How They Move or What They Move? The Associations between Technical RunningProficiency, Force Production Capacity and 30m Sprint Time in Youth Athletes

Introduction

Research has long outlined the importance of physical preparation in supporting the successful performances of team and individual sport athletes (Gamble, 2009; Haff & Triplett, 2016; Jeffreys & Moody, 2021). Within elite senior track sprinters, relative peak force and rate of force development have been cited as primary physical qualities underpinning successful maximum velocity sprint performance (Majumdar, 2011) with technical development also cited as a critical determinant through optimising sprint kinematics, kinetics and reducing injury risk (Francis, 2013; Haugen et al., 2019a; Morin et al., 2011). However, there currently exists a paucity of research investigating the influence of technical and physical parameters on the maximum velocity sprint performance of youth athletes. Uncovering the relative influence of physical and technical qualities may provide important implications for the organisation and prioritisation of these components of training for sprint coaches and strength and conditioning practitioners working with youth track athletes. As such, the aim of this study was to explore the relationship between technical running proficiency and peak relative force capacity on flying 30m sprint time in a sample of youth track athletes currently engaged within a leading talent development program.

Methods

15 regional- and national-level track athletes (7 females, 8 males) ranging from 16-18 years of age were recruited for this study. After a 15-minute dynamic warm up, each participant completed three attempts at a maximal effort flying 30m sprint. Sprint time was measured using timing gates (Brower Timing Systems, IR Emit, USA) and filmed using a Sony α-6000 4K camera. Each athlete was allowed a self-selected build up distance to achieve maximum velocity prior to reaching the first timing gate. Footage was processed using Kinovea and a kinogram was generated for each athlete. Using Microsoft Excel, kinograms were analysed against key technical criteria outlined by McMillan (2018) to produce a technical running percentage score. On a separate occasion, force production capacity was measured using a standardised isometric mid-thigh pull protocol as outlined by Musham and Fitzpatrick (2020). After a dynamic warm up, each athlete completed a familiarisation protocol consisting of 1x3s efforts at 50, 70 and 90% RPE with 60-s rest between reps. Each athlete then completed 3x3s maximal efforts with 30-s rest between attempts. Peak force was measured in Newtons using an industrial crane scale (Modern Step, USA) and made relative to each athlete’s body mass.

Results

The cohort average technical running score was 72 ±11 %, the average peak relative force was 19.3 ±5.9 N.kg and the average flying 30m sprint time was 3.46 ±0.27 s. In order to establish the association between technical running score and peak relative force on flying 30m sprint time, a Pearson’s correlation coefficient was conducted. A statistically significant strong negative correlation was observed between peak relative force and flying 30m sprint time (r = -0.85; r2 = 0.72; p < 0.001). A statistically non-significant weak negative correlation was observed between technical running score and 30m sprint time (r = -0.19; r2 = 0.04; p = 0.50). A statistically non-significant extremely weak positive correlation was observed between peak relative force and technical running score (r = 0.04; r2 < 0.01; p = 0.89).

Practical Applications

These results provide a novel insight into the influence of technique and force production capacity on the maximum velocity sprint performance in a cohort of youth track athletes. Authors have previously highlighted the importance of developing physical and technical qualities to optimise the maximum velocity profiles of elite senior sprinters (Majumdar 2011; Morin et al., 2011). However, limited information is available in youth athlete populations as to the relationships between these variables and max velocity performance. The weak association between technical ability and sprint time observed in the current study highlights that maximum velocity performance in youth is highly complex and may be determined by other physiological (fibre type composition, ankle stiffness), neurological (maximum force, rate of force development) or psychological (arousal, motivation) factors. Indeed, the evidence provided in this study suggests that maximum velocity performance in youth is more strongly predicted by physical parameters (i.e. relative peak force production). As such, it is recommended that strength and conditioning coaches working with youth athletes incorporate and emphasise heavy (>85% 1RM) multi-joint resistance and ballistic training modalities during the competitive preparation of youth track athletes to best facilitate improvements in maximum velocity sprint performance (Thompson et al., 2020).

Clarity Affords Focus: A Coach’s Perspective on the Benefits of Video Analysis in Youth Sport

In our previous blog we explored the impact of bias on physiotherapy practice. We identified the need to remain conscious of our of bias and the impact of our biases on our ability to critically appraise and utilise existing and new methods to support the rehab process. In this blog, we explore coach perceptions of performance analysis in youth sport and the collective and targeted benefits the video analysis. Thanks to a member of our rugby coaching team for answering the following questions.

What does analysis mean to you in your sport?

