simple closed skill such as a set shot cause so much difficulty? Its all in the head!
Good luck with your study!
From: Scott Barrow [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Thursday, 23 August 2012 10:24 AM To: David Parkin Subject: Re: Thanks
Can't wait to reciprocate. I heard you talking about that ride on the radio.
I agree absolutely with you re the psychology of goal kicking especially with set shots. For me this aspect sat within my skill execution lens - in that it influences the execution and performance of the skill - along with other things like biomechanics (possibly worth pursuing), physical conditioning, stability & movement patterns, skill acq principles, technique etc etc.
The question I asked was why can't these methods gain real traction? For me it's symptomatic of a deeper reason. Why don't they get traction? I believe because there's no intrinsic ownership from players and majority of coaches. Why is this? Because of the AFL culture which values and sometimes gets lost in, "hard work". Until this shifts and expands, nothing will change. For me, as much as anything, the goal kicking problem/ opportunity is cultural. Real change requires all the levels to shift, not just the most relevant (on the ground, in the kicker).
I'm not writing this to have the last word but just explain my perspective. Any response welcomed. I could be wrong but i reckon improving total team goal kicking conversion rates is bigger than people realise.
From: David Parkin <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Thanks Date: 23 August 2012 10:53:36 AM AEST To: Scott Barrow <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Not trying to have the last word either, but you have one thing absolutely right, in that the only aspect/element of Australian Football which has seen minimal improvement during the past two decades of revolution in our game, is goal kicking. Anything which provides validated fact to change/improve that, will be a bonus for the code.
Good luck with the ride and the research.
"I have not failed. I've discovered ten thousand ways which do not work". - Albert Einstein when asked about his many failures
"There is no fixed point; instead there is combination, control, mobility, unpredictability, players arriving not waiting." From The Guardian, in relation to Spain playing and winning the tournament without a formal striker during Euro 2012.
Recently a colleague of mine, Cam Strachan, wrote a post on his golf coaching website. Someone wrote a comment below the piece and he responded to them here. I read it all and also felt compelled to contribute my half ramblings to it below. Clear as mud? Good.
Enjoy, but please read Cam's response first for context.
For me, part of what we are talking about is the difference between knowledge and knowing.
To declare from the outset, I am not an experienced golfer. Not even a half good or regular one. But what I am is experienced in coaching, learning, skill acquisition, movement and performance.
In golf, an example of knowledge is the analysis from identifying so called technical flaws in the swing. It's thinking, it's theory, it's fixing in relation to an ideal. Knowing, on the other hand, is feeling and experiencing what is actually happening in the moment, observing it and finding easier and more effective ways to hit the ball while still putting it all the context of the name of the game - getting the ball in the hole in minimum shots. While there is a relationship between knowledge and knowing for golf, no one said we had to be picture perfect doing it! And there's no evidence that says a universally perfect model exists or even correlates with ongoing improved performances. If you wanna get good at something, then practice that something. So in golf, working on your swing might get your swing better. Might. But it's not automatic that your game will get better.
I've always been uncomfortable with the typical golf coaching approach.
I think it's a brilliant business model.
Somewhere along the line striving golfers became convinced that the prerequisite for good golf is a perfect swing. They're always in fixing mode. Rarely just going with what they've got. How disempowering is that!? The devil's greatest trick. The thing is, this fixing and "I lack" mindset kills enjoyment and our ability to take responsibility for performing right now. As the saying goes, If not now, when? "When? When I just get my backswing right, then redirect my downswing, clean up my impact and then I'll be right....." Traditional golf coaching has reduced the game to just one part of the game. A large part of it granted, but just one part of many.
I actually feel there are plenty of shots in golf that don't require anywhere near a technical ideal, but more of an ability to feel the swing and make clean contact. In fact the top applied skill acquisition expert in Australia, Damian Farrow, says research supporting the idea of a biomechanically ideal template in any sporting action doesn't exist, even for simple, stable motor skills like putting!
Yet most golf coaching I see is for only 2-3 shot types in the game.
Video can be used and can definitely help but its the way it's used that either causes the problem or adds to the solution. If it's used to support the development of body awareness during, and general awareness of, the swing then great. But if it's used to "teach" mechanics then forget it.
