Wednesday, 27 February 2013

fatigue management specialist: a guest-blog by Dr Jason Ross...

Dr Ross at The 2010 Olympic Games w/ Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Mesler

Dr Jason Ross is a chiropractor and strength coach who owns a practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  A former national-level rugby player, and US national team bobsledder, Jason now spends much of his time (when he’s not with his wife and young child) at weekend seminars-workshops and reading everything he can get his hands on.  He was an excellent athlete, and he’s arguably an even better therapist-coach. As a therapist, he has worked and traveled with the US bobsled team, cyclist Danielle Musto, a number of NFL football players and British sprinter Dwain Chambers. 
I have been bugging Jason for a while to write a blog for me, but I guess the 3 or 4 a week for his own site keep him busy!   I’m happy to report that he’s finally gotten around to it...I’m also happy to report that it’s a fine one: a truly unique approach to looking at pain management and performance. 

Fatigue Management Specialist: 
a guest-blog by Dr Jason Ross

"Fatigue makes cowards of us all" - Vince Lombardi
Fatigue Management Specialist. Pretty cool sounding job title...
As a chiropractor and strength coach I've come to the conclusion that that is our primary role - to help explore and manage fatigue for our patients and athletes.

Fatigue - defined as the weakening or failure of material - the decreased capacity or complete inability of a unit, organ or system to function normally because of prolonged exertion or excessive stimulation.
When we fatigue we become fearful. Fearful of the same situation happening again. Tightening up in the race - knee pain with the stairs - muscle cramping after an hour -straining the hamstring at all out effort - falling, and not being able to get up. 
Fatigue brings avoidance which brings compensation. Compensation leads everywhere but up.
Most athletes/patients seek out a coach or therapist when they have been on the losing end of fatigue. They are on the way down. Some setback brings them calling for guidance and answers. While injury and pain are prime examples of fatigue, fatigue may be numerous other scenarios that brings about undesired outcomes in athletics and life:
The sprinter who can't maintain top speed long enough. The office worker with headaches later in the week. The endurance cyclist who gets slower as the season progresses. The aging client who each year finds the stairs increasingly difficult. 
All examples of fatigue in action.

Most will require a different fatigue management intervention and plan. Perhaps the answer is in tissue quality, or muscular strength or endurance, breathing correctly, nutrition, movement breaks from static positions, technique cues, muscle activation/inhibition, mindset, muscular hypertrophy, ergonomics, joint dysfunction. The list can go on and the answer may be several in combination.
For myself, when I started viewing problems in terms of fatigue, it allowed a greater possibility of answers than what I was used to. It challenged my knowledge base and continues to challenge it as it leads me to areas of study not fully explored. It is up to the fatigue managers to figure out the correct and best strategy to implement and assign the proper homework/program to prevent fatigue.
This is where creativity, lateral thinking and stepping outside the box to find the answers from multiple streams of interest come into play. Learning to look at different scenarios differently breaks one from the chains of the institutional ‘letters’ by your name.

Fellow coffee snob, Jason is also the dude that got me started blogging in the first place.  His blog has been up and running since 2008, and he has been bugging me to get one going for a while now.  Finally, last summer he helped me set one up...and almost 100 posts later - here we are!
He’s helped me out on a number of occasions (most specifically volunteering his services with my sprint group for a week last spring), has recommended a ton of good reading material, and I’m honoured to call him a friend.
Thanks Jay for your insights...I look forward to the next one!

If you are interested in contacting Dr Ross, he can be reached via his website.

Monday, 25 February 2013

to treat or not to treat...

Is THIS performance therapy??
In part I of this series, I discussed performance therapy- argued for its importance, and used it as a start-off point to delve into what I think are some of the bigger issues facing elite sport right now.

Part II discussed the reductionist nature of traditional Newtonian science - how this has influenced our roles as coaches, and how I feel this ‘separatist’ nature retards creativity and expertise.  I used my own career as an example: beginning with my early apprenticeship through Dan Pfaff, I formed specific ideas on what I thought the requirements were for elite performance, and it was the holistic-integrated nature of this philosophy that led me down many a dead-end road - perpetually blocked by those that didn’t particularly share the view! That I should be offering nutritional advice.  Or doing ‘therapy‘ on athletes.  Or advising on supplementation.   It was often frustrating...and it was  often my own fault...

