Maintaining Mass in Motion: The Longitudinal Tracking of Acceleration, Momentum and Body Mass in School Rugby Union Through a 15 Week In Season Phase

Introduction
High speed running has been identified as an important physical characteristic for performance in Rugby Union (RU; Duthie, 2006; Gamble, 2004). Indeed, authors have proposed that the combination of sprint velocity, sprint momentum and body mass is able to discriminate between playing levels and age categories (Barr et al., 2014; Till et al., 2014). However, research suggests there is a need to describe seasonal changes in such physical characteristics to provide perspective on variation in performance across playing positions and age groups (Darrell-Jones et al., 2015). Given the importance of these physical qualities in youth RU and the paucity of longitudinal data on such performance markers, the aim of this study was to explore the change in acceleration, momentum and body mass over a 15-week in season period within a school RU season. In addition, the study aimed to assess the difference in these physical qualities between age categories and playing positions. It is hoped the findings of this study provides an insight into the potential for development in acceleration performance and body mass during a school RU season, as well as highlighting the differences between divergent categories of players to aid physical training practitioners in supporting the development of acceleration, momentum and body mass in school RU across age groups and playing positions.


Methodology
34 school RU players participated in the study. Participants ranged from 16-18 years of age and were assigned as year 12 or 13 based on their academic year (Yr) and forwards or backs based on their most common playing position. All testing was completed at the same time point in the training week and all testing was undertaken by an accrediated strength and conditioning coach (UKSCA). All players engaged in a physical training programme consisting of strength, power and speed development, as well as rugby training and matches. Body mass was measured to the nearest 0.1kg using Seca alpha (model 813) scales. Acceleration was measured at 10m using timing gates (Brower Timing Systems, IR Emit, USA). This distance was chosen to enable assessment of initial sprint velocity and momentum as used by Barr et al. (2014). Each sprint was started 0.5m behind the first timing gate. Players were instructed to set off in their own time and to run maximally through the second gate. Times were measured to the nearest 0.01s. The average of three trials was used for analysis of acceleration and momentum.

Results
In order to compare the change in performance in acceleration, momentum and body mass over 15 weeks, a single factor anova was conducted. An analysis of variance showed that the effect of weeks was significant for acceleration, F (14, 183) = 2.05, P = 0.02. However, the only significant difference between consecutive weeks was for weeks 10 and 11 (p < 0.05). The effect of weeks on momentum and body mass was not significant and there were no significant differences between consecutive weeks. In order to compare performance between age categories and playing positions an independent samples t-test was conducted. For 10m acceleration, the test was not found to be statistically significant between Yr12 vs Yr13 but was statistically significant between forwards vs backs (p < 0.05), with the backs performing better with a small practical significance. For momentum, the test was found to be statistically significant for both Yr12 vs Yr13 and forwards vs backs (p < 0.05), with forwards and Yr13 performing better with a large practical significance. For body mass, the test was found to be statistically significant for both Yr12 vs Yr13 and forwards vs backs (p < 0.05), with forwards and Yr13 performing better with a large practical significance.

Practical Applications These results provide an insight into the changes in acceleration, momentum and body mass over a 15-week in season period, as well as the difference between age categories and playing positions in school RU. These results suggest that, with the regular inclusion of weekly strength, power and speed development sessions, acceleration, momentum and body mass can be maintained through an in-season period in school RU players despite the fatigue associated to regular training and playing load (Oliver et al., 2015), in addition to academic and pastoral commitments. As such, the consistent exposure to such physical training qualities should be encouraged during the competition phase of a school RU season. Given the greater mass in motion of older forwards, physical training practitioners may consider appropriate training formats to drive further adaptations within particular age categories and playing positions, i.e. younger forwards, to prepare for the physical demands of more senior RU as outlined by in the literature (Darrell-Jones et al., 2015).