In any movement, trying to really understand it is the problem. Understanding will assist motivation to change and work on stuff, but it'll also get in the way of doing. Understanding is thinking, and thinking can't get it done subconsciously during movement. It can't feel, it can't compute fast enough. You can have some principles and touchstone points but that's about it. Unless they are converted to things to feel and be aware of during the action, they get forgotten in skilful movement anyway.
The question for the golf learner isn't "how do I do the movement?" but "what is the movement?". And the movement will be dictated by the task, and your intention. So in golf, what is the task? Example: To get the ball to the right hand side of the fairway level with that bunch of bushes.
Here's the rest of the equation - what a great framework:
Intention ⇒ Action ⇒ Reflection
And regarding top players using certain methods? They're often not that different to us 'normal' players. Top players in all sports including golf, try and use things all the time that either don't work or are unproven, in their quest to uncover something that really makes a difference. Again sometimes the idea is logically great and romantic, but the results don't justify it or can't be attributed.
And improvement of the ball flight? Well I love and believe in the idea of the ball flight telling you everything about a swing and impact. But again, it's a large part of the game but only one part. To perform well in an accuracy sport like golf requires an accurate, consistent swing of course. But the two questions I offer are:
1. What is the best way to achieve this, and 2. What context does the swing sit in with regards to the overall objective of "getting the ball in the hole"?
So until next time, as Chevvy Chase's character said in the classic Caddyshack: "Danny, I'm going to give you a little advice. There's a force in the universe that makes things happen; all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking...let things happen...and be...the ball."
"Be the ball Danny."
Well this one's been coming for a long time. And it's the first of quite a few more. AFL goal kicking conversion rates - they've been a focal point of mine for years, but now is the time to act.
Comments by the Channel 7 commentary team about events during the round 11 Sydney versus Essendon match have sparked me into action. It's half time as I write and Essendon trail Sydney by 37 points. And while Sydney have completely outplayed Essendon all over the field; they've also kicked 8 goals 6 points to Essendon's 1 goal and 11 points. 1 goal 11 points!!!!!
Last week Essendon (8 wins & 2 losses) lost to Melbourne (0 & 10) by kicking 6 goals 16 points to Melbourne's 8 goals 10. Essendon missed 7 of 7 set shots in that game. This is just one small example of a problem that is endemic in AFL. So called media experts, and even some football coaches are good at identifying the problem when it shows up in an obvious way, such the Essendon games above, but have no idea as to why it's happening or how to significantly improve goal kicking conversion rates. I say this because the stats haven't changed for years - what has been done hasn't worked.
I'm here to say that I've got some answers.
Typical reasons are things like technique, pressure, fatigue and even more recently, kicking around the corner:
Technique Technique is the obvious one of course. The old chestnut that everyone has been banging on about for years. It can easily been seen and it's easy to analyse and create a multitude of "important technical changes". The thing is, while the kicking action needs to be consistent and precise, and it will obviously influence ball flight and accuracy, the way to influence technique is rarely through conscious technical changes, and certainly not through the typical technical instruction approach which has, by the way, also failed most golfers for decades. More on this in future posts.
Pressure Pressure, in the form of perceived meaning of the result (psychologically self created), and time and space restriction by the opposition occurs, but nevertheless can be trained for. "You can't reproduce game intensity and scoring importance" I hear everyone boringly cry in desperation again. Yes this is true, but you can do a lot to control the "controllables", to give you the best inoculation against game "pressures". And it's not getting done. Again more on this later.
Fatigue Even in tonight's game Matthew Richardson, the ex-Richmond Football Club forward and noted shockingly inaccurate goal kicker, declared that because of the intensity of the way the game is played these days, players are taking shots at goal under high fatigue, and this is causing them to miss more shots. Ok. Not bad reasoning for a teenager, but no excuse. No doubt accuracy-based motor skills are much harder to execute successfully when under fatigue. But if this is the case, then train it. Simple. Train it. Train converting shots on goal at a higher % when under fatigue. The principle of specificity isn't that hard to appreciate. So fatigue? No excuse and shouldn't be a factor in limiting goal kicking skill potential.
