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Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition

Some interesting research encouraging drinking during your workout has been published recently in the Perceptual and Motor Skills Journal.

Conducted by Biological Psychologist Kirsten D’Anci at the prestigious Human Nutrition Research Centre at Tufts University, the study found that athletes who consumed zero fluid during an exercise session reported higher levels of both anger and depression on a mood scale after the session.

After a training session they found that very slight dehydration of only 1-2 % of body weight (a 0.75 litre loss of fluid in a 75 kg adult) was enough to cause what the researches called a “a global negative mood” . The symptoms included signs of confusion, fatigue and decreased vigour (energy). These factors were 33% higher than the group that exercised and drank fluid through the session.

The cause? The researchers proposed that the dehydrated group actually experienced a very slight shrinkage of the brain cells. (Picture a plump green grape versus a dried sultana). This shrinkage causes a chemical imbalance to occur and this can increase irritability and potentially trigger headaches.

The solution: aim to consume 250 mls (a glass) of water or sports drink every 30 minutes of exercise and feel happier!

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Category : Sport-General | Sports Nutrition | Sports Psychology

Most of my research for this article involved me spending a lot of the summer falling off a windsurfer. My goal was to teach myself a new skill - how to windsurf. It is quite rare as adults we take on the challenge of a mastering a new skill from scratch. When was the last time you learnt a skill from scratch? Sometimes we tend to avoid it due to the fear of looking silly or the time it would take to learn.
skill acquisition principles applied to windsurfing

The study of learning new skills in sports has given rise to the field of Skill Acquisition. It is now an increasingly important part of sports science in elite sports.

To acquire any new skill the individual goes through three stages:

1. Cognitive Stage
Here the learner faces a problem and the main priority for them is to understand the task then organize a solution. This is the most important cognitive or mental stage. The learner thinks extensively about the behaviour/ movements needed to master the task. Errors occur frequently.

2. Associative Stage
As the learner practices the movements more they are able to think about it less. The emphasis here is on practice – the emphasis here is on the physical. The errors reduce in number and are smaller. The learner starts to gain confidence and more at ease with the task.

3. Autonomous Stage
Here the skill is almost in inherent or with vey little thought or mental effort. Learners would describe the skill as almost automatic and instinctive. Their movements would be described as smooth and efficient. Most important they can divert their attention to other cues while performing the skill or task.

The improvement in any skill is always rapid at first then the gains get smaller due to the law of diminishing returns – further and further practice results in reducing gains.

What is the best way to learn a new skill? Studies have shown that the optimal way to learn a new skill is to practice it daily but only for 1 hour per day. The spaced practice of motor skills produces better performance and faster learning than say two sessions of 4 hours per week. This is due to:

• Allowing the brain to process the information gained each day (this happens while sleeping)
• Reduces the effect of fatigue
• Maintains motivation
• Keeps attention high over the practice session

Not all of us can devote an hour each day to sail so I dedicated 1 hour 4 days per week to windsurf. (Easy with daylight saving after work) I can happily say the gains with this type of spaced frequent practice have been noticeable!

I can now windsurf!

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Category : Sailing | Sport-General

Exercises using swiss balls and other gym training tools like dura discs and wobble boards are frequently prescribed to help train the core muscles. This instability training is often viewed as a great way to enhance core strength.

However, a recent review of the research by Behm et al. 2010 (Appl. Physiol. Metab. Nutr. 35(1): 91-108) identified that while instability training can increase core muscle activation, it may not be the best choice in all situations. Unstable training can reduce overall muscular power output, which may have important implications if the goal of a given training program is to maximize the output or physiological stress on a given muscle, as is the case in certain types of athletic training.

The authors are not against unstable training, saying that "Training programs must prepare athletes for a wide variety of postures and external forces, and should include exercises with a destabilizing component."

"While unstable devices have been shown to be effective in decreasing the incidence of low back pain and increasing the sensory efficiency of soft tissues, they are not recommended as the primary exercises for hypertrophy, absolute strength, or power, especially in trained athletes."

