Kelvin Giles Interview

I had the pleasure of hearing Kelvin present last week at English Institute of Sport. This is an interview that was supposed to be in my new book, but they cut all the interviews so I decided to use them in the blog. There are some great insights here from a consummate professional.

What are most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program? Ascertain the current status of the athlete in terms of their strengths and limitations in the light of the destination of the program. Eradicate all limitations to the specific work they will have to undertake later on. In other words, be patient in arriving at intensive sports specific activities. Make the training specific to the athlete’s needs and not simply the needs or knowledge base of the coach. React to what is in front of you, not to a theory.

What are the most common mistakes in conditioning? Too specific, too early. “Fast tracking” is one of today’s greatest mistakes where there is a rush towards competition specific work. The athlete must ‘earn the physical right’ to move the program forward. Competition dates should not dictate the developing athlete’s program. We are already rushing towards ‘winners at all ages’ and by-passing the development of the required physical qualities. For the more mature athlete, who may have a more competition focused environment, it is still worthwhile consolidating the building blocks of the program at regular intervals e.g. total structural strength, total structural stability and total structural flexibility.

What is “functional training” from your point of view? For example, in all field and court sports, the athlete must develop multi-joint, multi-plane and multi-directional efficiency. Our shot-putters have been brought up on a diet of single plane strength work (Squat matrix, Clean matrix, Bench Press matrix) – wonderful maximum strength / power capacities BUT whether they are ‘gliders’ or rotational throwers, they must have the ability to transfer weight from one foot to the other while maintaining control and stability along the entire kinetic chain. This is further complicated by their need to build up a torque between the lower body and upper body. Single plane force production, reduction and stabilization do little to arm them for the technique of the event. I see functional training as a pre-requisite to the ‘sexy’ advanced training models often illustrated. Your term ‘mostability’ indicates the cooperation seen between stability and motion. Add ‘strength’ to this in a combined, sequenced, progressive occurrence probably illustrates functionality. “Maintaining postural integrity during multi-plane, multi-joint and multi-directional motion” is another way of describing ‘function’. Now I have started to talk the language of the bewildered – “guru-speak” – apologies. Just call it EFFICIENCY in everything they do!

What do you do to make your training more functional? A simple test battery (Single Leg Squat; Walking Overhead Lunge; Mini-Tramp landing efficiency on two and one leg; Forward, Backward, Lateral Jumps and ‘Stick’; Run-Jump and ‘Stick’; 360 Lunge matrix; etc) will give an accurate overview of the athlete’s functional ability. Results from this battery give us a starting point for exercise selection. I know I am repetitive here but I ensure that, where possible, I encourage multi-joint exercises. Once these are done efficiently I introduce the more complex multi-directional and then multi-plane. The main issue is that the selected program is unique to the athlete’s functional needs. “Function first, force second” is the order of the day. The reason for having to make these sequenced decisions is that most young athletes are arriving at training with zero training age in Total Body Awareness, Balance and Coordination.

How important is specificity? Only when the athlete has developed total structural strength, total structural stability and total structural flexibility (multi-joint, multi-plane and multi-directional) is it wise to move towards sports specific activity. This is the essence of Long Term Athlete Development and is a clear test of our patience in preparing someone for their senior years. Obviously it is part of the development program to encounter sports specific skill work but too often the physical qualities required to carry out these techniques is ignored. When we are asked to take the athlete to their psychological, physiological and structural limits in the quest for an elite performance, the limitations that were ignored in the early stages usually come back to haunt us.

What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it? Craving for an immediate result can be a considerable difficulty. I have always told my athletes that they must ‘earn the physical right’ to progress their training. Each stage of training must be consolidated before we move it to a greater intensity or complexity.

With the plethora of information available how can a coach determine what is best? Tough question! It takes much experience to sort out the ‘Spells, Potions and Gadgets’ from the sound training methodology that is available. It is a good idea to keep a close eye on the athlete in front of you as they will give you the direction of your decision making. What are their limitations? What are their strengths? The answer to these questions will give you the focus for your coaching efforts. The athletes unique and specific needs may go some way to stopping the coach from grasping at some ‘potion or gadget’ that is the newest ‘fad’. The answers are in front of you, in your athlete. Obviously it is wise to develop your own network of mentors but choose them carefully. The ‘old grizzly’ who has been around a long time and who has ‘been there and done that’ is usually a good place to start. They have usually worked with a wide variety of athletes from different sports and have had to find many, many answers to many, many problems. Their suggestions are usually worth listening to.

Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make? With the current generation being less active, much poorer in functional ability, more overweight, wanting things for little effort, looking for the ‘quick fix’ and having been rushed through their training stages by adults, it is probably not a good idea to let nature take its course(apologies for the cynicism!). I am a great believer in instilling the qualities of stoicism and fortitude in my athletes as well as decent training programs. The coaching continuum will see the style of coaching change as the athlete makes their successive steps along their performance pathway. From the early days where the coach gives a series of instructions, right through to the point where the coach and athlete are in partnership with each other, will indicate that nurturing is a complex issue. The coach should understand the development of the coaching role as the athlete progresses. ‘Nature’ will see the athlete negotiate critical maturation stages – ignore these at your peril. A colleague of mine recently told an audience of young coaches, “Don’t think that the improvement shown by your 16 year-old athletes has anything to do with your coaching – it’s all down to the hormones and growth!”

What is the sure sign that a self proclaimed conditioning guru is not a good source of advice? When they are not willing to stay in touch and help you through the decision making. They will have the characteristic of ‘listening’. Mentors will be available to you throughout your journey although they may let you ‘fall’ at certain times as part of the plan!