In an ever-evolving world of technology in sport, video analysis has become a significant part of rugby coaching. Rugby teams have become more technically and tactically efficient and we believe the use of analysis plays a key role in finding ways to support team and individual player development. Even in a school rugby programme, video analysis has become an important part of our review and player development process.

Analysis has played a substantial part in the way I now deliver my coaching sessions. It allows me the opportunity to take the emotion out of the game, review match and training footage with a clear head and show players examples of both good practice and areas of their game that can be improved. In addition, video analysis allows me to reflect on my own coaching practice by helping me to answer questions such as:

Am I coaching this correctly?

Are the players understanding what I want them to do?

Is a certain coaching intervention working as I had planned?  

If a player can better understand the game and if my coaching interventions can be more impactful, then that is positive for the individual and the team. Thus, analysis creates accountability for all involved and requires minimal effective inputs from video analysis, with potentially large positive changes in performance.

What advice would you give to an analyst coming into the industry?

Be open to any opportunities put in front of you. Do not bottleneck yourself into one sport. You can learn a lot from a range of sports which can then lead to you being an even better analyst in your preferred sport. In short, coaching and analysis processes can be transferable. Developing a larger toolbox of skills in both areas can have long term benefit to your practice.

Be involved with as many coaching discussions as possible. This will help you gain an understanding of how the coaching team works and what they want in team reviews. For example, one coach may have enough time to go through 7/8 clips and discuss all of them, but another coach may only have a ten-minute slot, so as an analyst it’s important you know what clips are beneficial. This comes through good communication between the analyst and coach.

What do you think are the key skills an analyst needs to have?

An understanding of your sport. You don’t have to be an expert but to have a level of knowledge and understanding to be able to support the coaching process is advantageous. If a coach knows that the analyst can produce clips that will be relevant to the coaching situation then that can have a greater impact on the coach and player experience.

You must love what you’re doing. That’s the most important part. An analyst’s job can be very lonely if you do not enjoy what you’re doing. The hours can be long so smile, be happy and be grateful you’re doing something you love.

What benefits can pupils get from analysis?

Pupils can gain a huge amount from analysis. Not just from what the video analysis process can provide, but also an understanding of how to access and optimise analysis software. Enhancing pupils understanding of the capturing, coding and analysis process will be beneficial for their short term understanding of the sport and their long term understanding of the analysis process. These may be important skills they can use inside and outside of sport in the future. In summary, video analysis is now embedded in the coaching processes of rugby at a variety of levels. The congruence of the coach and analyst may be key to optimise the content and processes involved in analysis. If both parties can bring a broad range of prior experiences to the analysis process, then this may enhance the experience of the player as the end user. Finally, framing video analysis as the opportunity to learn skills for and beyond sport may be a healthy outlook for young people in sport and their ability to transfer the use of technology beyond the sports field.

Some are Always so Certain and the Wiser so Full of Doubts: The Impact of Bias on Best Practice in Physiotherapy

In our last blog we looked at the strategies we can use to develop athleticism in our young athletes. We highlighted the need for long-term engagement of both the coach and athlete to develop the various physical and psychological qualities, in order to optimise the development of the qualities required to develop ‘athleticism’. There are lots of variables in this process, interacting at different stages to add chaos to the journey. Thus, it is our job to utilise our skills and best practice to control as many of these variables as possible and gain the best outcome for that individual. In this blog we are going to explore how certain we can be about some of our commonly held beliefs in the field of physiotherapy.

We all have a bias. As such, we will gravitate to the theories and opinions that we find fit our own narratives. Sometimes we even label our biases by declaring our alliance with a method, theory or modality e.g. manual therapist, exercise therapist or McKenzie therapist. This allows us to gravitate to others with the same biases, forming a bond as part of the same tribe, and openly advising others where our preferences reside. This tribalism can be valuable providing reassurance that there is certainty in the methods used to help our clients, patients, students get ‘better’. However, if we are too immersed in the culture in which our bias resides, then we are blinded to the development of other practices which other ‘tribes’ may provide.

Once we can be comfortable enough to challenge our biases, we are then set a further challenge of navigating the evidence base to further enhance our practice. A lot of what we take as fact has not been tested sufficiently to be irrefutable, therefore we need to keep an open mind to how this may be challenged in the future. This is the nature of science. However, a lot of what is seen to be ‘the way’ in physiotherapy does not have it’s grounding in science. Take the popular concept of trigger points. The widely accepted theory of these being ‘muscle knots’ due to a local area of inflammation and reciprocal localised tightness has filtered it way into the common understanding and perpetuated a false narrative around some types of muscle pain. In some cases, in the absence of a clear diagnosis may lead a practitioner to scape goat trigger points as the source of pain. When we delve deeper into the theory, we realise that this theory was never initially tested, just accepted and treatments developed to assist in the removal of the troublesome trigger point. Much later, professionals began to challenge this theory resulting in this assumption being refuted. Currently, we are still not certain what this phenomenon is physiologically, however we are able to prove that trigger points are not what was widely accepted they were, and therefore understand that the treatments traditionally used to address this issue may not be the best way forward.