"For athletes, ground-based free-weight exercises with moderate levels of instability should form the foundation of exercises to train the core musculature. Instability resistance exercises can play an important role in periodization and rehabilitation."

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Category : Sport-General | Sports Injury | Training Programs | Weight Training

“The ability to create sporting performance”.

It is generally believed that there are many aspects of sporting performance that can be explained by science and that many sporting performances can be pre planned.

I consider that there are so many unpredictable and random aspects in many sporting performances that the ability to adapt and perform in such chaotic environments is one that can justifiably be called artistic.

The experiences of the athlete, coaches, mentors and detailed study of a particular sport will reveal many of the situations that can be encountered during any given event. Many situations can be thought about in advance and answers sought. The ‘what if’ questions can be asked and often answered. This leaves a minority of chaotic situations in which we then rely on either luck or creative ability to maintain a performance. The odds on the luck option are often not good, leaving the althlete’s intuitive abilities to determine the outcome.

Tennis Forehand Many sports require the performer to execute skills that they have not practiced exactly. Think of a surfer on a breaking wave, this is the first and last time this particular wave will ever hit the shore, it is unique. There will never be another quite like it, yet a world class surfer can make it look like he has been there many times before.

A tennis player receiving and returning a 120mph serve often has the ability to perform incredibly well, even though this particular serve from his opponent has never been seen before. A footballer makes an excellent pass on a wet, muddy and rutted pitch to another player, from a position marked by a defender, in circumstances that they have not encountered before. How is this all done in such an apparently chaotic environment?

Athletes, in common with the general population, draw heavily on previous experiences, even though many of the situations that occur in life have not been previously encountered. As humans we can be incredibly precise with many of our skills. Those skills that are practised, and the athlete’s intuition and experience, often combine to provide a seamless high-level performance. This ability to improvise in any given situation is often called instinct.

With so many modern sports being relatively unnatural, how can instinct be part of the explanation? Have we evolved in such a short time to be able to play so many modern sports to such high levels?

As an athlete performs they are constantly making decisions, adjusting movements and often remedying any bad situations to maintain a credible performance. A F1 driver is constantly adjusting the power applied to the rear wheels to not only go fast, but to stay on the track. The car skids at times, the driver reacts by adjusting the power and or the steering, this is done with extreme precision and skill, not only is the result of the event at stake but also often the driver’s life.

The answer to some of these questions lie in the fact that most sporting decisions are taken with an estimation of what the outcome will be, based on previous experience. This experience is not necessarily specific to the sport. It is only by practice that athletes may become better at estimating and therefore needing fewer corrections during the performance.

David Bain - Whitewater Canoe Many technical performances require constant remedying and adjustments to any given situation. The best performances often have fewer corrections and more of a positive drive toward a goal or finish line both technically and physically. Exact and repeatable outcomes of many techniques in sport are very rare. As the athlete develops their ability to predict the outcome of a particular course of action, their performance improves markedly. When things are happening too fast for reactions to follow it is this prediction process that takes control.

Many unforeseen situations in sport may not be negative, but a positive opportunity to excel above one’s competitor. Many competitors at an event will experience the unexpected and after the event ask, “if only I had done?” It is those competitors that do make the best of any given situation that will prevail

What can be done to optimise performance in any given situation?

Plan all that can be planned thoroughly. Have intense periods of concentration and mental rehearsal prior to performing. (Many athletes then find it better to relax this mental focus just prior to performing in order to allow the performance to be more spontaneous).

Have basic technical models of what is required for the sport, so there is something to aim for. Although it may not always be possible to perform these technical models exactly, it is still better to have a target during some practice sessions.

Have alternative plans for all foreseeable situations. Prioritize these plans in order of the most likely occurrences. Mentally rehearse these alternatives. This way the plan will be ready to be used and the varied situations will be more familiar. It may be helpful to estimate options in terms of a percentage.