Research Review – Sensitive Periods to Train General Motor Abilities

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-7n68f-d775da

In this episode we view the research paper titled, Sensitive periods to train general motor abilities in children and adolescents: Do they exist? A critical appraisal’. In this review we explore the paper’s proposal of the concurrent training of motor skills and general motor abilities, as well as the application of an holistic rather than reductionist view on physical development in youth. 

The Sky is not the Limit, There are Footprints on the Moon: The Benefits of Performance Analysis for The Dyslexic Youth Athlete

In our previous blog we explored the 4-Cs of positive coaching in a physical development programme. We proposed that the 4-Cs and their integration into physical training can provide rich rewards for the youth athlete later in their development journey. In this blog we explore and share our thoughts and beliefs on the role that performance analysis can play for dyslexic sports pupils and their active involvement in sport. We believe performance analysis can offer an opportunity to enhance this cohort’s engagement within this area and in doing so boost their confidence through empowerment; utilising and optimising their individual strengths.

There is growing evidence to show that individuals who suffer from dyslexia can often display abilities in creativity, visualisation, expression and cognitive flexibility. These can be considered core skills that make a great performance analyst. Being creative via ‘out the box’ thinking, problem solving skills and using visualisation skills to compile and generate data and video content are all important attributes of the analyst. Therefore, with this research area in mind, we believe that analysis allows pupils with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia to explore sport in a way that they may have not been able to do otherwise. Over the years several famous sports stars have highlighted their struggles with dyslexia. This shows how sport can played a significant part in their coping with everyday life, empowering them in ways a classroom could often not.

Sir Jackie Stewart, whose dyslexia went undiagnosed until years after he retired as a Formula One driver, was quoted in saying, “I was labelled thick at school, but sport saved my life.” This is likely to be down to the increased self-worth, confidence and inclusion that being part of a sport provided for him.  As performance analysts, we place a high value on, particularly with our pupils with dyslexia, ensuring pupils thrive in our learning processes particularly around self-worth, confidence and inclusion.

At Millfield pupils in sport actively review video footage during and post training sessions and post matches. We aim for this process to be empowering for the dyslexic pupil, providing a space for these individuals to utilise their visual learning ability and creativity as highlighted above. Through the process of analysing sport, pupils can better understand the challenges of development in sport, taking time and space to generate solutions to sporting problems and a platform to share these with other pupils and coaches. This approach allows pupils with greater cognitive flexibility, creativity and expression to show their true potential and build their productivity and their confidence in an environment which is often considered safe, fun and enjoyable. We hope that is provides an overall positive learning experience for these pupils

In conclusion we strongly believe that the analysis of sport can play a vital role in the development of the Millfield graduate and offers a dangerously modern learning environment which allows students to discover their brilliance and become modern disruptors in sport no matter what their ‘learning abilities’ are.

“It Doesn’t Get Better By Chance, It Gets Better By (Purposeful) Change: The Development of Positive Coaching Practice in Athletic Development

In our previous blog we explored we the importance of reason and choice in developing nutrition behaviours in youth athletes. We proposed that at the epicentre of our nutrition programme is education. The provision of meaningful education messaging, through signage to workshops to bespoke individual support, will always be the foundation of developing positive behaviours and practices around nutrition and fuelling in our environment. In this blog we will explore the importance of the coaching environment in the context of athletic development. At the heart of this will be the role of positive coaching in the acquisition of physical, psychological and behavioural skills and capabilities to support an individual’s developmental journey in sport.
Positive coaching as been previously defined in the research literature. The 4-Cs of positive coaching have been commonly identified, as can be seen below. I have added my interpretation of the 4-Cs within my coaching practice:

  1. Competence – to experience success
  2. Confidence – to experience independence
  3. Connection – to experience a sense of belonging
  4. Character – to express training behaviours

Whilst I am constantly looking to challenge and support the development of these areas in the young athletes I coach, I am conscious there are several factors that may accelerate or derail the development of these characteristics, including but not limited to:

1. Maturity – both physical and cognitive
2. Training age – the impact of past physical training experience on current ability
3. Commitment – a reflection of one’s application and/or contribution

These factors may be influential at various stages of development and I must be progressive yet considered in my approach to the development of the 4-Cs to ensure realistic goals and expectations are set and met. In this context, I would see the process of development through a guided discovery approach in which several critical stages exist:

  1. Autonomy – programme ownership
  2. Mastery – process ownership
  3. Purpose – motivational ownership

In summary, I believe striving to achieve the 4-Cs of positive coaching in a physical development programme is an intention that will provide rich rewards for the youth athlete later in their development journey. It is my role therefore, to consider the interaction of maturity, training age and commitment and offer both challenging and support in my coaching practice and coaching context to facilitate development. The outcome of programme, process and motivational ownership is always front and centre of my professional judgement and decision making and for me, provides the operational basis on which to see the 4-Cs of positive coaching come to life.

Don’t Judge Choice Without Understanding Reason: Building Buy In and Making Knowledge Meaningful in Nutrition Education

In our previous blog we explored the role of the physiotherapist in supporting the development of the whole person. We identified that the physiotherapist often has a critical role to play in asking questions, being knowledgeable and educating others in relation to an array of challenging topics, such as RED-s. In this blog we delve into the area of nutrition education and explore the importance of understanding reason and choice to nutritional behaviours. Drawing from our nutrition delivery framework at Millfield, the epicentre of our program is education. Whether it is workshops, presentations, effective signage or face-to-interactions, we focus on providing meaningful educational messages to support our students’ nutritional behaviours and subsequent practices.

Nutrition education programmes often aim to rectify suboptimal dietary practices by improving general nutritional knowledge and understanding of sport-specific nutritional needs. However, this is based primarily on the premise that superior nutritional knowledge translates into better nutritional behaviours and practices (Heaney et al, 2011). Is this in fact the case? Is simply providing the education of what good nutritional practices are enough, or does how the message is transmitted to its receiver play a role in supporting change? For example, whilst understanding the glycaemic load of carbohydrates and how we should apply this across a training day to maximise fuelling and recovery may be appropriate for certain athletic adult populations, this is likely not a message for a year 9 multisport student who has limited knowledge on what foods classify as carbohydrates.  

Often, I find nutrition messages being pushed over social media, within governing bodies and from other key stakeholders can be grossly over complicated and unrelatable for their target population. I  too have been guilty of wanting to dive right in, use contemporary research to provide nutrition support that looks good on paper, or follows rigid guidelines of what an athlete should do, rather than listening to what their goals are, understanding of what they want to achieve and recognising the external pressures which are currently preventing them achieving these goals from a nutritional standpoint.

As a practitioner, having a strong foundation of knowledge and remaining in touch with contemporary nutrition related research to inform practice is important. However, what often separates successful nutrition support and leads to the greatest or most sustainable results is the ability to build rapport and relationships with our athletes. When we get to know the person, not just the athlete, it becomes much easier to recognise the factors affecting their current behaviours, understand the level of knowledge they current possess and identify how we translate our knowledge into practical solutions which will have a meaningful impact. Fine tuning softer communications skills can support this process and often comes with gaining exposure to an array of different personalities and making the most of Informal conversations walking through the corridor, rather than in the office.

Without the appropriate relationships being in place, appreciation of goals and challenges influencing their nutritional behaviours, the impact of support is often lost in translation, no matter how ground-breaking it may be. With a program underpinned by nutritional education to influence and improve nutritional behaviours, I aim to challenge myself daily not only to provide high quality, accurate nutrition support but provide it in manner that our students will not only understand but more importantly, can put into practice.

