Saturday, 26 May 2018

Very Stable Idiot Week 21: May 21-27 2018


“No, everybody DOES NOT deserve a ribbon.” - Tianna Bartoletta


I didn’t write a lot this week. I read a lot - but wasn’t feeling very creative, and ended up not taking very good notes, and what I did write was a total mess - too messy even for this.  

Never-the-less, some thoughts, and some highlights:

“Smart people use simple language” - Vala Afshar

“You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it.” – Cheryl Strayed

“All that is in accord with you is in accord with me, O World! Nothing which occurs at the right time for you comes too soon or too late for me. All that your seasons produce, O Nature, is fruit for me. It is from you that all things come: all things are within you, and all things move toward you”. - Marcus Aurelius 

“My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it — all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.” - Nietzsche

“A good person dyes events with his own color … and turns whatever happens to his own benefit.” - Seneca

- Yamina Pressler

I’ve written before on the benefits of writing in order to learn something.  

This article differentiates between ‘writing to communicate’ and ‘writing to learn’, which Peter Elbow has called ‘low-stakes writing’ - which is kinda what the point of these weekly posts are - basically unedited notes on my thoughts over the course of the previous week.

“Work on getting comfortable with the messiness of low stakes writing. Let it be just that — messy. Embrace this writing space as part of the process and try not to curate yourself. Writing is iterative, and you’ll always have a chance to perfect it later. Write for the process, not for the outcome.” - 

I think everyone should write.  Not everyone should throw it out on a blog.  But everyone should write.  Blogging about it just forces us to be more concise - to synthesize our thoughts more effectively.

“This illustrates one of the most important principles of framing a debate: When arguing against the other side, don’t use their language because it evokes their frame and not the frame you seek to establish. Never repeat their charges! Instead, use your own words and values to reframe the conversation.” George Lakoff, offering advice to democrats on how to deal with our favorite president. 

Basically - “Don’t wrestle with pigs. You both get filthy and the pig likes it.” - unknown (not Shaw or Twain)

“... one of the central principles behind my philosophy has been “Don’t destroy all existing systems and hope a planet-sized ghost makes everything work out”. Systems are hard. Institutions are hard. If your goal is to replace the current systems with better ones, then destroying the current system is 1% of the work, and building the better ones is 99% of it. Throughout history, dozens of movements have doomed entire civilizations by focusing on the “destroying the current system” step and expecting the “build a better one” step to happen on its own. That never works. The best parts of conservativism are the ones that guard this insight and shout it at a world too prone to taking shortcuts.” Scott Alexander

This article was shared a ton - ironically - on social media this week:

It speaks for itself really.  There is increasing evidence that time spent on social media directly correlates with depression - especially in young people.  

I really hope with the increased awareness around this that we will begin to see a pendulum swing.  

In my experience, it’s especially problematic for athletes.  But that is obviously my bias, as it is the world I live in.

This article on lactate shuttle was also widely shared.  

I would suggest giving it a read - as well as the paper that led to it if you are interested.

George A. Brooks, The Science and Translation of Lactate Shuttle Theory, Cell Metabolism (2018).

The takeaway:

Starting in the 1970s, University of California, Berkeley professor George Brooks began to show that lactate wasn’t a waste product; it was a fuel, and in fact is often the preferred source of energy in the body.  

"It was thought that lactate is made in muscles when there is not enough oxygen. It has been thought to be a fatigue agent, a metabolic waste product, a metabolic poison. But the classic mistake was to note that when a cell was under stress, there was a lot of lactate, then blame it on lactate. The proper interpretation is that lactate production is a strain response, it's there to compensate for metabolic stress. It is the way cells push back on deficits in metabolism." - Brooks

As well as a fuel, lactate serves two other primary purposes within the body: 1) it's the major material to support blood sugar level; and, 2) it's a powerful signal for metabolic adaptation to stress.

From the article, as it relates to the ‘lactate shuttle’:  

“He discovered that normal muscle cells produce lactate all the time, and coined the term "lactate shuttle" to describe the feedback loops by which lactate is an intermediary supporting the body's cells in many tissues and organs.

