10 Ways To Improve Performance

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10 Ways To Improve Performance

Max Eaves training at Solent HPA

Max Eaves training at Solent HPA

This past weekend at the British Universities Championships we sat down with Dan Cruse and Jordan Niblock of Solent University's High Performance Academy (HPA) team and heard their thoughts on the best ways for athletes to improve their performance. The team at HPA have worked with West London Track and Field pole vaulters Max Eaves, Courtney MacGuire, Laura Edwards, Kieran Apps and Dan Hoiles - three of whom opened their outdoor seasons with new personal bests over the weekend.

Here are their top 10 ways that you can improve your performance:

Willingness to Learn - A common trait among all great athletes is an insatiable desire to get better. Each training session and competition is a fantastic opportunity for you to learn and improve – imagine how much better you could be if you embrace this for the rest of your athletic career?

Open To Constructive Criticism - This is very important in our opinion, and something that a lot of athletes can struggle with. Part of the learning process is being able to take on board constructive criticism, and harness that as fuel to improve in future sessions and competitions. Good coaches have your best interests at heart, any criticism is designed to help you get better - not as a deformation of your character!

Get On Top Of Your Nutrition - An easy way to gain an advantage on your competition, given it’s a performance variable often overlooked by a lot of athletes. How can you expect your mind and body to perform at its best, if you’re fuelling them with foods that give you nothing in return?

WLTF athlete Laura Edwards - Student at Solent University

WLTF athlete Laura Edwards - Student at Solent University

Surround Yourself With Like Minded People - “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with” (Jim Rohn). Make sure that support network is allowing you to be the best possible athlete and person that you can be.

Don’t Cut Corners In The Warm Up - Sessions and Competitions start with the warm up – this is the perfect time to get your mind and body best prepared to go out and execute. Cutting corners and missing elements of your routine, just lends itself to poor preparation. Focus your mind on what you’re there to do.

Flick The Switch Approach to Training and Competition - This leads on nicely from our last point about not cutting corners. Some days, we don’t want to train. We don’t want to work, and we find distraction wherever possible. Flicking the switch affords us the opportunity to leave our bags at the door when it’s time to train, and make sure that we leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of excellence.

Courtney Macguire working with  HPA manager - James Grant

Courtney Macguire working with

HPA manager - James Grant

Use Your Time Away From Training - Every day is game day by Mark Versteghen summarises this point quite nicely. Time is a precious commodity, and recognising that every hour of the day is an opportunity to improve performance can help you get even more out of your training. Taking the time to consider things such as a bedtime routine, or even preparing food ahead of time can help to form long term habits which will make your time away from the track more productive. Count up how many hours you spend at training against how many you don’t, and then tell us you couldn’t be doing more!

Keep A Training Diary - Keeping a simple log of how long your sessions are and how hard they are on a scale from 1 to 10 is a great way to keep track of how much your training is progressing week to week, as well as showing trends in your wellness over the course of a season.

Ask Questions Of Your Coaches - Not surprisingly, coaches love what they do, almost as much as athletes love winning.  Questioning the process may seem counter intuitive, but asking your coach about the rationale behind what you do in training is a great way to help reinforce your own understanding of how each session contributes to achieving your season goals. It also creates accountability for your coach as well. Some of the best changes we’ve made to an athletes programme have come off the back of their own ideas.

Play The Long Game - Nobody wants to be a glass cannon. Reframing adversity as opportunity is a great idea, rather than sacrificing long term progress for short term gain, which can cost you success in the long run. Not only that, but making sure you are consistently prepared to train and compete by managing your workloads and recovery strategies will mean more chances to succeed every season. So many potentially great athletes have their careers cut short by injuries and setbacks that could have been avoided. Don’t let this be you.


Dan, Jordan thank you for your time and all the best to you and the athletes you work with on your future success. There will be plenty of West London Track and Field athletes hoping to maximise their own performance this weekend as they start their outdoor campaigns at their respective British Leagues and U.K Women's Leagues. Good luck!

