Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert – Shane Fitzgibbon

1)Give us a bit of background on yourself… (sporting career, qualifications, coaching experience)?
I started out as a Taekwon-Do instructor, opening my school in Galway, in the West of Ireland in 1993. As a member of the Irish National Squad, I was an avid competitor. Wanting to maximise my fitness and also ensure longevity, I began sourcing sport science and training manuals, which wasn’t as easy in the 90’s, as it is now. This sparked a real interest in smart training and nutrition which I carried with me throughout my competitive years. Having a B.Sc. in General Science and having qualified as a Fitness Instructor (EQF Level 3) was helpful in decimating the textbooks I was sourcing.

Retiring at age 38, in 2012, a 6-time World Champion between Taekwon-Do & Kickboxing, I was encouraged by peers to write a book documenting my personal training philosophy and experience. “Training and Optimal Health for Sports” [] was published in 2012 and got me noticed by local sports managers and coaches, following rave reviews. After being asked to improve the “fitness” of various teams, I realised I had gaps in my knowledge such as speed & agility. So, I took the NSCA S&C certification here in Ireland, and got to every workshop and conference I could find, e.g. Duncan French, Mike Boyle, Kelvin Giles, Mike Robertson, and many more.
Within a short time of being in the industry, it became clear I had a passion for coaching children and young athletes. In my hunt for education on coaching this, as of yet, tiny niche, I discovered the International Youth Conditioning Association (IYCA). I took their Youth Fitness Specialist certification all the way to Level 3, which vastly expanded my knowledge in coaching the younger population. Since then, I have focused exclusively on working with children from age 4 upward. Some days it means working on the most basic of physical literacy, and other days, I’m coaching Kettlebell Swings. Working with local children is not as “high profile” as working with elite athletes, but I can think of no greater satisfaction than helping  a 12-year-old get on his local soccer team, after his coach told him he was “too slow”.
My biggest accolade to date is being voted the IYCA International Coach of the Year in 2015, the first coach outside of North America to win. I’m also proud to have done a year of Voluntary P.E with a local Primary School, which ended up being televised.

I’m as happy participating in workshops, as attending them. To date, I have presented twice at the Physical Education Association of Ireland’s annual conference (and am asked back for a third time for October 2017), as well as the NSCA Combat Sports Conference in Colorado Springs, and very recently at the Proformance  “Child 2 Champion” Conference, Gloucester.
2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice
Definitely, the martial arts ethos. If I only help a child become more athletic, then that’s only a fraction of what I believe my work entails. I want to help develop confidence, communication and social skills, a sense of responsibility. I expect my athletes to help out at home, for example….
3) What is your particular area of interest in sport? 
Physical Literacy. Fundamental Movement Skills (FMS). Call it what you will, but I have seen such a deterioration in quality movement (in children) over the past two decades, that it is something I am very motivated to address.  
4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 
I believe improving the FMS gives the biggest “bang for buck” improvement in athleticism. When a parent wants me to help their child get “faster”, before I ever look at running mechanics, I focus on improvements in movement patterns like squat, lunge, skipping, crawling, as well as addressing any mobility or control issues that arise. I liken it to “releasing the handbrake, before increasing the engine”
5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received as an athlete or coach?
“Start with WHY” [Simple, but profound. Always know WHY you’re doing something.]
6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 
Primarily, keep working on the FUNdamentals, the key part being FUN. Second, remember, that what works with children will usually work with adults, but the reverse is rarely true. Third, get to know them. Connect. Young athletes are children, who will need an adult to trust and confide in at some point. If not you, then, who?
7) Can you recommend any particular resources for personal development?
Two amazing books – “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie, and “Conscious Coaching” by Brett Bartholomew. Both are must-reads, in my opinion.
8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? 
My website and Facebook page
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