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Thursday, 12 May 2016

How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete. Preface part 2

Part 2 of my Preface includes the chapter outlines...

The first chapter describes my work with the legendary rower Sir Steve Redgrave in the final flurry of his career as he headed towards his tumultuous fifth and final Olympic gold medal at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000. Steve is one of the most intensely focused sports people of all time, completely intolerant of second place and second best. Chapter One describes how I had the challenge of making a connection with him and what he taught me along the way.




Chapter Two recounts the seemingly impossible challenge that Martin McElroy, the coach, threw down to me to help transform a group of rowers unable to make a final, through to becoming Olympic Men's 8+ Champions in 2000. The collective spirit of working to a team goal where everyone is pulling in the same direction, both literally and metaphorically, was a compelling objective but ultimately questioned what drove me.

Chapter Three documents my work with the coach Mark Rowland and middle distance runners Hayley Tullett and Mike East who were dissatisfied by the plateau they had hit. They laid down their expectations of the type of support they needed and how I needed to step up to establish an evidence base that they could use. Their torrent of critical thinking would forever change the way I worked.

Chapter Four details my support to the dynamic duo of coach Toni Minichello and heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, as she rose from fledgling junior to 2012 Olympic Champion to the present day. The complexities of the heptathlon demanded the most versatile, flexible and imaginative applied practice for me to be able to make any practical recommendations. Some of the avenues of possibility we explored and pursued were completely unexpected, but if we hadn't followed our flow of reasoning and decision making, we would have still been stuck at square one.





Chapter Five describes my support work with a rival heptathlete Kelly Sotherton. Normal scientific support involves the outcome of advising others, but what if the athlete thinks you can do more than that? What if they want you to author their training? In this chapter I detail what comes with stepping across the Rubicon into coaching.

Chapter Six describes my work with monumental rowers Sir Matthew Pinsent and James Cracknell, in their goal of winning two World titles in as many hours. I retell the story of how an observation turned into a thought, which turned into a conversation precipitating more than I could have imagined.

Chapters Seven and Eight are slightly different. Drawing on an array of case experiences I highlight and explain two crucial concepts necessary to understand and grasp in order to succeed in high performance. In Chapter Seven I embroil and attempt to untangle the balancing act of progressing an athlete, along with the uplifting highs and deflating lows that come with pursuing a challenging goal. In chapter Eight I highlight a foundation philosophy of supporting others with altruistic behaviours. I address the dichotomous pull of satisfying your own ambitions whilst serving those of others and draw on the origins of human technology to illustrate that a variety of applied practice approaches are necessary to move forward the boundaries of endeavour.

In Chapter Nine I wrap all of the themes up into one place; three for each chapter, provide you with my top tips and suggested further reading or viewing for you to pursue.


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Sunday, 8 May 2016

How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete. Preface part 1

***Health warning! This book is not a textbook***

Part 1 of the Preface from 'How to support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete'...

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”
Francis of Assisi



I often hear myself and others saying, "There aren't any books telling you how to work with elite athletes." Well, this book is a contribution to invalidating that statement and sentiment. However, this book isn't a point by point guide of what you need to 'do' to be an effective practitioner. Applied practice is too complicated for a step by step manual. Instead, this book shares with you the intensity, the challenges, the complexities, the strains, the insecurities, the regrets, the mistakes and the lucky scrapes as well as the fierce ambitions, the hopes, the breakthroughs, the sense of purpose, the joys, the fun, the wonder and the grandeur of being an applied practitioner. I have written this book as a part of my 'call to arms' for us all to do more to develop and celebrate the art of applying knowledge.

If you are a scientist, maybe a sport scientist, botanist, chemist, oceanographer, meteorologist, or from a different field, an architect, military officer, web developer, graphic designer, air traffic controller, optometrist, speech therapist, audiologist, medic, actor, singer, clergy, teacher or even a writer, whatever your occupation you are a practitioner – ‘a person engaged in the practice of a profession’. I'll take it as a given that you have a good knowledge base. I expect you will have done the reading and researching and have the certificate to prove it.

Throughout my career I have been struck by the curiosity as to how some people are effective and others are not. Why is that some practitioners are brilliant, others mediocre and some awful? Why is it when you meet some practitioners they drain all your happiness away and others brighten up your life? Why is it when given an interesting project to work on, some practitioners just go off and do their own thing and others pull together in a team for a collective effort? Why is it when presented with a problem or a question, some practitioners become innovative, sparky and creative, whereas others just try to hit different problems with the same hammer? When presented with an outcome, why do some practitioners point the finger of blame and others reflect and accept responsibility? Why do some practitioners just mess with other people's business and others just make life easier? The difference might be explained by a practitioner's personality, but I think the major difference comes from whether or not someone has learnt and adapted from their experiences.