Even when we consider our fundamental assessment techniques like manual force testing. The gold standard currently is to use handheld dynometry to assess force production vs traditional ‘feel’ methods. We utilise limb symmetry index to quantify ‘normal’ in conditions affecting a single limb or area, however to my knowledge there is no normative data for any population for any limb which we can compare scores to. This begs the question in our rehabilitation as to how strong is strong enough? Or how strong does someone need to be to be able to reduce injury risk or recover from a certain condition. Again, even in this fundamental area there are unanswered questions affecting our ability to be certain about our clinical judgements.

There are vast areas of our practice that we need to view with a healthy scepticism, in either assessment or treatment. Often these things go hand in hand. There will always be a level of uncertainty we need to be aware of in our practice, even if the research all points in one direction, the sands may shift around us challenging our biases and practice. We must be comfortable enough to be aware of our bias and allow it to be challenged, this is ultimately how we will grow as healthcare professionals.

A Marathon not a Sprint: Coaching Strategies to Support the Long Term Development of Athleticism

Introduction

In our previous blog we explored the implications of nutrition on skeletal development during adolescence. We summarised by highlighting that all stakeholders (athletes, coaches, parents, teachers) be aware of the role of adequate energy availability in optimising the materials, builders and regulators for bone development. In this blog we delve back into the field of physical development to explore how fostering engagement can enhance the long-term process of athletic development.

The development of “athleticism” remains key to optimising sports performance, reducing injury risk, enhancing motor skill acquisition and promoting lifelong participation in sport for youth athletes. Please see our previous blog on the link below for an overview of the complexities of athleticism. Thus, to optimise the long-term athletic development of an individual, creating and sustaining a coaching environment that promotes engagement and a passion for the process may be key. There are a number of strategies that can be utilised to support our philosophy. It is important to acknowledge that this is not an exhaustive list and these strategies do not exclusively apply to athletic development settings.

The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Developing athleticism is the responsibility of the coach but their efforts will be wasted unless they develop a strong working relationship with their athlete. The coach-athlete relationship has been cited as one of the most influential factors in determining perceptions of enjoyment, personal satisfaction and continued participation. Where a mutually trusting and respectful relationship exists, each knows what to expect from the other, how the other communicates, the environment they work best in and how to maximize one another’s strengths. The 3Cs+1C model highlights how to enhance affective, cognitive and behavioural aspects of the coach-athlete relationship using 4 constructs: closeness, commitment, complementarity and co-orientation. The table below explains each construct and provides examples of how they may be implemented in practice.

Closeness – The emotional tone of the relationship and reflects the degree to which the coach and the athlete are connected or the depth of their emotional attachment. Be open/honest, involve them in the decision-making process, show interest in their lives outside of the working environment

Commitment – Reflects coaches and athletes’ intention or desire to maintain their athletic partnership over time. Regularly discuss & review long-term goals, involve them in the coaching process

Co-orientation – The perceptions the coach and athlete have of each other. Be empathetic, understanding the young athlete from their perspective

Complementarity – The interaction between the coach and the athlete that is perceived as cooperative and effective. Lead by example, clarify roles and rules at beginning of the relationship

Variety

8Providing variety another option in maintaining interest and engagement in athletic development. This variety need not be complicated or overthought – the only barrier here is our imagination. Below are some ways we make our sessions stimulating, varied and challenging whilst simultaneously developing athletic qualities.

Gamification

Structuring sessions to include game elements is an option to provide variety to an athletic development session. Games are one option for developing athletic qualities whilst providing a stimulating experience, in short, “giving them what they want whilst getting what we need”. There is an array of games that we have at our disposal but ensuring there is a clear purpose and learning opportunities within the game is key. For example, in the context of a game of dodge ball; movement competency (e.g. squatting, jumping, landing, lunging to evade or collect the ball), change of direction ability (e.g. accelerating, deceleration, cutting to dodge the ball) and psycho-behavioural skills (e.g. focus, engagement, competitiveness with the context of the games).

Competition

Similar to gamification, adding elements of competition is also an easy way to boost short- and long-term effort and engagement. For example, using team relay races or challenging athletes to do as many reps as possible of a certain exercise in an allotted time are options to drive intent, provided they still lead to the athletic outcomes desired. Additionally, using exercises that are measurable and giving feedback is another great way to generate competition. For example, measuring broad jump distance and generating a leaderboard works well in our environment.