 

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Strategies For Adverse Weather

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Strategies For Adverse Weather

Strategies for Competitions

The weather in the U.K can have a significant impact on the results of a competition, good or bad. When the weather isn’t preferable, whether it be raining, windy or too cold or hot, who wins the competition can often depend on who is the most prepared for the conditions. Here’s our advice on how to deal with the conditions you may face when competing.

Rain and Cold Weather

One of these two alone can significantly impact your competition and when they come as a pair, you certainly need to be prepared. A lot of what you need to deal with the rain and cold weather is covered in our previous post ‘Pole Vaulter’s Kit Bag’ and being able to deal with these conditions often comes down to planning. Your main priorities are staying warm and dry and ensuring that your grip on the pole is dry. When the conditions are poor then we would suggest giving yourself an easy start point. It’s always worth remembering that it doesn’t matter where you start in the competition, but where you finish, and how you get to the finish can often dictate how far you go.

Your first priority is to make sure you are in a position to clear a bar; this alone may be enough to win you a medal or even the competition. Whether you start the competition from a shorter run, with an easier pole, or a lower grip, make sure you’re ready to clear a bar on your first attempt. Where you go from this point can vary. The conditions may improve and you can then go back to your full run, or you may choose to continue from the shorter run if you are being successful. If you’re at a championships, it may also be worth keeping a note of how your competitors are getting on in the poor conditions.

One competition where the conditions were certainly not preferable was the women’s pole vault at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. There were 12 competitors, 4 of which cleared a bar and subsequently won a medal as the bronze medal was shared. One partnership who dealt with these conditions very well were athlete Sally Peake and coach Scott Simpson. Finishing with a vault of 4.25m and winning the silver medal, Sally finished 45cm ahead of the two bronze medallists; her ranking going into the competition would have put her fourth. Sally’s incredible performance in terrible conditions on that evening was down to planning. Coach Scott Simpson had the following to say:

"What happened that night did not happen by chance… it was not luck… it was prepared for thoroughly… everyone knew the weather was coming."

Anyone wanting to watch a 10 minute video of the competition can do so here:

Wind

The wind can have potentially both a positive and a negative effect when competing. Similarly to the decisions you have to make in cold and wet weather, the decisions you make when factoring in the wind should always be around how you can produce your best performance on the day. If the wind isn’t favourable and is either a head or cross wind, then you need to start the competition in a position ready to clear the bar. It’s far easier to deal with the wind from a shorter run and using smaller pole than it is from a longer run on bigger poles.

On a more positive note, if you arrive at a competition where there is a big tail wind, then you need to be prepared for the potential extra speed it may give you on the run up. There are a couple of options with a tail wind. Firstly you could take full advantage of the wind and if you have packed the correct poles, then using a bigger pole than normal may help you vault higher. The second option, if you are blowing through the biggest pole you have, is to shorten your run up by a certain number of strides. Again this is about maximising your performance on the day. So if coming in two or four strides means that instead of blowing through the bar every time you’re able to clear a bar, then great!

Hot Weather

The previous three factors can have an obvious potential negative impact on performance, however the one that can catch us most off guard, probably due to least expecting it, is the hot weather. Aside from ensuring you have enough sun cream on - we’d suggest asking someone else to apply this for you! - staying in the shade, and providing the wind is favourable, the sun shouldn’t pose too many problems. The biggest problem the sun can cause is when it comes to your nutrition and hydration. Here’s some advice from our partner nutritionist Henrietta Paxton:

Food and drink intake during competitions can be tricky at the best of times, and whilst we may love competing in beautiful sunny and hot weather, staying hydrated becomes even more important. Becoming dehydrated does appear to effect muscular power, through negative impacts on the neuromuscular system, also affecting concentration during the event and effective recovery afterwards. Therefore, staying hydrated could positively enhance your performance through attenuating these negative factors. First and most importantly, the most effective way to avoid the pitfalls of dehydration is prevention - start the competition in a fully hydrated state. The easiest way to make sure this is the case is to keep an eye on the colour of your urine, it should be very pale if not clear!

