Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Nature v Nurture in youth sports - blog post from Phil Loomis - IYCA

Hi all,

I wanted to share with you this really well written article from Phil Loomis that was posted on the International Youth Conditioning Association website which looks to outline the how young players and athletes develop and to unpick some of the myths and misinformation surrounding the subject. In my opinion the article is really well measured and balanced and gives a well structured viewpoint on the challenges faced by parents and coaches in a landscape that is very outcome driven.

The article chimes with many of the sentiments I have previously expressed on the nurture vs nature debate on this blog previously and so i thought that it should have a place here so that I could share it with anybody that is interested in the subject.


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

What is talent? Excellent article by Scott Barry Kaufman

Hi all, 

I wanted to share this article I came across by Scott Barry Kaufman, an award-winning psychologist and author. He is adjunct assistant professor of psychology at New York University and has written a number of excellent books on talent and expertise including Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined and The complexity of greatness: beyond talent or practice. 

The article is one of the the most well written, accessible and balanced accounts of the research relating to talent that I have read. It takes an extremely complex area and manages to package the key findings into a really neat and well written package. 

From my perspective Kaufman has superbly outlined the delicate interplay between innate characteristics as defined by nature through genetic inheritance and the socialising influence of the developmental environment. 

I have written a previous blog post on this subject which gets nowhere near as close to Kaufman in terms of a well reasoned and written article but hopefully provides a slightly different slant on the same theme.


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

When to start specialising in sport - the debate rages on!

In the excellent 'The Talent Code' Blog, Daniel Coyle posted the following passage discussing the potential pitfalls of kids specialising early in sports...

"In the glossy heart of the 1980s, in the dimly lit halls of East Anchorage High School there walked a god. He was rangy, blond, and bore the cinematically perfect name of Trace Savage. And Trace Savage was awesome
(Just say it out loud: Trace Savage.)
Trace Savage was awesome partly because he was cool, partly because he was nice, but mostly because he was the best all-around athlete any of us had ever seen: quarterback of the football team, starting forward on the basketball team, and track star. He was living our American sports dream, and the dream of everyone we knew.
Then, in the space of a few years, that dream changed.
Maybe it was the rise of superfocused prodigies like Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, and the Williams sisters. Maybe it was the rise of parenting as a competitive sport. Maybe it was the ESPN-ification of youth sports, which lost its community base and morphed into a free-market bazaar of travel teams, trophies, and tournaments, with each kid (read: parent) seeking the holy grail of success: the college scholarship.
By the time the mid-nineties rolled around Trace Savage had vanished from the landscape like the white rhino. In his place stood a different species: the specialists.
Every sport became a highly organized year-round enterprise: indoor soccer in winter, hockey in summer, baseball all year round. Suddenly kids had to choose before they turned 10 or so, or risk falling behind the pack. The logic seems straightforward: if you want to be good at a sport, you should play intensively year-round. It makes perfect sense.
It was also, in retrospect, a perfectly bad idea. While early specialization works for a lucky few, an increasingly large wave of research has provided proof that early specialization doesn’t work so well for the rest of us. Let us count the ways:

I think the bigger point is this: when it comes to athletic skills, we are natural omnivores. Our bodies and brains are built to grow through variety of activities, not just one.
Think about what happens when you play multiple sports. You develop whole-body skills like balance, quickness, core strength. You cross-train skills from one sport to another.
It is not a coincidence that many top performers were multiple-sport kids growing up. Roger Federer played soccer until 12; Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant did the same. The reason they possess such brilliant footwork and vision is because they built those skills, over time, by being omnivorous.
Most important, multi-sport kids develop a far more useful skill: how to learn. They learn how to adapt to different situations, make connections, and to take true ownership over the improvement process.
I’d also argue that multi-sport kids have a better chance to stay emotionally healthy, because they’re free of the all-the-eggs-in-one-basket pressure that goes with specialization — a pressure that can lead unhealthy patterns when it comes to relationships and emotional stability. (See: Woods, Tiger.) They are free of the sense that, should they fail, they are at risk of losing their identity, and letting down their parents.
So the real question is, what do you do? How do you nurture a Trace Savage in a Tiger Woods world? Here are three useful approaches, courtesy of Ross Tucker of The Science of Sport, who’s written widely on the subject.
  • Delay: wait as long as possible before choosing a single sport to pursue. It varies according to sport, but research puts the ideal age for specialization around the early teenage years. (That doesn’t mean you start at that age, of course, but rather that you start getting serious.)
  • Diversify: embrace all possibilities to broaden skills. Experiment and cross train.
  • Co-operate: seek ways to build connections between the silos of individual sports, so that families are not forced to choose one over the other too soon.
I’d add one more word: Connect. One of the main reason specialization is hard to resist is the parental peer-pressure that comes with joining any “elite” team. When every other family on the team is skipping school to travel to that “prestigious” out-of-state tournament, it’s awfully hard to say no. So I’d suggest seeking out other parents, kids, and coaches who share the multi-sport view, and working together to create fun, homegrown, omnivorous alternatives."