I was asked by a friend and colleague to share some of these frustrations, maybe some of the lessons they taught me, and how it all enabled me to come out the other side a better, more understanding, and well-rounded coach...

As I learned more... as I gained a deeper understanding of not just coaching, but of human nature itself, I began to gain an appreciation for the process of doesn’t happen requires patience, cooperation, empathy...

...three words that I only recently learned the meaning of.

Looking back, many of the road-blocks that I attempted to bash my way through existed because of the ambiguity of my role...was I a sprint coach?  A strength coach?  A therapist? 
Well - the answer was yes...I was all of them (to an extent)...

But, a lack of clarity begat confusion, which often begat frustration...
  • To my sprinters, I was unquestionably their coach.  The buck stopped with me - I wrote the sprint programs, the strength programs, the nutritional programs, the supplement programs, and did most of the ‘therapy’ essence - the Head Coach.
  • In my mind, it wasn’t too much different with the bobsled and skeleton athletes.  I fulfilled all of the previous roles, but because it was now with mostly National Team athletes, there was an additional group of folk that had a vested interest - namely the NGBs, the Olympic Committees, other coaches, and members of the support team.
  • With the football players, I wrote their speed and strength programs, and that was pretty much it...not a lot of confusion there (this is different now, as ‘performance therapy’ now predominates my time with the NFL guys I work with)  
  • With the speed-skaters, I would consult on their speed programs, their strength programs, their nutritional and supplement programs, and do quite a bit of therapy...usually hidden out of the way, as I was working primarily (at least at first) as a private consultant for the athletes.  

So you can see the where the confusion was borne out of...
shoot, just writing this up is making me confused, and I lived it! 
...for over a decade!

The overriding principle (and justification) for me during this time was I would do whatever was best for the athlete (at least in my mind, in that moment).  If the athlete was having some tightness during warm-up, and had asked me for some quick work, then I would reply “no problem” success with their current treatment plan, and had asked me (or a member of their ‘team’ had asked me) to assist/step-in/take-over - “no problem”...if they were having trouble with body comp, and wanted some assistance with their diets - “no problem!”...
problem was...this was a problem...

folks were getting upset...
but ‘screw ‘em’...I was keeping the athlete training...optimizing their sessions...getting them healthier...getting them leaner.  In short, they were doing better...and isn’t that why we are all here?

Part II of this discussion prompted quite a bit of feedback - both from Twitter and on the comments thread of the blog itself.  Canadian strength coach and therapist, Scott Livingston brought up some excellent points in regards to the confusion often experienced, and identified ‘pathology’ - and as it relates to responsibility - as a possible line in the sand:
“...the problem becomes when athletes are suffering from pathology, or the inherent dysfunctions that have been observed and treated and are not resolving.
The primary reason for the discourse often seen between treating coaches and therapists can lie in the concept of and desire to “box” out or “boxing” in, and this is often ego driven and turf oriented. But it also resides in a deeper more understandable and practical issue, the issue of
responsibility. As professional domain is defined by level of responsibility and this is why as you move further up the food chain of such responsibility the cost of your liability insurance increases. Thus the reason for the often seen discourse between therapists and physicians which at times can be as strong as the one seen between performance coaches and therapists. I spend a lot of money every year for the right to practice therapeutic techniques as well as building and delivering performance training programs, of which both policies have very clear delineations of what I can, and can’t do.

The key issue in the delivery of therapeutic skill sets is the underlying cause of the issue you wish to treat. Therapists spend a long time learning and practicing the art of history taking, differential assessment systems, and understanding how to recognize underlying pathology. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attended courses on skill sets capacity and never once has anyone taught the attendees how to recognize or assess underlying pathology. Skills are often taught in an assess and effect approach, and this works just fine when the practitioner taking the course is a therapist because he/she has already been taught how to approach the process of “clearing” for other potential sources of the problem. When the source of the problem ends up being something far graver than musculoskeletal dysfunction, and the athlete ends up suffering grave consequences, who’s fault does it become? Thus the issue of responsibility being at the forefront of the discourse”.

Now, today - I don’t mess with ‘pathology’...Scott makes some excellent points, and I wholeheartedly agree with everything written above....a decade ago though, it was a different deal - this was trumped by the success (or lack of it) the athlete was currently having with their situation, their desire for me to help out, and my confidence that I actually could help out...pathology be damned!

