This week's post is written by West London Track and Field Assistant Coach - Mikel Perry. After originally joining West London Track and Field as an intern Strength & Conditioning Coach, Mikel is now a permanent member of our coaching staff each week and assists both the Sprints & Hurdles and the Pole Vault groups.
I started working with the sprints and hurdles side of WLTF in September 2015. I had always wanted a chance to get involved with sprinting, as I find the purity of the sport fascinating, particularly from a strength and conditioning perspective. At the time, I was also finishing my MSc in Sports Medicine, so was keen not only to see how the sports medicine and coaching teams work together in the real world, but also to get involved and help integrate the rehab and performance elements.
The year started with the coaching team all getting to know each other, talking through the basic plan for the year and then looking more in depth at our first block of training. Initially my role was primarily focussed on providing strength and conditioning support to the athletes in the gym and helping out with testing. My role with the track work was to watch and learn; trying to absorb Laura’s coaching philosophy, seeing how the technical elements are executed, and just as importantly, getting to know the athletes.
Initially, the idea of coaching the athletes for their sprint work was daunting. Whilst I understood the basics of sprint mechanics and some of the various elements that we were trying to work on, I struggled to actually see these in real time with an athlete sprinting in front of me. This was not like watching a footballer run (no offence meant!), all these athletes know how to run and most have a good enough understanding to know what they need to work on – my analysis needed to be on point! The answer to this (for me at least), was slow motion video. I was lucky enough to be able to watch the performance live, then watch it back, and finally chat to Laura about what she had seen and what she thought needed attention. I also found that this was a good chance for me to feed back to the athletes, chatting to them about what they could see and getting to know what they think about during their performance.
Quite quickly, I started to find that I was picking up on things without the need to check the video. The next step was to figure out what to say to correct the things that I was picking up on. This is an interesting topic, as there are a multitude of different cues which get used by different coaches. Talking to all our coaches and listening to how and why they use certain cues was immensely valuable, as was talking about why they would not use certain other cues (no high knees cueing in our camp or Laura might jump out and get you!). I enjoy this side of coaching, as it requires a bit of creativity to figure out how to get the best out of somebody. You can have two athletes with exactly the same mechanical problem, but they may need two completely different solutions for them to be able to correct that problem.
A couple of months into my time at WLTF I was no longer just an S&C coach, but an active member of the WLTF team. I was starting to get to know the athletes better, getting to know the coaches better and beginning to feel like I was adding value to the track coaching. The next area which I was able to explore was the therapy side of things. Through my masters degree, I had sat in with many physios, surgeons and sports doctors, but never any osteopaths. Sitting in with Gareth (and later Jason too) gave me a chance to see how they think about issues, and talk to them about some of the specifics involving our group of athletes. It also gave me a chance to share some of my opinions, so that they got an idea of how I think and see what things I work on with athletes. Unfortunately injuries are a part of any high level sport, but having a cohesive team in place, in which individuals know their roles, is hugely beneficial for the athletes. The fact that Gareth and Jason have a wealth of experience with top level athletes has made it particularly informative for me, and I continue to benefit from having the chance to work with them.
Seemingly out of nowhere, it was competition time. Whilst training had obviously been building towards the indoor season, it still somehow surprised me. Being around the team during this time was particularly interesting. Seeing how people deal with pressure, how personalities change, how focus increases and then also seeing how people respond after whatever performance they are able to produce – be it good or bad. There is no hiding behind a team in this sport, just you against the clock and a few other athletes. Depending on the competition, it may be the time or the win which is most important, but the time never lies. If you ran slow, you ran slow. If you made a clear mistake or you aren’t 100%, that may not bother you too much, but if that is unexpected, it can knock your confidence. As a coach, finding the right balance between giving people space, critiquing, and providing support and positivity was, (and in fact still is) no easy feat.
Thankfully, the indoor season went well and on we went. Although the emphasis of training was continually shifting, the rest of the year including the outdoor season, felt more like a steady progression. This time was more about continuing to improve my track coaching, and taking on a bit more responsibility for rehabilitation and injury prevention. I was also at university more, which actually tied in very nicely (given that I was taking Injury prevention and Rehabilitation modules), allowing me to put real world problems to my lecturers. On a side note - a quick mention of the UCL Sports and Exercise Medicine MSc is worthy, as it has provided me with a level of understanding surrounding injuries, which now feels completely indispensable. Having a better appreciation of the anatomy, mechanisms of injury, the structural damage which injury causes, and the way that different tissues heal and adapt to loading, has definitely made me a better strength and conditioning coach.
Going back to the end of the year… The outdoor season went very well. We seemingly had personal bests at every competition, with very few injury problems. It’s amazing how emotionally vested you become in a short space of time, just from seeing the hard work that has been put in and getting to know everyone. I have to say a big thank you to Laura, Sam, Tim, Gareth, Jason and all the athletes, as I learnt a lot from everyone. It was a great end to my year and although I wasn’t sure what the following year would hold, I hoped to remain a part of WLTF and get a chance to continue to build the programme – Little did I know I’d be working with the pole vault side of WLTF too, more on that another time!