Do I need speed training for ultras?

Another discussion from Twitter, but one I’ve seen discussed several times online and in the ultra running community before

'Are speed intervals as part of training for an ultra necessary? All the plans I've found online don't mention speed work at all #ukrunchat'

Instead of my usual ‘it depends’, this time I’m going to set out my stall early on with a clear cut, ‘almost certainly, probably not’.

A lot of the confusion around this topic comes from the application of the word ‘speed’. If your are training for an ultra-marathon, and your coach has set you something they describe as ‘speed work’ or ‘speed intervals’, I do hope its through a mistaken application of the term, as opposed to a mistaken interpretation of what speed is.

What is Speed?

Let’s start at the beginning. Speed. What is speed? Speed = distance divided by time. Meters per second, miles per hour, kilometres per hour etc. These are all familiar measures of speed. So basic, it hardly seems worth stating.

These measures of speed are common in sport. Every tennis serve on TV seems to be recorded and displayed in the background. You’ll also most likely be able to see the velocity of pretty much every ball bowled in a televised cricket match too. This is because they are useful, sport specific performance indicators. The faster a serve is hit or a ball is bowled, the less time to react and the harder it is to play.

Unfortunately, when we consider performance in running, we adopt a subtly different perspective. We tend to look at the time take to cover a certain distance (min/miles or min/km). You might argue this is the same thing, and when you look at it like a physics equation on paper, it pretty much is. What it means for training, and how you train however, it most certainly is not.

How fast do I need to be able to run?

Lets look the fastest man on the planet - Usain Bolt. As you might imagine, when he ran 9.58 seconds for 100m, there was no shortage of analysis into just what makes him so fast and how he did it. In short, he’s fast because he has what seems to be a pretty perfect blend of muscle fibre type, an ability to recruit those muscles near maximally and efficiently, his body structure (good lever lengths), and of course, all the training and technical skill that allows him to maximize his stride length and stride frequency over 100m. On that day, and many others, all of what I’ve just mentioned meant that he was able to both reach a higher top speed, and also slow down less than his competitors over 100m. Take a look at the graph produced by the Science of Sport for a clearer picture of how that race panned out.

Even world class athletes slow down over 100m!(Credit to )

Even world class athletes slow down over 100m!(Credit to )

Ignoring the acceleration, which is also a big part of 100m performance, we can see that in a race the length of just 100m, even world class athletes are actually unable to sustain their highest velocity – in Usain’s case a ridiculous 44.72 km/h! Fundamentally this is because humans will struggle to continue to be able to maintain the required rate of energy production to do so - note the decline in 'total power production' even over 10 seconds.

Graph showing Energy Production in the human body

Energy production in the human body (Credit to )

Now maximum speed is pretty bloody important over 100m. But its not the only thing that is important. Speed maintenance, or the ability to endure can be seen to start to come into play. Over 200m, the latter becomes even more important, over 400m, more so. You don’t even need to stretch the race out to 100 miles to pretty much completely remove maximum speed as a limiting factor in performance.

We can look at it another way to prove the point. Take a look at what happens when you take Mo Farah, and Alistair Brownlee (two guys who can by most endurance runners standards can absolutely shift) and put them to a test of speed against a collection of other athletes.

While acceleration, technique and motivation need to be considered, both of them get completely burned by an Anthony Joshua (11.53 sec for 100m) – a man who’s sport doesn’t even involve running! I’d argue he beats them by far enough to suggest that outright speed clearly isn’t what makes Mo or Alistair good at what they do.

Speed requirement in Ultras

Ok, so by now, I hope you are beginning to see how important maximum speed might be in longer distance events (not very). But let’s really drum it home with a specific example. The initial question was posed by someone hoping to take on the NDW 100. Even though the individual’s goals were to just complete, let’s imagine he’s going for the course record - 15:44 for North Downs way. Ignoring nutrition, personal admin etc pacing etc for the sake of argument, (all huge aspects influencing the outcome of this type of event) this theoretically means you need to travel at an AVERAGE speed of 6.35 mph,10.24 kmh or 2.8 m/s over the distance. So, in terms of a speed requirement, if you can travel this fast, you have the raw speed capability to equal the course record. Why not go test it, see if you can run 100 metres in 35 seconds. I believe in you! Whether you can sustain it, is an entirely different question.