This post cause a massive ammount of debate in the comments area and I put forward my own view (as you might have guessed I would) I thought I would share it here.

For me...this is actually a moral argument as it raises questions that relate to the best way for us to bring up our children. Some think that they need to provide opportunity and put investment into their children from an early age to give their kids the best chance in life. Others are fearful that this approach will have the opposite effect in the long run as a generation of 'pushy parents' sees a generation of kids fall out of love with a sport that they have been doing for too long. 

Within rugby we have researched this area as we have a major problem with kids leaving the sport between the ages of 16 and 24 and we have discovered that the earlier kids start playing the more likely they are to drop out. We also discovered that the main reasons for drop out relate to burnout due to boredom or the attraction of other sport which suggest to us that the varied diet of sport for as late as possible is very important. We are working very hard to ensure that our talent selection systems are now starting much later (i.e. post maturation) so that we keep windows open to kids who have great athletic ability and drop out of other sports. From our perspective we hope the other sports keep going with their early specialisation models as we may well benefit long term! 

Much of the problem stems from the fact that kid's sport has become big business. The weight of evidence in support of the late specialisation model  (see this link for some more is pretty heavy and yet people are still finding spurious arguments in support of it...why...because their livelihoods depend on it! 

The problem is that every time we get an elite star that came from a early specialised background that this is presented as the case for this model, the media love to report this and it then takes on a bit of a folk following as a story. What nobody will consider is the 100's of kids that did the same but didn't make it and dropped out. It comes down to a straight trade off...the odd elite star and the risk of large scale drop out or a healthy sport full of lifelong participants and the promise of more elite stars as a happy by product. 

The challenge for sports administrators is that we try to use research and logic to strengthen our argument but we are fighting against a powerful triumvirate of the hard line opinions of a commercial industry fueled by parents who are emotionally attached to the futures of their children which is in turn powered by the media's delight in a romantic story of the 'boy or girl done good' by trying hard from early childhood. 

I am fearful that the only way that this super tanker can be turned around will be be when it is too late....

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Great video explaining Carol Dweck's Growth and Fixed mindset concept

Hi all,

I found this great video which explains Carol Dweck's concept of a 'Growth Mindset' and thought I would share it with you.

I think that this aspect of developing young sports participants is the bit that I see being missed so often. Everywhere you go in kids sports there are people who are bombarding them with external influences that foster a fixed mindset. The way we praise, the fact that it is always about winning and losing, the things shouted by parents from the sideline all drive children into having fixed mindsets.

Anyway I will let you take a look for yourself.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Golf Boys 2.Oh!

Some of you might remember the original 'Golf Boys' video when Hunter Mahan, Ricky Fowler, Ben Crane and Bubba Watson got together to produce a spoof music video called 'Oh, Oh, Oh' which went viral and got over 6.5 Million views. If you missed it here it is is also worth watching the 'making of' series which is just as hilarious.

Well they are back with Golf Boys '2.Oh!' this is really slick and the lyrics are really clever.