(I will qualify this by stating that I never stepped outside of my ‘comfort zone’, and employed only those techniques that I was 1) extremely comfortable with and competent in - i.e pretty much only ART-type therapy ‘below the belly button’, and 2) only when I was absolutely certain that any intervention would ‘do no harm’.  Perhaps this was naive, and perhaps I was just lucky, but I don’t believe any athlete ever ‘got worse’...but this is not the point)

So what changed?  What’s the point in all of this?
Well - be patient....I’m coming to it...

how much training time would these two guys have missed without Performance Therapy?

Performance Therapy of some sort, and in some manner, is essential to optimizing the training process of the high performance athlete.  If you have a skilled ‘track-side’ therapist, then fantastic!  Working with a knowledgeable and technical coach - and perhaps even a biomechanist - this can be the perfect training situation.  Unfortunately, this rarely exists.  

If you believe in performance therapy - if you believe in integrating various treatment protocols into your physical training - and you don’t have a therapist, then what can you do?  

As I see it, there are a couple of different scenarios that require a couple of different solutions each:

1. If the S&C coach is the one that recognizes ‘dysfunction’ (e.g. being Lorne’s example in his blog last week), then he could/should intervene to the extent of his skill-set in the attempt to optimize the session.  If he is a qualified therapist (as Scott is, and as are an increasing number of other S&C coaches), then he will have a larger tool-kit to draw from than the rookie S&C coach straight out of the CSCS exam.  Scott has a wide variety of techniques at his disposal, and has the know-how and experience to do so; the rook pretty much has to rely on stretching, foam or ball rolling, and other forms of ‘self-manipulation/treatment’, as Scott refers to here (again from part II’s comments section, and alluding to my F1 analogy):

Just as the driver in the F1 car can tell the mechanics when something isn't right, and in many instances can dial this down to the actual problem. Further there is much they can do themselves with various self therapies such as forms of self-massage like foam and ball rolling, forms of active stretching, nutritional programming and supplementation, etc. that can help them personally manage their own bodies. This translates into how they warm up, cool down, and recover from each training and competition session”.

Focus here is on athlete education...helping the athlete understand how his body moves...what he can do to help it move more efficiently.  And what you - as a coach - can do to aid in this process.  As the lines between therapy and strength & conditioning continue to blur, increasing numbers of strategies are opening up to help the strength coach to do this. From short weekend massage courses, to on-line resources (such as Kelly Starrett’s excellent mobilityWOD), and everything in between, the options are varied and many...

One option that doesn’t exist, though is to STOP.  Stopping a session should only happen under fairly drastic circumstance (i.e. acute injury requiring immediate attention).  If you (or a combination of you and the athlete) cannot get the athlete moving better to at least the point where the session is not potentially  injurious, then move to Plan B.  If you don’t have at least three Plan Bs for every session in your program, then you are doing your athlete a disservice - your programming is incomplete.  If you cannot complete Plan B, then move to Plan C.  If you cannot complete Plan C, then move to Plan D, and so on down the line.  Stopping, picking up your water bottle, and heading home is not a high-performance option!

2. If it is the main (i.e Head Coach) coach who recognizes the ‘dysfunction’, then he has a little more license to ‘experiment’.  My example here is myself as a sprint coach - late 1990s, working with a group of sprinters with no opportunity for ‘qualified’ therapy support (especially on the side of the track). Like Lorne alluded to in his blog, and Lisa mentioned in her comment in part II, the main purpose of this ‘treatment’ was two-fold: 
    1. optimize movement; and 
    2. extend-finish the session.  
I would do whatever I could do to aid in these processes, and not a day went by when an athlete’s training session wasn’t either improved, or extended because of this intervention.  The key again, though, is understanding where the line exists between ‘treating an injury’ and ‘optimizing the training session’. Scott continues: 