Every Art Requires (and Should Consider) the Whole Person: The Developing Role of Physiotherapy in Supporting the Whole Person

In our previous blog we explore the importance of autonomy supportive behaviours in the physical development of youth athletes. We proposed that the S&C coach should be encouraged to share planning and programme rationale and use language that internalises physical capabilities and enhances internal motivation. In this blog we continue to explore the diverse role of sport science practitioners in youth sport by considering the potential of the physiotherapist to recognise and respond to signs and symptoms of relative energy deficient disorder.

The role of the physiotherapists has changed over time to be more focussed on, not just the physiological factors of the human body, but a more holistic looking at the whole person. With this more holistic approach comes a greater emphasis on providing appropriately positioned education and advice. One key area of physiotherapy that is significantly gaining momentum recently is relative energy deficiency syndrome (RED-S). RED-S is particularly important within youth sports due to the fact that optimum bone density is laid down from around 15-24 years of age and peak bone mass is found at 18 in females and 20 in males (Bones.nih.gov, 2020).

The concept of RED-S is that energy input (food) vs. energy output (exercise and basal metabolic rate) is imbalanced and therefore the body does not react well and begins to suffer in a number of ways. RED-S is something that has previously been mainly linked to female athletes in weight dependent sports (light weight rowing, swimming and athletics for example), but more recently there has been a shift in an awareness for all athletes and coaches to be able to recognise and respond with appropriate support.

Some of the key indicators that an athlete is suffering from RED-S are recurrent injury, in particular stress fractures, chronic fatigue, decreased metabolism and menstrual dysfunction. The image below highlights the range of possible indicators.

The biggest hurdle in this battle is reducing the stigma around conversations with youth athletes about diet and health and in females in particular, symptoms such as menstrual dysfunction. A recent conversation with a young female athlete allowed me to understand what her thoughts were on the topic of being asked about these aspects. She, much like many other athletes and coaches, had never heard of the concept of RED-S, or even elements of it. We discussed the best method she felt of displaying this information in a non-invasive way and allowing for conversations to be had. It was clear that certain coaches would be ok to talk to and others would be more uncomfortable. She noted that she would trust a physiotherapist to discuss this topic if the opportunity were provided to her. It was also clear that if the topic of RED-S was not pushed upon the athletes (a questionnaire where the results were taken, and then automatic meetings were made if multiple symptoms were ticked for example) then they would not seek help if they were just given other sources of guidance, for example an advice sheet.

This major take-home from this experience was the lack of awareness. It is a well-established fact that awareness is poor of this topic, but how can we feel empowered to approach RED-S and put steps in place to overcome it? Does the conversation start with diet and bone density with regard to exercise and loading bones during these optimal ages? Our role as physiotherapy is ever-changing but having the awareness of topics such as this means we can have another checklist to consider when treating and supporting the development of young athletes. Within our environment we may be the first person to notice that someone has had recurrent injuries or illness, so it is essential our knowledge is sufficient to highlight any symptoms or risks. Having the confidence and knowledge to ask within a physiotherapy appointment about the symptoms stated above should be part of our remit and we must feel empowered and capable to do this. The challenge is ensuring you prioritise this topic when a symptom arises. With limited appointment times and a specific rehab and exercise role, it is easy to push it aside altogether. The long-term effect of ignoring something like this can be significant and impact the rest of these young athletes’ lives.

My top 3 pieces of practical advice would be:
1- It is our remit and we need the confidence to ask the questions.
2- Brush up on your knowledge of the symptoms of RED-S and have a plan of what to do when faced with someone who is displaying them.
3- Use your knowledge to educate those around you; coaches, athletes, teachers, parents and so on. The more people that know about it the better and one of those people will be approachable for that pupil to talk to, so make sure we are all equipped.

Control Leads to Compliance, Autonomy Leads to Engagement: Is Autonomy Support the Most Important Factor to Facilitating a Productive Coach-Athlete Relationship in Athletic Development?