If you fail to learn from your experiences, you won't progress in your understanding. If you fail to adapt from your learning, your skills will remain static. If you fail to learn or adapt, your ability to effect change and influence the world around you will be limited. All too commonly the educational system is stuck in teach-recite or research-write up, two-dimensional methods of training - so how will practitioners of the future ever be suitably trained to work if there is so little ‘DO’ in their courses from which they can learn and adapt? Even out there in the big bad world practitioners are often afraid to confront the brutal facts of their own performance by self-reflecting or giving and receiving feedback from and to others - so how will existing practitioners ever learn and adapt higher level abilities?

I have made thousands of mistakes throughout my career, but I am lucky; I work in the unforgiving, unrelenting and performance focused world of elite high performance sport. In that world if you don't learn and adapt from every instance, encounter, experience, mistake or failure, there is every chance you will be spat out of the system. Pursuing an ambitious goal, such as a World or Olympic medal is an environment allergic to poor practitioner skills. On the other hand, if you take the opportunity and make the room to self-reflect, develop, hone, iterate, polish, cultivate, rehearse, nurture and refine your skills, words and behaviours, you will be on the road to being an artisanal practitioner.




This book shares with you the pivotal practitioner lessons I have learnt throughout my career working with some of the world's greatest athletes. The first six chapters describe moments where I was required to learn and adapt my practice quickly in order to survive let alone thrive. I have had the utter, utter privilege of working with over a thousand athletes and over a hundred different coaches. The first six chapters focus on six different cases, followed by a further two chapters which address two important concepts (Part 2 of the preface will include the chapter outlines... coming soon...)

I have chosen to use a mix of story telling (which I have devotedly reproduced from my note keeping) and reflective observation throughout the book with the hope they will amplify, illuminate and punctuate the circumstances encountered and lessons learnt throughout my career as a practitioner and leader.

The accounts contain a smattering of technical science, but owing to the dearth of material addressing the area, I make no apologies for focussing on the craft skills of supporting, working and developing others. I hope you can soak up the accounts and reflect on how you would have worked with the situations and visualise yourself developing in a similar way.

The book closes with some final thoughts from myself, the coaches and athletes, accentuating the need for us to cherish, care for and craft the application of knowledge.

I hope you enjoy the book. If you do not read any further, please just get out there, learn, adapt and bring your knowledge to life.


***GET YOUR COPY NOW ON AMAZON BY CLICKING HERE***


'HOW TO SUPPORT A CHAMPION' PAPERBACK

My new book 'How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete' is now available;

Available on the kindle and paperback


***GET YOUR COPY NOW ON AMAZON BY CLICKING HERE***

AMAZON CURRENTLY RUNNING THE PAPERBACK BOOK AT >10% LOWER THAN RRP OF £9.99!!!

WHAT IS THE BOOK ALL ABOUT? THE BACK COVER BLURB WILL START TO GIVE YOU A FLAVOUR - IT'S ALL ABOUT ESSENTIAL PRACTITIONER SKILLS...


"If you are contemplating working with a champion, a potential champion, or anyone with untapped talent - be prepared, be very prepared. In 1998 Sir Steve Redgrave stared at Ingham and demanded to know, “Are you going to make me go faster?” Ingham had been trained and developed as a scientist, but in that single instance he questioned everything he thought he knew. 

Applied science in elite sport has boomed, it has radically changed elite sport, but one thing remains as the guiding focus - the summit of performing to your best and winning. 

In this book Ingham draws on the lessons learned from a career in the intense, unforgiving rollercoaster of elite sport; helping, supporting and developing some of the best athletes in the world, including Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Hayley Tullett, Kelly Sotherton, and Jessica Ennis-Hill as they pursue their goals. His journey shows that all the knowledge in the world will get you only so far, but it is with trust, team-work, critical thinking, adaptability, accountability and altruism that you can truly support a champion."


OVER THE COMING WEEKS UP, ESPECIALLY UP TO THE OLYMPICS AND PARALYMPICS IN THE SUMMER, I WILL BE PROVIDING SUPPLEMENTARY CONTENT ABOUT THE BOOK AND IT'S MAIN THEMES. STAY TUNED...


In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments, thoughts or feedback, please leave a comment below in the comments box.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

My new book 'How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete' is now available

Available on the kindle and paperback ...