“The existence of pathology is not so much the issue as the use of the therapy to ‘treat’ pathology, versus the use of therapy to augment or assist training effects. If your intent is to ‘treat’, then you should have some form of medical qualification. If the intent is to support training effect, then it becomes an available option for delivery by a coach. This can be a slippery slope though as what constitutes real expertise in these adjunct skill sets”. 
I slipped down this slope...many times.  To be honest, as the main coach, it was a fairly straight-forward justification.  Either I dealt with it, or we potentially wait days/weeks to get someone else to look at it, prescribe a treatment program, Plan B sessions, etc.  Best case scenario is we miss a few days of training.  Worse case was we missed much more. This was not acceptable, and again speaks to the generalist nature of coaching.  When you don’t have a team of support (which speaks to almost all athletes and coaches), then what are the options in pursuit of high performance? The S&C coach is normally part of a larger team - a team that would normally include medical support - so the options are often fairly straight-forward: if it’s not within your specific ‘scope of practice’, then pass it along.  For the main coach, this is often not the case.  But the creative coach can still find ways.  
For example, a young coach we worked a lot with in London over the last three years is Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo.  A graduate of the UK’s excellent coaching education program, Jonas worked as an Apprentice Coach for UK Athletics for the last two years.  During this time, he also became an accredited massage therapist (a program actually initiated by UKA specifically designed for coaches).  He learned as much about therapy as he could - spending as much time with the therapy team as he did with the coaching team.  Now - Jonas is a bit of a hustler, and crucially, he was also able to develop his own ‘support network’, recruiting a number of therapists to work with his development group.  Even though none of his athletes could afford therapy, none of them ever went without.  Young student therapists became track-side, performance therapists.  First or second year osteopaths would come to the Center once or twice per week to experience ‘real-world’, practical therapy; it’s always pretty easy to recruit young and eager therapists to help out in sport, as it definitely beats hanging out in a clinic all day.  I encourage all young coaches to develop their own, private support networks.  If you cannot afford part-time therapy from qualified and experienced professionals, then recruiting young volunteers is a great option, for it is usually these guys that are the most dynamic and keen...the ones who will bring the most to the group...the ones who are not afraid to work hard, to think outside the box...
Jonas now coaches the best group of young sprinters in the UK.  He has a team of therapists in support.  All work hard.  All understand the bigger picture. All are volunteers.  
Chijindu Ujah - young sprinter coached by Jonas
This post has taken a few twists and turns in the process of writing it, as a lot of what I was originally going to cover was much more eloquently expanded on by Scott Livingston in the comments of Part once again, this has ended up being far longer than anticipated.  I will expand on the options of the coach in the next post, including how I personally moved I learned patience, cooperation, and empathy... as well as expanding on  what I feel is the main key to success in high performance sport. 

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

more on Performance Therapy - or - how I managed to piss almost everybody off...

"You are what you do. If you do boring, stupid, monotonous work, chances are you’ll end up boring, stupid, and monotonous." 
- Bob Black: The Abolition of Work and Other Essays

I posted a longer blog a few hours ago.
I didn’t like was far too long, and it didn’t really flow.
So I killed it.

Instead, we have the following, and a second part (which is actually a third part - as this follows along from my last post on Performance Therapy) will come along in the next few days.

Here’s my little story...

Very early on in my career, I had the great fortune of spending quite a bit of time in Austin, Texas with Dan Pfaff and his superstar group of post-graduate track and field athletes, including eventual Canadian Olympic gold medalists Donovan Bailey, Glenroy Gilbert and Bruny Surin, and Major Championship medallists Obadele Thompson, Kareem Streete Thompson, Mark Boswell and others.  It was pretty much a Grand Prix ad infinitum - especially during the spring of 1996 in the lead-up to the Atlanta Games, as each day welcomed the arrival of an ever-expanding crowd of on-lookers.  Cameras, reporters, University students, professors, other coaches, other athletes...we all supplemented the circus - heck, even a young Governor Bush made the odd appearance!

It was right around this time that a new therapeutic technique was being ‘experimented’ with.  ART® (Active Release Technique) was officially developed by chiropractor Dr Michael Leahy, but from my understanding/memory, it was the work of Dr Mark Lindsay and Dan Pfaff on that track in central Texas where its acute application to elite sport was first refined. Mentored by legendary track coach Tom Tellez (coach to Carl Lewis, Mike Marsh, Joe Deloach, Floyd Heard, and hundreds of other world-class athletes), Dan very early in his career understood the importance of good therapy - his is an holistic philosophy in the truest sense of the word - and he believed in integrating the therapeutic input into the training process. He likened the elite athlete to a racing car: you wouldn’t send an F1 Ferrari out onto the track without thoroughly checking through its systems, and making any necessary adjustments.  Modification of the car doesn’t end when it drives onto the track: in fact, it’s during qualifying that most of the important work is done.  ‘Parc fermé’  begins when the car first leaves the garage, and ends only when the race begins.  It’s the same in sport - our best work is done when the athlete is out on the track or field - moving - not when he is sat in the garage - on the treatment table.  In ART, Dan had found a technique that promised immediate tissue changes, and with the brilliance of Dr Lindsay set about developing what we now know as ‘track-side’ (or ‘performance’) therapy.  