In our previous blog we explored the true value of university placement programmes on the intra and interpersonal development of university students. The placement experiences shared in the blog highlight the ability of placement programmes to narrow the gap between the textbook and the real world in the sport science industry, with challenge and support being important aspects. In this week’s blog we will explore the role of the coach-athlete relationship in physical training, with a particular focus on autonomy support. Is autonomy support the most important factor to facilitating a productive coach-athlete relationship in athletic development?

Sports psychology research has identified the importance of the coach-athlete relationship to both successful athletic performance and interpersonal satisfaction (Jowett and Meek, 2000; Jowett and Cockrill, 2003; Jowett, 2005; Lyle, 1999; Mageau and Vallerand, 2003; Poczwardowski, Barott, and Jowett, 2006). A well-conceived coaching philosophy provides the structure through which such performance and satisfaction can be coherently and consistently achieved (Cassidy, Jones, and Potrac, 2009; Martens, 2004; McGladrey, Murray, and Hannon, 2010). An important construct of the author’s own strength and conditioning (S&C) coaching philosophy surrounds the need for autonomy in the coach-athlete dyad. Autonomy is the experience of volition; for behaviour to be united with an integrated sense of self, empowering choice as a driving force behind behaviour (deCharms, 1968; Deci and Ryan, 2000; Reeve, Nix and Hamm, 2003; Ryan, 1995). The author will now provide a critical discussion as to whether autonomy support is the most important factor to facilitating a productive coach-athlete dyad in athletic development.

Autonomy support occurs when a significant other (e.g. S&C coach) embraces the target’s (e.g. athletes) perspective, provides appropriate and consequential information and encourages the target’s initiative (Black and Deci, 2000; Pelletier, Fortier, Vallerand and Bricre, 2001). Research suggests that behavioural strategies may be applied by the S&C coach to satisfy this support system (Grolnick and Ryan, 1989; Mageau and Vallerand, 2003; Pelletier et al., 2001). Through the author’s own S&C coaching philosophy (appendix 1) and experiences such strategies can be applied by providing the athlete with a clear direction and framework to S&C. Publicising the periodisation of training and expectations regarding adaptation, volume and intensity of training relative to the competition cycle provides pertinent information and rationale to the athlete. At this point the athlete should be encouraged to express opinion; consult on tasks, limits and policies and propose questions in order to fulfil self-determination (deCharms, 1968; Ryan and Deci, 2006). The author also positions the need for individuality in the coaching process relative to physical ability and the need for mentoring athletes. Autonomy supportive behaviour would propose varying strategies relative to training age and physical literacy to stimulate continued adaptation without threatening wider training aims. Variability in exercise progressions and regressions and considering action required on feedback from the athlete may be appropriate strategies. As such the sensations of competency, connectedness and autonomy may be internalised, thus mediating the effects of need satisfaction on the relationship between the coach’s behaviour and athlete’s motivation (Mageau and Vallerand 2003, Reeve and Deci, 1996; Ryan and Fredrick, 1997). #

Beyond the actions related to programme design and athlete competency, the author cites the importance of language and its impact and influence on the athlete (appendix 1). Language that provides structure and portrays involvement in the athlete’s welfare represents an important component of athlete’s perception of autonomy (Deci and Ryan, 1985; Grolnick and Ryan, 1989; Alvarez, Balaguer, Castillo, and Duda, 2009).  Research has highlighted the importance of communication being positive, open, honest and founded on mutuality and understanding (Culver and Trudel, 2000; Bloom, Schinke and Salmela, 1997; Headley-Cooper, 2010; Yukelson, 1997). Drawing on the experiences of the author, the use of such language may allow the athlete to ‘try’ a variation in technique or ‘may want to’ load or deload the barbell to achieve training adaptations. Such language creates a more motivating climate, providing the athlete with vital experience and information to internalise their own physical capability and facilitate self determined extrinsic motivation (Mageau and Vallerand, 2003; Pelletier et al., 1995). Research has shown that S&C coaches who undertake a process of self-assessment of their instructional behaviour are effective in modifying behaviours targeted for change (Gallo and De Marco, 2008). As such this process may be effective in improving the S&C coaches’ use of language to provide more effective autonomy support for the athlete.

