Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – Aiden Oakley (Aspire Academy)

  1. Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience) 

I played Rugby League for the Harlequins Rugby League academy for 2 years as well as representing Scotland Rugby League at U18, Student and A grade level. During this time I was undertaking a BSc in Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Birmingham. During my final year at Birmingham I volunteered as a Strength and Conditioning Coach helping out with the Harlequins RL Scholarship and upon graduation I undertook a 3 month internship at Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning in Boston. When I returned I was fortunate enough to gain a yearlong internship with the re branded London Broncos RL, interning with the 1st team in the day and running the U20 programme in the evening. During this time I also completed my MSc in Strength and Conditioning at Middlesex University.

The following season I was hired as an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach working with the 1st team. From London Broncos I moved up to Glasgow to work at the Scottish Institute of Sport working primarily with Rugby Union and Badminton as well as Golf, Curling, Boccia and assisting with Swimming, Gymnastics and Wrestling. I left this role to move out to Qatar to spend a season working for the American company EXOS with Al – Arabi FC, one of the professional football teams playing in the Qatar Stars League. From there I moved back to the UK before taking up my current role back in Qatar working with the Aspire Academy, working with the Table Tennis program.
2. What has been your biggest influence in your practice?
I think the coaches that coached me both at Harlequins RL and at the University of Birmingham on the Sport Scholarship programme and that I worked alongside at MBSC have influenced how I am as a coach massively.  I have always enjoyed going to the gym and working out but having people that would drive you to do your best whilst being flexible in their approach made every session a good experience. The social aspect of it as well was massive, being around like minded, genuinely good people is always a plus.
Working with athletes from multiple sports that don’t necessary fall under the ‘strength and power sport’ category reminds me that they signed up to play the sport and that the S&C side of things is just a byproduct of them playing the sport, to quote Adam Beard of the Cleveland Browns ”There’s no sport of Strength and Conditioning”.
So what made my experience enjoyable being around like minded people who enjoyed the gym environment won’t be the same experience for say a Golfer, Table Tennis player or Curler who doesn’t share that same passion, so I need to get to know my athlete and connect with them on their level and not mine.
3. What is your particular area of interest in sport? 
I am interested in all aspects of sport, stemming from my time as an athlete dealing with injury, to trying to improve my performance, working with psychologists and studying nutrition to try and make it to the highest level of my sport, so the passion for knowledge has always been there, initially for myself and now for the athletes I work with.
With that being said working with younger athletes and having worked across multiple sports the two areas I find interesting and am devoting more time to is that of behavior change and pedagogy or the method and practice of teaching.
With behavior change coaches only see the athletes for say 2 hours a day. If behaviors are bad when they are with you, chances are those same behaviors are going to remain the same the other 22 hours they aren’t with you. While you can always impose certain restrictions to limit behaviors when they are with you that still won’t account for the other 22 hours when they are away from you. To truly make a change be it diet, recovery, sleep etc then you need to find a way to get the athlete to want to change for long term results.
With the pedagogy area, I have watched a lot of coaches over the years coach athletes but the athletes have not always been engaged or improved. To paraphrase another quote I quite like ‘the teacher has not taught until the student has learned. What this means to me is when working with athletes try to make it as engaging for them as possible and if they aren’t getting something after a few attempts by me to correct it then the problem is not with that athlete but with the way I am coaching it.
4. How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 
I think both behavior change and the ability to teach is massive when it comes to working with youth athletes. Working with youth athletes is going to be the best time to teach them be it new skills or new behaviors, so both of them are linked. To be effective you have to be able to influence the athletes you are working with by educating them and by doing so and the manner in which it is done hopefully change behaviors positively.
5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?
I guess this advice was given to me before I got into coaching, but my dad told me when I was still in school Find a job you love, as you will be doing it for the rest of your life”. I think this has always reinforced my commitment to work in this profession that can quite challenging and often lack stability, which I have found out the hard way.
I think it has a far wider meaning than just employment though. I think both athletes and coaches need to be passionate about what they are doing, who they are working with or even what sport they are coaching. I say this because to achieve success you have to turn up, day in, day out and give your best and this simply won’t happen if you don’t have the drive and passion for the sport.
A recent quote I came across that I really like is ”Change in inevitable, Growth is optional” and really matches my desire to embrace a growth mindset.
6. What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 
Be patient, coach the person before the athlete and let them have fun.
7. Can you recommend any particular resources for personal development?
I am a big reader so I will list just a few books that I have managed to find a few take away points from:
Start With Why – Simon Sinek
The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande
An Astronauts Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield
Creating Magic – Lee Cockerell
Advances in Functional Strength Training – Mike Boyle
8. Where can people find out more about you and your work? 
The best place is probably Twitter: @ajoakley. I don’t put up a lot of my work but try to Re-tweet information I find useful.
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