‘Coaching starts with the unmeasurable quality of presence.’ Kelvin Giles – Olympic S & C coaches interviewed Episode 69
Kelvin Giles has coached multiple Olympic champions and world champions and served more than 4 decades in coaching athletes of different levels. Kelvin outlines his lessons learned over the years, he analyses current trends in the strength and conditioning industry and what we can learn from it.
Furthermore, we discuss
- How he got into strength and conditioning
- His experience with different departments in a sports institute
- How to gauge if someone is a good coach
- His 4 decades of experience in strength and conditioning, and the trends that have been fads and the trends that made the industry
- His advice to a younger Kelvin Giles
- How to use an apprenticeship effectively
- How to know if you should take the next step in your career
- His advice to young aspiring S&C coaches
- His motivation to start his company Movement Dynamics
- His interview nomination
- What Kelvin Giles is up to at this moment
- Where can you find Kelvin Giles
Christian: Today I’m joined by Kelvin Giles. Kelvin is a Strength and Conditioning Coach with 40-plus years of experience. He has coached multiple Olympic athletes, World and Olympic Champions. Kelvin has filled multiple roles within the high-performance sports sector, including the Head of the Australian Institute of Sports for Track and Field; Head of Physical Development of the Brisbane Broncos Rugby League; Head of Elite Player Development Australian Rugby Union and now a Founder and Owner of Movement Dynamics.
Kelvin: Thanks, Christian. Thank you.
How he got into strength and conditioning
Christian: Kelvin, it is some time ago, but how did you get into strength and conditioning?
Kelvin: I didn’t get into strength and conditioning. I was trained as a PE teacher many years ago and I entered into coaching as a track and field coach. Track and field have been the closest thing to my heart for the last 50 years.
Back in the days of the sixties and the seventies when I was learning my trade and taking my first faltering steps into coaching athletics in the UK, I had to coach everything. I had to coach the technical, the tactical, the physical and the behavior aspect. We had no choices then.
There were just us as coaches, as opposed to now when you go into many high-performance operations and you see an army of specialists. Back in those days, we had to be the best generalists that we could be because we had to handle it all.
Back in the 1960’s and 70’s when I was learning my trade, I had to coach the technical, the tactical, the physical and the behavior aspect. We had no choices then. There were just us as coaches, as opposed to now when you go into many high-performance operations and you see an army of specialists. Back in those days, we had to be the best generalists that we could be because we had to handle it all.
And as important, if not more important than most parts, we did not just handle the technical, the tactical, and the physical. We were part of the behavioral development of these young people as well.
It was 30 or 40 years into my career when I began to meet players from the Canberra Raiders when I was working in Canberra at the Institute of Sport as a track and field coach. I met other sportspeople and I managed to help them in a more strength and conditioning way of things than in the technical things because it was a sport I wasn’t used to.
So even now when I’ve spent a lot of time in strength and conditioning in recent years, everything keeps coming back to the central point that I’m a track and field coach. I’m hoping it’s helped me a little bit with the fact that I can see the role of the physical development of the athlete in the context of the technical and tactical journey they’re on.
I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to have so many specialists nowadays. The key is how do we apply all these elements of performance to the athlete themselves and not become overspecialized?
I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing to have so many specialists nowadays. The key is how do we apply all these elements of performance to the athlete themselves and not become overspecialized?
I see that quite a lot nowadays, that we’re getting specialists specializing now and it’s getting even worse. I’ve been down to a local Football Club recently that I’ve been consulting with and there is an army of specialists there, all working in their own silo and therein lies the problem.
I was lucky I understood the physical development or I was taught the physical development of an athlete and I was taught how to apply it in the context of their overall performance journey not to become a specialist.
So I do spend a lot of time in strength and conditioning, but I spend most of my time and my mind spends most of its time in the delivery to the sports specific. Sorry, it’s a strange way of answering your question, but I’m a track and field coach.
His experience with different departments in a Sports Institute
Christian: And then, following up on what you just said about specialists, that’s an interesting one, I’ve been to a conference recently and they outlined some research. It was more of a case study where they looked at successful teams around an athlete or in successful athletes and the teams around.
It seems the trend is going backward, so the conclusion was, the power of small teams. So one coach and then a few people around the athlete, rather than having great, as you said, support staff for everything.
Kelvin: Yes, and the important argument of that is that if you only specialize then you do have a very narrow view on things and there’s plenty of examples. Let me give you an example which is a little bit more obtuse than the direct question here.
Let’s look at the Institute of Sport in Canberra when it was in its heyday, in the first ten years of its existence. All it had there were coaches and it had a support mechanism of sports medicine and some sports science. The first Chief Executive was Don Talbot who had coached a hundred Olympians in swimming.
He understood coaching and so all his administrative and his bureaucratic decision making was with a coaching language and vocabulary. Then the specialist came along and the next head of the operation and so on and so forth and different people came in to run the operation.
You get a scientist and now you find science has got the upper-hand. Or then you had a sports medicine practitioner take over the Institute as the Director, and so sports medicine gets the upper hand.
One of these fundamental problems that you’ve got to be very wary of with these specialists, is that they fight hard to dominate the environment. They probably do it with a good heart. They’re probably doing it because of their enthusiasm.
One of these fundamental problems that you’ve got to be very wary of with these specialists, is that they fight hard to dominate the environment.