While the concept of autonomy supportive behaviours fosters choice, rationale, emotive awareness and both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Cordova and Lepper, 1996; Grusec and Goodnow, 1994; Reinboth and Duda, 2004) it is idealistic to suggest such support can always be effectively delivered in the S&C environment. Coaching context is an influential factor on coaching behaviour (Mageau and Vallerand, 2003) and even if autonomy supportive behaviours are central to coaching philosophy, actual behaviours are formed within the context in which they operate (Deci and Ryan, 2000; Headley-Cooper, 2010; Oliver, Markland, Hardy, and Pethrick, 2008). From the author’s experiences, the S&C environment can be highly competitive as task contingent rewards are prevalent, athletes are continually observed, evaluated and assessed, competition and training are scheduled in advanced creating rigidity to training and performance and S&C coaches are afforded limited contact time with the cohort of athletes they engage with. Such circumstances can force ego-involved, controlling behaviours from the S&C coach that result in conflict, alienation, controlling regulatory processes and compensatory outcome goals (Conroy and Coatsworth, 2007; Deci and Ryan, 2000; Deci and Ryan, 1987). Autonomy relative to ideal supportive behaviour may be undermined and the equilibrium of the coach-athlete dyad affected.

Whilst the role of autonomy supportive behaviours has been recognised as important to facilitating productive coaching-athlete relationships, the ability to execute such behaviours in the S&C environment may be challenging. The S&C coach should be encouraged to expose S&C planning and rationales, provide individual support to stimulate athletic development and use language that internalises physical capability and motivation. Such recommendation fulfils the athlete’s self-determined need for choice, independence and expression of feelings and motivation. However, the challenge is represented by the context in which the S&C coach and athlete engage. The limitations surrounding competition, reward systems and scheduling places stress on the coach’s ability to deliver autonomy support and as such controlling behaviours may prevail. S&C coaches should understand the importance of autonomy supportive behaviours and the positive effects on the athlete and their physical and emotional development. However, the coach must also be aware of factors that limit the facilitation of productive coach-athlete relationships such as the coaching context. How do you go about developing autonomy support to facilitate a productive coach-athlete relationship in athletic development?

No Good Experiences, No Bad Experiences, Just Learning Experiences: The True Value of University Placement Programmes

In our previous blog we explore the importance of a dynamic and personalised approach to nutrition to supporting the development of pupils in a youth sport setting. We gave examples of interventions to ‘kindle the fire’ for learning related to appropriate fuelling and behaviours with food. We gave an example of the importance of considering the energy costs of growth and maturation as a primary focus. We highlighted how evidence informs us of the concurrent peak in energy requirements as physical activity increases alongside increasing rates of growth and maturation around the ages of 14- 17 years. As such, this period becomes critical for well informed nutritional behaviours.

In this blog we divert to explore the benefits of placement opportunities for university students. As a department, athletic development at Millfield has been proactive in creating opportunities for early years practitioners to gain valuable industry experience and practical learning experiences to supplement their academic studies. Below, we have an insight into the lessons learnt during the first 6 months on placement from two of our current placement students. How do you support the development of placement students in your programmes?

“The experience to date has been a real eye opener. I quickly became aware that adding practical experiences and skills to the exercise physiology theory I had learnt at university would be key. What has hit me most is the difference between textbook theory and applied practice. I have learnt that there is more to coaching, more than designing the perfect plan and programme. Since being at Millfield I have been exposed to a lot of applied research, reflective practice sessions and daily discussions about the art of coaching while also delving deeper into strength and conditioning principles. My key take home is to stay focused on the development of young people over time and to continually focus on adding value to their journey.”