Inspiring Intrinsic Motivation

The want to engage within athletic development has to be present for long-term engagement to be sustained. To achieve this, it is important for youth athletes to become intrinsically motivated. Research by Calvo et al. (2010) has shown that those athletes who are intrinsically motivated (participate for internal reasons, particularly enjoyment and satisfaction and concentrate on skill improvement and personal growth) display greater levels of self-confidence, lower stress/anxiety and greater adherence to athletic development programs than those who are extrinsically motivated (external rewards such as trophies or praise driving participation in an activity). Our behaviours as a coach can influence the degree of intrinsic motivation within our athletes. According to the self-determination theory, autonomy, competence and relatedness can be developed to support this process:

Autonomy – Providing athletes with a sense of ownership over their athletic development. Examples: giving athlete’s responsibility (e.g. leading warm ups, peer coaching), regularly get their input/feedback, providing opportunities to design session content.

Competence – Providing athletes with a sense of achievement in their athletic development. Examples: monitor progress in skill execution/strength levels, provide regular feedback, give purposeful praise.

Relatedness – Providing athletes with a sense of integration and belonging within athletic development. Examples: investing time in getting to know your athletes (people first, athletes second), celebrate improvement/success as a team no matter how big or small.

Summary

Collectively, the development of athleticism is a long-term process which requires significant time and engagement from the athlete and coach to develop a range of physical and psychological qualities. It is important that to optimise athletic development over a number of years that we create a coaching environment that facilitates long-term engagement in the process. Ensuring a strong coach-athlete relationship, providing variety in our training and promoting intrinsic motivation are all key in unlocking the athletic potential of our pupils.

The Materials, The Builder, The Regulator: The Implications of Nutrition on Skeletal Development During Adolescence

In our previous blog we explored the impact of analysis in school sport and the impact on the coaching process, a coach’s philosophy and the pupil experience. We summarised by highlighting the importance of the pupil and their video analysis experience being at the heart of the coach-analyst decision making process. In this blog we explore skeletal development of adolescent athletes and the implications for their nutrition.

Despite its inert appearance, bone is a highly dynamic organ which is continuously adapting across our lifespan. Adolescence is a pivotal period in skeletal development during which approximately half of our total bone mass is accumulated, with 90% of peak bone mass is achieved by the age of 20 yrs.

Bone provides multiple functions; protecting the internal organs, allowing for movement and load-bearing, whilst serving as a storage depot for calcium homeostasis.  Bone development is a complex process with phases of growth (formation) and resorption. Nutrition plays a critical role in these processes. Therefore, providing the appropriate nutritional support to this process is essential, especially during adolescence.  

Nutrition’s role in supporting bone development is twofold. Key nutrients from our diet directly support the formation of new bone tissue, notably, calcium, protein, vitamin D and phosphorus. Indirectly, hormones play an important role in the remodelling process of bone, which are influenced by our diet. With the youth athlete perspective in mind, we are going to explore the direct role of nutrition and unique challenges for youth athletes which emphasise the importance of nutrition for skeletal development during this time of life.

Protein & Phosphorus: The Materials

Protein is an integral part of the organic matrix of bone, making up ~50% of bone tissues by volume and 1/3 of its mass. Therefore, adolescent athletes should ensure they consume enough protein to support the increased rate of bone turnover caused by maturation and athletic training. A daily protein intake between 1.4-2 g/kg. BM-1, evenly dispersed across the day, in 3 meals and a snack before bed would be sufficient to support optimal skeletal development in youth athletes.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient which plays an important role in bone mineralisation and cell membrane health. Low levels of phosphorus can lead bone related diseases like rickets, however habitual diets tend to be point towards excess rather than phosphorus deficiency. Avoiding deficiency is recommended. This can be done through a diet which includes dairy, beans, nuts, meats or poultry.

Calcium: The Builder

Calcium is a major bone forming mineral with 99% of our body calcium stores found in bone tissue. Knowing the importance of calcium in muscle and nerve function, avoiding deficiency is essential.  Current recommendations in UK for youth are between 700-1000mg. Due to the increased rate of remodelling as a result of weight bearing exercise, 1000-1500mg maybe more relevant for youth athletes, particularly to avoid bone related injuries. Dietary sources include dairy products, dark leafy green vegetables, and some oily fish.

Vitamin D: The Regulator

Vitamin D plays an essential role in regulating both calcium and phosphorus absorption in the body, whilst supporting immune function and muscle regeneration. Despite its classification as a vitamin, it is primarily obtained through the sunlight exposure. Again, avoiding deficiency is essential with vitamin D, and daily recommendations would be between 1000-4000 IU/day throughout the winter months (November- March/ April) in the UK. Best dietary sources would be fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and trout), eggs, mushrooms and fortified products.

