Applied coachingAsk the expertbiological maturationLong term athlete developmentYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – Digby Webb (Kingswood School)

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Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience)
I am currently a Science & Maths teacher at Kingswood Senior School in Bath. I moved to Bath from Cape Town, South Africa, last August. I studied at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and played rugby for the UCT 1st XV “Ikey Tigers” for 4 years, as well as representing Western Province Rugby against the Kenyan & Namibian national teams. I hold a BSc, BEd (Hons) and PGCE from UCT, and have recently gained a strength & conditioning certification through the International Sports Science Association.

Sport and healthy living has always been a big part of my life. At school I was a national age-group champion swimmer, provincial waterpolo player, competitive rower and a rugby player. Physical and mental preparation for sporting endeavours has always interested me. When I left school I chose to focus on rugby, transforming myself from a 95kg second rower to a 120kg tighthead prop over a 5 year period.
Over the past eight years I have worked with a range of sports teams and schools. I’ve been a boarding house master, rowing coach, rugby coach and a teacher for students ranging from twelve to eighteen years of age. Having been brought up in the highly competitive South African school sports arena, I have been exposed to the brutal realities facing aspiring sportsmen and women from a young age. It is my ambition to educate, guide and prepare young athletes for their life beyond school, with a focus on improving the person.
What has been your biggest influence in your practice?
I have taken my inspiration from numerous sources over the years. One specific time period of my life however stands out, and that was being a part of the Ikey Tigers. They were ahead of the game when it came to innovation and have been extremely successful because of their different outlook on competitive sport. It may all sound clichéd now as many teams have followed suit, but the Ikey Tigers worked on the overarching principle “ to become better people, who inspire others”. This is something which I incorporate into everything I do, and is a value which I attempt to pass on to all those I work with.
What is your particular area of interest in sport?
My particular interest lies in youth development. As I have eluded to earlier, I was brought up in a highly competitive school environment. As a young coach and someone closely affiliated to many professional sports organisations, I have seen some shocking treatment and management of young sportsmen. Situations where an institution/ individual’s best interests where placed ahead of a young student. My interest is in long term athletic development where an athlete is supported appropriately and treated fairly. Whether it be through strength and conditioning, monitoring, education or pastorally, I aim to provide the best opportunities for those I work with.
While I will always have an interest in high performance sport, I also take great satisfaction in introducing students from all walks of life to healthy living. Assisting them to foster a passion or curiosity for sport and nutrition and the associated psychological and social benefits can be just as rewarding as working with an advanced athlete. I believe that by developing intrinsically motivated students they will become life-long learners and pass on lessons and values they have learnt to others.
How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes?
There’s no denying the fact that there is huge pressure on youth athletes during their school years. Being a teacher, I am aware of the developmental changes facing students as they move from adolescence into becoming young adults. With youth academies, competitive schools, professional unions and national organisations earmarking talent from ages as young as 14, the pressures placed on youngsters can be immense. If you throw in the academic and social pressures of being a teenager, these youngsters can easily burn-out or breakdown in one or all spheres of life.
In short I am interested in making everything work. I would like to make sure that there is synergy between all the role-players which surround a child. By putting the child’s best interests first I believe you are affording them the best possible chance at making a success in what they aspire towards.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?
While this piece of advice didn’t come when I was an athlete or a coach, it’s something which has guided me throughout my life. It takes the form of a poem, ‘The Man in the Mirror’ by Dale Wimbrow,  which my grandfather gave to me many years ago. It’s about always being able to look yourself in the mirror, no matter what, and know you did what was right. It links up well with the Ikey Tigers guiding principle ‘to become better people, who inspire others’ which I mentioned earlier.
What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?
My advice was summed up perfectly by Joel Tratt (Head S&C at Oakham School) at the recent Strength & Conditioning in Schools Conference. He said that when working with youth athletes, it’s important that the athlete always comes first. It’s not about you.
Can you recommend any particular resources for personal/coaching development?
Twitter has played a huge role in my active pursuit of knowledge. I follow influential people form a range of industries, as well as practitioners from the world of strength & conditioning and coaching. All the information is out there and accessible, you just have to care enough to look for it.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
I am very active on Twitter, @DigbyWebb, or through my school’s Athletic Development account, @Kingswood_SC.
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