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Common Advice

nick ruddock Mar 30, 2017

In this blog post, I’ve shared the 5 most common bits of advice I give coaches, clubs and federations when visiting on consultations and training camps. It’s irrelevant what the current level of performance for your athletes is, these five points apply to you, and tend to make all the difference when it comes to transforming results for your team.

Number 1 – Raise Your Standards
Yet again I come back to this critical point. As a coach, it is up to YOU to set the benchmark. It is up to YOU to decide and communicate acceptable performance standards. It is up to YOU to ENFORCE the standards. No excuses. If YOU don’t like something, change it. If the athletes that YOU coach have poor behaviour, change it. If the routines are sloppy, change it.

High performing coaches commonly have higher standards of expectations than lower performing coaches with discipline, work ethic, attitude, mindset, technical performance and cultural development etc. The great thing is that all of these qualities are totally FREE. It doesn’t cost you a penny to raise the standards of your athlete’s leg form, nor does it require a world class facility. If you’re not happy with your athlete’s performance, then take accountability for it, identify what the benchmark is and enforce it.

Once you have CLARITY on acceptable and expected behaviours and standards, you need to implement a strategy to enforce and communicate it to all the key stakeholders and members of the team, from the cleaners through to the Directors. ‘Little leaks sink the ship’ and if you have a particular athlete or staff member compromising the standards of the gym, something needs to be done about it.

Team meetings, posters on the wall, line ups and debriefs are all great opportunities to remind, regulate and reinforce your standards.

What’s even easier for coaching is that our technical standards are somewhat set by the FIG Rules which govern our sport. It couldn’t be clearer what is deemed ‘perfect’ and imperfect. Slightly bent leg? That’s 0.1. Excessive bend? Thats 0.5!

Here’s a harsh reality; if your athletes cannot straighten their legs in a routine, but they can sitting on the floor, you’re failing your athletes by not enforcing high standards. They are capable of more, but your standards fall short of their potential.

Where are you at?

Number 2 – Foundations First
We hear it all the time. ‘Basics’ are crucial. Well, it’s true. Always has been, always will be.

Too many coaches are falling at the first hurdle with their athletes by not understanding the process of developing key technical and physical foundations that support higher performing skills.

There is an abundance of ‘talent’ around within clubs, but 99% of it never comes to fruition due to skills being rushed and taught with low standards of expectation. High performing coaches understand this, and have the patience to follow this process also.

For many coaches, it’s not that they don’t want to focus on the basics, it’s that they don’t actually know what basics are, which brings me onto point number three:

Number 3 – Invest in Education
It’s never been easier to access information and resources, to connect and communicate with anybody, anywhere in the world. For the results-hungry coach, there really is no excuse to not be well informed.

Alongside my friends, family and health, ‘opportunity’ is what I am most grateful for in life. The chances are, if you’re reading this, then there is an abundance of opportunity in your life too. It’s there for the taking, and should be leveraged as an asset to support any high performance aspirations you have.

Get offline and start building relationships with potential mentors. Take a few days holiday to visit a high performance environment to learn. Do whatever it takes to get out of your day to day environment and brush shoulders with people who are smarter than you. It’s the best way of accelerate learning, and no amount of YouTube indulgence will compare to the value of face to face dialogue and being able to ask questions.

Having a mentor to guide you will help provide CLARITY on your direction, technical knowledge and progression.

I took a £6,000 loan when I was 18 to travel to the USA voluntarily, to shadow and be mentored by the world’s best coaches, to which I am still connected to closely today. All my employment holiday was spent overseas on gymnastics education trips. I went to every single course, conference and learning opportunity there was. I asked and still ask 1000’s of questions. I networked. Of course I still do these things today, but when I was 18, I sought a strategy that would accelerate my learning.

What’s your strategy?

If the outcome is important enough to you, you’ll find a way. If you haven’t done it yet, is it that important to you?

Number 4 – Make Your Athlete’s Practice ‘Purposeful’
You may be tired of hearing about goal setting, but there’s a reason why it’s so prevalent in high performance sport. It works.

Yet 90% of clubs I walk in to have no plan, and no objective for their training sessions. I don’t mean an elaborately periodised spreadsheet with graphs and charts, I’m talking about quite simply a couple of focus points for a specific tumbling session. I like to categorise sessions into two areas:

An ‘Athlete Led’ session (this is the most common by far)
This is where the athlete has a program, or set number of repetitions, which they perform with reactive feedback from the coach. The coach merely gives feedback after each and every repetition. There is little consistency in the feedback, as it is driven by what the athlete performs. If the athlete falls over performing a skill for example, the coach instructs them how to not do so. If on their next repetition they miss the bar, the feedback then relates to fixing that as it is reactive from the athlete’s actions.

Don’t confuse having a programme (5 x double back somersaults, 5 x triple twists etc.) as being purposeful. That’s just numbers, not an objective.

A ‘Coach Led’ session
This is where the coach proactively leads the session. They are not simply reacting to the athlete’s repetitions for delivering feedback, they are driving the work rate, the focus areas and the techniques/drills used to get to the desired outcome. It is a far more engaging way of coaching, as the coach becomes the ‘conductor’ of the session, and as a result, training becomes more purposeful and has a greater impact on results. Sadly, this is a real rarity.

When a coach is proactively leading a session, as opposed to reactively babysitting a session, you’ll find the coach talking more to engage the athlete, (not necessarily all feedback!) moving around, enforcing their feedback by way of repetition and finding alternative ways to get their message across. They are usually very consistent in what they are asking for, as there is a clear focus point of improvement.

If you’re guilty of saying ‘keeping your head in’ over 1,000 times a week to your athletes then you may be guilty of ‘athlete led coaching’ where you are providing feedback based on their performance. That differs from setting up a circuit designed to keep the head in when performing the skill, where a clear objective has been set. That would be coach led, and that’s the most effective way to do it.

Now of course, there’s a time and place for both. Athlete led training is essential throughout the practice and consolidation stage of skill acquisition, but most clubs I frequent are still in the technical development stage. They are trying to teach skills without ever truly engaging and enforcing standards or my final point –

Number 5 – Deliberate Technique
This is in synergy with points 1-4. Without having clarity on your standards (what is deemed acceptable and isn’t,) understanding the role of basics, seeking education and being proactive, you won’t be able to enforce a deliberate technique to your athletes, and you may fall under the trap of ‘anything goes.’

The ‘anything goes’ approach is a sign of athlete led training, where the coach has given feedback based on whatever the athlete has done. This results in the athlete developing their own style of performing skills as the coach hasn’t been pro-active in their approach, and been deliberate enough with the outcomes.

‘That’s no bad thing’ you might say, that the athlete can develop their style, and in some cases I agree. But your athlete’s style could be technically ineffective, or even wrong (I rarely say that as we don’t often stick to the text book, but let’s be honest, there really are many ways of performing elements wrong.)

It may take longer to teach skills with a specific technique, but the outcome is worth it. Being deliberate means you have identified a standard, resulting in total clarity of performance outcomes. That makes giving feedback far easier when it comes to that stage. It also makes ‘leading a session’ much easier too.

Watching 5 athletes from the same club all perform in the same way, with the same deliberate technique is a sign of this in action.

How about you look these 5 points as a checklist, and see if your programme is deficient in any of them, which should be seen as great opportunities for development.

Notice that all 5 points above relate to the ‘recipe’ that is in place in your gym, and not the individual ingredients such as exercises and drills. The sooner you focus on the recipe, the faster you’ll be seeing better results.



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