Energy Availability: 10am Tea break

Youth athletes face a myriad of changes in their biological and athletic development. These processes all require a enough intake of total energy from their diet to occur optimally. With impaired bone health being a founding pillar of the female athlete triad and relative energy deficiency, making sure that youth athletes meet their energy requirements is integral to support their health, skeletal development and athletic progression through school and youth sport.

In summary, adolesence is an important time period for the development and maturation of the skeletal system. As such, we should all (youth athlete, coaches, parents, teachers) be cognisant of the role and importance of nutrition in supporting optimal bone development. A more critical awareness of the implications of optimising the nutritional materials, builder and regulator for bone development during adolesence is important given the impact of these elements to the skeletal system. Underpinning these constructs is the foundation of energy availability that provides the fuel to the fire to optimise health, skeletal development and athletic progression through school and youth sport.

The Question is How Can They Learn it not How Do I Teach it? A Coach’s Perspective of Sports Analysis

In our previous blog we explored bony stress injuries in youth athletes, summarising some of the key information on this topic around training design, bone health and biomechanics. In this blog we explore a coaches perspective of sports analysis with our Head of Girls Football.

What does analysis mean to you in your sport?

Analysis of matches and training gives us the chance to learn from our own actions, learn from real scenarios and to study the game in detail. This way we can fully impact into our playing & coaching philosophy. An image is worth a thousand words, but to be able to see, to explain through images and videos, to understand, to interact as a group and, consequently, to generate solutions is the best possible way of learning.

What advice would you give to an analyst coming into your sport?

Having passion and loving your job would be something that would make you, not just better, but will set no limits to your development .

Understanding each other’s’ ideas in the coach-analyst relationship and trying to give each other support and challenge is really important. It means we are constantly working to enhance our understanding of capturing, coding and sharing footage in the most effective manner. It is also important to keep the pupil at the heart of any decision making.  

What do you think are the key skills an analyst needs to have?

As for any type of coach or practitioner, awareness of yourself and others and being creative will help you to skip over and learn from potential barriers.  

To have the desire to know everything in your field, to have the curiosity to dig for new possibilities (i.e. filming systems, software, new methods…) and to know the key technical areas of each sport and important aspects of the coaching process would be very important in order to optimise the content that is being collected and shared.

What benefits can pupils get from analysis?

The potential benefits are countless. To be able to watch themselves, watch their team, watch others and revise and study real scenarios, it will always be one of the most powerful teaching and learning tools to have at our disposal.

For example, spatial awareness; to improve decision making by seeing a wider picture of each situation, to be able to look further away than just focusing on where the ball is, and to support the creation of different outcomes from each situation so they would potentially have a wider range of options in future scenarios.

In summary, analysis in school sport has the potential to impact the coaching process and a coach’s philosophy. Video footage allows coaches and pupils to critically review actions in training and matches and to learn about the impact of their actions on their teammates and the games as a whole. The coach-analyst relationship is critical to optimise this process with the need to gain clarity on the desired outcomes of video analysis and sharing processes to allow the analyst to support the coach and pupils in the best way possible. It is important therefore, to keep the pupil and their video analysis experience at the heart of the coach-analyst decision making process.

From Risk to Rehab: Understanding Bony Stress Injuries in Youth Athletes

In our previous blog we explored the complexities surrounding athleticism in youth sport. Based on the National Strength and Conditioning Association definition of athleticism we proposed the development of athleticism in youth athletes could be optimised via the collective insight and agreement on a working definition of athleticism across all stakeholders and support for development of physical and psychological aspects of athleticism across a range of motor tasks and environments. In this blog we look more specifically at bony stress injuries in youth athletes and explore management and prevention options to optimise engagement in sport for our youth athletes.

High volumes of sport and more so repetitive running can carry the risk of developing overuse injuries in youth sport, including bony stress injuries (BSI). A BSI can be broadly defined as the inability to withstand repetitive mechanical loading, resulting in structural fatigue and localised bone tenderness and pain.  BSI occur along a continuum beginning with micro stress reactions, which overtime can progress to a stress fracture and further progression can lead to a complete fracture (See Warden et al., 2014 for further details on BSI). The purpose of this blog therefore is to discuss the management options for BSI in youth athletes.

High and Low Risk BSI

Treatment and recovery can vary depending on which bone is affected, where the injury is on the affected bone and the blood supply to that bony area. The location of the stress injury will determine whether it is at a low or high risk of progressing to a fracture.

