On Saturday 2nd February, I woke at the crack of dawn to make the 3 hour drive south to Bolton Tennis Arena for the RacketEdge Conference 2019. I’m pleased to say it was a worthwhile trip!
Now you might think it’s strange that an S&C coach working primarily in rugby went down to a conference focussed on Tennis. Firstly, my good friend and organiser of the conference, Howard Green invited me, but more importantly I think that there is always something to learn from other coaches, regardless of what sport they operate in!
First up Chris Mcleod presented on “Developing Creative and Adaptable Athletes.” He covered some very thought-provoking content, particularly on the importance of Knowledge, Imagination and Evaluation in producing Creativity. This led on to discussion of “The right movement and the right time” and how this requires a movement variability approach to develop, as well as the importance of “anchors” in this approach. Some of you may be familiar with the “attractors” and “detractors” philosophy of Frans Bosch and this sounded very similar. A great review of some key “anchors” followed – particularly around speed. Eg. Foot striking behind, underneath or in front of the centre of mass. He suggested we should encourage anchors, prioritise the purpose over the process and to respect rate limiters. These may occur by creating environments that encourage or support the anchors (constraints) as well as the purpose (each high speed). Additionally he discussed identifying and developing those “rate limiters” which are preventing and athlete from achieving the desired outcome. He finalised with some key questions:
- Is the environment encouraging the athletes to find critical shapes/positions?
- Is the problem the player is trying to solve linked to performance?
- Do they care?
- Does the environment make it negotiable?
- Do I understand the athletes enough to know what they can/cannot achieve with their current physical profile?
Next up was a fantastic blend of both the theory and application of sports psychology from Merlin van de Braam. presenting “Mental Skills and Mindset: Developing Healthy Athletes”. I really enjoyed this as Merlin spent a little time on the theory, but more time demonstrating interventions in a training situation with two youth tennis players. He prefaced the talk by discussing how many great players don’t have a positive win to loss ratio and even Federer has only won 51% of points in his career and the importance of being able to “bounce back” from defeat or setbacks within a game/set/match is a key feature of top performers. He continued to discuss mental skills including:
- Control of Emotions
The discussing the tools which can support these skills:
- Goal setting
- Self talk
- Performance Routines
What then followed was a brilliant demonstration of various practical activities designed to use the tools to develop the mental skills including identifying the serve type by hearing, Self talk and visualisation in a serve routine, as well as many others. I found this was a fantastic way to demonstrate the applied nature of psychology in action!
A great aspect of this conference was the equal blend between theory and practice, with movement breaks regularly! Isla Smith led us through “7 poses in 7 minutes”, a selection of 7 yoga poses that can be used with young athletes within sessions or as a recovery session. This simple, bite sized activity was a brilliant way to shake up a training session and used visual cards as a trigger for athletes!
Jodie Hemmings-Trigg gave a great and short overview of what performance nutrition looks like for a developing athlete. She discussed that while nutrition can be complex (likening it to the London Underground map!) she highlighted the primary importance of fuelling properly for training, competition and recovery. She gave some great real-world examples of what this might look like for a young player:
- Before training: bagel with honey/jam, banana on pitta, pasta with sauce
- During training: Fruit Juice/Ribena, 1/2 a jam sandwich/pitta/bagel,
- After training: Greek yoghurt with berries, chicken/turkey/egg with pasta/rice/potatoes
She also highlighted the importance of relationships and communication between support staff, parent and athlete, to ensure a successful approach!
Next up, Maz Bury discussed “Injury Avoidance Strategies for Young Athletes.” This was a great introduction to the balance of monitoring training load, optimising movement, as well as accounting for maturational changes in young athletes. Maz discussed the importance of a 3 Dimensional approach to exercise selection in a training program in not only strength training but also mobility and conditioning exercise. She gave a good overview of Peak Height Velocity/maturation and common injuries in this period of growth. Maz led the audience through the basics of load monitoring via RPE x Time model and it’s use in reducing injury/overload likelihood. She then discussed some practical exercise examples for common injury sites in tennis as well as the cues she uses!
Ruben Neyens delivered an excellent workshop on “Agility, a holistic approach”. Again, this was heavily practical, utilising two young athletes to demonstrate how Ruben delivers his cues and activities. A particularly useful point he made was that he doesn’t coach during his demonstrations as he wants to see how an athlete does the exercise naturally before making any interventions! He discussed the importance of both quality and intensity in agility, as well as the specific demands experience in tennis, as well as knowing where your athlete is in development and where you are in the program. He gave an overview of his method, in which he likened the brain controlling the body to a Formula 1 driver steering a car at speed:
- Support (Multi direction, rhythm, ability to connect movement, dynamic vs static)
- Types (Lower body, rotating axis, upper body, 1st step, stop, change direction, forward, lateral, multi-directional)
- Load (High standards, pushing the bar/limits, finding 6th gear, explosive, repetition capacity)
Howard Green presented on” Developing the Future Female Tennis Athlete.” Again the topic of growth, maturation and PHV was discussed along with the difference between skeletal and chronological age. He also highlighted a really important podcast on female health with Research Georgie Bruinvels which gives great information on just how influential the menstrual cycle is in performance in female athletes and how it should be discussed and accommodated for in training and performance (I would highly recommend listening to this!) He then discussed what the blueprint is for a top level female player and how it is important to match the playing strategy or skillset to the physical characteristics of the player. This was followed by his application of the “SMASH” model (Stamina, Mobility, ABCs, Strength & Power, Honing skill) across development bands. This was followed by a great demonstration of the practical application of his lower body unilateral training progressions. In this case I found his progressions similar to mine but with a twist, adding in the Ice Skater Landmine lunge!
Jonny Fraser presented on “Developing Super Movers”, discussing the importance of fundamental movement competencies in the building blocks of other skill sets. He likened these to being like language:
- Alphabet – Learning a skill
- Word – Combining elements of locomotion/object control
- Sentence – Linking movements to demonstrate a complex skill
- Paragraph – linking movements into exercises or sporting activity
He discussed how and where these sat in the Youth Physical Development Model, what the fundamental movements are (Push, Pull, Hinge, Squat, Brace, Rotate etc.) and how they should be worked in every plane, direction, speed and complexity. Again, he gave us some great practical demonstrations on what this might look like in a program focussing particularly on object manipulation/coordination – catching on command of 1/2/no bounce etc.
Overall, this was a fantastic, jam-packed day of learning. This is how a coaching CPD event should be done, with an equal blend of theory and “on your feet” practice, seeing how great coaches do their thing! I can’t recommend it highly enough and would like to congratulate Howard and Jonny on organising such a great event!