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Entries For: June 2010


Get in the habit

Every time ...

Every time you do a drill that involves crossing a finishing line, throw your bike.


Every. Single. Time.

Make it automatic, a reflex.

Races get won and lost at the throw.  At the end of a race it has to just happen.  Make a habit of it now.


A rainy day

Is an opportunity!

I had to defer the DUCCs session this morning due to rain.  Given that it's freezing cold outside and windy it's a good day for being indoors.  I've just been to the butcher to get the 4.5kg of mince beef for tonight's spag boll for Spin and it's bloody cold out!  So today's jobs - work on sprintTracker to get it to the point where I can (still with a lot of manual hacking) enter some individual efforts into the database.  I'm also going to keep chipping away at the sprint drills page.

I did get a good chance to speak with Martin Barras last week, his sprint progression is this :

  1. strength
  2. power
  3. acceleration
  4. speed
  5. speed-endurance

He has his sprinters gym work set to lead the program by around two weeks.  For example :

In a strength block, they're concentrating on strength in the gym and on the bike (squats, deadlifts, legpress (if you must ...) in the gym, K1's on the bike).  They max out on strength in the gym about two weeks before they do on the bike, and start working on power (cleans, snatch, hang clean pulls, clean pulls, ballistic leg press etc) before they switch the emphasis over to power on the bike, and so on.  The rough gym to bike matchup is this :

Strength squats
big gear efforts
various cleans
ballistic legpress
smaller gear rolling start efforts (short duration)
 Acceleration plyos
various cleans & snatches
various acceleration drills
Speed plyos
various cleans & snatches etc
Motorpaced high speed work
speed-endurance ergo work
motorpaced high speed-longer efforts
Longer powerjumps
race-like efforts

I'm going to see if I can get more information about the gym work that Craig Colduck used during the speed and speed-endurance blocks.  Craig wrote a famous article that I have a copy of here.  I'd also like to compare this to how Gary West is programming these days and also John Beasley.  There's many ways to skin the cat!



Documenting sprint drills

As far as I know, no-one has ever bothered to do this ...

Following the "if you want to rise to the top, start in the mail room" philosophy, I've started at the bottom as a sprint coach, as a lowly assistant coach to the NTID here in Victoria.  It's a great opportunity to learn from Hilton and also as many other sprint coaches as I can.  Along the way I'm documenting sprint drills to a level of detail that should make them useful.

You can see a sample here : The motorbike double-jump.

The plan is to document all the sprint drills I come across, get power data from them, draw diagrams, use animations where necessary and useful etc.  This will take place here mainly, but hopefully will end up being used as guidelines (in some form or other) for sprint coaches in all of Australia to use as drills.  ie: we'll have a reasonably consistent naming and implementation system across the country, so a rider training with us in Melbourne can go over to Perth and know what an MACC or a K1 or a windout is and it'll be basically the same drill.

Remembering , of course, that these drills are not what sprint coaching is all about, in the same way that a spanner is not what being a mechanic is all about.  They're tools to do a job, I want to catalog and describe them to a level of detail that as far as I'm aware, hasn't been done yet.


On the up ...

Good things happening

I'm pretty pleased.  Apart from a positive trend in my peak power output (up, not as much as I'd like, but still consistently going up is good, after a bit of a slump for a few months) I got offered a paid position with the NTID on Tuesday night when I was up at the AIS at the NTID coaching conference.  I didn't want to write about it here until I'd had a chance to talk to a few friends about it.  It's a very part-time position working as an assistant to Hilton Clarke with the Victorian NTID sprint squad.  This is basically what I've been doing for the last few months and it's been recognised by the guys at the NTID and they've committed to paying me to continue to do it.

As you can imagine, I'm very happy about this.  Paid coaching positions are few and far between and this is a great opportunity to develop further as a sprint coach and learn so much more, with a little bit of financial help.  I've done a lot of hours (I guess at roughly 250 hours since February, ~20 weeks, ~13 hours a week, give or take) helping that squad so far for 'free' (really, it's like being at school, I don't expect to get paid when I'm learning and aren't really a lot of use) as well as a bit of paid work while Hilton's been having his knee replaced, which will soon be over. Hilts will be back on deck and I'm sure the guys in the squad will be glad to have him back. 