My apprenticeship involved not only attaching myself to Dan’s hip, but also observing Dr Lindsay as he and Dan prepared Donovan for training.  Often, pre-session therapy would take an hour or more, with additional inputs throughout the session. An overly-sensitive-demanding (and supremely talented) athlete, an analytical-perfectionist coach, and a gifted-detailed therapist - all experimenting with a new(ish) technique - provided the perfect environment to drive the creative process. well as a fertile and fruitful training ground for a young coach from Canada 
(it was also this unique environment - and the lessons learnt within it - that served as the stick that continued to stir the pot year upon year as I matured as a coach...but more on that a little later...)

Dan, with US high-jumper Amy Acuff

Creativity in all areas emerges from the conscious blending of dissimilar subjects. Creative ideas are most frequently new combinations of old ideas; creative thinkers simply look at these old ideas with ‘new eyes’ - examining all the variables, and being open to the unexpected...exposing themselves to the envelope of serendipity. For example, Leonardo da Vinci believed that the first way of looking at a particular problem was too biased to his normal way of thinking; thus, he reconstructed it in order to see it in many different ways. He would continue this process - moving from one perspective to another - until he gained maximum understanding of its essence.

Michael Michalko, in his excellent book, Creative Thinkering, calls this multiplicity of perspectives; it allows us to bring forth a new creative consciousness and expand the possibilities. It is what enabled Einstein to formulate his theory of relativity, which is in essence a description of the interaction between different perspectives. His genius lay in finding a perspective that no one else had taken (Michalko). 
“Imagination is more important than knowledge” - Einstein

It is clear that the more we know, the greater our chance of arriving at compelling combinations. It is also important to understand that this knowledge should extend further than one’s own subject - reaching out into other subjects will lead to a more enlightened understanding - a deeper appreciation.  Most who have risen to eminence in arts, literature or sciences have frequently possessed considerable knowledge of subjects outside their own sphere of activity, as we ‘fill in the gaps’ between these different connections 

It is this ‘dynamic interconnectedness’ that was the greatest lesson I learned from Dan Pfaff.  In our attempts to understand, we too often separate everything into parts, but we cannot effectively analyze a system in terms of its constituent parts. This is reductionist. The body is not reductionist. The body is a complex, dynamical system of interdependence. 

We know this.  in fact, we’ve known this for over a century...

Almost one hundred and fifty years ago, Friedrich Engels accurately describes the state of the physical sciences today: “ the time Engels wrote his Dialectics of Nature, the physical sciences seemed to have rejected the mechanistic world view and drawn closer to the idea of an historical development of nature. Engels mentions three fundamental discoveries: energy and the laws governing its qualitative transformations, the cell as the basic constituent of life, and Darwin’s discovery of the evolution of species. In view of these great discoveries, Engels came to the conclusion that the mechanistic world view was dead." (Prigonine & Stengers). 
...and in 1903, Henri Poincare stated that -
“...small differences in the initial conditions produce very great ones in the final phenomena. A small error in the former will produce an enormous error in the latter. Prediction becomes impossible. Unless these initial changes could be defined and measured, the outcome or deviation caused by these ripples could never be predicted...”. 
This realization led to Edward Lorenz's fascination with the mathematics of complex systems and the beginning of the scientific revolution known as chaos theory: as a small random change is introduced into a system, it causes a ripple effect that can overwhelm and change the long term behavior of the system (that Lorenz termed the “Butterfly Effect”). 
Engels, Poincare, Lorenz, and others, endorsed a complexity view, and it seemed a new world was to open up - one where people thought in terms of processes rather than structures, relationships rather than components, and interconnections rather than separation.
So what happened?

