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Five Pearls of Wisdom

Dr Matt long reports on a presentation given by Tony Strudwick, Manchester United head of performance, at an England Athletics and BMC endurance symposium.

Tony Strudwick has been at Manchester United since 2007 and was a member of the England backroom staff for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Still, the million-dollar question on the lips of some very high-profile endurance coaches who gathered at the Aston Conference Centre in Birmingham was, "Can a soccer coach teach us anything about athletics?" An hour later, most attendees would answer in the affirmative, the following five pearls of wisdom for coaches and athletes.

Develop your Foundational and Fundamental Movement Skills

Manchester United encourages their young academy players to use multi-sports camps in the summer where activities like gymnastics, swimming, and appropriately controlled boxing build fundamental movement patterns, thus minimising the risk of injuries later in one's career.

In speaking of the trend across football, Strudwick lamented that "Academy players tend to under-train and over compete. Central motor skills are not being learned before the age of 12 and training is too often geared for outcomes, not process". The man who had a brief playing career with Colchester United FC before coaching told how striker Wayne Rooney was effectively the last of the "street football" generation.

Manchester United has created a unique cage football arena so that their stars of tomorrow can work on the twisting and turning movements so crucial in long-term athlete development of any kind. So if you are a young athlete in biological terms or perhaps are of relatively low training age, are you still working in the type of activities advocated by Strudwick to pave the way for long-term success?

Do not make Excuses

Strudwick reminded attendees how many of the famed Class of 92 trained in the relatively light conditions at The Cliff rather than Carrington's more recent multi-million-pound facility."Money, facilities, and equipment alone are not the answer. Remember that bricks and mortar never made an athlete", he urged. He stressed that "Advancements in technology are not a substitute for our craft knowledge, rather a compliment." So, if the likes of Beckham, Giggs, and Scholes got by, then do not moan about the state of your local club track or not being able to afford the latest fancy stopwatch.

Keep a Training Diary

The man with a PhD in Sports Science told the audience, "If it is measurable, measure it. If it is controllable, control it and if it is both, record it". So, get yourself logging your training and critically, like Strudwick's stars who Louis Van Gaal manages, monitor your post-competition training loads in what he defined as the critical period in the three days after (not just before) competition.

Get a Coach

A training diary can only take you so far, and you need someone to assist you to monitor and make sense of it. "High-quality feedback supports hunger for continuous improvement. How fast we learn will determine how successful we will be", said the former head of fitness and conditioning at Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United.

Set some Goals

Strudwick quoted former captain Gary Neville, who once famously declared, Manchester United are never at the top of the mountain. There is no mountain, no end in sight. It is just a continuous, relentless charge year after year. There is never a feeling of "We have done it". So, set some realistic goals and be prepared to re-evaluate them as and when you achieve them. If you suffer a dip in results, remember the adage, "Form is temporary, but class is permanent".

BMC Coaching Subcommittee member Matt Long supported England Athletics National Coach Mentor Lead for Endurance, Spencer Duval, who led the organisation of the symposium.

Page Reference

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  • LONG, M. (2016) Five Pearls of Wisdom [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Dr Matt Long is a British Athletics Coach Education Tutor and volunteer coach with Birmingham University AC.