Make a clear distinction of what can and cannot be planned. Planning what cannot be planned is a major mistake and often leads to uncertainty and confusion in the athlete’s mind and eventual performance.

Many sporting events are course/track specific and require the athlete to be very familiar with the sporting arena. Consideration should be given and can include training and competition on the terrain to be encountered, taking into account race pacing and the specific technical and physical demands of the course. Other issues could also include climate and altitude training and acclimatisation considerations.

Also, consider specific equipment requirements and possible modifications to design. For major competitions it would be advisable to spend a large amount of time training at the venue or similar venue and simulating competition conditions. This could drastically reduce or erase completely any home advantage of the competition.

When any given situation is too chaotic and unpredictable to plan for, accept this and put trust in the athlete’s artistic, creative and instinctive abilities. When these situations have been experienced both in competition and training and when the outcome has been successful, mentally revise what occurred. It may be of help in the future as it is a major learning opportunity.

As well as formal skill training for a particular sport, also incorporate informal play into the training sessions. The situations and stimulus during play can often be more varied and unpredictable, they often provide more of a learning experience than formal, regimented and repetitive training. It can be a great way to discover and develop new and varied techniques. It also provides a more varied and stimulating training regime.

Adjust and vary the mental pressure on the athlete to perform at any given time. Removing the pressure to always produce high level performances will often lead to more technical experimentation and possible improvements. With constant pressure to perform during every competition and training session the athlete will often revert to what they already know will work and less of a progressive learning experience will take place. Nothing has ever been learnt without mistakes being made along the way. Allow mistakes at times; they are part of learning and help to define, move and possibly extend new boundaries.

Gymnast on Balance Beam Trust the athlete’s artistic, creative and instinctive ability because they are real. They are some of the most valued and respected human abilities we have. Allow for individual technical differences in athletes, something needs to be different in order to win!

Assessing performance is a vital part of learning. Have a complete debrief after both training and competition. Planned situations can be judged on the basis of what actually happened during the performance and comparing it to the plan. This requires both the athlete and coach to know exactly what the plan is. This assessment needs to be done if the plan needs to be repeated at a later date. Anything that happens out side of the plan can often be viewed as a mistake, but during chaotic and unpredictable situations, the outcome can be assessed, by asking did the athlete make the best decisions in the particular circumstances? Also, ask was the original plan realistic and achievable?

The blending of experience, creative and instinctive abilities to produce high level performances must be the art within sport.

© By Jim Jayes coach of European, World and World Cup Champions and Olympic Medalist. He now resides in Llangollen UK, with his wife Sally, where he continues to coach and they run their activity business and outdoor shop White Water Active and Eddylines .

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Category : Canoe/Kayak | Sport-General | Sports Psychology

Skins compression top Compression Garments are mainly promoted as a tool to enhance recovery. But what can they do for you during competition?

After consultation with staff at the Australian Institute of Sport, we concluded that compression garments could help with performance by:

  • Helping to keep the athlete warm
  • Decreasing muscle vibration
  • Maybe increasing blood flow (vascular return)

In short, compression tops or tights are unlikely to harm performance unless they make you too hot.

Personally, I’ve competed while wearing compression tops many times - I’ve used the slightly thicker Skins Snow top when it’s been cold as well as a regular long sleve top when it’s been warmer and thought both were great.

PS - Just found a great site for compression gear called Compress Yourself . They offer free worldwide delivery, recommendations for many brands and help with selection.

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Category : Sport-General

Inner Game of Golf If you’ve read a few of the posts here you’ll know I’m a fan of the Inner Game books by Tim Gallwey. It’s been a while since I read one, so I bought the 2009 version of The Inner Game of Golf to re-read.

To be frank, I’m not really a golfer at all – sometimes I have a few hits at the driving range and maybe play 2-3 rounds a year. But I am interested in how the mind learns new skills and the most effective and natural ways to teach and refine skills and this is where Gallwey’s work excels.