***Get your copy now on Amazon by clicking here***


What is the book all about? The back cover blurb will start to give you a flavour - it's all about essential practitioner skills...


"If you are contemplating working with a champion, a potential champion, or anyone with untapped talent - be prepared, be very prepared. In 1998 Sir Steve Redgrave stared at Ingham and demanded to know, “Are you going to make me go faster?” Ingham had been trained and developed as a scientist, but in that single instance he questioned everything he thought he knew. 



Applied science in elite sport has boomed, it has radically changed elite sport, but one thing remains as the guiding focus - the summit of performing to your best and winning. 



In this book Ingham draws on the lessons learned from a career in the intense, unforgiving rollercoaster of elite sport; helping, supporting and developing some of the best athletes in the world, including Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Hayley Tullett, Kelly Sotherton, and Jessica Ennis-Hill as they pursue their goals. His journey shows that all the knowledge in the world will get you only so far, but it is with trust, team-work, critical thinking, adaptability, accountability and altruism that you can truly support a champion.


Over the coming weeks up, especially up to the Olympics and Paralympics in the summer, I will be providing supplementary content about the book and it's main themes. Stay tuned...


In the meantime, if you have any questions, comments, thoughts or feedback, please leave a comment below in the comments box.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

BASES interview on employability in sports science

To follow up my letter to the 15000, I was asked to interview for the British Association of Sport and Exercise Science (BASES) The Sport and Exercise Scientist (TSES). The interview was published in the Winter 2015 edition. In it I expand on some of the points raised in my previous blog and ask the question as to whether the university sector prioritises the development of vocational skill enough...

The article is attached, and the transcript is below





Copy by Kelly Goodwin  - interview with Dr Steve Ingham - Director of Science and Technical Development EIS

Employability: An EIS perspective.

Tuition Reform came into force three academic years ago raising questions about the value of a university education and how universities will meet the needs of employers by providing work ready graduates (BIS 2013).

Fuelled by on-going industry claims that candidates lack specific skills (The Times 2015), the employability agenda has continued to take on ever greater importance and the development of graduates with relevant attributes, skills and knowledge has placed graduate employability at the centre of the HE agenda (HEA 2015).   The importance of work related learning and the need for specific learning opportunities for students to apply theory to practice is clearly stated within the BASES Position Stand on Curriculum-based Work Placements (Summer edition 2014).  The message is clear and considering the centrality of the employability within the HE agenda the findings from the Association of Graduate Recruiters Survey (2015) were disappointing with two-thirds of companies having unfilled graduate vacancies with nearly a third claiming that candidates lack specific skills. Although the buoyant job market for graduates may explain some of the deficit, a deficit still appears to exist and a greater understanding is required to determine the nature and extent of the shortfall within the field of sports science.

The EIS were approached for comment on this matter as they actively promote the fact that they foster a culture of continuous learning and personal development (EIS 2015) and consider the career of the sports scientist from student learner to graduate and beyond.  We interviewed Dr Steve Ingham, the Director of Science and Technical Development at the EIS to offer a view about the state of play and what more we can do about developing the vocational skills of graduates:

Interview with Dr Steve Ingham:

Lottery funding has been around for nearly 20 years and when I first came into post in 1996 there were 10 full time sport scientists in the country, in 2004 when I took a role in the EIS there were 65, today there are 190 and many, many more in the Home Country Sports Institutes and professional clubs.  Although the number of job roles may have grown, I recognise that elite sport is a very small sector compared to the size of the leisure industry or research; however I do feel we are a prominent sector because I believe the application of science and medicine to elite athletes is a genuinely great British success story. Because we are exposed to economic market forces if staff, team or discipline work is judged under par we are criticised or potentially sports disinvest in us or staff. What comes with this high exposure is a need for the EIS to employ people that have a depth of experience and who can influence a high performance programme.

The types of opportunities for work based learning and post graduate study at the EIS:

We attempt to do what we can to encourage, develop and train the next generation of staff. We host work placements (for undergraduates), mentoring placements (for those who have graduated, are working in the area, but need some development), graduate schemes (for fresh Bachelor or Masters graduates). Our staff are active around the network, undertaking lectures and seminars about what we do, what it is like in the high performance system and how graduates can better prepare themselves for a career with us. We also offer an educational course or two across the different disciplines with the primary one being Skills4Performance.


What does the EIS look for in the people they recruit?