We all store energy in several forms: as glycogen, made from carbohydrates in the diet and stored in the muscles; and as fatty acids, in the form of triglycerides, stored in adipose tissue. When energy is needed, the body breaks down glycogen into lactate and glucose and adipose fat into fatty acids, all of which are distributed throughout the body through the bloodstream as general fuel. However, Brooks said, he and his lab colleagues have shown that lactate is the major fuel source.”


Last week, it came up in one of the ACP Pool-side Chats about who is the best sprint coach in history.  Here was my answer:

How do you define it?  If you define it as coaching the best sprinter in history, then the best coach is clearly Glenn Mills.  Because here is the reality: Usain Bolt won 9 Olympic gold medals.  Glenn Mills coached him that entire time.  Saying that Bolt could have done this, or could have done that if he was with another coach is moot.  That ignores REALITY.  And REALITY is what we should be defined by.  That is the only thing that matters.  

All that matters is what is

I have been meditating on this a lot lately.  

I’m going to attempt to riff on ‘it is what it is’, and turn this into a longer post.  

Life is what it is - not what it should be. 

“We Are What We Are Because of What We Were, When” - Freud

Truth exists not in what you’ve been told, but in what you find out for yourself. 

“The truth you speak has no past and no future. It is, and that’s all it needs to be.” - Richard Bach

“Why should you, the reader, care? I suppose it depends on whom you ask, but for me, they point to big questions—about how language attaches to the world, the nature of truth, reference, realism, relativism, progress. Questions that continue to demand answers. Can we have knowledge of the past? Does science progress toward a more truthful apperception of the physical world? Or is it all a matter of opinion, a sociological phenomenon that reflects consensus, not truth?” - Errol Morris


"I think this way of talking and thinking that I am engaged in opens up a range of possibilities that can be investigated. But it, like any scientific construct, has to be evaluated simply for its utility—for what you can do with it." - Thomas Kuhn

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Very Stable Idiot Week 20: May 14-20 2018


“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero.” — Charlie Munger


“The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it.” - V. S. Naipaul

Skill first - load second. 

The one-factor model of super-compensation is an easy one to attach justification to: load the system to a point where it requires adaptive rebound above baseline. It is theoretically predictive and can be applied to multiple different sports, events, exercises, and loads. 

The reality, however, is not quite so simple. 

Even two-factor fitness-fatigue models reduce the very complex process of progression down to relatively simple constructs. These models also tend to lead coaches into focusing more on the bio-motor development, rather than technical constructs. 

Reducing progression to the relatively simple organization of the relationship between volume and intensity through the 'organized-periodized' plan is just the beginning of the training process. I fear that far too many of us see this as the ending.  

The organization of skill acquisition should be seen not as an adjunct to coaching, but as the primary objective. 

Skill first - load second. 

"For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong." -  H. L. Mencken

Creativity is the skill to come up with different solutions to the same problem 

We are at our most creative when confronted with constraints.

Time is the ultimate constraint.

“It is a commonplace observation that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Thus, an elderly lady of leisure can spend the entire day in writing and despatching a postcard to her niece at Bognor Regis. An hour will be spent in finding the postcard, another in hunting for spectacles, half-an-hour in a search for the address, an hour and a quarter in composition, and twenty minutes in deciding whether or not to take an umbrella when going to the pillar-box in the next street. The total effort which would occupy a busy man for three minutes all told may in this fashion leave another person prostrate after a day of doubt, anxiety and toil.” - Cyrill N. Parkinson, 1955

“For all of us in every creative endeavor, the first battle is with self-consciousness” - Brian Koppelman

Critical thinking & Creative thinking

"Creative thinking is divergent, critical thinking is convergent; whereas creative thinking tries to create something new, critical thinking seeks to assess worth or validity in something that exists; whereas creative thinking is carried on by violating accepted principles, critical thinking is carried on by applying accepted principles. Although creative and critical thinking may very well be different sides of the same coin they are not identical.” - Beyer, 1987

Comfort is antithetical to success. Comfort makes no demands, and success takes root in meeting demands in new and challenging ways. 

We need to do a better job of seeking out more challenging situations.  

