Items filtered by date: January 2012
Tuesday, 10 January 2012 00:00

What I've been up to

I’ve had a few ‘complaints’ recently: people disappointed that my ‘sabbatical’ has resulted in no blogging! This is the first post I have made since the beginning of October – where HAS the time gone?

That is the intention of this post – to update you on what ‘Coach Carter’ has been doing. As Dan reported a few weeks back on his blog, I have NOT disappeared off the face of the Earth. I have been taking some time to transition from full time cycling coach and business manager to part time coach and student in psychotherapy. To be honest, these two things have not been the only use of my time – and indeed, I have not taken this time to step back in order to become a student again. The main reason I decided to take a break is because my body was telling me I HAD to, before it gave up the ghost on me. It was a case of me making a decision to take things easier, or my body doing it for me. And, anyone who knows me will know I am too much of a control freak to have things taken out of my hands!!

I continue to work with five athletes; dropping my workload by half. Prior to that I was working with ten. The workload was not a problem, and indeed I think 10 athletes is about right for a coach to work with ‘1-2-1’. The reason I was exhausting myself was having started the business coaching 25 people – I had drained my battery far too low. I needed to dip down below a sustainable rate to completely recharge. There is still a LONG way to go, but I feel I am getting there. What helps is that in having fewer number of clients, I am able to engage more in the process of working with them. I hadn’t got to the point of exhaustion whereby my coaching relationships were suffering (my work ethic and need to not let people down meant there was never a danger of that), but I did notice how each morning of file analysis felt like a box ticking exercise. I wasn’t excited, I wasn’t passionate. It had become ‘just a job’. At the time, I didn’t know if it was the role itself or me. The past few months of a new rhythm combined with an exciting batch of projects presented by my 5 ‘case studies’ have helped me turn a corner. I have noticed that I am feeling very content in my daily work – filling up the cafetiere and downloading training files for scrutiny is a daily pleasure again.

Another pleasure has been watching how Dan has taken over the reins. He and Oli have taken on some of my athletes (whom I must thank, as they have been incredibly patient and accepting of my needs in the transition over to a new coach). Dan is now also responsible for business operations – and that has been a HUGE relief. Again, I must thank Dan – I don’t think he expected to be coaching 10 athletes on a ‘1-2-1’ basis (it wasn’t in our plan when he joined me as a MSc student nearly 3 years ago now). Without his support I would not have been able to take this break. I must also express how proud I am of him. I have seen him grow as a coach – I really threw him in at the deep end, and he is not only coping but I believe he is excelling. I have no qualms about his coaching expertise – and I particularly like how he is able to form his own philosophy and approach to coaching athletes. I’m excited to watch his progress and that of his athletes: people will soon be approaching PBscience based on Dan’s reputation, I am sure of that.

I hope this is the first of a renewed contribution to the PBscience blog. I’m not going to sign up to posting every week, but as things settle down even more I am sure it is another aspect of PBscience life that I will find pleasure in again. May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year and the very best for their 2012 cycling season.

Published in Blog

8_factsheetsSince the last post, progress has been steady on the content upload and we’re now up to 8 factsheets in the new html based free resource section. I’m pleased to report that some of them have had a few hits too so it doesn’t feel like a wasted effort! Incidentally it’s been quite an experience reviewing some of the material. Although I wouldn’t say any of it is necessarily wrong, I don’t think I’d write things in the same way if I were to start from scratch and of the material that Helen wrote, although much of it helped shape my own coaching philosophy I do recognise that in more recent conversations with both Helen and Oli it’s become clear that there are more shades of grey than absolute certainty and labelling the material factsheets is perhaps a bit of a misnomer. ‘There is some evidence to suggest or generally tends to work in our experience’ sheets doesn’t quite have the same ring to it though!

Some of the content raised a few eyebrows on one of the UK message boards and it seems our decision to open up has been largely well received. It also raised an interesting debate over the nature of Sports Science and whether it’s actually any use at all. Here are a few thoughts I’ve been mulling over in the last few days.

One aspect of the debate stems from the lack of hard facts provided by sport science on seemingly trivial questions of training and performance enhancement. In an ideal world scientists could prove that intensity trumps volume, or that training for x hours at y% of your threshold will see you progress at the fastest rate but sadly things don’t work that way. If you want real certainty and irrefutable logic then become a mathematician, but be warned that the waters get a little murky around the edges in that field too...

So what use is sport science then if it can’t tell us the answers? The real strength comes from adopting the scientific method – a key tenet of which is “using a method of inquiry based on empirical and measurable evidence” (thank you Wikipedia). The human body is complex and the individual response to training is varied. Every type of training you do is experimental, there’s no way of knowing exactly what the response will be, but you can measure the effects. You’ll never know if doing something else might have had a better effect but by collecting data on the key performance markers you’ll certainly know when things aren’t working and make changes far quicker than if fumbling around in the dark without any measure of improvement. This is one reason that power meters have been truly revolutionary in the cycling world. It’s not just that they allow the collection of objective data, but that the data being collected is on such a critical factor in cycling performance – all else being equal more power equals more speed!

Road_to_successAnother argument is that people were racing very quickly in the past before sports scientists were on the scene and that’s undisputed. It’s often said that “success leaves a trail”. Well flip that on its head and I’d say failure often doesn’t leave a trail. With enough people participating in a given sport there are bound to be a few who having a natural gift for understanding what they need to succeed, or just being plain lucky that their chosen approach happened to be the correct one for them. What we don’t see is how many people got it completely wrong in these ‘golden days’. I’d argue that one of the key benefits of the scientific method is the speed with which errors are highlighted. In the absence of hard facts and certainty, the best we can do is minimise the time we spend up blind alleys and therefore increase the chance of eventually landing on the money. I’m sure this is one of the reasons behind the increased depth of competition across sport at all levels.

Now I’m not suggesting that athletic performance is purely a game of chance. The individuality concept can be overplayed – we are all similar in many regards and the general principles of training; specificity, overload, progression etc, all still apply and ensure that we’re not aiming blindly, and experience can identify characteristics in athletes that might encourage a certain approach. This is where art meets science and we begin to see real progress. Sports science is not a magic bullet that will provide the holy grail in athletic performance but a set of tools, or guiding principles that can help along the way. By no means definitive but just a few thoughts on where sports science sits within my own coaching philosophy at the moment...

And a slightly belated Happy New Year from all at PBscience :-)

Published in Blog