Social connection during the pandemic

Three months ago our world changed forever with the death of my Mam, Aoife Ní Riain. She died by suicide, leaving family and friends devastated. We had Tipp training on the evening of the 29th September in preparation for the upcoming Munster Championship. Soon after the session I received the news and traveled to Belfast with my brother Ainle and our good friend Síomha, making the long journey from Tipperary to Belfast in stunned silence where we met our younger brother Naoise. The following days unfolded in a haze, letting people know, making funeral arrangements, all the while being carried along by the strong support of friends and family. It’s like time has frozen since that day, slowly defrosting and letting through the reality bit by bit. Over the past three months we’ve been processing her death, while simultaneously doing our best to keep up with the day-to-day of life. Those first few weeks afterwards were heavy with questions, regrets, and sorrow, yet surprisingly I maintained the ability to function. Coming back to training with Tipperary and into the winter Championship gave me a focus and something to look forward to. The Christmas break has provided the space to absorb and reflect the loss, the lead up to her death, and how things could have been different. It will be of no surprise when we look back at the Covid pandemic and see the knock on effect it has had on mental wellbeing. While the extent of the psychological consequences of the virus and social restrictions remains to be seen, a picture is beginning to emerge. A nine-month study...

Finding the motivation for training

The world has effectively ground to a halt in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19, disrupting our usual way of life. We are all getting used to a different way of living, and in light of the closure of all gyms and restrictions on group gatherings, this includes our exercise behaviours. This poses not only a logistical challenge to our training routines and habits, but also a psychological one. For many, exercise is a social activity, and is rarely a solely individual pursuit. We go to gyms and fitness classes, we meet up with walking groups, or are members of athletic or sports teams. And for good reason. Relatedness, or perception of personal connection with others, is a highly motivating factor to sustaining behaviour. For those in sport, the health benefits are often more of a by-product of training rather than a goal in and of itself. And there-in lies the challenge. What happens when we remove that this supportive environment that many rely on? The answer in part, will depend on what motivates people to exercise in the first place. Motivation can be defined as the degree of determination, drive, or desire with which an individual approaches or avoids behaviour (1), and it is an extensively researched topic in the field of sport and exercise psychology. We can explore what motivates people to exercise engagement by looking at the goals on which individuals focus their efforts. Self-determination theory, a framework which helps us understand the elements of human motivation, distinguishes goals based on their intrinsic or extrinsic content. Intrinsic motivation refers to taking part in activity...

Meditation for sport and for life

Meditation is the original self-improvement practice, standing the test of time since its prehistoric origins in the East, with the earliest documented evidence of meditation found on wall art in India from 5,000 to 3,500BC. Written records from around 1500BC from the Hindu traditions of Vendatism in India refers to the practice of Dhyāna, the training of the mind. Meditation seems to be coming around again, and as often is the case, science is catching up, with tons of evidence now supporting the ancient wisdom of meditators.  With everything we know about meditation, and especially in the world we live in today, here is a bold sweeping statement. You should be meditating. You can dress it up or down, you can take it whichever way you like, but the fact remains that daily meditation should be viewed as essential as daily sleep, a daily meal, or daily exercise. The extensive benefits of mindfulness meditation are as well-evidenced as physical activity. It has been shown to lower stress and anxiety, improve chronic pain management, improve sleep, improve the immune system, improve performance, improve relationships. If it was a pill it would cost a fortune. If everyone was meditating, the world would be a better place to live. There would be less reactivity, better decision making, more productivity, more compassion and a calmer collective consciousness. Interest in mindfulness meditation in the mainstream of society is growing rapidly, yet not everyone is meditating. So let’s take it back a few steps and see if we can get there together. What is Mindfulness? Does meditation and mindfulness mean the same thing? The terminology can be...

Favourite Podcast Episodes of 2016

  Podcasts continue to be one of the best ways to consume knowledge from the great minds in the world of strength and conditioning, self-improvment, and anything really. A decade ago, you would have travelled all over the world for the opportunity to hear from the best in the business and to soak up their wisdom, now you get to stream great ideas right into your ears wherever you are, for free. The only problem now is keeping up with all the excellent content that is being put out there, as the number of good podcasts proliferate. There is a podcast for everyone.. They say that you can tell a lot about a person from their podcast feed (has anyone said that yet?), and you can see mine above. 2016 was a great year for them and here are some of my  favourite episodes. Putting the list together proved tricky enough, and was subject to me actually remembering the episodes that I have listened to (which might explain the slight bias towards episodes from the latter part of the year). There are certainly great podcasts that I don’t get around to listening to, time being finite and all that. However, in no particular order, the below episodes have all been impactful on my thinking, and I highly recommend them.   Health, Movement & Self-Improvement 1)  The Joe Rogan Experience #752 Mark Sisson I say it’s in no particular order, yet this was probably my top episode of 2016, with Joe Rogan himself saying that it was one of the most informative and interesting podcasts he has ever done (which is a pretty sound endorsement...

Is a warm-up ‘just a warm-up’ ? A quick guide to team warm-ups for sports performance

Traditionally, team warm-ups for training or competition have been a means to an end, a jog and a stretch. However, great coaches now value this 20 to 30 minute block as an opportunity to enhance movement competency and reinforce excellence, as well as the necessary neuromuscular preparation for the proceeding activities. In Athletic Development, Vern Gambetta emphasises the point that the warm-up sets the tempo for the session: It is an integral, not separate part of the workout. As a strength and conditioning coach, there is nothing you will do more than conduct warm-ups, and these should all be taken as coaching moments to be taken advantage of. As an athlete, every warm-up should be a self-assessment; how do your joints and muscles feel during different movements at varying intensities? Kelvin Giles notes that the relatively short period of 20 minutes can see over 200 ‘movements’ taking place, developing the fundamental movements by connecting from fingernail to toenail. So, over time you can progress the challenge by increasing the complexity of the movement puzzles laid out for the athletes to mechanically solve. A bodyweight squat can turn into a squat with a trunk rotation; then a combination of a prisoner squat to a duck walk, or a drop squat to drop lunge. The possibilities are endless, and the more you hear your athletes tell you that the warm-up is weird, the better. Crawling, rotating, hinging, hoping, pushing, lunging, squatting, and mixing them all together. It also makes things fun and interesting. When you introduce a movement sequence that is new to the athlete, you will witness an immediate surge...

In-Season Need-to-Do’s

In-season programming is a juggling act of so many different physical components, that I sometimes get dizzy just thinking about where to fit them all into the training week. There’s more and more information out there about what you should be doing with your athletes, but if you try to pack it all into your physical development plan, you’ll create a fine mess which will be reflected in your athlete’s performances. Vern Gambetta talks about the three types of training To Do’s:  Want To Do, Nice To Do, and Need To Do. If you commit to at the very least getting the Need-to-do’s in every week then no matter what else happens you know you’re covering the essentials. It’s too easy to get side-tracked by the fancy minutia at the expense of your bread and butter. Your Need-to-do’s should reflect your training philosophy; as we know, if something is worth doing it is worth doing consistently, not in drips and drabs. The Pareto Principle seems to be applied to every life-situation and it’s granny these days but I’m sure it is relevant here too:  20% of your efforts and resources account for 80% of your results. Apply this principle to your strength and conditioning program to figure out what you Need-to-do’s are.   Strength training Despite everything we know about the benefits of strength training for sports, I still find myself having to convince some athlete’s to commit to getting stronger. The purpose of strength training for football is not to build muscle, that is merely a potential side effect. Building strength will develop your tissue’s load bearing capacity,...