We do  know that pretty much everyone fades over 100 miles so its likely that you’ll need to be able to run a little faster than this. But let me stress again top speed is clearly not the problem. Take a look at average speeds of competitors over the SDW100 in 2012 to give you a very rough flavour of how fast people are running.

Graph depicting average speeds of runners between checkpoints during the South Downs Way 100 mile ultra in 2012

Average speeds between checkpoints at the SDW 100 2012 (Credit to Sam Robson and Centurion Running

So what about the need for speed intervals when training for ultras?

So this is where the term ‘speed’ is being misused when coaches or athletes refer to speed intervals. I’m assuming that most ultra-runners or coaches aren’t setting their athletes much less than 400m intervals, but even these are not developing maximal speed and should not be called ‘speed intervals’. They are developing an athletes capacity to not go slower. To endure. Not speed.  If 400m intervals developed maximal speed, Usain would be running them. Based on his self-confessed laziness being reason he hasn’t yet trained to competitively run 400m, this might just give you an indication of how much he actually runs that distance!

Don’t get me wrong, increasing your maximal aerobic capacity, your ability to utilize lactate, developing your running economy and the host of other biomechanical, physiological and psychological adaptations that can be improved from systematically running faster than race pace will likely improve your running across most distances. But I must be categorical here – they are not speed training. They are not speed training in that they do not (at least effectively) develop maximal speed. They develop your ability to sustain sub-maximal speed.

To some extent, I feel like this article has just delved into semantics, but I hope I have also made an important distinction for you, and one you can apply to your own training plans. If we misinterpret speed, we leave ourselves open to getting our training wrong too. Next time you hear or see someone stating the importance of speed training for ultras, you don’t have to disagree, but perhaps politely ask them to say what they actually mean, and not just what they think they mean. There is a BIG difference!

What is the best 30 day challenge for runners?

So, another blog in response to a question from twitter.

What are the best "30 day challenges" for runners? I.e do I really need to be able to wall sit for 300 seconds?

It depends. As ever, it depends (it really does). When you look to construct a robust training plan for a given person, ‘Individualization’, is one of the main requirements you should look to satisfy. I’d like to know a lot more about you (or any runner) before I would answer it specifically (for you) e.g:

In general terms, on your athletic journey, what is our starting point? What is the destination? Specifically - What is your biological and training age? Training history? Current training load? Health status, stress levels, ability to recover?

I don’t mention this to avoid the question, but more to demonstrate that it would be irresponsible to suggest I could offer you a decent answer without such information. I’d like to see how you move, how you run. Only then might it be possible to determine the suitability of any 30 day challenge for you. Taking that into consideration, the likelihood of an arbitrarily designed challenge is unlikely to be that useful for you.  But that doesn’t mean they are completely without benefit either.

Everything that goes into a training plan, should have a purpose. With busy lives to lead, few of us really have the time to be participating in anything that is anything less than something that is fit for purpose toward our eventual goals. Assuming that the specificity of our overall training is also not something that is mutually exclusive from the ability to enjoy ourselves, let’s evaluate the 30 day wall sit challenge in a little more depth and examine its potential benefit to runners.

