Applied coachingAsk the expertbiological maturationLong term athlete developmentYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – Tom Smale (Leaf Academy)

Would you mind giving us a bit of background about yourself?
I studied at University of Stirling getting a BA (Hons) in Sports Studies and MSc in Sports Coaching. Whilst doing my MSc got the opportunity to shadow S&C sessions run by the University and Sportscotland Institute of Sport and realised this would be a pretty cool way to make a living. Eventually I started getting paid to coach and things progressed from there. Went to the US to do a 3 month unpaid internship with the US Ski Team at the end of which was offered a role travelling with their Men’s Alpine Speed Team for a season. When this finished I returned to the UK and got my current role at LeAF Studio. I’m leaving here in July to take up a position with West Highlands College UHI in Fort William.

What is your particular area of interest in sport?
As far as I can figure it out my fascination is with maximizing  human performance and how  I can help people to do this.
How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes?
I’m not really sure to be honest. Its a huge generalization but if an athlete reaches the peak of their performance in their mid to late 20s we have little understanding of how the training they were doing 10 or 15 years prior effects this performance.  There seems to be an increasing awareness of some of the benefits to youth of engaging in S&C type activities but most of this is focused on health rather than adult athletic performance. Get them moving well and enjoying it.  Help them to learn that with effort they can overcome obstacles and achieve success (whatever that means to them).
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?
Trust yourself, don’t hang back for fear of upsetting others.
What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?
Coach the person in front of you! Athletes regardless of age should be coached and progressed as appropriate to that individual. LTAD/youth athlete development models or whatever you want to call them are generally a valuable concept but should not be used prescriptively. Research by it’s nature uses averages and generalizations and we have to coach the individual.
Can you recommend any particular resources for personal development?
Find a way to coach in a room with other, better coaches. Get their feed back, do some reflection and try to improve. Repeat this process as often as possible.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
I can be emailed on
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