European Jumps & Hurdles Convention
Falun Sweden, Nov 10th-12th 2017
Words John Shepherd (trying to be serious and a bit funny)
Thanks to England Athletics and European Athletics, and specifically the on-site management and hosting of Swedish Athletics, Falun, Sweden was the venue for the European Hurdles & Jumps Convention.
It was a very bright (not-so bright for me) and early start for the Heathrow-airport-travelling-party of coaches. I arrived in the departure lounge just in time (!) for the 7.15am flight to Stockholm. Femi Akinsanya, Jade Surman, Guy Spencer, Piotr Spas, Zac Kerin, James Hillier and Graham Pilkington made up the rest of the team (with Graham travelling if I recall from Manchester).
The two-hour flight passed quickly. Sitting with Femi and Zac conversation inevitably focussed on jumps (and social media, with one of the trio not having an Instagram account, shock-horror!). After clearing customs it was then a train journey to Falun. The boring bit… Falun is the capital of Dalarna County and has a population of around 38,000. So, yep, it’s a small city, but it’s a world heritage site, due to its copper mining history… fast forward… it’s also home to Dalarna University where we were based and a ski-slope. Inevitably some comparisons were made between ski jumping and long jumping and whether any of the England party fancied a jump! Thankfully no one decided to have a go (well, at least unbeknownst to me… ).
The ‘proper’ events of long and triple jumping and hurdle jumping (!) soon received our attention when an hour or so after landing we began the lecture and practical programme. It was to be a bit of an “endurance jumps session”, and at least one of the party did succumb to bleary-eye syndrome in some of the lectures. The one without a proper job err that might be me. This was not because the information presented was not of interest but due to the full-on nature of the weekend (and the lack of sleep due to the early flight). Zac pulled, what we used to call an all-nighter back in the day, travelling straight from Bournemouth to Heathrow after coaching on virtually no sleep. What a star! He probably wasn't the only one.
Up first after the introductions was a lecture: From talent to Elite Athlete and then another From World Class Athlete to Coach for Talented Athletes. You’ll see the full programme attached and the speakers - it’s not my intention to go into specifics about all the sessions – which would require me to author a book.
Back at the hotel after the session (and as would happen after Saturday’s programme), and with some of the group partaking in a few beers (am I allowed to say that? Perhaps it’ll be censored), discussion turned to the lecture content. You can’t hide from this – many of you reading this who will have attended similar conferences whatever the field - will voice opinion good, bad, stupid and comedic on what they sat through.
Of course there’s going to be shall we say respectful constructive criticism but there’s also going to be discussion on what was learned, gleaned or provoked and food for thought, and this was perhaps the real value of the three-day programme. None of us suddenly came away revolutionised, but we all came away with a snippet or two, an idea, a reinforcement of our learning and development, some more theory and some new drills. Evolutionised might be the best way to put it.
The difficulty with these type of conferences is appealing to all the coaches that attend. Some inevitably will know more than others about a particular topic and therefore either be more (or potentially less) interested in what the speaker has to say. That can’t be helped. But talking to other country’s coaches informally and listening to their lecturers formally does open your eyes (especially when you’re struggling to keep them open).
Here are some of the snippets that kept my eyes open…
Early Specialisation The German Federation’s move away from u18 and u20 national champs for a number of years only to return to them a good few years later, coupled with a drive for their young athletes to also achieve a ‘B’ standard in another related event before they could enter their national champs. All designed to allow for controlled, shall we say, avoidance of heavy early specialisation…
The slightly contradictory messages about early specialisation… Very briefly, 90% of a studied cohort (266 finalists) from the World Youths improved; 49% went onto the World Juniors; and 21% participated in the senior world champs and Olympic Games – over time of course). Then Jeremy Fischer (coach to e.g. Will Claye and Brittany Reese) said that none of those he has coached that have made Olympic and World teams had success as juniors… err “… there is very little correlation to senior level… you have to bridge that gap.” Confused.com… well, perhaps not really as athletic development rests on so-many factors and even periods in time and research paradigms and practical and specific experience.
Reactive strength and the role of the Achilles tendon and its length and how this could affect jumping events and performance… shorter tendons allow for greater leg stiffness and longer ones require greater amortization which results in longer ground contact times… debate about how and whether this can and should be changed through specific training…
The triple jump can be seen as the hop-jump-land – not jump due to often poor execution of the jump phase – some ideas were forwarded to work on this i.e. blocking the arms at jump phase take-off to make it more propulsive.
That the traditional model of skill acquisition and windows in young athletes is incorrect, well, at least for athletes - they can develop and respond outside of the specified years i.e. for speed, strength and aerobic development (probably common-sense when you think about it).
That 1970’s – 1980’s TV was pretty rubbish… oops that was not on the lecture schedule… Love thy Neighbour anyone….
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