Image listing the progression of the 30 day wall sit challenge

The 30 day wall sit challenge

So first things first, what is a wall sit exercise? Its an exercise that predominantly works your quads, but also glutes and calves. On the face of it, it sounds like this will be good for running. You definitely use your quads, glutes and calves for running, so thats a tick in our ‘specific for running’ box…..or is it? The wall sit exercise involves an isometric muscle action. What does this mean?  Basically the muscle length doesn’t change and the contractile force is equal to the resistive force, hence you stay in the same place! So what? Well lets look at our quads very briefly while running. They help extend the hip and knee. So actually work both concentrically (where muscle length shortens because the contractile force is greater than the resistive force) and eccentrically (where the the muscle length extends because the contractile force is less than the resistive force) during the running cycle. Ever run fast down a steep hill and had achey legs the next day? This is where your quads experience an exaggerated version of one of their main functions during running i.e. a lot of eccentric loading - (think braking/shock absorbing). As your foot falls further downwards than normal, it effectively increases the resistive forces your quads must absorb. Yet they simultaneously have to contract to stabilise your knee. No wonder they ache after this - I hate trying to do two things at once 😉 So while an isometric exercise like the wall sit this might be useful for downhill skiing or rock climbing, where the sport specific movements require extended and coordinated isometric contraction of the lower limb (holding a static position) - the wall sit does not lend itself well to the more dynamic action of running. Some form of lunge challenge might be a little more specific to a runner.

Moving on from the physical specificity of the challenge, lets look at it from a psychological perspective. I do appreciate that these challenges can be motivating, especially if there is a group of you completing it together. You have target to aim for and a simple plan to follow. In terms of how motivating it might be, take a look at how it fits with the continuum of motivation according to self-determination theory. Where might you put it?

Image depicting The continuum of motivation from self-determination theory

The continuum of motivation from self-determination theory (image from

The more ‘self-determined’ your motivation, or so some evidence suggests, the more positive the outcome. If you are going to do a challenge, pick one with meaning for you and your journey.  The 30 day wall sit challenge might be the one for you, but only you know that.

As for the format of the challenge, it is progressive (an important training principle). However, whether the majority of it is enough to stimulate ‘overload’, from which we ultimately adapt is questionable. There is also no opportunity for recovery in it. If it does become too hard, there is little room for manoeuvre. Hence we come back to individualisation and your current training status and ability. Say 120s wall sit was the minimum required to stimulate an adaptation at the outset, you’ve just potentially spent 11 days when you could have been doing something more appropriate to your standard. Say you find 10sec difficult at the outset, the rate of progression is unlikely to be sustainable. The arbitrary nature of the length of the challenge is a double-edge sword. Its short enough, and familiar enough within our mental models to be something that seems achievable and compartmentalised - a nice little package. But our bodies don’t physiologically and physically respond to external stimuli according to where we are in a 30-day challenge. Furthermore, if I wanted to make meaningful gains with an athlete, I’d ask them to set aside 3 months minimum. Worthwhile physical change and adaptation takes time.

For a runner, I’d probably argue 90s in a given position, providing you demonstrate perfect form is enough to demonstrate a bracing competence. After that, progress the exercise in different ways, load, position, amplitude, plane…..The body doesn’t generally work in distinct parts but as a very complex interconnected chain - it should be challenged like that.  Here is a tweet I posted last year from an online Strength and Conditioning Conference, summarising the thoughts of two coaches who know far more than I ever will about training an athlete appropriately (Vern Gambetta and Kelvin Giles) that I think sums it up quite nicely.

Image of skeletal connections linkages and interconnectedness

'Connect,sync,link,then coordinate' (Vern Gambetta) & 'Creating linkages' (Kelvin Giles) From Brendan Chaplin's Online Strength and Conditioning Conference 2014


The best 30 day challenge for runners?

So where does that leave us? What ARE the best '30-day challenges' for runners?  Ones that are specifically designed with a beneficial transfer to running in mind, yet appropriate and considerate of the individual undertaking them. Ones that motivate and ‘challenge’ the athlete, and ones that fit into the wider context of their journey from wherever they might be to wherever they are going. And no, you don’t need to be able to wall sit for 300 seconds. 😉

Hope that helps, and of course if you have any questions about this blog or any other general ones please write to me ( or get it touch on twitter @acbcoaching.