High-risk BSI

Occur at specific bony areas that typically have poor blood supply

Result longer healing timeframes

Require prolonged immobilization

Low-risk BSI

Rehabilitation healing timeframes can vary depending whether it is a minor stress reaction or if it is a more advanced stress fracture

Usually resolve with modified training loads and strengthening exercises

Healing time-frames range between 6-8 weeks

Diagnostic Imaging is it necessary?

For low risk injury areas, imaging does not change the intervention strategy. X-rays do not always show a BSI, therefore, when imaging high risk injury areas, research suggest MRI is the most optimal choice when it comes to diagnostic imaging.

Rehabilitation

The first step to returning to sport is to ensure that the youth athlete is pain-free during daily life activities, such as walking. If the youth athlete is not pain-free while walking, crutches or a boot may be administered for temporary use. During these initial stages of rehabilitation, if walking is painful, the youth athlete can maintain basic fitness with aqua running and stationary bike sessions. The first step to returning to sport is to ensure that the youth athlete is pain-free during daily life activities for five days or more.

Factors Affecting Treatment Prognosis

Recovery can be delayed if an athlete progresses through their graduated loading rehabilitation program too quickly, ignoring pain as a result of their current training load. Additionally, factors such as diabetes, poor nutrition, endocrine disorders/dysfunctions, relative energy deficiency syndrome. Addressing the factors that have contributed to the BSI will have a positive effect on treatment prognosis. To have long-term positive treatment outcomes it is to assess the following:

Current training program design

Student athletes must modify training volumes, frequency and intensities of their land/pool training sessions as well as their gym strengthening sessions. Research recommends that acute training loads (increased within one week) should not exceed a 10% increase higher than their chronic training loads (load over four weeks).

Nutrition and General Bone Health

Nutrition should be monitored to avoid nutritional and energy deficits. Promoting healthy eating behaviours and detecting any nutritional, caloric, calcium or vitamin D intake deficiencies will prevent BSI.

Biomechanics

It can be beneficial to address running biomechanics while simultaneously reducing the amount of loaded impact that the youth athlete is exposed to through their sport.

In summary, BSI can occur through high volumes of sport and highly repetitive sporting activities. BSI can occur as high and low risk BSI and in low risk BSI, the early management of pain during activities of daily living will be important to proceed with a return sport. Positive long term outcomes can be optimised through managing training loads (volume and intensity), promoting healthy eating behaviours  and addressing running and movement deficiencies.   

References for Further Reading

Arndt A, Westblad P, Ekenman I, Lundberg A. A comparison of external plantar loading and in vivo local metatarsal deformation wear- ing two different military boots. Gait Posture.

Barton, C.J., Bonanno, D.R., Carr, J., Neal, B.S., Malliaras, P., Franklyn-Miller, A. and Menz, H.B., 2016. Running retraining to treat lower limb injuries: a mixed-methods study of current evidence synthesised with expert opinion. British journal of sports medicine50(9), pp.513-526.

Bennell KL, Malcom SA, Thomas SA, et al. Risk factors for stress fractures in track and field athletes. A twelve-month prospective study. American Journal of Sports Medicine.

Warden, S.J., Davis, I.S. and Fredericson, M., 2014. Management and prevention of bone stress injuries in long-distance runners. journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 44(10), pp.749-765.

Out of Complexity, find Simplicity: Understanding the Complexities of Athleticism in Youth Sport

In our previous blog we explored the importance of influencing behaviours and shaping the environment to promote positive changes in dietary behaviours with youth athletes. We identified the importance of a nutrition philosophy, instruction for ideal behaviours, consistency in approach and actioning behaviours in practice. In this blog we delve into the field of physical development to explore the concept of athleticism in youth sport, dissecting the definition of athleticism and how we may be able to enhance our practice through this process.

In 2016 the National Strength and Conditioning Association position statement on long-term athletic development defined athleticism as, “…is the ability to repeatedly perform a range of movements with precision and confidence in a variety of environments, which require competent levels of motor skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and endurance.” Thus, the complexities of developing athleticism in youth athletes become apparent given the extensive and wide range nature of this definition.

The critical aspects of this definition may be:

Repeatedly perform – The development of athleticism may require reliability in the skills and/or capacities to perform a given task. This may require purposeful, deliberate and consistent practice and exposure to such tasks. Thus, athleticism may take time to be presented in an individual.

Precision and confidence – The development of athleticism can occur above and below the neck. Athleticism has physical skills and capacities which are often clear to see and define one’s perception of athleticism. However, athleticism may also reside in an individual’s willingness and desire to express their physical skills and capacities, i.e. skills and capacities above the neck.