To challenge ourselves as coaches, and how we challenge the athletes we work with

We discussed this at an ALTIS ACP pool-side chat this week.  

I place as much emphasis on the organization of psychological challenges as I on the organization of physical challenges.  

The stability of a skill is solely dependent upon psychology.  To paraphrase Ben Hogan, ‘an effective sprint is a sprint that can withstand pressure.’

The ‘periodization’ of physical load and the adaptation to that load is rooted in the effective organization of this load such that the athlete can perform most-optimally at the most appropriate time.  That’s great - but if we ignore the organization of the psychological load, and we have a skill that is ‘physically stable’, but not ‘psychologically stable’, then we are not going to observe an optimal performance, no matter how good a job we have done with the organization of the physical load.

Learning to Learn

I get this question a lot:

“How do you recommend I go about learning?”

My answer -‘ it doesn’t matter, and it matters totally.’

It doesn’t matter, because just because one person learns one way does not make it the way for you.  My way isn’t necessarily your way.

It matters totally because learning doesn’t just happen.

Learning isn’t something that happens to us.  

It happens with us. 

The traditional education model - where we are spoken at, and we are responsible simply for remembering what is said -  is not learning.  

We should not confuse education with educating.  

One is a system.  The other is a method.  

And like all methods, we must take an active interest in determining the most appropriate one for each of us. 

We all have the ability to learn.  

It just begins with being curious.

Perhaps my greatest issue with younger people today is that they lack any significant curiosity.   

But that’s another story (cue old-man rant)

Back to learning to learn.  

In Giftedness: predicting the speed of expertise acquisition by intellectual ability and metacognitive skillfulness of novices, Veenman (2008) writes about the importance of the development of metacognitive skills - such as planning, monitoring, and reflection - on intelligence and learning: “Although correlated to intelligence, metacognitive skills appear to have a robust additional value for the prediction of novice learning on top of intelligence. Apparently, being gifted not only implies a high intelligence level but also requires a well-developed repertoire of metacognitive skills that may help you to cope with new, unfamiliar learning tasks.”

Essentially, people who think about their thinking will outscore higher-IQ people when it comes to learning something new.  Veenman’s research suggests that in terms of developing mastery, focusing on how we understand is up to 15% more important than ‘innate intelligence’.

Ask anyone who is a good learner, and you will find that they do two things well:

  1. They think about their thinking (metacognition)
  2. They reflect upon their learning (reflection)

So - “How do you recommend I go about learning?”

  1. Engage in metacognition.  Think about what you are thinking about.  Stop and ask yourself if you truly understand something, or whether you are simply parroting what you hear.  Can you explain it to a child?  The ‘Feynman Technique’ is useful here.  
  2. Reflect often upon what you learn.  Reflection has been described as “the intentional attempt to synthesize, abstract, and articulate the key lessons taught by experience.” (Di Stefano, et. al., 2014). This should be an active and dynamic process.  It could be something as simple as taking 15 minutes at the end of each day to reflect upon what you heard, wrote, read during that day; or it could be something more structured.  I encourage folks to find the way that best works for them - design your own particular method. Most important here, is to make the time for it.  Carve out a consistent time each day/week to sit down by yourself, and reflect upon what it is you have been spending your mental energies on.  Be critical.  If you’re not happy with the results, then change it. (Again - a subject for another day).  

“Learning, we find, can be augmented if one deliberately focuses on thinking about what one has been doing. In addition to showing a significant performance differential when comparing learning-by-doing alone to learning-by-doing coupled with reflection, we also demonstrate that the effect of reflection on learning is mediated by greater self-efficacy." - Di Stefano, et. al., 2014

I have little sympathy with those who complain about a lack of jobs; that the changing society is leaving them behind.  The reality is - and always has been - that the world progresses.  And we have to progress along with it.  That means that we have to take the time to actually reflect on what it is we are doing, how we fit into this world, and whether for not our skills remain essential.  

We have to carve out the time to learn.

The truth is there is not a lack of jobs; there is a lack of skills and the knowledge of folks to fill the jobs that are available.  