But the minute you overspecialize and you don’t see the entire operation and you’re not flexible and adaptable in which is the priority you’ve got to have on any given moment, specialists very often have no other place to turn to if the generalists are the people that understand when and how to use the tools that are in your toolbox.
It’s that part that we lost over several decades of when we had these very glamorous high-performance units or academies or institute’s and they lost their way and they’ve lost their way in Australia. If you’ve noticed what’s happening in Australian sport now, the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra is just a dead entity.
It’s not producing any more athletes. It’s a center for science, research, and bureaucracy. I don’t think those things are needed when we’re crying out at the coalface for better coach-athlete relationships.
Governments are so easy to spend their money on the bureaucratic areas of things, it’s killing sport. So that’s why I was thankful that I was brought up in a time when to be a generalist was a fine thing as opposed to a specialist.
Christian: I want to go a little bit off script here because I think it’s really interesting to dig into all your experiences. What you just mentioned that, for example, if someone from the medical field takes over, everything becomes a bit of medical driven and from the science it becomes science-driven.
I’ve been in different organizations around the world and I saw a similar trend. Something I would like to know from your experience, do you think in general that S&C is maybe not as strong as fighting for their spot as other disciplines are?
Kelvin: Let me just give you the experience that I had when I first understood strength and conditioning because I understood how it behaved when I first saw strength and conditioning. I never had to try and appoint a strength and conditioning coach into my coaching operation because I was doing it myself.
Now I may not have been doing it very well, but at least I understood where the physical development fitted into the technical journey that the athletes were on. In those early years of understanding strength and conditioning, we were stuck in the paradigm of Olympic weightlifting.
In those early years of understanding strength and conditioning, we were stuck in the paradigm of Olympic weightlifting.
Everything I read 40 or 50 years ago, from all the research into strength and conditioning, I think most of it came out of Edinburgh at the time, it was all about the second part of the pull in the Clean. Every bit of research was about the second part of the pull in the Clean.
It may have been my limitation that I wasn’t reading enough. Since then, strength and conditioning has never thrown off the Olympic weightlifting paradigm.
The reason I sound critical of that is that I was brought up on a Physical Education curriculum that was based on movement. It was also based on the formal movements of formal gymnastics and the solving movement puzzles that came through educational gymnastics.
That was the 1958 European PE curriculum from which then when you had formal and informal learning of movement patterns. In other words, you developed a movement vocabulary, and then from that you use those tools inside specific games.
That was the way it used to be done when I was growing up and then when I was being trained as a teacher and when I was being trained as a coach. So to have this very narrow band of Olympic weightlifting representing the total picture of strength and conditioning was not helpful.
Sometimes as well, strength and conditioning zealots would come along, when they would be using that “We’ve got to develop mental toughness” by nearly crippling the athletes, by taking them beyond where they’re used to going. The smart part of training again was lost with that kind of paradigm.
Sometimes strength and conditioning zealots would come along, when they would be using that “We’ve got to develop mental toughness” by nearly crippling the athletes, by taking them beyond where they’re used to going. The smart part of training again was lost with that kind of paradigm.
We’re beginning to see now that that movement efficiency is beginning to play its role in the language and vocabulary of strength and conditioning. But remember it’s 50 years too late. So we have got a long way to go before strength and conditioning gets back to where it used to be.
That is the all-round general physical and emotional well-being of the athlete and a huge movement vocabulary from which sport-specific things can grow. That was probably one of the most successful periods for that generation. I think we are maybe slowly going back to that.
I’m not castigating Olympic weightlifting, but it’s only one tiny element and the result of good movement efficiency. I think once strength and conditioning can grow out of that and grow wider and grow into a more generalist approach to things, it could help itself.
Just to add to that, the other trap that all sports have fallen into and in strength and conditioning, in particular, is the research paradigm that it’s stuck in. We have more research people out there, more pseudo-scientists, and hardly any decent coaches.
The other trap that all sports have fallen into and in strength and conditioning, in particular, is the research paradigm that it’s stuck in. We have more research people out there, more pseudo-scientists and hardly any decent coaches. We don’t need pseudo-scientists. We need good teachers and coaches.
The ability to know how to coach have been lost in a sea of either Olympic weightlifting and all those paradigms and or research. We don’t need pseudo-scientists. We need good teachers and coaches.
How to gauge if someone is a good coach
Christian: Yes, that fits perfectly with the question I’ve actually written down for later. But I’ve heard you speak multiple times live, but also in podcasts and you talked about the importance of coaching, the art of coaching and what you just said as well.
We see the trend of people up having Masters, PhDs and all these kind of things, but it doesn’t say anything about the coaching side.
You have been a Director, Head of Performance, however, you want to name it, so you sat on the other side of the table when employing people. When you sit in an interview, how can you gauge if someone is a good coach if you only have a CV in front of you?
Kelvin: I have to guess like everybody else if I only sit in an interview. But in recent years, and I’ve had the honor of placing people in positions all around the world and I have in the last, say 30 years, spent more time going to watch the people who might want to apply for the position. I go and watch them teach and I go and watch them coach.
We were doing something in Scotland a few years ago with Phil Moreland that now is looking after the New South Wales Institute of Sports Strength and Conditioning program. When he was looking after the Scottish Institute Strength and Conditioning program, I think he scared the pants off the people that turned up for an interview.
He used to tell them that they’ve got six athletes waiting for them next door. He knows that they’re in a suit and looking very fine that day, but he wants them to go next door and coach the athletes in a warm-up. You just watch some of these applicants freeze.