Returning from Injury

Struggling with own list of blog topics, I thought I’d reach out to the twittersphere for inspiration.I asked @UKrunchat if their followers had any strength and conditioning and running related questions and received several interesting replies. As it turns out, the response I decided to write about was not strictly strength and conditioning related but more aligned with the psychology side of things. As I am currently rehabbing from a nasty knee injury myself (don’t play rugby - its dangerous) and my background in psychology, it really appealed to me, so here goes:

'How do you get confidence back after injury. After the physio. Back to form, but every step is more thought about'

The question sounds as though it comes from someone who has been cleared to exercise again, but is now struggling  perhaps more with certain psychological aspects relating to her running as they are getting back into it.  First, its important to caveat the rest of the answer with the obvious shortcomings of 140 character tweets - It’d obviously be useful to understand more about both the nature and severity of initial injury, length of layout, details of her experiences during rehab, any other psychological interventions etc. These will all play a critical part in the eventual outcome and any exercises that might be suggested as the issues could be rooted in a number of areas. With that said, I’ll try to outline what I would consider MIGHT be some useful techniques and approaches in this situation.

1) Retain perspective and adopt a whole-person philosophy throughout the injury process

Although you have been cleared to exercise again, it is important to continue to retain perspective on the process you have gone through. Remember that you are not your injury, so don’t let it subsume your athletic or even personal identity. When exercise or sport is a big part of your day to day life, it can be a real knock to your sense of self, when your ability to exercise effectively is taken away from you. Any particular injury might cause a given individual to experience a whole range of feelings and emotions - inadequacy, fear, frustration, anxiety etc. throughout the entire journey to complete recovery. Recovery takes time, and patience is required. Understand that these types of recurring thoughts during runs are a frequent and completely normal experience for someone recovering from injury.

Cartoon of glum looking frankenstein-like zombie holding his own arm

It is easy to for your injury to subsume your personal or athletic identity - don't let it!

Try to retain and re-connect with your social support networks - talk to other injured athletes, or those that have had similar experiences. You are not alone in this, and as a person first and foremost, both informal and formal types of support can help improve ongoing motivation and rebuild your confidence. Even just a small conversation, tweet, text or call could be the conversation to help unlock and shake these intruding thought patterns! If they don’t happen to lead to that ‘light-bulb’ moment, over time these connections will help you to appreciate and normalise your current thought patterns. You’ve successfully negotiated your injury so far, this is just another small step in that ongoing process.  Having chatted with friends and fellow runners, next time you go running, try to spot these thoughts as they occur. Acknowledge them for what they are (just normal thoughts), as even the process of noticing and labelling (give them any name you want) can help lessen their salience.

2) Practise thinking differently 

Once you have started to spot these thoughts as they arise, you can then start to implement the process of thinking differently when they do.  The fancy terminology used for this by Sport Psychologists ‘cognitive restructuring’ and the aim is to replace the negative thought patterns with more positive ones. Now, I don’t know exactly what you are saying to yourself or thinking when these patterns occur, but  as an example, instead of thinking ‘I can still feel my injury, its not fixed, I’m never going to run properly again’, you might learn to say to yourself ‘STOP!’ each time you notice your thought patterns running away with themselves, and instead saying 'I’ve done the rehab, these sensations are a normal part of recovery and adapting to running again’.  Choose your own, make it specific, and practise - it won’t necessarily come easily or straight away.

Depitction of cog-like workings of the brain

We learned to think the way we do, so we can learn to think differently too

3) Positive self-talk    

You’ll probably have heard of this. It’s similar to cognitive restructuring, but these are more intentional, pre-rehearsed statements that you can recite (internally or out loud) to help pre-emptively combat negative thoughts. They can be used motivationally or again in a cognitive way. Try both, but I think that the latter would be more relevant to you. Again I don’t know what your injury is, or if it relates to your form, but if it did, something like ‘high hips, light feet, great running’ could be appropriate. Say it to yourself - and mean it, it won’t work if you don’t buy in.

4) Practise asking yourself questions that won’t lead you down the garden path.

If the question you ask yourself is ‘how does my *previously injured area* feel?’, you leave yourself open to becoming lost in a rabbit hole of thoughts to follow. The question is open-ended and general, and can subsequently be interpreted in a multitude of potentially unhelpful and distracting ways. Make the questions you ask yourself offer specific, targeted and useful answers. You might want to develop some highly structured, short-term performance goals and seek out feedback in relation to these. Do you have a checklist for running form? Use this to evaluate your running, as opposed to nebulous and intangible thought-patterns.