Around the corner On a slightly different note, the kicking around the corner approach for closer shots from an acute angle (as opposed to the traditional straight line run up) is also brought up. We need to make a distinction here. One is the "play on" version from a mark or free kick, and the other is the set shot with an around the corner approach (picture the hooked run up for a place kick in Rugby or the way they shoot at goal in Gaelic football). While everyone will have a different opinion on the effectiveness of this approach and the reasons why, to me this one seems simple and it seemed simple to me when I used to kick for goals down the park as a kid. By "playing on" from a mark or free kick , the player potentially maintains/creates a more of a flow state, and also avoids physical & psychological "blocking" in their kicking action and thinking that gets in the way of skilled movement. Effectively, players who employ this tactic are trading time & space for flow & present state awareness. By bending the ball around the corner, 2 factors are optimised: ball impact and angle of ball flight. With this way there's more margin for error at impact point (the foot meeting more of the ball) than on a regular straight shot at goal. Also, when you bend the ball "out" and then back into the goals the goal face and width is opened up by the ball flight. Again, this allows greater margin for error on flight path while still being successful. Compare this to a straight line shot at goal on a similarly narrow angle - much reduced successful ball impact points and ball flight path options. For this trend we have to be thankful for Steven Milne of St.Kilda and Steve Johnson of Geelong. They have really evolved a significant part of the game for the better.
Now I happen to think all this this stuff I've mentioned isn't that earth shattering. Maybe a bit clearer in its view than the typical commentator but nothing of breakthrough proportion, in my opinion. The factors above challenge accurate goal kicking, be it set shots, shots on the run or snaps shots, but the common denominator is that they are ALL TRAINABLE. However while these are all factors at a superficial level, they are not the ultimate cause of long standing, league-wide, poor goal kicking conversion rates in AFL.
If you want to kick more goals, win more games and win the big games, be sure tune in for the coming weeks.
In coming articles I will cover:
1. The critical importance of converting well
2. The current lay of the land in relation to AFL goal kicking and how clubs aren't walking their own talk
3. The reason why AFL conversion rates are so ordinary and haven't improved for decades.
4. What can and needs to be done for those who are serious about their chances of winning and wining big games.
5.The massive opportunity for clubs who are able to embrace a paradigm shift
And for the record? Essendon 11goals 16points, Sydney 13, 8. Essendon lost by 4 points. And that was just a regular season game.
“Everyone wants to play like Barcelona but you quickly find out not everyone wants to work like Barcelona.” - New appointed Liverpool Manager, Brendan Rogers
This piece comes with the pure imperfection of emotion. Perfectly fitting for the nature of what I'm about to write. Recently, with Melbourne Football Club's on field struggles, there's been a lot of commentary. Football media, fans and supporters, ex-players and coaches and others, have all weighed in:
- Is senior coach Mark Neeld the right man for the job?
- What about the implementation of his game plan?
- His management of players and previous leaders?
- The club's process to recruit Neeld?
- I thought they'd fixed the football department?
- If it can't be Neeld, surely CEO Cameron Schwab's gotta go?
Which Mark Neeld do you choose to see? Above or Below?
All these and more, have been thrown up as the hysteria grows - fuelled by people paid to sensationalise events – known nowadays as “the media”.
The noise is starting to deafen me.
On one hand I see commentary via media, throwing up all sorts of pseudo issues, biased analysis and fabricated concerns - allowing these commentators to profit from the attention they attract. It's another reminder of the seductive power of mass media communication. Do we enquire into the validity of the message or do we accept it because it's....... easier?
On the other hand I see a lynch mob, pent up with frustration created by their own expectations, looking for a catharsis - being played by forces other than their own intelligence. The thing is, lynch mobs are always unaccountable to reason. Where is our “Scout” from Mockingbird fame to defuse the moment?
Some even claim to be “challenging” the club for its own good, to help them “because something has to be done!”. I always find it amazing how the people who righteously announce these obvious problems are so unaware of how their comments and actions can distract clubs from their true focus of winning games. Funny how they never have to be accountable to working and following through the public hanging-based solutions they offer.
Yes I know, its not the first and won't be the last time.