So there are times nowadays where we got to go beyond the CV. Coaching starts with the unmeasurable quality of presence. When somebody walks into a room and when you meet somebody, they will have a presence with them.
Coaching starts with the unmeasurable quality of presence. When somebody walks into a room and when you meet somebody, they will have a presence with them.
The way they look at you and they hold themselves and the way that they dialogue, the way they meet you, the first words they use, that gives you a pretty good picture to start with of this human being in front of you.
But then you’ve got to look deeply into how do they teach? How do they coach? How do they resolve a problem that they’ve found? What happens when things go wrong?
Now, all these things are the critical key, but I’ve had to suck it and see like anybody else. I met that Lachlan Penfold who’s a great friend of mine. He’s worked all around the world in the very best areas. He’s just one of the ‘A’ team around the world. He’s currently down with the Melbourne Storm [Rugby League] at the moment.
Now when I first met him as a 21-year old, I did take the first impression of what he was saying and how he was saying it and how he presented himself to me. I told him that I would give him a six-week chance working with the Under-19s there at the Brisbane Broncos.
I said that he could come and work with us so I could then see him in this temporary environment before I moved him on to the first-class position that he finished up going into. So I guess the recommendation is you can’t go on a CV. You’ve really got to see this person teaching and coaching and you’ve got to see these people when it’s going wrong.
You’ve got to go beyond the CV, you’ve really got to see the person teaching and coaching and you’ve got to see these people when it’s going wrong.
That’s the true test and I think you’ve also got to see them. I’d like to know that a good coach can coach a 28-year-old Olympic finalist, as well as coach a 12-year-old. There’s your test. Seriously, that is your test.
If you want to coach, you go and coach the 12 and 13-year-old and see how you go because that will test you out. Your Masters is not going to help. Your ability to communicate and create a relationship on a second-to-second basis is going to be all you’re going to have to do and that is the key to anything else.
I think we can always teach people the knowledge, the advanced knowledge that we have of load progression, load regression, exercise prescription, the management of the program through different cycles. We can teach that, but what you can’t teach is that wonderful innate ability to create a relationship with the athlete in front of you.
We’ve got to be better than we are nowadays, in the way we appoint people to positions like that. So I haven’t found all the answers to the appointments. I only appoint those people that I know and at the moment, that’s around ten.
There must be some wonderful, talented people out there that I can’t recommend because I’ve never met them. Really that’s one of the other lessons I’ve learned is that I’ve got to know the person that I’m going to deal with at the moment and I’ve got this a team of people that I turn to every single day.
It’s an interesting journey I’ve been on that meeting these young people when they were in their early 20s and they were as green as I was when I was in my 20. Now seeing them 30 years later as the world-leading practitioners, I learn every day from them now.
If the whole thing’s reversed, I don’t think I taught them very much. I just gave them a bit of a chance and then have a chat with them. But now I watch Suki Hobson at the Milwaukee Bucks, Scottie Dickinson with Australian swimming, Dean Benton with the Australian Rugby Union and Lachlan Penfold down working with the Melbourne Storm.
You just learn so much from these people as time has gone on. Sorry, I’ve just gone off on a tangent there. I think what I’m trying to say is, it goes full circle from being the mentor and the boss. I’m now watching the great things done from these people that I trusted because they had this incredible presence whenever you’ve walked into a room.
There’s another dozen of them around the world doing great things at the moment. So what can we take from my stupid rambling at the moment is that people making appointments in any part of human relationships, please look beyond the CV and look at the human relationship ability of this person to make a difference.
Christian: Really cool.
His 4 decades of experience in strength and conditioning, and the trends that have been fads and the trends that made the industry
Christian: You have been in strength and conditioning, physical preparation, track and field for four decades or more and if you look back, there have been some trends coming into the field and leaving the field.
In your experience, what has been fads and what has been things that do it and make the industry or the profession better?
Kelvin: We’ve all suffered from the spells, potions, gadgets and gurus. That’s happened. I and my colleagues lived through the transverse abdominis journey that everybody was taken on. You’ve got to draw in the lower abdomen before doing anything and I don’t know where that came from.
We’ve all suffered from the spells, potions, gadgets and gurus.
The people that start to sell it to me in the early 90s are now running away saying it was nothing to do with them. They are saying they didn’t mean it. There are all sorts of fads come along and the big one nowadays is technology, where we try and get information back.
There’s really not much education on how to use the numbers, but there’s lots of education on getting the numbers. So I think there’s always going to be a trend come along. In particular, because of the way we communicate with each other nowadays, you’re going to need a really good bullshit monitor.
There are all sorts of fads come along and the big one nowadays is technology, there’s really not much education on how to use the numbers, but there’s lots of education on getting the numbers. There’s always going to be a trend come along, and you’re going to need a really good bullshit monitor.
If you just look at the Internet or you watch a video clip on some social media, the trap is that you might think that that could work for your athletes automatically. So I think if you’re looking at the different trends that have gone on, and I’ve seen the trends of the Bompa style periodization where you create a work of art and writing down an entire annual program.
When I was going through that, I was trying to fill it in with every single detail of the preparation phase, the prep 2 phase, the pre-competitive phase, the competition 1 phase. Then I’d go through for the second part of the year. When you had to come up to the middle of the year type of peak and tapering ideas and all these things, I was into that.