Variety of environments – The development of athleticism should be the responsibility of many and not a few. From physical training practitioners to physiotherapists to sports coaches, we can all contribute to the deliberate development of athleticism within the context and opportunities provided by our practice.

Competent levels – The development of athleticism can be referenced against individual and/or cohort norms to establish the degree to which competency has been expressed or is developing. These norms may be in the form of products (outcomes of physical/psychological attributes of athleticism, i.e. how far or how fast) or processes (how individuals achieve the outcome they have attained, i.e. technical execution).

Skills, strength, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and endurance – The development of athleticism spans a wide range of physical qualities. Within each quality or identified qualities, profiling for competent levels of outcomes or processes may help support a more coherent and targeted approach to training.

Taken collectively, athleticism is complex term which spans both physical and psychological domains, a range of attributes and environments and may be profiled against outcomes and processes. Given this, an important part of the development process in supporting athleticism in youth sport may be gaining collective insight and agreement on a working definition of athleticism based on the opportunities and constraints of your coaching environment. Collaboration in defining and deliberately developing athleticism may be utopia in supporting the development of physical and psychological skills and capacities related to athleticism in youth athletes.

Our Behaviour May Be More Honest Than Our Words: Shaping the Environment to Promote Positive Changes in Dietary Behaviours with Youth Athletes

In our previous blog we explored early years career development in performance analysis. We suggested that a balance of academic rigour, applied practical experience and willingness to be conscientious and committed to personal develop may stand developing analyst in good stead for a career in the field. In this blog we explore nutrition support for youth athletes and consider if our dietary behaviour can be adapted to support fuelling for sport and more.  

Numerous approaches have been taken to try and understand the factors which influence an individual’s behaviours in relation to food choice and dietary intake. As a sport nutritionist the primary objective of your role is to support and guide your athletes to better performance, health and development through optimising their nutritional intake. Therefore, an integral part of the role will be designing and implementing dietary interventions to bring about positive changes in the dietary behaviours of your athletes (Bentley et al., 2019; Costello, 2018).  

As with all nutrition practices, a one size fit all approach is both unreasonable and inappropriate. However, it is often perceived that suboptimal dietary behaviours is simply a result of a knowledge deficit. Whilst nutrition education programmes have a place in the toolbox of a competent practitioner, that alone is often not sufficient to change behaviour (Kelly & Barker, 2016). Rather appreciating the complexity of the factors potentially driving food choices, specific to both the population and environment you are facing can allow you to take a more holistic intervention approach to try and induce positive change.

Common factors reported to influence Food choices include the environment, personal beliefs and skills, and social influences (Birkenhead & Slater, 2015). Whilst the boarding nature of Millfield facilitates food availability, our objectives then shift to shaping these key feeding environments to be conducive to our target behaviours.  

Literature investigating youth athlete dietary intakes commonly report suboptimal intakes of Carbohydrates and fruit and vegetables (Baker et al., 2014; Burrows et al., 2016). With demanding, multi-layered sporting programmes with our athletes, effective and appropriate fuelling is a priority.  Of course, education focus in the classroom of the ergogenic effects of carbohydrates is appropriate, how can we reinforce this in our key feeding locations?  

Creating a Nutrition Philosophy – “EAT TO EXCEL”

Group Culture can significantly shape member cognition, behaviour, development, wellbeing and performance (Andersen, 2011) 

Here at Millfield we view every feeding time is an opportunity to excel both in and out of the classroom. We wanted to create a positive nutrition culture conducive to our school wide sport vision of leading the development of children both on and off the sport field.  

Instruction for Ideal Behaviours – Performance plates

Scattered across our dining hall are dynamic plate compositions, highlighting how our students can make effective independent food choices to meet their energetic requirements at every mealtime

Actioning Those Ideal Behaviours – Effective food labelling & layout

“small changes in the food environment, including choice architecture interventions to make healthy items more visible and convenient, can result in better food choices(Thorndike et al., 2014)

Understanding our focus points of fuelling and nutrient density, choice architecture changes relating to food layout and implementing a colour coded food labelling system have been effective means to reinforce desired food behaviours at the focal point of where students make those decisions.  

Consistency

From dining hall, tuck shop, team workshops down to individual consultations, my aim to create a common language and clarity in my delivery style and resources utilised which is reflective of our Nutrition philosophy.

The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare for it: Early Years Career Development in Performance Analysis

In our previous blog we explored the accuracy and reliability of screening for injury in youth sport. Given the limitations around sensitivity, specificity and predictive ability, our tendency was to promote the implementation of injury risk reduction strategies and particularly those centred around movement skill, strength development, proprioception and explosiveness. In this blog we focus our attention on the field of performance analysis. We offer insights for early years performance analysts and those with ambitions to enter the field on how to optimise their development in the competitive world of analysis in sport.