Over 100 years after Engels first signed the death warrant to the mechanistic world-view.  Over 100 years after Poincare first identified the folly in system prediction. 
Over 40 years since Lorenz furthered this understanding.
...we are still clinging to a ‘separatist’ mind-set. Still compartmentalizing systems into smaller and smaller parts.  Still hanging on to our linear and reductionist views.

me, with UK sprinter Marlon Devonish

How can we begin to express deep understanding of how the body moves without having an appreciation of how it falters?  How can we begin to express deep understanding of how the body adapts without having an appreciation of disorder? How can we begin to express deep understanding of sprint mechanics without having an appreciation for mechanical dysfunction? It goes on and is all connected:

“Perhaps the most impressive (example) is that carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, iron, and a few other elements, mixed in just the right way, yield life. has emergent properties not present in or predictable from these constituent parts. There is a kind of awesome synergy between the parts...for the last few centuries the Cartesian project in science has been to break matter down into ever smaller bits in the pursuit of understanding. And this works to some extent. We can understand matter by breaking it down to atoms, then protons and electrons and neutrons, then quarks, then gluons, and so on. We can understand organisms by breaking them down into organs, then tissues, then cells, then organelles, then proteins, then DNA, and so on. Putting things back together in order to understand them is harder and typically comes later in the development of a scientist or of science. Think of the difficulties in understanding how all the cells in our bodies work together, as compared with the study of the cells themselves. Whole new fields of neuroscience and systems biology and network science are arising to accomplish just this. And these fields are arising just now, after centuries of stomping on castles in order to figure them out.
- Nicholas A. Christakis

Spending those springs and summers in Austin taught me that I needed to be more than just a coach.  I needed to dig deeper, by moving side-ways.  In order for me to gain a greater understanding of the athlete and how he adapts, Dan told me I needed to be familiar with so much more than sprinting.  He encouraged me to study pedagogy, biomechanics, neurophysiology, anatomy, biology, nutrition, endocrinology, psychology, philosophy, and yes...therapy. 

And it was this that has repeatedly landed me in hot water with ‘real’ therapists, sports doctors, NGBs, Sports/Training Centers, building managers, CEOs, and sport administrators (I don’t have enough fingers and toes for the numbers of these folk that I have pissed off)

My journey down the road towards deeper understanding of elite sport has seen far too many brick walls.  Far too many times, I have been blocked, told to turn around, to ‘stick to what I know’ leave the therapy to the therapists...the nutrition to the nutritionists...the psychology to the psychologists...

My early appreciation of the integrated nature of sport became both a blessing and a curse.  The lessons I learned from Dan have paved a way for a deeper appreciation and understanding of what coaching is all about.  But it also led to a career-full of getting my knuckles rapped at every turn.  And the subsequent ‘banging of head to wall’, as I grew more and more frustrated at the apparent ignorance of much of the traditional separatist sports system.

In the next post, I will delve a little more into the creative process, into expertise, and how I learned to ‘just get along’...

“to be quite liked by two requires you to be actively hated by ten and mildly irritate twenty” 
- Alain de Botton

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Friday, 15 February 2013

The Fight - a guest-post by Kelsey Andries...

Classical realists opine that war is inevitable.  Liberals argue that war can be eliminated through effective institutions and democratic peace.  Radicals feel the only way war can be eliminated is through revolution, while constructivists argue that if we can change our process of socialization, we can find peace.  The International Olympic Committee have a different plan...

At a time in our history when the world is so full of war and strife, Iran, Russia, and the United States certainly make strange bedfellows.  This most unique of alliances has come about because of the IOC’s innovative and inspired peace-making decision to exclude wrestling from the Olympics starting in 2020.  

However, there is a group of folk out there that don’t see the bigger picture.  They just don’t get it.  Wrestlers.  Wrestling fans.  Seriously?  Yeh - I had no idea either.  I didn’t know that such a person existed.

But - in this new spirit of cooperation and collaboration - I have decided to offer up today’s post to one of these ‘wrestling people’.  Don’t anybody ever say that I didn’t do my part for world peace...

The Fight - a guest-post by Kelsey Andries

The IOC decided on Tuesday that Wrestling is going to be dropped from the Olympics in 2020. The criteria used for the decision included T.V. ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policies and global participation and popularly. 

Really? You voted out….wrestling. THE sport that has been in the modern Olympic games since 1896. THE sport that dates back to the original Olympic Games in 776 BC. THE sport we see pictured on 15 000 year old cave drawings. THE sport that everyone tried in high school (wrestlers will get that joke).  And THE sport that your kids naturally do on the sidelines with one another when you are trying to teach them any other sport. 