We all were into that and now I’ve got to the point where I’ve realized that I’d better write all this stuff down in pencil because I can’t write down next week’s program. It’s one of the things I’ve learned.
I think one of the questions you sent to me is what is your philosophy on coaching. Well, I can’t tell you what my philosophy is. All I can tell you is some of the things that glue things together, which helps with answering this question.
I only write things in pencil now because the program is how the athlete adapts to it; not what I’ve written down. I can’t write down that next week I’m going to change the program from this to this because of that 10-day cycle that I’ve gone through.
I’ve got to wait and find out if the athletes adapted to the program. If they didn’t, then I’ll do it again before they do anything to it. So it’s that kind of learning and growing over 40 years where what appeared to be so right and so sensible to have this periodization type of idea.
- Also, check out the interview ‘If we are only taking credit for all the superstars we trained all the time, we are missing the point of what we are supposed to do.’ with Derek Hansen, who outlines that the legendary Track and Field Coach Charlie Francis worked in a similar way.
That’s just one of the things that came along. Now here I am 50 years later telling you that I don’t write an annual program down. I can’t do that. All I can tell you is when the competition starts and if it’s with a football club, I say that we’ve got to start it in August.
That’s when the soccer season starts. I got that. I’ve got six weeks. What am I going to do in this six weeks? I’m going to try this with this individual, I’m going to try this with this individual because again, there are another one of the trends.
I can’t have one training program photocopied 20 times. This is just nonsense, absolute nonsense. So for me to write this periodized plan and put it up on the wall and make the coach think I’m a genius, is absolutely fruitless.
I’ve got to have the ability to individualize what’s going on in front of me. That’s one of these things that I’ve learned over the times. One of the fads that came along was the writing of programs.
For me to write this periodized plan and put it up on the wall and make the coach think I’m a genius, is absolutely fruitless. I’ve got to have the ability to individualize what’s going on in front of me.
Now I’ve got to the point where I know what I need to write down a general plan, but I’ve got to have that flexibility and adaptability. Let me give an example. I had a speed session today with an athlete and came along, and while the warm-up was unfolding, they just didn’t look right.
They didn’t talk right; they didn’t behave right; their demeanor was different. When we were doing some movement pattern preparation in the warm-up, the feet were hitting the ground really hard and I’m looking at this person in front of me who’s had a bad day.
Now, if I just turned to my program that I’ve written down, that is written in stone, so well you’re doing this high speed running mechanics session of flying 30s today, I’ve learned I’ve got to react to what’s happening in front of me, and that athlete was not ready to go and do a high speed running mechanics session.
Straightaway I recognize it. I wouldn’t have recognized it forty years ago. I’d have blindly followed this wonderful piece of paper I’d written down. Now I’m going to say that we should hang on a minute because if we go there, we are going to get hurt. It’s not going to be productive and we’re not going to progress.
So we just stop where it was and I try to then put together a session that would get the athlete to smile and feel better about themselves from which they would grow. Now, that is one of the biggest things I’ve learned. The fad was to write everything down and predict it and now I no longer do that.
I’m not sure if that’s answered your question in any way. The other point is this. The session only finishes when the athletes recovered from it. I know what I’m doing with this sprinter tomorrow and what should be there.
But today changed, so I’m going to wait until I see what turns up tomorrow and I can go in two ways. I can go back to speed tomorrow if they’re in that position or I might have to wait a little bit longer and go and do some other movement pattern work.
How about some starts? What about some relay exchanges? Is that something that could hide a little bit? Can I find another way of stimulating? If I can’t get the speed, I’ll leave it another day because something has gone on with this athlete and whether it was they never recovered from the previous session in time, I don’t know.
But those two things I’ve just told you is that I can only go on what happens in front of me. Not what I’ve written on a piece of paper and secondly, the session only finishes when the athlete is recovered from it.
Those are two things that are completely different and here I am in these 25 years of my career, than when it was when I was back in the first 25 years of my career when I just did everything like I was told to do and I made more mistakes than ever. Sorry, I’m going off. I ramble a lot.
His advice to a younger Kelvin Giles
Christian: It looks like we are completely aligned here with you leading up into the next question perfectly. What’s the advice you would give a younger Kelvin if you could travel back in time?
Kelvin: The biggest mistake I made – if you look at this from big building blocks to little building blocks. Let’s do a big building block of advice. One is that I should never have come to Australia in 1981. I was 32 years old and I thought I was better than I really was. I may have thought the grass is always greener.
I was 32 years old and I thought I was better than I really was.
I was a national coach for Great Britain’s athletics team at the time. My ego must have been made to feel really good because I was offered the position of the Head of Track and Field at the Institute of Sport in Canberra. I was 32 years old and I was working out of the Midlands in the United Kingdom at the time and that stroke my ego a lot.
I’ve got no idea what I was doing at 32. I may have been a National Coach in title, but I should have stayed in my apprenticeship for the next decade. I should have gone into my early 40’s before and I’d learned my trade a lot more.
I should have learned the rhythms of the sport a lot more and I didn’t. I let ego get the better of me and I came to Australia and it was very nice to start with, but I never knew what questions to ask the Australians. They weren’t ready for an Institute of Sport.
They certainly weren’t ready for a 32-year-old who thought he knew more than he did and it was a fight. So you’ve got all the diplomatic problems that went on. They didn’t know what to do.