Gallwey’s Inner Game approach divides the mind into Self 1 and Self 2 – these are not to be confused with the conscious and unconscious. In Gallwey’s assessment, Self 1 is the verbalizing, thought producing self and Self 2 is basically the body and its natural responses. So athletic performance is a function of Self 2 (potential) minus Self 1 (interference).

The idea is that with practice, Self 2 will naturally organize its movements to those that lead to the best performance… when not distracted.

“Thus, the aim of the Inner Game is not so much to try harder to persuade Self 2 to do what it is capable of doing but to decrease the Self 1 interferences that prevent Self 2 from expressing itself fully.” (p21)

Using this technique, a coach wouldn’t provide much technical instruction at all. Instead, a coach would provide nonjudgmental guidance as to what part of a skill the athlete should pay specific attention to and discover more about the feel of that skill. This noncorrective attitude helps the athlete make nonjudgmental observations of his or her own technique, increasing the sense of feel and natural learning.

There isn’t an emphasis on ‘doing it right’, but on exploration… a coach guides the exploration to the best areas. The athlete retains trust in his own natural learning abilities and benefits from a pro’s knowledge.

I won’t reprint here the great example applications of this idea in the book – and there are many – but I think you’ll be easily able to apply the ideas to your sport even though the book is about golf.

Conscious thinking and instruction from Self 1 will never go away. You may feel that a part of your technique worked really well one day you just let it happen and didn’t think much about it. You can try to re-create that feeling, but you won’t be doing the same thing because you’re trying to force it rather than let it happen the way it did in the first place.

For such situations in Golf, Gallwey recommends saying to yourself ‘da’ at mojor points of the Golf swing – the take away, the end of the backswing, the ball contact and the finish of the follow-through. Thus, you wouldn’t give yourself any instruction about technique – just ‘da, da, da, da’. This gives Self 1 something to concentrate on while Self 2 does the hitting.

Gallwey wraps up his book with the time-proven ideas of focusing on the process rather than results and encouragement to have fun with the game you’ve chosen. Having fun with your sport means greater focus on the process, so that the technique-clever Self 2 can come to the fore.

For more on Skill Acquisition, see posts under Sports Psychology

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Category : Golf | Sports Psychology

Mountain biking in the off season The off-season of the training year is obviously the bit between the end of the biggest competition of the year and the start of training for the next season.

Probably to make it sound more purposeful, the father of a lot of recent training theory, Tudor Bompa (his main book is Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training ) called it the Transition Phase .

Bompa’s idea is that this distinct phase of an athlete’s year should set him or her up for a better year to come by providing rest, alternative activities and mental refreshment.

Often, this part of the year is easily seen as a time to have fun and not do your sport… the off season.

Frankly, what athletes do on their time off at the end of the year is never really associated with their performance in the next season. But, it should be as the transition phase has some key ingredients that get the body and mind refreshed:

1. Low training volume – reduced load on the body helps remove any niggling injuries and gives the athlete time to reflect on their underlying motivations to compete. Plan for a month-long transition, before commencing pre-season training.

2. Some exercise – having done so much training for the rest of the year it becomes part of the athlete’s lifestyle to be active, so I’d include some moderate exercise which is not what you’d normally do. Depending on the sport, examples could be rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking, swimming, pool running or surfing. As fitness is easier to maintain than develop, a little exercise during the break may be enough to maintain most of the fitness built over the last year and make for an easier start to the new season. Aim for 3-4 sessions a week of 30-60 min at an effort level of 5 to 7 out of 10.

3. Virtually no participation in the main sport – this is a chance for overstressed joints and muscles to rebuild and the mind to have break from thinking about technique, strategy and constant training. For the athlete that has had to manage an injury during the season, the transition phase is a great time to address muscle imbalances and weaknesses. This pre habilitation (as distinct from rehabilitation) can strengthen the muscles and joints for better training during the season.

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Category : Sport-General | Sports Psychology

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