Enjoy and share

Friday, 3 August 2012

Rudy Duran - A master coach in every sense of the word, the ultimate unsung hero

I was once fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to listen to a gentleman called Rudy Duran talk about his coaching. You maybe forgiven for not knowing who Rudy Duran is as not many people have heard of him, he was Tiger Wood's golf coach from the age of 4 to 10. Firstly, I have to say that you can not imagine a more self effacing, humble and genuine person. Rudy was honest and open and prepared to admit the mistakes he made as much as the good things he did. In many ways he underplayed his involvement in Tiger's development often just suggesting that all he did was get out of the way of a genius being nurtured. For me he played an absolutely critical role in enabling Woods, who was undoubtedly well above average in his golfing abilities as a four year old (much of this can be put down to his early experiences with his father who was a recent convert to golf and a total golf nut) as Rudy recalls, "not many 4 year olds can read their own putts".The amazing thing is that I'm not even sure if Rudy himself, fully appreciates the role he played.To me the story is a fascinating one because, as with most stories about exceptional talent or outliers there are so many aspects that contribute to the development of Woods. It is my belief that Rudy Duran was at heart of many of them, I will try to list them as best I can below:
1. Rudy's coaching philosophy is based on the fact that he believes golf is a pretty easy game to play. With a little time and practice most people will improve quickly. The game is very hard at the elite level with tiny margins deciding success and failure but the key for Rudy is to let people experience the joy of the game so that they develop a love for the activity which will then drive them into lifelong participation. The rest takes care of itself. - Rudy wants his pupils to fall in love with the game - a critical ingredient to intrinsically motivated future improvement. 
2. Rudy was the owner operator of an 18 hole par 3 public golf facility in southern calafornia, as such he had complete control over timetabling of the course and was so committed to junior golf that he would block out the 1st tee on a Saturday morning for junior competitions even though he could have sold the green fees to adult players 3 times over. As the owner operator his income was mostly derived from green fees, coaching was a sideline and something he did mostly for fun. In this respect taking 2 hours or so at a time to coach Tiger and play golf with him was no problem and meant that Tiger had a unique  opportunity to play alongside his coach, observe, experiment and explore. Rudy had such freedom that he would often play games with Tiger that involved curving the ball around the club house or hitting a shot under a picnic table! -How many kids get the opportunity to play games with their coach and to have the freedom to experiment with a guide at their side? 
3. Rudy's coaching took place 85% of the time on the golf course and 15% away from the course on the practice areas. On the infrequent occassions when they were on the range they would be going through all aspects of the game working backwards from the putting green to the full swing. . - Tiger learned to play the game and to develop his own solutions to getting the ball in the hole, he learned this before he tried to refine his technique and as such he developed the ability to score and play instead if just learning skills outside of the context of the game which can often be the experience of many youngsters.
4. Tiger, his father and Rudy would spend about an hour after each session chatting about the session and Tiger's game. These post game chats were also described by Rudy as 'brainstorming' sessions where they would create practice programme designed to enable Tiger to play his best in competitions. There were typically 5 or 6 sessions per month sometimes more if Tiger was leading to one of the major junior tournaments which were 8 to 10 a year. - Rudy ensured that Tiger took his learning away with him and work on things when Tiger was at home. This way he was able to guide the Tiger's practice time between coaching sessions and make that practice time more deliberate. 
5. Rudy said that his coaching was based on challenging Tiger to achieve certain goals. An example of this was the way Rudy created Tiger's 'personal par' where Tiger would be trying to play a hole in less shots than the number set for him by Rudy. Rudy says that the biggest difficulty for him in this was to kep coming up with things that pushed Tiger enough to maintain his interest. - By setting challenges and obstacles for Tiger to overcome he maintained his motivation and also allowed him to develop skill more rapidly through guided experimentation.
6. Rudy describes his coaching style as "waiting for the coachable moments" where he would wait for Tiger to stumble at something and then ask him questions about how what he could do to acheive the goal. - this questioning approach has been shown to be a route to giving the player/athlete ownership of their development which means that they learn new tactics and skills and they reatin the knowledge much more effectively than if they are merely told how to solve the problem. 
To me, so much of what Rudy Duran explained about the way he approached coaching Tiger Woods points to him being a highly accomplished coach of children as well as being a high performing coach of talent. I find it difficult to imagine that these early experiences did not provide the foundations for Tiger's future development and gave him a major headstart over so many of his contemporaries. I often wonder what might have happened if Tiger hadn't found Rudy. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

When is a coach a good coach? When they talk less....

Those of you who follow my posts will know that I coach a hockey team as well as work with performance golfers. Well this season my team has been struggling...well by struggling I mean we are rock bottom of the league. I have been busy with work and haven't really been able to do enough with them or be focussed enough to get them to understand what needs to be done. They are talented but young and  inexperienced and we are losing games that we should be winning because they are not really able to execute game plans effectively. Anyway, I haven't been doing the rounds of the blogs that I follow very much recently and I have been missing out on some really good bits of information consequently.

Here is another great nugget from Dan Coyle author of The Talent Code on how great coaches communicate.

I know I am going to be applying this from now on and hopefully our fortunes might change around.

Happy reading.