Jack Blatherwick Interview

Jack is a Sport Physiologist. I first met Jack in 1985 when I was looking for information on hockey conditioning. He is a scientist and coach, very innovative and forward thinker. He has worked with NHL teams: NY Rangers and Washington Capitols, University of Minnesota. He was an assistant coach on the 1980, 84, 88, 92 and 94 Olympic Hockey teams. Jacks web site is http://www.overspeed.org, it has great information. What has always impressed me about Jack was his tremendous knowledge , dedication to the sport of hockey , his humility and his willingness to share.

What are most essential requirements for a successful conditioning program?
Planning. Analyzing the athlete's age, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, and level of commitment. Also analyzing the challenges and movement patterns of his/her sport.
What are the most common mistakes in conditioning?
Failure to challenge and analyze accepted tenets in our field to determine if they truly apply to an individual athlete.
What is "functional training" from your point of view?
Functional training would be one of the final steps in preparation for the physiological challenges of competition. It would meet those challenges specifically and completely.
What do you do to make training more functional?
Analyze the demands of competition in terms of metabolic and neuromuscular requirements; then match the training regimen to those demands.
How important is specificity?
It might be the one true axiom of exercise science -- empirically based and historically reinforced year after year. In addition to the obvious speed and range of motion, we must consider age specificity just as important in our training. Finally, analyze and train for metabolic specificity.
What aspect of conditioning athletes is most difficult and how have you tried to address it?
Athletes are faced with a broad spectrum of advice with respect to nutrition and training, and I make sure they know my approach is just part of that large puzzle. I believe they should listen -- use their own logic -- make a decision as to how they want to train -- and commit to that plan.

It is not wise to say that another approach is wrong -- first, because time might prove us wrong -- secondly, because the athlete may sometime (in-season, for example) be required to train in that way, and we should prepare him/her to get the most out of that experience. At the very worst, it represents a dramatic change, and that can't be all bad.
With the plethora of information available how can you determine what is best?
I study daily, reading peer-reviewed research literature, studying "non-scientific" opinions or anecdotes, observing the approach of coaches I respect -- even those I may not respect -- and analyzing different philosophies in other countries. I believe no practitioner or scientist is completely right or completely wrong, so there is new information to be gained by studying as many philosophies as possible.
Where do you stand on nature versus nurture? How much difference can training make?
Obviously, genetics have a major impact on the potential of every athlete. That said, I believe, as teachers, we forget about it -- ignore the argument -- and realize that every athlete (who is not too old -- different age for each sport) can make significant improvements in every aspect of his/her sport. The essential ingredients for improvement are motivation and intelligent planning.
What is the sure sign that a self proclaimed conditioning guru is not
a good source of advice?

When they quote pseudoscience as fact. There is nothing wrong with a passionate sales approach to motivate athletes, of course, but dishonesty or ignorance is a sure sign of incompetence.
What do you differently with the female athlete in terms of conditioning?
Somewhat less training in the weight room, and a greater emphasis on athleticism. Female athletes do not have the hormonal makeup to maintain a lean body if their major stimulus is strength training -- and most of them are deathly afraid of looking like a shot putter. Therefore, it is rare to find young female athletes who will lift weights with the same intensity as a male athlete -- the intensity necessary to increase explosive power.
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?
The inclusion of strength training for athletes in sports other than weightlifting and bodybuilding. (Note: my experience includes the beginning stages of this trend in the 1950's). We must accelerate the trend toward "functional" training, or training that involves a greater degree of athleticism: speed, quickness, agility, coordination, power, and adjustments to unexpected quick changes in the routine -- dynamic balance on unstable or non-uniform surfaces, for example.
What's the biggest issue in training athletes today?
The overwhelming dominance of dogma or propaganda, especially the opinions of leaders of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
Who has been a role model in your career and why?
Herb Brooks -- perhaps the greatest advocate of planning and preparation in coaching. Before demanding great effort of his athletes, Brooks invariably spent countless hours in preparing for that workout.
What are the biggest professional challenges have you had to face?
What do you enjoy most about what you do? Dislike?
Watching athletes commit to a training plan, follow through with months/years of hard work, and watching their smile of satisfaction when they make significant improvement.
Dislike? I don't particularly enjoy the moment when a lazy, talented athlete beats a dedicated hard worker, whether that happens in a game or in competition for a lucrative contract.

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?

Many forks -- absolutely no regrets.
What inspired you to get into the field you are in?
I decided after teaching math and coaching for ten years to go to graduate school (physiology) to learn more about training adolescent athletes, because when I started coaching there was virtually no information available.
Is failure ever valuable?
"Failure" should be considered only a temporary setback. Trial and error is critically important in learning skills. No matter how important we think we are as coaches, athletes are going to learn much by trial and error.
Which changes now taking place in your field that should be
encouraged, and which resisted?

Finding more practical ways to validate a training regimen than strictly "academic research" as Mike Stone defines it. He's absolutely right that the typical model (comparing controls vs. training group) is impractical with elite athletes, because no athlete wants to be a "control subject." We might consider comparing the rate of improvement in a "training group" to established (age-specific) norms. It would take years to establish the norms, but the comparison would validate the training regimen.

We must eliminate the trend toward research funded by corporations which have a bias -- like Coca Cola funding a study on the effects of their own supplements. There is also a trend toward submission of pseudoscience that fits the philosophy of the publisher -- or the desire to submit a "breakthrough" result, rather than to simply investigate and report the data, whether it fits a pre-determined bias.

There is a plethora of propaganda in our field (and that of nutrition) and we must reduce the motivation to submit bogus research in order to climb the social ladders.


At 11/7/07, 6:05 PM, Blogger Dr Craig S. Duncan said...

Thanks Vern great interview is there a possibility to do similar interviews or a series with people you respect


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