But rather than upgrading their skillsets, learning new skills - actually putting in some effort to move along with the progression of change, rather than fighting it, these folks prefer to complain.  Its how we ended up where we are: romantically clinging to some mythical ideal of when we were ‘great’.  

From The Atlantic, in 2015: 
“Employers across industries and regions have complained for years about a lack of skilled workers, and their complaints are borne out in U.S. employment data. In July [2015], the number of job postings reached its highest level ever, at 5.8 million, and the unemployment rate was comfortably below the post-World War II average. But, at the same time, over 17 million Americans are either unemployed, not working but interested in finding work, or doing part-time work but aspiring to full-time work.”

But it is easier to blame the immigrants than to actually get your head from out of your iPhone, or away from your TV screen, and actually read a book.  

“At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” he said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective … the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.” 

These two things, he added, “have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.”

To this day, reading has remained an essential part of his daily life. He recently gave his daughter Malia a Kindle filled with books he wanted to share with her (including “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Golden Notebook” and “The Woman Warrior”). And most every night in the White House, he would read for an hour or so late at night — reading that was deep and ecumenical, ranging from contemporary literary fiction (the last novel he read was Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad”) to classic novels to groundbreaking works of nonfiction like Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Sixth Extinction.”

Mr. Obama says he is hoping to eventually use his presidential center website “to widen the audience for good books” — something he’s already done with regular lists of book recommendations — and then encourage a public “conversation about books.”

“At a time,” he says, “when so much of our politics is trying to manage this clash of cultures brought about by globalization and technology and migration, the role of stories to unify — as opposed to divide, to engage rather than to marginalize — is more important than ever.”

You see, it’s not the Mexicans that are coming for our jobs.  It’s the computers!

The Seven Stages of Robot Replacement: 

  1. A robot/ computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do. 
  2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do. 
  3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often. 
  4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks. 
  5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do. 
  6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more! 
  7. [Later.] I am so glad a robot/ computer cannot possibly do what I do now. [Repeat.] 

This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do.

From The Inevitable - by Kevin Kelly

Want to keep up with the machines? 
Get to learning.

The Coaching Eye

One of the most frequent questions we get from visiting coaches at ALTIS is “how did you develop your ‘coaching eye’?”

The answer is really quite simple: we have watched a lot of athletes do stuff!  And paid very close attention while doing so!  In the days where iPhones, inexpensive high-speed cameras, biomechanical analysis apps, and wearables did not exist, watching closely was our only option to better understand what was going on.  

It is a frequent critique of technology that many have become over-reliant upon it.  The attention that our technology demands from us has not only retarded our ability to be present but has led to a ‘cognitive offload’, whereby our reliance on the technology saves us from having to develop the skills ourselves (google and satellite navigation map systems have, for example, undoubtedly negatively affected our ability to retain directions and information)

This is no different in sport performance.  

Whether it is VBT, Dartfish, HMV, GPS, or any other of the host of new wearables that are flooding the market each week, we are continually being sold technological ‘upgrades’ that will supposedly make our coaching easier and more effective.  

But in so doing, is it negatively affecting our actual ability to coach?  

"Our lives today are strung with a profound and constant tension between the virtues of more technology and the personal necessity of less” - Kevin Kelly

Creator of Wired Magazine Kevin Kelly knows more than most the impact - both positive and negative - that technology has had on our lives, and has written extensively on the tension he mentions above.  The coaching profession is increasingly familiar with the struggle of implementing technology in a constructive manner, while still maintaining the core requirements necessary to effectively actually coach.   The question of whether technology is negatively affecting coaching quality at a meta-level is one that must be addressed.

I feel that a pendulum swing is upon us - a reaction to the saturation of technology and a dilution of quality, where coaches once again will be forced to develop a ‘coaching eye’; supported by technology - rather than dominated by it; an idea that is elaborated upon in our friend Brian Mackenzie’s excellent book Unplugged; and which has our mutual friend Dr. Kelly Starrett agreeing:

“Looking to technology alone to solve health problems, improve movement and meet fitness goals doesn’t work. What does is fine-tuning your instincts and self-awareness.”


“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” — Mahatma Gandhi