I've done my best but I'm far from perfect when it comes to running some of the drills, in particular some of the motorpacing stuff is quite tricky to get right and I have a lot of practice and instruction to receive before I'm competent.  Getting the pacing right is critical in drills like motorbike entries, each rider needs a different entry speed, different rate of acceleration and so on, and some need me to go very fast indeed (getting close to 80km/h) which I'm still not comfortable doing.  I hit 80km/h on Saturday pacing one of them, and that's scary-fast on the velodrome on a motorbike.  In some ways it'll be frustrating to have to go back to being the assistant at the training sessions when I've been running the show for about a month, but I'll suck it up and it'll be a good, humbling experience when it happens.

Martin Barras (former Australian Sprint coach) is going to be at DISC on Thursday as part of the level 2 coaching course that's running there at the moment and I'm going to sit in on his session (and not ask any questions, ok!  Yes I will behave, Brendan!) and see what interesting things he has to say.  At the level 2 course I did back in November last year in Adelaide, Craig Colduck was one of the presenters.  Craig was Martin's strength coach and we got the chance to see a lot of the nuts and bolts of his programming style, getting a chance to see how Martin did it directly from him will be great.

We had a good turnout at our DISC session tonight too, I'm pleased to see growth in our little sprint group, I'm gradually handing over the reins to Nathan for the enduro programming and session running, having two of us means I can concentrate on my sprinters while Nath looks after the enduros, so far it's working well and I think everyone who attends is benefitting from having the two of us working together.

We're running an invitational sprint round at DISC on the 9th of July too, which I need a few more riders to attend, if you're interested you can read about it (and the invitational criteria!) here.

And ... I'm going to the AIS/NTID sprint camp in Adelaide in mid July to help out, I'll miss one of our DISC sessions, but Nathan's ok to run it on his own and the sprinters will have plenty of stuff to do without me.

Finally, I've got more track powertaps to play with, I think we've got, between myself, Hilton, the VIS and NTID six of them.  I swapped over the axles in two of the VIS ones today to use studs (conventional track nuts) from the rather fiddly bolts they originally came with.  Darryl Perkins is building the most recent pair of hubs into two more wheels which we should have in a week or two.

It's all go ....


Back to normal

Sorta ...

I had to leave the NTID conference early on Wednesday, missing a few interesting talks, hopefully there'll be a DVD or at least a booklet summarising the ones I missed, which looked pretty worthwhile.  I came home in a little (80 seater) turboprop plane chock-full of families with babies (why?!)  but survived the ordeal of daddy encouraging little Johnny kicking the chair in front of him without having to channel Hilton on daddy .. Just ..

We had a solid night in at DISC with the NTID squad, it was bloody cold, started at about 12 or so degrees and warmed up(!) to about 14 by the late afternoon.  This meant that times would be a bit slower, but everyone rode well and it was a good session.

Thank you to Stewart Lucy for running the spin session for me on Tuesday, and to Dino for heating the bolla to feed the troops.

I'll get the next track and spin session programs up soon, and am looking forward to a good flaying on Sunday at DISC with the aboc Sprint Squad!


Thoughts on today's material

We had a lot of presenters ....

One of the over-riding themes of the NTID conference so far has been the "X-factor", which isn't physiological (unless you consider brain/personality physical, which you may well do, and I may agree with ... but anyway ..).  I've touched on this myself recently.

I'm still not sure ... The x-factor is best defined as dedication and passion, and much seems to be made of the fact that the most dedicated athletes (and ballet dancers, violinists etc ...) are the ones who reach the elite level.  As a result, there's been a bit of a cultural shift in the talent ID process, they're (we're!) trying to focus on x-factor stuff more.  I agree that it's important and much is made of how much and how well someone trains leading to their elite-level performance.  But is the tail wagging the dog?  I suspect to a certain extent it is.  The kids that naturally do very well (the talented ones!) get positive feedback, so they enjoy their pursuit, they then practice more and smarter, and get better.  But they have to have talent first, I think.  The feedback loop seems to be being forgotten or overlooked in the haste to redefine selection criteria.   Not always is it the most talented physically (sometimes for them it's too easy, which leads itself to complacency or fear of failure), but I suspect that the current emphasis on the X factor may be taking things too far, and most coaches gut feeling would probably reflect this. 