I was never a great wrestler. I was recruited after a short but sweet career as a field hockey athlete because I was big, strong, tough and available. My university team needed a body to fill their 72kg weight class and I was it. 

After a crash course in basic technique and strategy, I immersed myself into a world of spandex singlets, cauliflower ear and mats with the lingering smell of bleach. A world where no athlete had a clearly defined neck, or any shoulder ligaments left or knew the meaning of the word “quit”.  And I fell in love. 

I fell in love with the rawness of wrestling. I fell in love with the idea of two athletes pitting their minds and bodies literally against one another. A chess match with tangible consequences. I fell in love with the concept of relaxing in order to explode. With pushing and pulling. With speed. With power. With victory and with failure.  With fighting for something you really want.

Wrestling, just like running, swimming, diving, jumping and sliding is at the core of our mammalian anatomy. We just know how to do them. Our children wrestle without ever being taught how. Animals wrestle for survival, to exert dominance and for fun. My friends outside the bar at 3am wrestle…probably for the same reasons.  

So it is no wonder that athletics, gymnastics, swimming and wrestling were all included the first modern Olympic games in 1896.  

You just can’t take it out.

As I try to navigate how this all makes me feel, I keep coming back to one word. Fight. It just makes me want to fight.

It makes me want to fight for the sport that taught me how to physically push myself harder than I have ever pushed myself before.

It makes me want to fight for the sport where I met some of my greatest friends, including my husband.

It makes me want to fight for the sport that developed the drive that has carried me through my career. 

I owe so much to this sport. I just cannot sit around and see it disappear from the Olympics. 

The thing about wrestlers is that they like a good fight. But they will need our help to win this one. Talk to your family, your friends and your co-workers about the IOC’s decision.  Join the Save Olympic Wrestling Campaign on Facebook and Twitter to show your support and to see what you can do to help these athletes in their fight to save their Olympic dream as well as the dreams of all the future Olympians.

And in a week, when this story starts to fade from the media, continue to talk, continue to post and continue to fight. 

Kelsey Andries is a pretty sharp chick.  Years ago she came through our Strength and Conditioning Practicum course at the University of Calgary, and we had high hopes for her.  Her enthusiasm, creativity, and intelligence fast-tracked her into working with our National Teams, where athletes and coaches fell in love with her.  Apparently, though, she wanted a little more.  Not content in a limited influence into the lives of a group of already high-performers, she instead decided her potential lay elsewhere - somewhere where she could help more people make a more meaningful change in their lives.  Along with her husband, she opened up a training facility, and now is one of the most successful trainers in Alberta, helping hundreds of folk realize their own potentials. She still keeps her feet a little wet in the sport scene, currently helping out a number of local athletes as well as one of Canada’s greatest ever athletes, Summer and Winter Olympian - and four-time Olympic medallist (3 Golds) Hayley Wickenheiser

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

mind over matter: a guest-post by Craig Pickering...

Recently, British sprinter Craig Pickering caused a bit of a stir in the UK by turning out for the British Bobsleigh team - and, after starting the sport only 3 weeks previous - actually competing at the 2013 World Championships in St Moritz, Switzerland.  With personal bests on the track of 6.55 over 60m and 10.14 over 100m, Craig has officially become the fastest sprinter currently on the bobsleigh circuit (though he’s not the quickest ever: Canadian 4x100m Olympic and World Champion sprinter Glenroy Gilbert, who had a 100m PB of 10.10, competed at the 1994 Winter Olympic Games;  American sprinter and NFL player Willie Gault, who also had a 100m PB of 10.10, competed on the US Bobsled team with current US Head Coach Brian Shimer at the 1988 Olympic Games in Nagano; and American sprinter Jeff Laynes, who has a 60m PB of 6.54 and 100m PB of 10.01 competed for the American bobsled team in the 2001-02 season, but never made a World Championship or Olympic Team...many other sprinters have tried the sport out, but to my knowledge, these are the four fastest to ever compete on the World Cup circuit).

I’ve been bugging Craig to write a blog for me for a while now, and I’m glad to say that he’s finally gotten around to doing it!  Currently trying to train at the Olympic bob track in Sochi, Russia (I say ‘trying’ because the track has had a whole host of problems, and training has been delayed repeatedly - at least for all the countries that are not named ‘Russia’!), Craig is just finishing up on his first season as a bobsledder.  