What do you differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning? My first response is to say – ‘very little difference’. I keep an awareness of the hormonal issues that prevail with the mature female as well as some of the psycho-social issues with regard to ‘self image and body composition’. This is particularly important with the developing female athlete as they negotiate puberty. I don’t think that I ever had to find any specific solutions to any specific female issue with any of my 5 female Olympic athletes.

What has been the biggest innovation in training that you have seen during the course of your career and where is the biggest room for innovation in training athletes? After 35 years in the business I have witnessed just about every ‘new’ concept. What glues all these features together is the fact that no matter how glamorous the innovation may be the fact is that training methodology has certain rules that pertain. Specificity, Reversibility, Overload etc. Working in the Australian system, which has been so internationally successful over the last two decades, has given me the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of the information pathway. Perhaps the focus on ‘Recover modalities’ is a prime example. The harder we train the more effective must be the recovery. The provision of recovery facilities on site has been very effective of late.

What's the biggest issue in training athletes today? Lack of patience, particularly with the developing athlete. Also, the use of ‘generic training programs’. I understand the practical problems of the coach who may be faced with a large group of athletes but ‘one size does not fit all’. Each athlete will present with a unique set of variables that must be considered.

Who has been a role model in your career and why? Ian Ward, Wilf Paish and Frank Dick from the UK. Ian was my lecturer at Madeley College of Physical Education in the 1960’s. He presented Track and Field to me in such a way that hooked me for life. Wilf is an exemplary practitioner with so much knowledge and practical experience. He mentored me as I was taking my first faltering steps into coaching. Frank Dick, as well as being a wonderful practitioner is a great strategist. Being part of his team that developed the UK’s National Coaching Strategy in the early 1980’s was a great honor.

What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face? In my early years as a practitioner, my clumsy attempts at trying to convince sporting administrators that the coach / athlete unit is one that must be cherished, resourced and protected. These latter years have seen much improvement in this area particularly within Australia with the development of the Academy / Institute system. We still have a long way to go in convincing those responsible for the early years of athletic development that the issue is not about competition and winning (trophy hunting) but the laying down of athletic infrastructures that will last a lifetime.

What do you enjoy most about coaching? Dislike? I still enjoy the interaction with athletes although much of my current work is mentoring the new generation of ‘performance engineers’ and creating structures within which they can be effective. I dislike unnecessary process and protocol especially when this bureaucracy takes away valuable resources from the coach / athlete unit. As a ‘grumpy old man’ now I am also reluctant to use the new ‘pseudo-science’ language and embark upon the ‘Testing” crusade that forms the backbone of much of our sports science environment. When you have 34 scientists and 4 strength and conditioning coaches someone should ask a question! Testing is training and training is testing.

Did there come a time in your career where you were faced with a "fork in the road?" If so, do you ever revisit the decision you made or didn't make? Being invited to be the inaugural Head Track and Field Coach at the Australian Institute of Sport was a big decision and one that, with hindsight I would not have made. I left the world stage of Track and Field (
Europe) where I was still learning my trade and went to an environment that was not really ready for itself, let alone ready for the thoughts of a foreign coach. To have entered the AIS at year 10 would have been a better stage as they had eradicated the severe limitations faced in the first 10 years. The environment I faced was fraught with bitterness, mistrust and envy and my lack of political sports experience was highlighted. Remaining here for 25 years was due to the athletes and organizations who gave me the opportunity to grow. My previous experiences led to a very productive time back in the Institute environment from 2002 where the Queensland Academy sent 67 athletes to Athens with 52% of them returning with a medal. Right or wrong decisions, they all form the fabric of our lives – as long as we learn from them.

What inspired you to get into coaching? Ian Ward and Wilf Paish, through their ability to enthuse me into taking their pathway – although they did warn me that the road would be long and arduous and that I would be severely tested as a human being along the way. Today I get inspired by the new ‘performance engineers’. The guys (and girls) I work with are the best I have ever seen – they inspire me every day.

Is failure ever valuable? Yep! It will happen in all sorts of ways within our lives. “Fall down seven times….get up eight”. Think of these failures as a form of quality control. If something didn’t work then you must question your assumptions, make the required change and move onwards and upwards. Don’t forget to keep an eye on your destination – “If you don’t know where you are going – how do you know when you get there?”

Which changes now taking place in your field that should be encouraged, and which resisted? My colleagues and I have, in recent times, determined that we can no longer simply recite Istvan’s (Balyi) theories on Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) and think that we have done enough. With more and more young athletes presenting in their mid-teens with severe limitations in their Athletic, Functional and Training development we decided a while ago to give the coaches of the young athlete a clear and precise exercise pathway for the developing athlete. The project was a severe test of our fortitude as we produced progressive exercises across sixteen exercise streams for the 6 to 16 age group. It is designed to transport the developing athlete across the Fundamental, Learning to Train and Training to Train stages. The destination is Total Structural Strength, Total Structural Stability and Total Structural Flexibility. With more and more of our peers around the world getting involved in this practical aspect of LTAD I am pleased and encouraged.

I continue to resist any acceptance of ‘fast-tracking’ (short-cutting). Sometimes demanded by those seeking winners at all ages, fast-tracking is a non-starter where I am concerned. We exist in a modern world where we are offered something for nothing through a new ‘system’ or ‘spell’ or ‘potion’. Resist these overtures and remain loyal to traits such as ‘high work ethic’, ‘sensible progression’, ‘earn the right to move on’, ‘train smarter and harder’.


At 8/3/06, 8:14 AM, Blogger Joe P. said...

"Performance Engineers". What a great term! Did Coach Giles copyright that yet? It takes less accountability & time than coaching! I can see all the gurus rushing to open their "Human Performance Engineering Centers"


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