Hopefully some of the above techniques and hints will prove useful, and I'd love to hear if any of it helps. Its difficult to be specific without knowing more - please do email me on if you have any questions or feedback. If all else fails....

Don't worry, be happy text image

Wise words from Bob Marley

Good luck!

SGCP 4th International Congress of Coaching Psychology

International Congress of Coaching Psychology

Sport, Performance and Coaching Psychology Stream

I just wanted to post up a quick review of the Coaching Psychology Conference I attended on Thursday 11th December last week. Having recently discussed the need for awareness of organisations such as the SGCP to those involved with coaching, it seemed like opportune timing to put my own advice into action. Considering my background, I was naturally drawn to attend the Sport, Performance and Coaching Psychology stream, chaired by Professor Sandy Gordon, and Dr Sophia Jowett. As such, I decided to attend this stream in its entirety and have summarised my thoughts below. Hopefully my insight will be of some use to others.

The opening address

Image of Professor Mary Watts

Professor Mary Watts

The opening address was delivered by Professor Mary Watts who spoke about the title of the congress ‘Changing lives, Changing Worlds - Inspiring Collaborations’. She recounted experiences across her career in particular noting that despite the various roles she has fulfilled, due to the cross-disciplinary nature of coaching, regardless of title/function there is always an opportunity to learn. Professor Watts mentioned that when it comes to learning, inclusivity has been a foundational principle in promoting the collaborative nature of the SGCP and her own personal journey.  This certainly struck a chord with me, and seemed to align with the notion of ‘humble authority’ that I also try to apply. In essence, everybody brings something to the table, and we can all learn something from it if we are willing.

Sport Psychology, Performance Psychology and Coaching Psychology - Professor Sandy Gordon

Headshot of Professor Sandy Gordon

Professor Sandy Gordon

The morning session of the Sport Performance and Coaching Psychology Stream was introduced and kicked off by Professor Sandy Gordon who began with a discussion of the interface between Sport Psychology, Performance Psychology and Coaching Psychology. He set out, that with regard to the aforementioned topics, practitioners are working with those who operate in a space that is ultimately measured by external demands, yet requires enhancements in skills and behaviours that must be intrinsically motivated. In terms of the practical applications, the appropriateness of a strengths-based approach was evaluated. The notion that in times of stress, it is our strengths that we default to, that few of us like working on our weaknesses, and rarely will we be able to turn them into strengths. I especially like the line:

'success is like teflon, failure is like velcro'

 It is well known that we ‘learn from mistakes’ and these memories stay with us. That should not dissuade us from trying to learn from our successes also.

The Coaching Relationship: Its Role and Significance for Success and Satisfaction - Dr. Sophia Jowett

Head shot of Dr. Sophia Jowett

Dr. Sophia Jowett

Having studied Dr. Jowett’s work on the coach athlete relationship with reasonable interest at university, due to the time constraints for the talk, it was very much covering old ground for me. I was however intrigued to hear about the release of a new tool called Tandem (, which seems to be an app that can quickly measure and score aspects of the coach-athelte relationship. As a well validated tool, this could be a very useful app for future coaching practice. Questions after the talk explored the implications of perspective of the coach-athlete relationship (i.e. it is dyadic). More specifically, what does this mean for environments whereby more than one coach is involved with a given athlete, and how does each dyad influence the ‘coaching culture’ within which it exists. After the talk, I did also ponder the negative aspects of coaching relationships and how these might influence outcome. It is clear that relationships that might be considered of lower quality by the 3+1C’s model can still perform at the highest level in terms of results achieved. What negative aspects of these relationships might be adaptive? Might a more harmonious relationship even lead to worse results? What would be the ethical implications of such a finding. Really interesting stuff, and just a shame the slot was too short to allow for greater discussion.