Interesting stuff all the same...



I'm on my way to another conference!

While the NTID isn't paying me, I am getting a few perks.  I'm off to Canberra (sitting at Tulla at the moment in the departure lounge) for a two day conference on talent ID at the AIS.  Some interesting speakers, on I'm looking forward to is a bloke from the air force who's going to talk on the things they look for in fighter pilots.  If it's as interesting as the talk at the NTID Cycling conference in Adelaide in May by the police psychologist it'll be excellent.  I have to leave early (on a little Dash-8!) to get back in time to be Hilton-Virtual at the NTID training session at DISC on Wednesday, but will still get the keynote speakers.

This does mean I miss Spin tonight, but that's ok, I did the ergo session yesterday on my recovery day so my sprinters, I have hurt like you will and it is good!

See you when I get back ....



Drills that work

Now we're going to be able to do a bit more smart coaching

Over the last few months I've collected quite a bit of data from the NTID and aboc sprint squad sessions with track power meters.  We haven't done anything with the data yet, but just collecting and having a quick look at it.

Now the data isn't perfect, but it's reasonably good and I'm going to use it to try and sort out which of the drills we use at track training are the best at producing overload.


In the gym, we manipulate three main variables - intensity (how heavy the weight is), volume (how many times we move it and how far) and recovery (how much time you get between reps and sets).

This is because we want to overload at least one of these variables every time, to disturb homeostatis and drive an improvement.

On the bike, we need to do the same thing.  We need to manipulate intensity, volume and recovery - but we don't have the same easy way of manipulating intensity that we do in the gym.  With, for example a squat or a power-clean, we just add more weight to the bar.  Simple .. We can micro-load with humiliator-plates if we need to (0.5kg plates, everyone loves the humiliators - they're tiny, but they make it so much harder!).  Up goes intensity.  The other two variables are trivially easy to manipulate as well.

On the bike, how do we do that?  Up the gears?  Ok, except that we never really get a 'fail' on the bike, the rider can turn any gear we put under them (on a velodrome anyway).  Up the speed, by chasing a motorcycle or another rider etc, and up the cadence by using small gears at high speeds.  These are all ways to do it, but I don't think we've ever really looked closely at how well they work.  The traditional sprint drills we use are all based on experience (which is not to be discounted!).  Now we're collecting a lot of data, we can start to see which drills get the best overload events out of our athletes - which ones produce the highest peak power, for example, or the highest power at a specific cadence range, the highest torque and so on.

Hopefully with some careful analysis of the data I've collected, with a bit of help from Dr Dan at the VIS, we'll be able to identify which of the drills we use are the best at overloading our athletes so we can train them smarter.  Watch this space!

Talent ID

Who's going to make it?

Many of you by now know that I'm working for the National Talent ID in an ad-hoc sort of way, indirectly anyway, as Hilton Clarke's assistant.  The sprinters, mainly (I'm still doing a little enduro work, but nothing sophisticated).  I've now spent a considerable amount of time with the sprint squad here in Victoria, and without exception they're a very talented group.  Working with them is a pleasure.

But that's not what I want to write about.  I want to write about how we tell who's got "it".  Ie: who's got the drive to get to the very top.  It's a relevant topic to me now, and one worth reading widely on.

