Ask the expertYouth strength and conditioning

Ask the Expert: Kelvin Giles (Movement Dynamics)

Kelvin Giles is a legend in Strength and Conditioning. A former UK National and Olympic Track and Field Coach, he spent 30 years in Australia’s High Performance Sport environment across organisations including the Australian Institute of Sport, Queensland Academy of Sport, the Canberra Raiders and the Brisbane Broncos. He also led the Australian Rugby Union Elite Player Development program. He’s coached 14 Olympic and World Champions athletes over a 40 year career in coaching. He is the CEO of Movement Dynamics UK Ltd and consults for a range of National Governing Bodies and Federations. He also authored the Physical Competency Assessment resources…
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1)   What has led you into youth sport?
I guess I have had both a ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ journey. In the latter 40 years of my career, when I have been working in high performance in a variety of sports and settings, the pressure for results was always immense whether at Olympic or Championship level. As each new generation of talented athletes arrived at places like the Australian T&F team or the Australian Institute of Sport or the Brisbane Broncos or the Australian Rugby Union or the Queensland Academy of Sport – or any of the other high-performance units I was working at – so the majority of them arrived with limitations technically, tactically, physically and mentally. We were left with having to build them from the ground up before we could embark on the final layers of their journey to high-performance. Each generation presented a little worse than the generation before them and questions were soon raised as to why the limitations were on the increase. This obviously led us to look at the journey of these young people as they traversed their development stages on the way to high-performance. This was my ‘top-down’ journey.
My ‘bottom-up’ journey started when I trained to be a PE Teacher in the mid 1960’s. At that time, I viewed most things from a pedagogy viewpoint in the context of the development layers of things. I could see the value and common-sense of progressing learning and adaptation relative to the young person in front of me. Their progress was about them and not about the fixture list. Competitive Games were not the cornerstone of the curriculum – movement and ‘fitness’ were the driving elements.
As time went by, I professionally progressed to the high-performance end of things where results became the master. At this end of the continuum I was expecting that the 99% (fundamentals of technical, tactical, physical and mental) had already been done satisfactorily and my job would be to deal with the 1% gains to get the medals and championships.
WRONG! When I moved into professional Football with the Canberra Raiders and Brisbane Broncos it was clear that those foundation things had not been done adequately and part of my work was spent back in the 99% stuff. This became even more pronounced the longer I spent in high-performance. By the early 2000’s I found myself trying to win medals and championships with athletes who were limited in far too many elements.
I have spent the last 20 years trying to convince High-Performance and Development to do things different and do different things, in an attempt to rid the continuum of the limitations that are carried forward. Early specialisation, ‘quick-fixing’ and ‘fast-tracking’, coupled with a competitive games-based PE curriculum have created a terrible weakness in the continuum from well-being to high-performance.
2)   What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?
My PE training under the 1958 PE curriculum in the UK set me up well because we were taught to not learn only about WHAT but to become really good at HOW. We were taught about how a person learns skill which, in turn, was the way we were taught to teach. We were taught about ‘feedback’ in our teaching – the how, when and what of feedback. We were taught about the changes that growth and development brings to the table. We were taught how to relate to the person or group in front of us. We were taught how to organise the teaching area and how to move from activity to activity and how these were related.
Check out today’s coach education content and you will realise that someone stuffed up Coach Education a long time ago. Coach Education along with PE Teacher Education is now a pseudo-scientific environment that has become information-centric instead of learning-centric.
Add to my above ramble the fact that I was exposed to some incredible teachers and coaches in my formative years and I think that answers the question.
3)   What is your particular area of interest?
Always T&F gets the upper-hand but I also follow a wide range of sports and coaches because I learn every day from them. Obviously, I am on a continuous journey towards trying to convince decision-makers to put PE and Coaching much closer to the centre of attention.
Whoever moves to an effective Coach Development strategy as opposed to the current failing Coach Certification one will achieve great things.
I believe that ‘what has gone before’ influences ‘what is yet to come’ and that you cannot separate Development from High-Performance. My interest lies in getting rid of these two silos and creating a seamless transition.
4)   How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes?
It is the KEY element. How people are taught and how they retain this knowledge is the foundation of all we do. Because we are not doing this effectively, we continue to see massive drops in participation; poor skill retention under pressure; an increase in injuries. The best coaches must appear EVERYWHERE and not just in high-performance.
5)   What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
As a culmination of a lifetime of learning maybe the following form a decent cornerstone of advice:

  • You must earn the right to progress.
  • If a person learns in a certain way, then that is the way we must teach.
  • Give them the physical competence to do the technical stuff and then the technical competence to do the tactical stuff – in that order.
  • Progress and cycle through General – Related – Specific. Just manipulate the emphasis.
  • Find out their biological age – it works better than only dealing with their chronological age.
  • Engage early; specialise late.
  • Write your programs in pencil – you will need to display flexibility and adaptability on a minute-to-minute basis.

6)   What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes?
See the answers to Q5.

  • Do your best to react to the learning / adaptation rhythm that the athlete displays as opposed to the fixture list. Use competition as a tool in the development process and not an end in itself.
  • Learn how to regress and progress and activity based on what happens in front of you.
  • Don’t keep on giving them all the answers – let them solve the puzzle.
  • Be patient and teach them to be patient.
  • Reward their effort – not just their displayed talent or ranking.

7)   Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?
Best resource is an open-minded mentor / network.
Start by developing an effective bulls**t monitor so you steer clear of spells, potions, gadgets and gurus.
In the Physical element of the four pillars (technical, tactical, physical, mental) start with developing a movement vocabulary from which sports-specific actions and postures can grow.
Develop this vocabulary across Squat, Lunge, Pull, Push, Brace, Rotate, Hinge and Landing in every direction, plane, amplitude, speed and force. Develop them – slow to fast; simple to complex; static to dynamic, unloaded to loaded. Because this element is being done so badly, if at all, I have created a Movement Library which can act as a reservoir of movements to choose from for this element. This Movement Library is progressive and can be used in a variety of settings.
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Some Federations are using this library as the foundation for their Athletic Development courses.
There is also the Physical Competence Assessment system that has grown out of all the arguments I have set out here. It is a means of assessing (formally or informally) the foundation movements.
Before you spend any money on ‘things’, invest your time in learning more of the HOW.
8)   Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)
I do some Twitter activity @kbgiles and write a Blog on my website –
I run workshops and courses whenever I am invited and appear in certain Conferences when invited. Hopefully I will be back in Europe in June 2019 to speak at a conference in Jersey.
Thanks to Kelvin for sharing his extensive knowledge with us! For more great content like this, follow us on Facebook!
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.