Paradoxical functions of exercising in women with anorexia nervosa - Dr. Liv Jorun Kolnes

This was another talk that seemed to sit very neatly into an area of personal and professional interest. Dr. Kolnes presentation focused specifically on exploring the meaning of compulsive exercise to AN-restrictive inpatients. The research aimed to potentially provide coaches with a broadened understanding of compulsive exercise in these individuals and in general.

Three key themes were identified relating to compulsive exercise in this population:

1) Emotion regulation, distraction and escape

2) Embodied emotional stress

3) Provides identity and belonging

It was an interesting talk. Especially because it seemed clear that there the meaning of exercise can appear to be implicated in a potentially beneficial emotional pathway. It seems it is not just solely a method of escape, but a way in which the patients can feel and get in touch with their emotions. However, the continuation of exercise can often extend recovery in those with AN, and with the role it can play in promoting a negative energy balance, this might just be another manifestation of an egosyntonic feature of AN. So no clear actions to be taken from this, and it would be irresponsible to suggest that there should be a place for exercise for those recovering from AN. However, when you consider some of the similarities of elite athletes and those with ED mindsets, the themes above would seem to shed light upon what exercise might mean and the function it might serve. Further exploration might allow us to know which features of exercise we might culture in a prophylactic manner to those at risk, or even for widespread benefit.

Internal Coaching: The Inside Story - Katharine St John-Brooks

After a short break, I returned to the stream’s workshop. Not working as an internal coach myself, I did ponder whether another talk might be better to attend, but took the advice of the David Tee with regard to Congress Logistics, and embraced the opportunity as serendipitous. After an introduction to her research exploring the rewards and challenges of being an internal coach, we were split into groups to work through an ethical dilemma. Although the research was focused specifically on internal coaching. I felt it certainly applied to any form of coaching within a broader organisational structure. The ethical dilemma, is also not one exclusive to internal coaches. My personal take-homes from this exercise were:

  1. The need for a robust coaching contract at the outset of a coaching relationship. This brings perspective and congruency to a coach’s behaviour in relation to the dilemma. As part of this contract,  firm ethical guidelines should be integrated into this agreement.
  2. Know your skill-set. Often it is not appropriate to ‘diagnose’ or to think we should attempt to solve a problem ourselves if it is outside our realm of expertise.
  3. The benefit of supervision. Dilemmas are dilemmas for a reason. A fresh perspective can often be both  reassuring, protective and productive.

This was probably the only session I had not decided I would attend before the conference. It made me wonder what other talks I might also have found so productive had there been the opportunity. Were there too many streams? Did the conference paradoxically dilute the opportunities for collaboration by offering too much choice?

Mindfulness, Ego-regulation and Psychological Momentum in Golf - Graham Kingma

This research was as interesting as it was complex. Coming from a background as a professional golfer, Graham’s work concentrated on a clearly interrelated but very intricate area of psychology that sits somewhere between coaching, sport and performance.  Despite this, the golf theme certainly seemed to draw in a big crowd!  Having conducted my own combinations of qualitative/quantitative research on small sample sizes, I’m not one to bemoan the inherent questionable statistical validity of the results, but nor am I one to ignore the potential value of such work. I was naturally drawn to the immediate conceptual juxtapositions of ideas such as psychological momentum (essentially time-bound) and mindfulness (in the moment). The non-judgmental nature of mindfulness with regard to ‘failure’ schema (inherently judgemental). However, both throughout the talk, and in discussion with Graham after, he was able to propose the potential value of their unexpected fusion. A further point that arose was the benefit of coaching of mindfulness with specific application to the discipline of golf. Throughout my own daily practice of mindfulness, I constantly derive benefit from domain specific application of the practice, and was glad to see this reflected in the research.

Coaching Psychology in Sport & Athletic Career Development: Narratives of Young Talented & Retired Professional Football Players - Dr. Ho Law & Unnur Maria Birgisdottir

This talk was based on research that came from a blend of narrative and coaching psychology. As opposed to focusing on the technical and tactical skills one might normally think of regarding coaching in football, it compared the experiences of young, up and coming footballers, with those of retired footballers to see if the comparison could be of benefit to players or coaching psychologists.