As many of you know, I first started this blog as a bit of an exploration of what defines success in high-performance sport - both from an athlete’s and a coach’s standpoint.  What are the requirements?  What are the commonalities?  What are the differences?  Craig has had some tremendous successes in his career, including bronze at the 2003 World Junior Championships, and bronze in the 4x100m relay at the 2007 World Championships (and 10th in the 100m).  He’s been one of the top sprinters in Europe for close to a decade, so if anyone can speak on success, I believe Craig can.  

Today, through the narrative of transitioning from sprinting to bobsledding, Craig underlines some of the keys to what has led to his triumphs over the years:

Five weeks ago, I stood on the start block of the bobsleigh track in Königssee, high atop a beautiful lake in Bavaria near the Germany-Austria border. I had never pushed a bobsleigh before - not on ice anyway.  I had never been down a bobsleigh track in my life. I had sat in a real bobsleigh once - 30 minutes prior - to make sure I could fit in properly. And here I was, about to push the bob like my life depended on it, jump in, and experience one minute of ???who knows???

It had been a very quick journey to this point. In October 2012 I was informed by UK Athletics that I would not be retained on the funding programme for 2013; partly because I had missed the whole of the 2012 season through injury (I had surgery on one of my lumbar discs). After getting this news, I spoke to Gary Anderson - the Performance Director from British Bobsleigh - about the possibility of trying something new, and he seemed keen. In November I went to do some initial testing, and scored pretty high, and then, in the mid-season squad testing, I actually finished first in all the push tests. 

Off the back of this, I was invited out as part of the team to gain some experience. 

So there I stood - on that block in Königssee. And I felt very, very underprepared. A large part of me didn’t want to do it. But I forced myself to commit to the hit (the initial part of the push to get the sled moving), jumped in, and took the journey down. I did the same an hour later. And the next day. And then again in consecutive weeks. Even now - here in Sochi, Russia (site of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games) - standing on that block, I don’t really want to get into the sled; but I do...  

My family are always asking if I am scared of crashing. I’ve yet to experience one, but I’m obviously apprehensive about what its going to be like.  I don’t think of that on the block., as it’s not something I am in control of.  Bobsleigh can be divided into two parts – part one is the hit and the acceleration of the sled. That’s my bit, and it’s the part that I can control. All of my energy (physical and mental) goes into that 50m section, and I have to perform at my best each time. Once I’m in the bob, my job is pretty much done. I just have to keep my head down and stay as still as possible. Everything that happens after this point is out of my control. I cannot affect it, so I don’t think about it. If we crash, there is not much that I can do to stop it.  I will just have to react to it in the moment that it happens.  Control what I can...don’t stress over what I can’t. 

And that’s what I think gives me an edge over many athletes, and what has allowed me to perform at a high level. There are many out there more physically able than me, but cannot apply themselves like I can.  Many are affected by the unique pressures of competition, when time and again the Major Championships are where I perform at my best. I love the pressure - in fact, I need that pressure to perform optimally. I crave the feeling where every fibre in my body is telling me to bolt - to run away and hide; that feeling when I don’t know if my legs are going to work properly - when the little voice in my head is going “can you really do this?”  Coaches like Stu who have seen me train can tell you that my performance in training is terrible – I look a shadow of my competitive self (I can attest to fact, I could probably dust him over 30m in training - SM). But once I’m at that competition, I am a whole different person.

They say that one’s greatest strength is often one’s greatest weakness, and I feel this definitely applies to me: I want to understand as much about my body and my sport as possible. I’m forever researching nutrition, psychology, physiology, training theory -  anything that I feel will give me an edge and improve my performance. The biggest breakthrough I have had this past year is understanding my body. For example, one of the main hangovers from my long term back problem is that I still get some nerve pain down my leg. Through trial and error (and much research), I’ve learnt the key spots that I have to self-treat in order to manage this pain. One of the great things about spending six-weeks on the bobsleigh circuit is that it’s forced me to learn the sport. It’s been a six-week cram session. 

I understand more what the required physical attributes are, and now I can go and work on improving them. 

My aim is to win another Olympic medal, and the 4-man GB team have a pretty reasonable chance of being in the mix in Sochi next February (they currently sit in 5th place in the World Cup standings - SM). Right now, I’m not good enough to be part of that team. But I can promise you - I wont leave a stone unturned over the next 8 months in my quest to be there.