“I have become more aware that it is as important that pupils come away from sessions having been challenged to learn; whether it is around strength training or more generally, for example life skills; making the pupil a better and more rounded person. Within sessions I have focused more time and energy on pupils developing the ability to make the most of every coaching opportunity; what went well last time? what is the focus of this session? what could I do better next time? This ranges from remembering technical points of a squat pattern, bringing more energy to the next session and working collaboratively with peers to support their learning. Everything I have learnt to far and shared above I believe can be transferred to future roles within coaching, making me the best coach I can possibly be and highlights to me how coaching is coaching. Fundamentally it is about connecting with people and supporting their development over time inside and outside of sport.” (Callum, Athletic Development Placement Student from Bournemouth University)

“Whilst on placement with the athletic development team at Millfield, the one think that has struck me most is the importance in building meaningful relationships with pupils, coaches and teachers to provide the best support to our young sports people. Developing trust, respect and understanding individual needs are what I believe are the key attributes that have led me to become more effective in my coaching delivery. My university degree has given me the foundational and theoretical knowledge that I know is essential to become a successful S&C coach. My placement so far has added another layer of understanding around the practical implications of theory and most importantly, working with and supporting the development of people.”

“ In addition, during my placement at Millfield I have really become to understand the importance of integrating into the culture of an organisation and how important it is to continually uphold the highest standard of practice both within my coaching, through the use of evidence based practice and outside of coaching, by contributing positively to the community that I am working in.”

“By researching relevant topic areas and applying my understanding within a youth context, I have been able to take ownership of my programmes and review their success with fellow coaches and my placement supervisors. This has helped me to take a more holistic approach in ensuring that I meet my long-term targets and the longer terms aim with each pupil. Finally, I have learnt that good conversations are important to support good practice. Working in a multidisciplinary environment, we are never shy from an opportunity to learn from fellow practitioners. I have exposed myself to be challenged in my critical thinking, through presentations and being open to be challenged, which has ultimately led to developments in my coaching and thinking. Similarly, I have learnt to not be afraid to challenge both my peers and the young athletes that I coach to support their own development.” (Idris, Athletic Development Placement Student from Bath University)

This narrative provides a fascinating insight into the true value of industry-based placement programmes. The message is clear that the experience provides a genuine opportunity to narrow the gap between textbook and real-world practice. It provides early years practitioners the opportunity to embed themselves in an organisation and appreciate the importance of working and connecting with people to contribute to the aims of an organisation. Finally, it highlights the importance of a challenging and supportive placement programme with a network of mentors and supervisors who are invested in contributing positively to the experiences of the student whilst on placement. In short, there are no good experiences, no bad experiences, just learning experiences. How do you create great learning experiences for your placement students?

It’s About the Kindling of the Fire, Not the Filling of the Vessel: Dynamic and Personalised Approach to Nutrition Support for Youth

In the first two decades of life, youth undergo an array of anatomical and physiological changes resulting from growth and maturation. These include but are not confined to changes in body size, and architecture, including the rate at which these changes occur. Additionally, youth develop key beliefs and attitudes which form the basis of behaviours in adulthood. These fundamental physical, social and psychological changes result from and are influenced by nutritional behaviours and habits.

Adolescence is a period when bone growth is at its greatest and when musculoskeletal, endocrinal & thermoregulatory systems are fully developed. All these developments require energy. However, quantifying this energy requirement is challenging due to the individuality of growth and maturation rates, especially around peak height velocity. Recent work (Hannon et al., 2020) highlights some of the differences in energy needs of youth athletes as they move through stages of maturation, with concurrent peaks in energy requirements and rates of growth and development, between the ages of 14-17 yrs.

With this in a mind and as a practitioner supporting youth in an educational environment, the importance of pupils, and particularly pupils with high sporting loads, meeting their daily energy demands is key. My primary focus then, is to educate pupils on how to optimally fuel and support the process of growth and maturation through nutrition. Developing good nutritional behaviours in our pupils will not only support these processes but will also cross over to influence behaviours with food in relation to the demands of their sport and life beyond sport. In short, my focus is on kindling the firing for learning and development.

