Ask the Expert: John Radnor (Cardiff Met University)

John Radnor is a Lecturer in Strength and Conditioning at Cardiff Metropolitan University. He leads the provision of S&C for the Welsh Rowing Squad, predominantly working with the GB Start Athletes. John is also in the final stages of completing his PhD in Paediatric Exercise Science. John will be presenting on “Implementing LTAD models in Youth Sport” at the upcoming UKSCA seminar in London on March 6th!

1)What has led you into youth sport?

My Dad was a PE teacher, so sport was huge in our house growing up. I played everything, before settling on rugby in my early teens and retiring when I couldn’t handle the injuries anymore! I studied Sports Science at the University of Gloucestershire, before staying there to complete my MSc in Strength and Conditioning. Rhodri Lloyd was one of my lecturers and, with him being the youth expert he is, this is where my passion for paediatric exercise science began. Whilst completing my MSc, I interned at Exeter City, working within their academy from the U9 – U18’s. I left Exeter City to become the Assistant Academy S&C coach at Exeter Chiefs, predominantly working with the U18 squad. I then moved to Cardiff Met University to undertake a PhD, and coach in the Youth Physical Development Centre, before starting lecturing here almost 4 years ago. 

2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?

The people I have worked with!

I pretty much owe everything in my career to Rhodri Lloyd. I’ve been fortunate to know Rhodri for about 10 years now, and he’s been a huge influence, mentor and friend. Not only is his research in youth S&C world renowned, but his ability to translate this to coaches and practitioners is excellent, and I have learnt so much from him.

Everyday I am learning from the superb coaches we have here coaching at the YPD Centre. Tom Mathews, Sylvia Moeskops, and Steph Morris are all fantastic coaches, with different skill sets that complement each other so well. It is such a good environment to share ideas and learn from each other. I’ve also been lucky enough to have some excellent previous interns; Ned Partridge, Rich Walters, Jac Palmer, Nakul Kumar and Harry Wright are some of the best young coaches I have met and I am constantly now trying to pick their brains!

I think the biggest impact on my coaching recently has been a better understanding of anatomy and movement, and I can only thank Sian Vaughan-Evans (physio at Welsh Rowing) and Lucy Kember (Lecturer at Cardiff Met) for this.

Finally, some of the guys at Cardiff Met that I get to work with (Jon Oliver, Jeremy Moody, Rob Meyers, Jason Pedley, and Zach Gould) have all been influential in my development the last few years.

3) What is your particular area of interest?

The influence of maturity on physical performance. Whether this is how natural growth and development can influence performance or how maturation influences the response to training.

4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 

All youth will experience maturation, so it is something we need to understand when working with this unique population. Is it simply natural growth and maturation that is improving these kids’ strength scores, or is it actually your programme? This is what I am looking at in my PhD at the moment, how maturation influences muscle architecture and the subsequent impact on performance. Some of the previous research I have been involved in has been looking at how youth of different maturity stages respond to different training methods, and we have found some pretty cool stuff!

It seems that children prior to peak-height-velocity (growth spurt) respond better to plyometric training and youth post-PHV respond better to a combination of strength and plyometric training. What we are seeing seems to be a “synergistic adaptation” whereby prior to PHV, youth experience a natural increase in neural coordination and central nervous system maturation, and the high neural demand during plyometric training may provide an augmented training response. Similarly, as post-PHV children experience increases in testosterone, the combination of plyometric and strength training may result in a more potent training stimulus.

5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

Stay curious. “If you want to think you’re intelligent, lose all curiosity.”

I have to know why, for everything. I think it is something that has been key in my development as an S&C coach and researcher, and something I try to encourage in my students.

6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 

Keep it simple! Start with the end in mind. Give kids a broad movement vocabulary, and then build strength in good shapes. Create an environment where they can have fun. This doesn’t mean everything has to be games-based, but somewhere they keep wanting to come back to. Be respectful, empathetic, approachable and engaging and your coaching will take care of itself.  

7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?

The book “S&C for youth athletes” by Rhodri Lloyd and Jon Oliver is a great place to start! Keep an eye out for the second edition.

Research by Rhodri Lloyd, Jon Oliver, Greg Myer, John Cronin, and Avery Faigenbaum will also give coaches a good scientific understanding of the principles of youth S&C.

There are some excellent coaches that are hot on their social media. I follow all of the work by Simon Brundish, James Baker (Proformance), Des Ryan and his team, and Craig Harrison on twitter, and that content is superb.

There is nothing better than meeting coaches face to face and having a chat. I feel most people in S&C are usually willing to chat, so I encourage coaches to reach out to anyone working with youth and start sharing ideas!

8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)

My twitter handle is @John_Radnor (excuse the Tottenham heavy tweets recently, it’s been a rollercoaster season!)

If you want to see some of my research, I’m on ResearchGate – John M. Radnor.

If you are interesting in hearing more from John, he will is presenting at the UKSCA’s Seminar on “Implementing LTAD models in Youth Sport” on March 6th, in London. It’s a steal at only £45 for the evening! A huge thankyou to John for sparing his time and expertise!

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.

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