So, without assuming I have the final word, or can account for everyone's opinion and way of assessing this situation, lets allow ourselves to be gently drawn into the argument. Lets see if we can create some space required for wisdom to come to the surface, gasp, and give a perspective on the current public dialogue:
- Is Neeld the right man for the job? Who knows. The only thing truly known is that Melbourne haven't won a game yet. Yet. Would we be hearing and accepting of the current noise if Melbourne had scraped over the line in say, 2 games? It would still be a shitty record and it wouldn't really be any more meaningful a performance other than 8 points. But now, because of those eight missing points the whole world is ending and we allow people names to be muddied. And we know what mud does, don't we. Is he the right man for the job? It's irrelevant at this point in time anyway. Sooner or later any organisation realises it can't keep sacking people for the next magic pill. Melbourne did that last year. They aren't going to get rid of him, it's such early days, and besides it costs big money to pay out the scapegoat while you're enticing the next saviour.
- Which brings us to the CEO Cameron Schwab. Over the last year, through all the club's publicised challenges as well as the deserved appreciation of what Jim Stynes did for for Melbourne Football Club's revival, the interesting omission was any public recognition for Cameron and his staff, from inside or outside the club. I know Jim had a big heart, fierce determination and a knack for connecting people, but was he that powerful? Surely he didn't do it all by himself did he? Off field the club is healthier than its ever been with a legitimate foundation to be successful and sustainable. What key people might have contributed to this state? This is where the lynch mob comes back in. “Well we can't get Neeld, he's only just started and its a young team, plus he's got 2½ more years, so who else is there?”
Scheming villain or architectural saviour? Which one?
- They didn't use a psychological profiling process when assessing Neeld! Again, creating things out of context, to generate self serving stories. Are we to accept that profiling is the only version of best recruiting practice? Where is the research showing the 100% satisfaction of organisations regarding the use of profiling in their staff recruitment process?
- Neeld's game plan, the teams performance, and player leadership groups? Again all this is based on the win loss ratio, and while I understand that's what AFL is all about, a poor win-loss doesn't always reflect poor preparation and organisation. In simple terms, while people feel the team should be playing better, it does actually take time. Sometimes young kids just aren't good enough. Not even good enough to be consistent in their effort – another bemoaning from the outer. Where did the automatic expectations of a linear progression to 2012 finals contention come from? Especially in light of the club's continual declaration of where they see themselves right now, and the re-establishment of their foundation including Mark Neeld, Neil Craig, Dave Misson and Jade Rawlings etc. Regarding the player list and performance? They are young and it takes time to do it right. Scan through Loris Bertolacci's no frills writings about the key factors in finals success for AFL clubs, especially the player age/experience demographic of premiership teams.
What does it take for a club to be as mighty as this emblem?
So am I defending Melbourne Football Club? No. They live in a competitive world where it's all about the result, and wins talk more than money. But am I accepting the premise of the questions being asked of them? No way. Before having Melbourne explain themselves, demanding heads to roll, or even coercing them into justification and defense, I firstly challenge the accusers to reveal the basis for the thoughts they choose to attach to and communicate to the wider world.
- What is the basis for their comments & actions?
- Where are ethics in public disclosure these days?
- Who does hold mass media to account?
Of course the answer to the accountability question is everyone. You and me. All of us. Earlier I mentioned “To Kill a Mockingbird” but how about “The Crucible” or more recently the brilliant movie “Good Night and Good Luck” based on the same 1950's events. The more things change the more things stay the same.
In this case, the media based commentary of accusations, and the unwitting cult of followers created thereafter, are rightly demanding accountability. But are they prepared to vigorously demand the same of themselves?
If its good enough for him..........
In case you've lost your way again (and lets face it, we all do - we're human after all) below is a 9 minute video about the single best thing you can do for your health. It's really well presented with sound backing and great graphic communication. Have a look then read the rest of this piece below.
Did you watch it? All of it? Good.
Of the many thoughts that this presentation can stimulate, 2 that come to mind for me are:
- We intuitively already know this, it just gets covered over for some us at times. Taking time to reflect, remind and remember this is important.
- While this is indisputable in our thinking, our actions don't always reflect it. Why might this be so? And how do we live being active in a deep, satisfying and sustainable way to reap the benefits Dr Evans talks about?
If you're one of those people who feels like you know the benefits mentioned above, but still don't quite live it the way you'd like to, get in touch with me. This is exactly the sort of situation I can help you in.