For the sport sciences there is a very clear need to have good grades but this does little to differentiate individuals when there is a wealth of applicants. Normally we would have over 50 to 100 applicants for one post and you end up with a long list of people with a 2:1 or a first in their undergraduate studies and then a Masters degree on top. Having specific technical skills and background understanding, such as dietary analysis, certain analysis software or testing methodologies can also help.

Beyond grades and background knowledge we would look for some sort of experience, ideally two to three years as a minimum. We would expect people to have either carved out their own opportunities and/or to have had some sort of structured placement, preferably both. We are looking for relevant experience whether this is in performance analysis, psychology, lifestyle, nutrition or physiological support. Applicants should have some sort of background in the discipline that they want to work in; you often get people enquiring about working for the EIS and when they have no background history of any contact with an athlete or coach and surprisingly it comes as a surprise that they are not employable.

Are applicants applying for job roles with the EIS suitably knowledgeable?

If we take what we see at interview as our evidence, then there is still a need for sport science curricula to address some important topics.  There are still some specific knowledge areas that do not really get taught and it can be embarrassing to see people with fantastic degree grades from prominent universities saying they have never been taught about areas such as training and they are supposed to have studied sport.   We see gaps in understanding event demands in terms of the physiology, energy systems used, movement technique, the psychosocial demands on a performer at a recreational and elite level. We also see a lack of understanding about high performance sport and the ability to critique effective interventions.

Are applicants applying for job roles with the EIS suitably experienced?

Across the board the answer would be no. Many applicants do not have the necessary experience or have not maximised their experience to be at the standard required to work with Olympic and Paralympic athletes.

At recruitment we need to be able to select people that we can place pool side, track side, down by the rowing lake, wherever it may be, and for them to be able to work effectively with coaches from the outset. A full understanding, respect and empathy of working with a coach, the coaching process, and supporting teamwork is required and the number one mistake we see sport science graduates make is to try and tell a coach what to do as opposed to working with them, understanding their programme, what makes them tick and work towards their significant goals. It is important to understand the background theory but equally about how to work with coaches.  You have got to get out there and do it; you have got to have an experience base because that is where the learning really happens. 

This is a critical step that is commonly absent from the student experience and so leaves us wondering if it is being addressed in the educational systems.  The need for individuals to learn the theory and then to apply it to an individual or a case situation or population and with that understanding then synthesise their learning. For example, if you were a physiotherapist you would learn about anatomy or an injury and then you will go and practice it on person. This is something that appears to be generally lacking on courses where sport scientists are trained to research and understand how to read a journal and the basic theory but they don’t necessarily know how to apply it with due attention to the craft experience necessary to bring that knowledge to life. This is what I hope universities would be interested in developing, but I am not sure if it genuinely competes for devoted time against other priorities such as research, operations and student numbers/income. This will be dependent on whether universities are actually interested in developing vocational skills which begs the question whether employability genuinely matters and if universities are prepared to devote and prioritise time above research for example.

Training the next generation of applied sport scientists

The EIS currently offers educational courses the primary one being Skills4Performance. This course was deliberately shaped to increase awareness of the demands of working in elite sport in an attempt to bridge the gap between what graduates have and what they need in high performance sport (and we believe applies to high performance industries and for high performing people too). 

What I can observe is that over the last 15 years the vocational skill gap has not narrowed, it has not stayed the same it has actually widened and that does not reflect well on the sector as a whole.  As such, whilst we scope our next cycle, where we are looking for that next edge, the next great sports scientist, the next great intervention, we will have explore all avenues of development and education to ensure improvement in vocational skills and readiness to practice that we need. At this stage I am not sure what this might look like but it might need to be radical, innovative to address the dearth of skills, so it could include apprenticeship schemes or developing specific educational courses for the area. But I think there is a real opportunity for a department or two out there, to gain a jump on the market, and truly differentiate themselves with a reputation of turning out high performance sport ready practitioners of the future. I know if I was a student looking for courses in 2016, those schools that truly understand, encourage and drive employability would get my student fees.

References:

Association of Graduate Recruiters.  (2015). AGR's Graduate Recruitment Survey. Available: http://www.agr.org.uk/For-Employers


Dogliani, Z. (2015). Graduate jobs market improving but skills shortage remains, Buoyant market leads to unfilled posts.  Times Higher Education. Available: https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/graduate-jobs-market-improving-skills-shortage-remains

English Institute of Sport. (2015). Why work for the EIS?  Available: http://www.eis2win.co.uk/pages/WhyworkfortheEIS.aspx


The Higher Education Academy. (2015). Employability. Available: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/workstreams-research/themes/employability