Even with my limited experience, I was working in the major theater of World Athletics Europe and so I brought some of those things I learned into Australia. I was 20 years ahead of my time on that one because they weren’t ready for it. I didn’t understand how to handle the political ambushes and the egos that were involved and how the sports were being run because I was a kid.
I didn’t understand how to handle the political ambushes and the egos that were involved and how the sports were being run.
So that’s my advice to myself. Don’t do that again. Serve your apprenticeship under the guidance of people like Frank Dick and Wolf Patient, Carl Johnson and Malcolm Arnold, who are the doyens of coaching in Europe and learn from them for the next 10 years.
There’s so many things out there. There are so many trinkets to attract you and take you about the zone of which you’re going to be capable of handling and that was my biggest problem. So that’s a big picture.
Serve your apprenticeship and don’t make the mistake that I did. On a smaller scale, of things that have gone wrong that I basically learned from because of the status of the athlete or their title. I’ll give you an example.
When I first got to the Brisbane Broncos in 1989, this was the cream of the crop. This was the best rugby league player in Queensland and many of them, the best in Australia. My dumb assumption was that they were also physically and emotionally as good as their title, their reputation, and their ranking.
This was the cream of the crop, the best in Australia. My dumb assumption was that they were also physically and emotionally as good as their title, their reputation and their ranking.
It’s one of the things we would need to be fast. Speed is the key in the field and court sports. I started a program of speed development and I nearly broke the entire team because I assumed that they were physically resilient and robust enough to tolerate the load of sprinting that was going to give them some adaptation.
I think I did two sessions of what I thought was decent speed work. Suddenly I started getting all sorts of soreness and reactions to the speed that I wasn’t ready for because I assumed that because these were the best players, they were also physically and robustly ready to go and do the kind of work I wanted them to do.
So I realized that I had to go back and build the athletes from the ground up and I had to question all my assumptions. So now I’m 73 years old and three weeks ago I made the same dumb mistake and I made it with a 12-year-old.
This is a young person that’s enjoying swimming at the moment. We’re just trying to give her all-round athletic development because she’s not going to get it anywhere else. In physical education, somebody took the physical out of physical education 40 years ago and had never put it back in.
So we try and give her all-around athletic development. She was doing the push-up routine and she does lots of variety in the push-ups. She does push-ups wide and narrow and offset hands and all sorts of things and she did this wonderful push-up routine over the weekend.
She set best in the number she could do and the range she could go through. It was really good and that was a Saturday. There’d never been a reaction to it before.
On Monday, she’s got a high level, high explosive swim session going on. She hurts her chest on Monday because I’ve just blindly thought that there’s a new breakthrough in her pushing ability. She’s now looking very strong in the multi-directional, multi-joint, and multi-plane pushing she was doing.
I didn’t give her long enough recovery and she got hurt on Monday. I hurt a twelve-year-old because I didn’t question my assumption and say that to begin with, maybe that 48 hours wasn’t good enough. But I should have questioned that.
The minute somebody breaks through and sets a new standard of whatever it is, whether its direction or force or complexity or speed, in whatever the movement they’re doing, then you’ve got to say that that’s a new level. You have to make sure they’ve recovered from it.
If I’d left it one more day, we wouldn’t have got hurt. I hurt a twelve-year-old because I was too dumb to link an improved performance that’s going to take a lot longer to recover from.
Can you imagine that? Seventy-three and stuffing up a 12-year-old. It is ridiculous because that trap is there waiting for all of us. Understanding what coaching and teaching is and those philosophies of “they’ve only finished the session when they’ve recovered from it”
You’ve got to question your assumptions all the time.
So I guess that question at that point is you’ve got to question your assumptions all the time. If you don’t question your assumptions, you’ll do the dumb things that I’ve done.
Christian: It’s a really good point.
How to use an apprenticeship effectively
Christian: I would like to go back to the other point you mentioned about the apprenticeship and you should serve your time in the apprenticeship. A lot of the people that are listening or reading what I’m distributing are young aspiring coaches.
When do you know that the apprenticeship is over when you are in there?
Kelvin: The glib answer is, your apprenticeship is never over and you’re just going to make fewer mistakes as you get older.
Your apprenticeship is never over and you’re just going to make fewer mistakes as you get older.
How to know if you should take the next step in your career
Christian: When do you know to take a position or better stay where you are?
Kelvin: That was an example of when it was too young for me to take that decision. For somebody else who’s 32 years old, they may have a different demeanor and background to them that they might be able to take it on. I think all you can say on that is nobody’s going to post a letter to you to say you’re ready.
Again, let me use the same phrase. You’ve got to question your assumptions. It’s no use me trying to influence people based on my background because my background is completely different.
I did my first 10 years of coaching without being paid. I coach because I wanted to coach. I used to get my money as a PE teacher during the day. Then I coached seven days a week in the local athletics clubs in Birmingham in England and I just turned up and I volunteered and I’m now a volunteer.
I did my first 10 years of coaching without being paid. I coach because I wanted to coach. I used to get my money as a PE teacher during the day.
Then I became a professional coach for many, many years and now I’m back being a volunteer coach again. So at the moment, we do find a lot of people coming out. They’ve got their degree, their first degree in Human Movement Studies, or then they move on to a Master’s and then maybe go on to a Ph.D.
I’ve only ever appointed one Ph.D. in my time. That was Anthony Giorgi at the Queensland Academy of Sport because he was a guy that did his Ph.D. while he was coaching. There are too many guys that do their PhDs and they haven’t seen sunlight for 15 years, let alone coached.