During the competition regularly sip on a drink, water should be enough to keep you hydrated in a pole vault competition, although on particularly hot/long day’s coconut water is a great idea due to its mineral content (potassium) which maintains electrolyte balance that could be lost through sweat. Alternatively, mixing a pack of rehydration salts (like dioralyte) with your water will have the same effect.

All the bodie's resources are all geared towards muscular performance during competition, and not at digestion, so anything you eat during the competition needs to be easily digestible. Bananas are an ideal food for this reason as they are easy to digest, quickly releasing their stored sugars and potassium to support energy and electrolyte balance. Another option is to make yourself a smoothie using coconut water that you can sip during the competition with your water. This also allows some protein to be ingested to support muscular recovery during the competition, again without the risk of digestive discomfort as the ingredients are already blended and most of the “digestion” is taken care of, allowing nutrients to be quickly delivered where they are needed. I like mixing ½ scoop organic whey protein, one banana, handful raspberries, tbsp maple syrup with 300ml coconut water. You could even make this the day before and freeze it so it gradually melts during the day, keeping you cool, nourished and hydrated so you can perform at your best!


We hope you found the following advice helpful and that it helps your perform as best you can on any given day this season!

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Pole Vaulter's Kit Bag

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Pole Vaulter's Kit Bag

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail”

You've no doubt heard this saying many times; even more so at this time of year as exam season approaches. The mantra voiced across schools and colleges is no different to that at athletics tracks and clubs. The outdoor season in the U.K provides a fresh set of challenges to those experienced during the indoor season - due to the one aspect which is out of our control, namely the unpredictable weather we face.

'Controlling the controllables' is a strategy used by many successful performers. Whilst we cannot control the weather, we can control our preparation, and what we take to a competition. By ensuring you have packed a comprehensive kit back the day before the meet, you can often gain a competitive advantage over less prepared rivals, and prepare yourself for your best possible performance on the day.

So, what should a Pole Vaulter's kit bag should contain?

Spikes: Check you have both spikes, and they have the relevant length spike in them. Officials will often check spike length at championships - don't be caught out.

Spare individual spikes & spike key: In case you realise you're missing a spike or two!

Waterproof clothing: Always be prepared for rain in the U.K.

Spare clothes & socks: Arriving in layers, and taking these off as you warm up and compete is important. Having spare clothes in the event of landing on a wet pit is also critical - you don't want to spend the whole competition cold and wet!

Gloves: Even in the summer you’re bound to have a day where it isn’t warm. Bring gloves so your hands can stay warm in order to be able to grip the pole.

Self-Therapy tools: From foam rollers to hockey balls, whatever tools you use, always make sure you have what you need to put your body in its best position to compete.

Small Tent/Pop-Up Tent: If you're competing somewhere with no shelter then having your own to provide some kind of shelter is very helpful. Something small that is easy to put up and down is ideal.

Umbrella: Great to use with one of your teammates to keep you dry when preparing for a vault.

Chalk or sticky spray: Whatever your preference always ensure you have an adequate supply. All pole vaulters know how important it is to be able to trust your grip.

Grip tape: Equally as important as the above as you may have to re-tape a pole that gets wet.

Tape measure: This is a must. Never rely on anyone else providing one for you.

Bungee: Many stadiums amazingly do not have bungee bars: We would recommend always taking one with you for the warm up.

Run-up markers: Very helpful for you and your coach. If it’s raining you’ll need something more substantial than a shoe, or a piece of chalk or tape. If using tape we would suggest using a pin to make sure it stays in the track.

Permanent marker: Run up markers can get kicked around or moved accidentally, so it always helps to make a permanent mark that can’t be moved.

Towels: Whether you’re drying yourself or your equipment, these are always helpful to have.

Bin bags: These are very useful to put wet clothes in. You can also put them over the grip end of your poles to provide an extra layer of waterproof protection.

Simple First Aid kit: I’m sure many athletes have spiked themselves and having a simple first aid kit including plasters can be very helpful.

Food & Drink: Feeling thirsty or hungry can have seriously negative effects on performance. Always take your own food and drink, and remember to bring something to consume immediately after the competition.


We hope this list is useful and would like to wish everyone all the best with their competitions this outdoor season.