This came across on a coaching mailing list called "supertraining".  It's by a famous author called Daniel Coyle, who's pretty well known, it's fair to say.  He wrote a superb book on Lance Armstrong called 'Lance Armstrong's War'.   He makes the observation that being the sort of athlete that rises to the top is a mental thing - it's about dedication and commitment (and all those cliche's!).  He's right, but I think in our area, he's not all right - By that I mean he's only got half the picture and that may be because he's listening to coaches who are dealing with pre-sorted athletes.  Mark Rippetoe makes the point rather bluntly (as is his style) when he says that most elite level coaches have little idea of what they're doing with regards to athlete development because they're working with athletes who are pre-selected.  I think Rip's not right there (and he was talking about American football coaches, so I've taken this way out of context!), but I think understand what he's trying to say.  Armstrong himself got it right, I'll roughly paraphrase from memory : 'if you don't have the legs, no amount of mental strength will help'. The truth is you need both.  You need talent and drive.  Drive without physical talent will lead to frustration or delusion, physical talent without drive, to nothing at all.

So, back to talent ID.  How do you tell who's good before you train them for years?  Part of it is physiological screening (a fancy way of saying tests).  This gets the exercise physiologists all excited.  They get wattbikes out, put kids on scales, they do vertical jump tests, they measure thigh diameters, if they're really lucky they get to do muscle biopsies on their victims and soon enough they'll be able to do genetic tests.  Wow ... What does this achieve?  It gets the ones who are good physically, at least (and this may change if and when gene testing gets sorted) at the time of the test.  They do a lot of correlating.  They get very excited and get paid to do it.  It's interesting, but it's not all there is to it.  Far from it.  These tests are, by necessity, crude and can exclude those who do have real potential but haven't blossomed yet. 

Sometimes, it's the kid that fails the tests who ends up at the top.  I can bring something personal to this, when my Dad was a kid he was a bit of a swimmer, and he got tested by some ex-phys who basically told him he was unfit.  A week later he set the 6th fastest 200m butterfly time in the world.  I spoke recently with Ken Tucker at a conference in Adelaide. Ken was Anna Meares' coach when she was a kid, and he said that Anna wasn't great as a kid.  She certainly wasn't talentless, but she wasn't as naturally quick as her sister Kerrie.  Kerrie was outstanding (and went on to win a few medals of her own!).  But, Anna kept on improving and she had the right combination of talent and drive that took her to the very top and has kept her there for a long time.  Ken saw in Anna the qualities of a genuine champion but it took time to come out.  She was fortunate to have a coach that had the vision to see it in her.

So it's the right combination that matters, not (as Doyle implies) mental drive on its own, unless your game is chess!

We need to test for obsessive (healthy!) desire to be the best that the athlete can be, and that's something that I doubt can be easily done, I suspect it's something that some kids grow into given the right environment.  I think I can see the signs in a very select few that I'm lucky enough to work with.  It's rare, and you can see it in their eyes when they do a hard effort, when they don't shirk a hard session, when they do 'the hard yards' that we ask of them as their coaches, not whinging about them but relishing them.  They have to want to hurt and have to be prepared to make some pretty big sacrifices to get to where they want to be. I'm going to quote one of them.


Cycling doesn’t shape my world, it’s everything I am and everything I hope to be.

That's what we're looking for.  That's a kid that's going to rock the world one day.  Talent and

drive.  Priceless.


Winter sprint invitational?

We might run a winter sprint round

My sprinters are getting restless, and I can't say I blame them.  Although there's an NTID sprint camp in July some of them have forgotten about and not everyone gets to go to that, so their motivation (especially the younger ones) drops off when their main races are not until late next summer.

So I'm thinking we might run an invitational sprint round of the SSS over winter, call it the IaWSR! (I'm a wuss racer?) - anyway ... I may be able to grab one of Blackburn's dormant Friday nights.  This won't be like the summer series, although the structure would be the same (F200, grading, round robins and then finals) we'd make it invite-only and really only for pure sprinters (ie: if you're racing road etc, this is not for you, this is for the specialists who are wanting some racing over winter), with a minimum qualifying time, at the moment I'm thinking a 13.5s F200 at DISC, but that number might change.  We want J17's to be able to race it, J17 for next summer, that is.

I'll need buy-in from Blackburn, and from Sue (we need her commissaire skills) and also the NTID (ie: Hilton, I'm not at the reigns full-time, he has to make the call on the NTID's involvement), but at the moment some possible dates are Friday the 9th of July or Friday the 6th of August.

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