There are too many guys that do their PhDs and they haven’t seen sunlight for 15 years, let alone coached.
I need people that have been going out there and coaching. So that point about when is it time, all I can say is be cautious about chasing the money. If you chase the money it could be a very small time that you’re involved in this sport.
I think you’ve got to chase the experience first and it’s hard to say when you haven’t got a job. Unfortunately, many of the universities nowadays that offer Human Movement degree courses and all the related things through Masters and PhDs, they never tell the students that there are no jobs out there for them.
All I can say is be cautious about chasing the money, you’ve got to chase the experience first.
You find people coming out who are great exercise physiologists and great bio-mechanist that can’t get a job. The people that do get the jobs are those who have got those wonderful skills of teaching and coaching. Yet, the universities have drifted further and further away from that and are producing pseudo-scientists and not coaches.
So it is a matter of telling yourself the truth of being brave enough to take on and to climb up a mountain. You have to be brave enough to make mistakes and learn from them. So I can’t say the exact date that you should now say your apprenticeship is over.
I think one of the smart things is to say that you’re always going to be learning things. I learned stuff last week. I’ve only got to get in a chat with Wayne Goldsmith or whoever I wanted to speak with about a swimming issue or a running issue or I can talk to anybody in the sprint mechanics world and learn something from them and my apprentice, therefore, is still going on.
So I think my experiences are not for everybody, apart from that glib statement of “Serve your apprenticeship first before you decide to try and grab on to something”. One of the things when I went to this sport, I don’t think I made too many mistakes with the athletes at the time because we did get the performances moving forward quite well.
- Also, check out the interview ‘Expect that this journey will take an incredibly long time.’ with Matt Little, Andy Murry’s Strength & Conditioning Coach, who outlines that you need to take time to learn your craft.
However, in terms of being the Head of a Department to make the department healthy politically and bureaucratically, to give it a future, I really had no idea of doing that. All I could do was teach and coach.
So I wasn’t ready for that kind of position. So don’t let your ego write checks that you can’t deliver. That was my advice on that one.
His advice to young aspiring S&C coaches
Christian: You’ve partly touched on that, but then what’s the advice to young aspiring S&C coaches? What should they do first?
Kelvin: Learn how to teach and learn how to coach. Learn to read the athlete in front of you. If it was just about reps and sets, a donkey could do it. Reps and sets and load progression and load regression and all those things are good.
Learn how to teach and learn how to coach. Learn to read the athlete in front of you. If it was just about reps and sets, a donkey could do it.
But put at the center of your universe this: how does this person in front of me learn? How are they going to learn? And see if you could learn as a coach to be the master of the explicit to implicit learning continuum.
If you could understand how the person learns in front of you, then you could present a program that is forever rotating through all these learning experiences. You could go from the explicit and give them instructions.
If you give them explicit instruction to start with, it reduces the number of errors they take when they first embark upon learning to squat, lunge, pull, push, brace, rotate, hinge, or land. Certainly, make sure they’re safe and they’ve got an idea of what’s happening.
It’s quite explicit, but we also know that a person will deliver their proficiency in a competitive environment, maybe, far better under pressure, if they’ve learned this skill implicitly. We’ve managed to not only give them an explicit start to their learning, but we’ve also set them some puzzles to solve.
So how can you teach the squat in an explicit way to get them safe and get the general movement pattern going right, but then sort of preparing them implicitly of solving triple flexion-extension puzzles in a variety of ways and means? So look at the squat. If you only go into Olympic weightlifting, it isn’t on.
But if you’re going to do a triple flexion-extension inside a netball game, boy, that’s a bit different. Now I’m going to have to teach them this triple flexion-extension in landing and jumping and twisting and turning.
I’m going to have to do this by them solving puzzles. Why? Because the game’s going to make them solve puzzles in triple flexion-extension. So if you see that picture now, we start off at the simple basic squat movement, which we see in Olympic weightlifting, we teach them that and we teach them so they can do that movement well.
Then we start exposing that movement to different puzzles. Different variables come in and it moves along the implicit learning. What do you mean by implicit learning? Just to make sure people understand that.
We give them puzzles to solve or it’s guided discovery. We shut up a lot more like coaches. We don’t keep on talking. We set them a task and then tell them to do it.
We tell them to do it with their eyes closed. We tell them to do it with no arms. I tell them to do the movement while they’ve got to catch and pass the ball to me. I tell them to do it while they’re moving. I also want them to do it and mirror their partner in front of them.
I give them some environments where they’ve got to solve the puzzle with hardly any pressure and then you crank up the pressure. They’ve got to do it when I drop the ball. They’ve got to do a squat and then they’ve got to run over to a spot and do another squat.
You begin to make this a puzzle-solving way of them learning. They learn it implicitly, which means looking at the outcome of the movement. You do it by looking at the external focus. So all these things that we learn about from learning, is the way you want to fill your toolbox up.
I think if you can start there, it doesn’t matter whether you’re running, jumping, throwing, kicking, catching, or striking. It doesn’t matter whether you’re squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, bracing, rotating, or hinging or landing. None of that matters.
If you have learned to take them from the explicit to implicit learning continuum and involve them in that all the way through their learning, then you’ll win. This is not just about GPS analysis. It’s not about force-time continuum or reactive strength index.
All those are nice sexy things to do. If you know how this person learns and remember that person in front of you is going to learn a bit different to the person standing next to them, you might have it at a different language and a different vocabulary for two exacting athletes.
