Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – James Butterfield (

1. Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience)
Unfortunately my failures in a ‘sporting career’ is what spurred me on to work in elite sport. I graduated Physiotherapy at Leeds in 2011 and went directly to work for MK Dons academy – where I spent around 18 months. After this I was handed an opportunity by my mentor – who at the time was working for UK Athletics – to go out to Thailand to work as Physiotherapist for Thai Premier league champions Buriram United. After a successful season there, I went on to work for another Thai team (Muangthong United) before finding myself heading up the sports performance and rehabilitation dept at an International school in Bangkok.

2. What has been your biggest influence in your practice?
My biggest influences have always been my mentors. I seek to find people who I can learn from and develop, these people have often guided me to shape and mould my ideas into sound and structure philosophies and principles. In particular, watching and learning from Oliver Finlay and UKA and Buriram United really influenced my practice.
3. What is your particular area of interest in sport?
Currently it is youth development and methods which can be used to make young prospects highly successful.
4. What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?

  • Set goals, both short and long term. Set five-year goals, three-year goals & one-year goals and work backwards to formulate a plan of how you will get there. Also, build a concise block of daily habits that are going to improve your productivity; taking vitamins, getting 8 hours of sleep and keeping hydrated are a few examples. Pay attention to detail.
  • Be prepared to work hard, often for no financial gain at first. To work in sport in any avenue (other than being the athlete) you will have to give your time up for free. The sooner you realise that you will have to do this, the better. Start by volunteering at a local club by providing first aid, I did this and it lead to my first physio job in pro sport.
  •  Get mentors. Seek any opportunity to learn from great professionals and then make them your mentors. Learning to network and gain mentors is a great way to fast track development.
  • Fiercely guard your time. Your time is the most important asset you have, be sure to be extremely diligent about who and what you give it to. Remember there is somebody out there who has the same goal as you, and whilst you are wasting time; they are not!

5. What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?
I recently started a podcast (currently on 7 episodes) which is full of advice from the experts. Personally, I would advise coaches to concentrate on the basics first as I feel like too many coaches are trying to make their prospects elite athletes too fast. The road to professional sport is a long one and it is our job working with young athletes to give them the best chance to be successful in the years to come. We can do this by providing them with all of the tools necessary to meet the challenges in the future. Practically, coach your young athletes the fundamental movement patterns and set them on a strength journey which is enjoyable and progressive.
6. Can you recommend any particular resources for personal/coaching development?
All coaches should read Supertraining by Verkhoshanksky and Mel Siff. Also the books edited by David Joyce and Dan Lewindon and gold. Specifically for youth athletes, research the work of Kelvin Giles, Dr Rhodri Lloyd, Prof Mark De Ste Croix, Dr Jon Oliver and Dr Paul Read.
7. Where can people find out more about you and your work?
My website, twitter: @youthathletedev and podcast – the youth athlete development podcast!
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Are you a grassroots youth sport coach or PE teacher who wants to improve the athleticism of your athletes?? Check out our Fundamental series athletic development programs here.