While the younger players' views were optimistic and progressive relating to  dreams and hopes of their future, this was in stark contrast to the more pessimistic and regressive viewpoint of retired footballers. The retired players stressed the value of relationships and the expectations and pressure of a career in football.  This was summarised by ‘pretty picture vs rough reality’ scenario that poses questions about the role retired players might play in helping to communicate the realities of elite sport to youngsters.

Goal Orientation in Coaching Psychology: Setting performance targets may be counterproductive to long-term performance - Kim Louw

This was a whirlwind talk, packed full of content with a necessary theoretical intro - and still one of the most enlightening of the day. Kim discussed both the state and trait nature of goal orientation and after a brief review delved into her research.  Alarmingly, it showed that even tiny manipulations were enough elicit the performance approach (aka ego-oriented) state, and that this effect was enough to override one’s trait/personality goal orientation. Since performance approach states are associated with status driven risk taking and subsequent unethical behaviour, the stand-out message for coaches is clearly ‘choose your words very carefully!’. It might only take a couple of words to adversely influence the behaviour of a coachee or athlete. Another insight of note, was that in certain settings it can obviously be difficult to avoid performance oriented goals. In these situations, multiple goal theory might help, whereby inclusion of mastery related goals along with performance approach goals might buffer the negative effect of those that promote performance approach based goal-orientation.

The motivational antecedents and affective consequences of fitness-assessment procrastination: Implications for coaching interventions - Dr Caroline Petherick

Although perhaps not the most robust population selection for this particular research question, once again a consistent coaching message was alluded to - the need for development of an culture that promotes the central principles of self-determination.  Although I probably feel that notion of fitness-assessment procrastination might better be approached from an informational point of view, it was still a talk that also threw up several insights relating to how perfectionistic tendencies and poor body image can present as surprisingly stubborn barriers to exercise in female populations.

Panel Discussion

The Stream was concluded with a 'panel style’ session that was really more of an open forum. The discussion evolved to cover what role the SGCP might fulfil in the future, in particular with regard to its collaborative approach and inclusive nature. Although the discussion regarding a protected status for coaching psychologists was broached, I for one would like to see the SGCP, at an organisational level, engaging with other bodies within the coaching profession to improve the coaching at a foundational level. I feel there are many bodies and groups that could benefit from such a relationship with the SGCP, and that this engagement would also be of mutual benefit to SGCP members.  The strength of coaching psychology is in its collaborative nature, and to make it more exclusive would only serve to generate unnecessary barriers to many of the groups with which it was designed to serve.

Keynote - Wilful Blindness - Margaret Heffernan

Head shot of Margaret Heffernan

Margaret Heffernan

Now I don’t want to just come across seeming like i’d wildly sing the praises of the conference regardless of what I heard, but the keynote for Thursday was really very good. My notes are a little shaky however, after an early start and full day of talks. Perhaps then it wasn’t great at all, and I was just 'wilfully blind', lacking the capacity to critically evaluate the content. Either way, I had not heard of Margaret Heffernan prior to the talk and I will certainly be following up on more of her material, when I can be more certain of my judgment.

Image of Margaret Heffernan delivering keynote talk at SGCP conference

Margaret Heffernan - Image courtesy of @DLeekF

Her talk eloquently reframed the idea of conflict. How in organisational and personal settings, we always seem eager to resolve it, but that it can be protective and productive. People are often afraid to speak up do to fear of the consequences, or merely an impression of futility. Silence however, will only lead to one thing; maintenance of the status quo. It will guarantee it, and at an organisational level, this can be poison. Conflict may not be comfortable, but in what ways can we embrace and harness conflict to make sure we are not ‘wilfully blind'?