That’s going to be where you’ll make your biggest breakthroughs; in understanding learning. If you understand learning, you’ll understand teaching and coaching. Then it doesn’t matter.
If you understand learning, you’ll understand teaching and coaching.
Like I said, without being too repetitive, whether you’re running, jumping, throwing, kicking, catching, or striking, it doesn’t make any difference if you really are a master of the entire learning continuum. Make that the center of your universe and you won’t go far wrong.
Christian: I think we’re coming full circle with a question from before about trends because it seems like in recent years there has been explicit learning, explicit learning, explicit learning and I always think if there’s a very one-sided answer only this and not that, then we should use our common sense a little bit more. Anyway, so thanks for that answer.
His motivation to start his company Movement Dynamics
Christian: You have founded Movement Dynamics, which is a consultancy that delivers world-class services of athletic development to young athletes, as well as professional athletes. Where did this motivation come from?
Kelvin: I don’t know. I think 2007, London had won the Olympic bid and they then started to go around the world and get the best minds involved. Australia had already had the 2000 Olympics, it had put the Institute of Sport together and it had found a way of punching above its weight.
A lot of Australian people went across to the UK and I found myself going across there many times. So I thought that maybe I could go and park myself in The UK because going backward and forwards, flying 12,000 miles was just killing me.
So I just got to the point I finished the Australian Rugby Union. That was coming to an end; that contract of helping their elite player development model forward. I was beginning to get more and more invitations outside a permanent position.
I was enjoying them because I was meeting that many great people and I just thought that it was time to go home. I was born in England, England’s my home and I’ve been in Australia for all these years and I had that many invitations to go across and help with different sports or different coach-athlete units.
So I went and lived at my sister’s house in Southern England and just started accepting invitations. It just so happened that it did help if I could do that through a company network. So I set up this company called Movement Dynamics that I’d played within Australia, just to get a title really.
I’d been writing the book on Physical Competence Assessment and on an Introduction to Athlete Development. The Physical Competence Assessment was something that I found was very important and always build the athletes from the ground up. It gave them the physical competence to do the technical stuff and do it in that order.
The Physical Competence Assessment was something that I found was very important and always build the athletes from the ground up. It gave them the physical competence to do the technical stuff and do it in that order.
Techniques often break down because they’re not strong or stable enough to do the job and so I was promoting that and I just found it more easy to create a company name. It sounds posh, it was only me and I could then operate through that company structure.
I’m not sure if it worked or not. It’s just a name. It was only me at the end of the day, so it was just me finding an avenue of how I could get around. Then I just moved through all sorts of places. You just go to the LTA [Lawn Tennis Association] down in Roehampton, I met up with Narelle [Sibte], who was down there.
The crew down there were great and they listened to what I had to say and then just ran with it. They just took it to a different level. I think that’s one of the great things of when you meet with people who are vibrant and want to break through and are willing to throw away all the old ideas they had and learn new things and be open-minded.
The crew down at the LTA just ran with it and created a competence assessment for that. The same thing went for Scotland. The same thing went for the Irish people across in the other Institute of Sport.
Everywhere I went and across into Holland with Scott Dickinson in the Dutch Olympic Committee and all those people, you sit and you discuss and you debate. I learned from them and whether they learn from me, I don’t know. But then you watched them just fly with this and take this to new levels.
But always regardless of their interpretation of this, they never moved off to the spells and the potions and gadget stuff. It’s as if they just wanted to make sure they could build this athlete from the ground up. That’s where the Movement Dynamics principles are at the end of the day.
One of the things I always say is if your elite player development program is the same as your development program, one of them is wrong. When I was at the Queensland Academy of Sport, a number of 15 or 16-year-olds would come in who were ranked so high in their sports.
If your elite player development program is the same as your development program, one of them is wrong.
We were told that we’ve got four to eight years to get them into the Olympic team. We’d have to turn around and tell them that it is impossible because they can’t walk, talk and chew gum at the same time. They have not got an all-round development.
They might be a great golfer or a great netball player, but they haven’t got the resilience, the capacity, the competence, technically, tactically, physically, and emotionally to go on this journey. We’ve got to build them from the ground up and that’s the biggest problem of where we are a sport today.
It’s all fast-tracking and quick fixing and we’re arriving with those athletes in that transition period from teenage years and late teenage years into their early adulthood with so many limitations technically. Certainly a host of limitations physically and the worst of all is host and host of limitations behaviorally.
Now that has got to be the key to all our coach education and our coach delivery is allowing these people to go to the next stage of their journey with no limitations. That’s where the Movement Dynamic stuff came from.
We decided that we should look at physical competence. If they can’t squat, lunge, pull, push, brace or take engine land well, how on earth are they going to go into an extensive training program? Who’s teaching this? PE? No! Coach education at Level one? No!
So it’s not being taught anywhere. So that’s where I started doing that stuff and then I know you guys have taken it on and taken it to great levels. So that’s the Movement Dynamics situation if it means anything.
Christian: And to add to this, I’ve read the handbook. We are using some of the tests and I believe it’s very valuable. You can feel the book has been written by a practitioner who understands, in my opinion, the challenges of coaching a bit more, rather than other books that have been written in an office by someone who has only done researching. So I think it’s a very valuable resource.
Kelvin: Oh, that’s kind of you to say. Thanks for saying that mate.