Our Performance Analyst at Millfield has provided a series of responses to the following key questions:

Do I need to go to university to become a sports analyst? 

A highly debated question and a difficult one to answer. I appreciate that there are many pathways into the sports analysis industry. I would promote the value and benefit of an undergraduate degree. This belief is also supported by the majority of sports clubs/organisations that advertise analysis jobs listing a degree as an essential requirement for any applicant. I believe that gaining an undergraduate degree offers an aspiring analyst the opportunity to network with other likeminded sports enthusiasts, along with offering the opportunity to gain the necessary theoretical knowledge to help kick start their career.  

From personal experience, I undertook an undergraduate degree in sports coaching and performance before moving onto a more specific sports analysis masters later in my career once I was 100% sure a career in analytics was what I was aiming for. I believe this was the right move for my own personal development and offered me a wider perspective on the sport industry.

With regarding to a master’s degree, I personally don’t believe this is essential for many analysts, but I did a masters after taking a year out of education as I honestly believed it would make me a better analyst. For example, the ability to understand and be able to perform deeper levels of critical thinking, to think more openly about sports research and to justify my workflows with stronger academic rigour.

How important is gaining experience?

Again a very difficult question to answer, as mentioned above I believe university offers a theoretical learning environment to gain enough knowledge to help kick start your career, however I don’t believe universities can offer the practical exposure you’ll require to fulfil the role of a modern analyst. This can only be achieved, I believe, through getting involved within a real life sporting environment.

My advice would be to try and work under someone who’s got a good background in analysis as opposed to taking on a position where you’re the only one at the club. This will offer you the opportunity to ask questions, see how others lead an analysis program and to gradually take on more roles and responsibilities.

From a personal perspective I started out in an unpaid position which was fine with me as it gave me the opportunity to work within a professional rugby team working under some really good mentors. I’m glad I took this route as opposed to the route of getting a few quid filming and analysing a lower level team. Eventually once I’d learned the trade a little more, I was able to start getting some part-time paid roles and my career progressed from there.

What are the top skills needed to be an analyst?

From my experience people who become analysts are often extremely hard working and passionate about what they do. The analysis industry is tough and we often forget about the need to sit back, relax, reflect and rewind on occasions. This is something I’ve certainly needed to learn over time and I’m still guilty of the odd late night analysis session.

One skill that I feel has often helped me during my time as an analyst is the ability to work well under pressure. As mentioned above, the analysis industry is tough and not only do the coaches want you, but also the players and when you work across multiple sports that pressure increases. I’m very fortunate to naturally be a relaxed person, but I do believe this is a skill you develop and improve over time.

Organisation skills are incredibly important, the role of the modern analyst is busy and you need to be in control of what you’re doing to help benefit the over-all environment you’re in.

Attention to detail is a must for an analyst, not only to ensure no mistakes are made but also this skill helps significantly in the day to day role of the analyst.

Finally, attitude is the single most important attribute that makes or breaks an analyst. i.e. showing the teams your willingness and motivation to provide a good service, staying humble and embracing others views and input and showing gratitude and respect to others around you whilst also showing the confidence and strength to embrace yourself and promote your values and input is a skill that will help any analyst become a valued member of the team.

What advice would you give to an analyst for his/her first interview?

The industry is over-populated and analysts who interview for a role are usually against a high volume of other applicants which means your chance of getting the job is always slim. 

Someone once told me that ‘interviewing is an art’ and it is. It’s a skill you can only develop by going through the process a few times, leaving the interview kicking yourself on what you didn’t say or how you answered a question is not a bad thing. 

I think attempting to oversell yourself and your skillset can be an easy trap to fall for when nervous at an interview. You need to be able to present what your current skillset is and how you think it can have an immediate benefit to the team/organisation you’re applying for and how overtime, you hope to develop and progress that impact.

I also think you need to understand the organisation you’re applying to work for, understand their history, understand their values and culture, try and find out about who works there, what their backgrounds are etc. The more you can find out, the more you can understand what they’ll be looking for, what type of person they’re hoping to attract and what impact you believe you’ll have on that environment. I also believe that if an interviewee has done their homework it really does show they care about the role. 

In summary, academic rigor will provide a foundation for future development in performance analysis. Build a wide range of practical experiences and tap into networking opportunity as these will service you well when you are applying for jobs. Be conscientious with your work and commit yourself to becoming a better analyst every day. When you get the opportunity to interview for your dream role, make sure you have done your homework on the organisation and use that knowledge to your advantage.