Thought provoking stuff indeed

Strength & Conditioning and Coaching Psychology

At conferences and talks, its quite common to hear Strength and Conditioning Coaches reference the relative balance of 'Strength' and 'Conditioning' in their everyday work. We all follow slightly different pathways into the industry, and with those pathways come individual differences in our skills, philosophies and programming preferences. Coming to Strength and Conditioning from a background of endurance sport, my personal knowledge-base was certainly more skewed towards the conditioning side than strength.
The Intra Strength and Conditioning Coaching Balance

The Intra-Strength and Conditioning Coaching Balance

While I, and I'm sure many coaches alike, continue to work to address these imbalances, it was reflecting upon this process that led me to consider that our relative Strength-to-Conditioning-know-how-ratio is not perhaps the widest gap in most our skill-sets.

Strength and Conditioning is a burgeoning area of academic and applied research. As such, should we wish to develop our theoretical or academic understanding within the field of Strength and Conditioning, the information we might need to bring us up to speed is literally at our fingertips.  These opportunities are well publicised with any number of e-newsletters, subscriptions, workshops and seminars forming an active education sector within the field of Strength and Conditioning. If you don't know your or your MAF from your V02 - no problem.

Now of course, academic knowledge alone does not make a great S&C coach. It is just one component of the bigger picture. Any coach worth their salt knows the lab is not real life, and rarely will the latest journal protocol barely resemble what you might be able to practically implement in training. The point is, when it comes to both the science behind S&C and subsequent application of that knowledge, the field of Strength and Conditioning promotes a widespread awareness of the need for balance if we are to maximise the utility of our practical and scientific understanding.

The lack of Coaching Science in Strength and Conditioning

When it comes to the development of our coaching know-how, I feel we begin to lose that aforementioned balance. While there is clearly no shortage of coaches and organisations stressing the importance of developing our coaching ability, the constructive discourse and application of up to date research in the field is sorely lacking.
Part of the problem, can be summed up well by the predominant notion of "Coaching as an art”. Now I’m not for one second going to even try to deny the creativity, intuition and experience that undeniably contributes to making of a great coach. My issue, is that at some ways, this idea can diminish our responsibility in ascribing structure, critical thought and practice-based evidence on our journey as coaches.  Coaching is not just an art. The ‘science of coaching’, is a field of research that is as valid and as buoyant as that of S&C. Yet despite the existence of area of research that produces systematic, peer reviewed literature, it hardly seems to form a blip on the radar of most S&C coaches. I believe the longer we only mention the requirement for developing our coaching skills, yet continue to define it as some nebulous idea that comes from experience and a bit of gut feel, the wider the gap between our technical S&C knowledge and our applied coaching skills will grow.
The Art of Coaching

The Art of Coaching

The need for Coaching Psychology in Strength and Conditioning 

So what do we do about it? Iron out the inconsistencies and start treating coaching as we do our S&C knowledge - with a bit more scientific and academic rigour. I’m not saying ignore the contributions of creativity, intuition or experience on our individual journeys to becoming a better coach, nor do I wish to overstate the value of ‘scientific evidence’. But as a profession, Strength and Conditioning has a great deal to learn from fields of research that specialise in the coaching domain.

International Coaching Psychology Review

International Coaching Psychology Review

The Special Group for Coaching Psychology (SGCP) for example, was founded approximately a couple of years before the UKSCA. It was done so
"in response to concerns about untrained or poorly trained coaches, and the related need to promote improved standards of practice for the benefit of the profession of coaching, coaches, their clients and the public at large"
The potential application of Coaching Psychology to the role of a Strength and Conditioning coach is as obvious as it is (seemingly) absent.  Strength and Conditioning is a cross-disciplinary field, and must integrate the working knowledge of physiologists, biomechanists, physical therapists, nutritionist/dieticians etc on a daily basis. I think it would do well to increase its integration and with that of Psychology and in particular, Coaching Psychology. Coaching Psychology is about the practical and considered application of the art AND the science of coaching in service of our clients' goals. To consider coaching as just art, and to leave our development as S&C coaches in the hands of the anecdotal, I believe is a disservice to both ourselves and our athletes.
The Art AND Science of Coaching

The Art AND Science of Coaching

In future posts I hope to distill some of the more recent learnings from the field of Coaching Psychology in relation to S&C and would urge you, if you don't already, to consider doing the same.