His interview nomination
Christian: Do you want to nominate someone to be interviewed?
Kelvin: Well I’ll tell you what. There are some incredible people out there and if I started a list, I’m going to leave somebody out. Lachlan Penfold at the Melbourne Storm; Dean Benton at the Australian Rugby Union; Suki Hobson at the Milwaukee Bucks; Scottie Dickinson at Australian Swimming, and it goes on and on and on.
Each one of those I’ve had the honor of working with when they were young. Everything I’ve answered you today, they have taken all those things on board and they’ve arrived where they are now in really good shape.
Each one of them has had their own journey which has had difficulties to it. They have suffered disappointments. They’ve made their mistakes along the way, and I’ve just watched them learn. Some of their interpretations are not pseudo-scientific, they are not shallow. They are born of experience.
If you want to talk about tactical periodization, which is the new in word, which just means common sense training. But if you want to see people that have really applied this, look at John Prior and Dean Benton. You won’t go far wrong.
You want to look at robustness in running mechanics, talk to Frans Bosch. I was talking to Frans just this last week within Australia. But if you look at practitioner, talk to Johnny Prior. All the fads and your things that you see that’s going on, somewhere out there are people that are delivering them really, really well, and those are some names.
To be frank with you, they’re the best generalists you’ll come across. Now they might be able to talk to you about some distinct specific stuff. I’ve mentioned rehabilitation. You want to recover from a hamstring or an ACL; Bill Knowles and Suki Hobson. There you go. The best of the best.
You want to talk about some of the swimming development stuff from an athletic development point of view, Scott Dickinson. You want to talk about running a firestorm of a department when you’re under so much pressure to win things, talk to Jeremy Hickman who used to be with the Broncos.
Each one of these people will give you wonderful generalist remarks, but also be able to dig and drill some depth in an area that you might have as a topic. So they’re great generalists. But can I just say one thing about each one of them. They’re great people to start with.
Some of the crew’s down at the LTA at Roehampton and some of them have moved on and some of them have stayed there. One of the things that glue these people together is something that we spoke about right at the beginning. They’ve got the presence of been good people.
They don’t have egos, they’re not trying to sell you something, they’re not a guru or they’re not into spells and potions and gadgets and all, and there’s plenty of that out there. These are good solid people to start with and when we spoke about how do you appoint these people, this is what you got to be.
You got to be a good wholesome person that can make a mistake, can learn from it, and create harmony with people around you. Every one of those people I’ve mentioned, and there’s another two dozen of them.
Holly Richardson across working with Huddersfield Rugby League Club at the moment. What stuff that Holly’s doing down there? Kev Mani down at Gloucester Rugby Union and what he’s doing with that development squad, in terms of athletic development, boy gets hold of him. Some of the stuff he’s doing.
You want to talk about physical education in primary schools, talk to Steve Merlin and Greg Thompson because they are the best in the world. Every one of those is a good person, has got a presence and can teach and coach. That’s it, that’s all you need.
What Kelvin Giles is up to at this moment
Christian: What’s going on in Kelvin Gile’s life at this moment in time?
Kelvin: I’m making fewer mistakes and I’m enjoying being a volunteer coach and I’m working with 12-year-olds. I used to work with 12 -year-olds as a PE teacher 50 years ago, but now I have to think so carefully every single day.
I’m making less mistakes and I’m enjoying being a volunteer coach.
I’ve got a 12-year-old going towards swimming championships now, and she’s also a person that came third in the country in 200-meter sprinting last year. She’s a generalist, she’s a multi-sport person, she’s growing.
She’s growing very tall and then she started high school. She’s got social pressures. She’s got parents that want her to be a non-specialist and yet we have fixture lists out there for her. We have qualifying standards for her. So she’s going through a growth and development at a huge rate of change.
All these things are things that I preached about; young people that I’m now going to have to make decisions about it. I made one mistake with her when I didn’t manage the load with her, where she set these wonderful standards and then because I didn’t give her enough time to recover.
That’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to learn to be a good teacher and learn to be a good coach now because if you think you’re good, you go and coach a twelve-year-old, seriously. If you want to go and hone your skills, come out of your Olympic champion area, and now Olympic year with Tokyo, you go out and see if you can coach a twelve-year-old.
If you want to go and hone your skills, come out of your Olympic champion area, and see if you can coach a 12-year-old.
That’s a true test for you and it’s finding me out, I’m telling you. But she’s loving every minute and I’m loving every minute, which I think is the bottom line. That’s what I’m doing.
Christian: Really cool. You have been very generous with your time. I thank you for your enthusiasm and for sharing your wealth of experience.
Where can you find Kelvin Giles
Christian: Where can people find you?
Kelvin: I’ve got world wide web movementdynamics.com and I try and write a lot of blogs on there as well and that’s my way of communicating. I said I’ll put the blog’s on there and then I also send the blogs on to the UK Coaching Centre and I try and share on that as well. I try and share the blogs on that thing called LinkedIn.
It sounds like I know what I’m doing. I’ve got firstname.lastname@example.org is my email address and then you can get through to me on worldwide web movementdynamics.com and read some of the blogs and I always try and answer everybody’s email if I can. I’ll get busy at times, but I learn from everybody that communicates with me, so I want to keep on learning.
Kelvin Giles’ social profiles
Christian: Kelvin, so much for your time.
Kelvin: That’s all right, mate. Thanks very much for getting in touch. I do appreciate it. Thanks, mate.