Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – Dr Paul Read (St Mary's University)

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

I started out as an apprentice and then professional football player at Fulham FC. Unfortunately due to a number of injuries my career was relatively short so I then pursued an undergraduate degree in sports science whilst playing semi-professional football. Following graduation, I undertook a number of industry based roles in both coaching and academic related settings. This included work as a personal trainer, fitness and conditioning coach and lecturer where I also developed and managed the athletic performance department for the academy and BUSA sports at Guildford College of Further and Higher education.

After a number of years in the industry I decided to complete a master’s degree in S&C at Middlesex University. During this time I worked with the British fencing national academy, Fight Science elite combat training centre and a number of elite athletes in a range of sports including MMA, K1, Judo, Taekwondo, track and field, tennis, golf and football. These experiences led to a role initially as a lecturer and then the programme director of the strength and conditioning undergraduate degree at the University of Gloucestershire.
Following 2 years at Gloucester I moved to St Mary’s University as a senior lecturer in S&C, teaching on both the undergraduate and master’s programmes. I have also completed my PhD in the area of paediatric exercise science, specifically injury risk screening and prevention strategies in elite male youth soccer players. This is now the main focus of my current research and there are a number of projects planned to enhance our knowledge in this area working alongside a range of professional soccer clubs.
2. What has been your biggest influence in your practice?
I have been fortunate to have a number of outstanding mentors and these have undoubtedly been my biggest influences. Early in my career, Leigh Brandon who is a high level personal trainer exposed me to holistic factors that affect injury and performance and helped shaped some of my initial education pathways. During my MSc I worked with Dr Antony Turner who is outstanding and a leader in the field who has been instrumental in my development. I am pleased to say we still work closely together on collaborative projects.
I also owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr Rhodri Lloyd who I had the pleasure of working with at Gloucester but was also the director of studies for my PhD. He is truly a world leader in paediatric S&C and I highly recommend anyone interested in this area becomes familiar with his work. Alongside Rhodri, Dr Jon Oliver has been a huge influence and first class mentor. His depth of knowledge in the area and his ability to see things others don’t is unparalleled. Professor Mark De Ste Croix and Dr Greg Myer have also been key mentors and are true experts in the field with years of experience and have helped me develop in my research career. I am extremely pleased to continue collaborating with them. Combined, I believe this team are the world leading experts in paediatric sports science and S&C.
3. What is your particular area of interest in sport?
My current focus is centred on injury risk screening and prevention strategies targeting youth athletes. I am also interested in all aspects of long term athletic development.
4. How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes?
I feel this is the area where S&C coaches can have the largest impact. The developmental years are crucially important for building a solid foundation from which young people can learn and develop key physical and psychosocial competencies for later in life and or their sporting career.
5. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?
“Talent will get you there, hard work keeps you there!” It is a fundamental belief of mine that if you want to succeed, you must apply yourself accordingly and go above and beyond what is required. Over time, this will set you apart from others who are not willing to go that extra mile. Whether this is through education, gaining experience, or reaching out and sharing with others – all of these things will contribute to future success.
6. What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?
First and foremost ensure you are well versed specifically in the areas of paediatric exercise science and effective and appropriate pedagogy for young athletes. Following that, seek a mentor and gain as much experience as possible to ensure you can apply your knowledge practically with this unique and highly rewarding population.
Secondly, don’t be afraid to fail and don’t be disheartened by rejection. This is an incredibly competitive field and persistence is key! It may take a number of years / applications / experiences before you start to move in the direction you want and for example gain employment. Continued hard work, getting to know the right people and putting yourself out there will pay off in the end.
7. Can you recommend any particular resources for personal/coaching development?
The obvious ones would be fundamental text books such as the Essentials of Strength training and conditioning and recently published Strength and conditioning for sports performance. For a more paediatric focus, Dr’s Rhodri Lloyd and Jon Oliver’s textbook – strength and conditioning for young athletes is a must read. Further to that I would encourage people to read scientific journals to stay abreast of the current research and to develop a critical understanding of what evidence-based practice is.
In addition to the development of academic knowledge, I would strongly recommend all young coaches seek to find a mentor with the requisite experience to share ideas, observe coach and widen their understanding of the field. Mentorships and placements may also be appropriate, provided the programme is suitable. This to look out for include: setting key developmental objectives, regular education / CPD opportunities, meetings with and observations from supervisors, combined with clear progression routes for those who fully engage with the programme. For further guidance in this area please see our recent paper published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
Paul Read, Jonathan D. Hughes, Richard Blagrove, Ian Jeffreys, Mike Edwards & Anthony N. Turner (2016): Characteristics and experiences of interns in strength and conditioning, Journal of Sports Sciences, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1161220
8. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
You can follow me on twitter with my memorable twitter handle: @paulrea64657771. Also feel free to email me . I am also a column editor for the UKSCA professional strength and conditioning journal – Applied Insights column. Anyone wishing to publish some of their applied work should contact me as we are encouraging practitioners to share their experiences from the field. You can also view a number of my publications on google scholar or alternatively email me directly and I will be happy to share them with you.
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