With education being paramount in my practice at Millfield so far, two concepts driving my practice have become apparent. They are dynamic and personalised nutrition. A key understanding that I aim to embed into my communication is that nutritional requirements are dynamic not static. As such, behaviours with food should be dynamic and adjusted to match daily variations in energy demands of for example training programs, extracurricular activities and general free play in a boarding school environment. Personalisation of support is equally important, to account for differences in maturation stages, specificity and uniqueness of the sport and practical challenges regarding nutritional knowledge, preferences and needs.

Application of these concepts from a practitioner and pupil point of view can be challenging in an environment which you do not control food availability, quantity and meal timings. Therefore, a practical strategy to counteract these challenges has been the use of photographic food dairies and visualisation of portions to provide education and practical application of a dynamic and personalised nutrition to meet training energy demands and support development. This use of combining both visual and written nutritional support has been effective in my practice so far, empowering pupils with the knowledge of “why” but more importantly to power of “how” to improve their nutritional intake according to their individual needs. The aim continues to be to kindle the fire for learning related to appropriate fuelling and behaviours with food.

Failure as Teacher, not Undertaker. Failure as Delay, not Defeat: Professional Development in Physiotherapy

In our previous blog we looked at the significance of utilising video capture, processing and sharing of training and competition to optimise knowledge and understanding of sport, leading to the personal development of pupils and coaches. The blog touched upon the understanding that modern youth sport is a rich learning environment which pupils and coaches are constantly evaluating and adapting their practice based upon these learning experiences.

In this blog I wanted to look at the role of failure within physiotherapy practice, and how this is can act as a catalyst for learning and practitioner development despite the negative connotations around the term ‘failure’. Failure in most domains is considered a negative. Failure is seen as ‘the undertaker’ and a defeat. To be seen to fail is to somehow demonstrate a lack of knowledge, competence or experience within physiotherapy. This viewpoint often leads to individuals feeling anxious and having low self-worth and perceived competence. In the current climate where people’s mental health is in focus, we must question if this view of failure is healthy and sustainable.

As one of our physiotherapy team states, “I fail every day in my physiotherapy practice. This may be in the form of a diagnosis that evolves over the course of someone’s rehab, not providing the optimum loading for an individual’s exercise program or not doing all I can to ensure a pupil buys-in and is compliant with the rehab program I have provided them with. I have had cases where I have missed the mark and failed as a physiotherapist. The knock-on effect is that a pupil may feel unsure of what they are to do or their direction of travel or maybe that individual will seek a second opinion and never feel able to seek my support again.”

Now you may be thinking at this point ‘if they fail so often then how can they continue to be a therapist and consider themselves effective?’. This was a concept I struggled with earlier in my career when situations like this would lead to a high degree of self-analysis and scrutiny and a negative emotional cycle for an period of time. What was gained from this process? Nothing. It wasn’t until the emotion had passed that I was then able to reflect on the situation and gain an insight into what I could have done differently and how it could have played out in another way. Then it began to dawn on me. Failure was a tool for learning and by learning from these situations I was able to improve my subsequent practice and not repeat the same mistakes again. The ‘future me’ is now grateful for these experiences and so are the pupils that enter the clinic for rehabilitation.

The reality of the world we work in is that we are rarely going to be presented with a situation that is straightforward and ‘perfect’. We are more likely to encounter the ‘perfect storm’ where all the variables in each situation will come together to conspire against us. Rather than fear this situation and fear the failure which will inevitably coincide with these scenarios, we must be willing to ‘fail fast’, learn and move forward with the challenge. Overcoming these challenges will ultimately give us the greatest sense of satisfaction when we have helped someone overcome their own significant challenge (injury) and supported them in achieving their treatment goals. Being comfortable with failure will allow you to become a better, healthier and happier practitioner. Remember, the journey never stops. See failure as the teacher, not the undertaker. See failure as delay, not defeat.