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Challenges For Developing Athletes

Whilst away on warm weather training in Barcelona, we took the time to sit down with Commonwealth Games silver medallist Laura Edwards and ask her a few questions about what she thinks makes an elite level athlete.

Hi Laura, thanks for talking with us today. Firstly, what do you think athletes can do to engage with their coach more and what are your views on communication between athlete and coach?

I think in order for an athlete to engage with their coach they need to be willing to give more than what is expected of them. As an athlete you need to ensure you are focused during sessions and taking on board what the coach is telling you. Turning up unprepared or late can also show the coach you aren't organised or ready to work hard. You have to be accountable for what you are doing. Asking questions if you don't understand can also show the coach you want to learn and progress. This can all help you as an athlete show the coach you are serious about being an athlete and willing to commit to working hard. I also do think a good coach-athlete relationship is extremely important and can significantly impact an athlete’s performance. Athletes should be confident in their coach and having good communication between the two is key to it I think. Having a mutual trust and respect for each other can be so important and I think without that it can be difficult for an athlete to reach their full potential.

What do you think is important for athletes to consider when responding to feedback?

I think athletes need to understand that the feedback their coaches are giving them is to help improve their performance. It is beneficial to their growth as an athlete. When your coach gives you feedback you should acknowledge it as a challenge and a learning opportunity. You also have to make sure you act on what they are saying. I think you need to consider the fact that they aren't telling you something for you to just accept it and move on. As an athlete you need to do something with that feedback by being able to make the necessary changes in order to enhance your performance. It's also important to not take their feedback negatively as you have to consider that they are trying to make you into the best athlete you can be and they only want the best for you. By listening, accepting and acting on feedback athletes can learn from their mistakes and use it to better themselves.

Gymnastics, like pole vault, is an individual sport where athletes train in groups. Do you think it’s important for athletes to be their own person and be an individual whilst appreciating the support of the group?

Yes definitely. Participating in an individual sport means as an athlete you need to take ownership of your career. You need to take responsibility for performances and seeking ways to improve during both training/ competitions as well as your lifestyle. At the same time, I believe having great support from your team mates is second to none and vital in your success as an athlete. Having good teammates around you can help you become a better athlete as you can all work together bettering each other and creating a great environment to train in. It helps everyone as you are all pushing towards similar goals and understand what each other is going through.

Given the high performance environments that you’ve trained in, do you see a difference between what high level athletes are posting on social media and what they’re doing behind closed doors when training?

Yes 100%.  I guess everything isn't always as perfect as it seems on social media. It's nice that social media allows more experienced athletes to broadcast aspects of their training to younger/ less experienced athletes. However, I think people just need to be aware it is only aspects and they don't show absolutely everything. Behind closed doors can be very different to what is actually shown. They may go through a lot and will only tend to post the positive or more exciting parts of what is going on. Basically, what you see on social media isn't everything there is to the life of a world class athlete.

What do you think separates those that go on to perform at an elite level and those that don’t make it and is it always the most physically talented athletes that go on to perform at elite level?

In my experiences within gymnastics there was often the physically naturally talented athletes winning at a younger age however, it was often the gymnasts who were always around but never quite there working hard, never giving up who came out on top. They weren't necessarily the most naturally talented to start with but from their committed, hardworking approach and mind set they eventually got to where they wanted to be. I think the athletes that perform at an elite level are very motivated and committed. They don't give up when things get hard, instead they use their failures to fuel them to do better and succeed. I think having the self-determination and mental toughness is a key factor to reaching a high level in sports. Training long hours and dedicating yourself to a sport can sometimes be draining and extremely tough at times but making it through those tough times is what makes achieving so great, especially in sports like gymnastics and pole vault. If it was easy, it would be boring. So, I think what separates those that make it to an elite level is the desire and passion they have to consistently work hard by doing what others aren't willing to do.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today Laura and all the best with the upcoming season!

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Mindset: Rising above the noise

Mindset: Rising above the noise

A short article for athletes on optimising their mindset, and creating helpful thought patterns to maximise performance.