Notes From European Speed Conference 2014


I either win or I learn

Matthew Hudson-Smith

 I have just returned from the European Speed Conference 2014 which was outstanding so thought I would write up a little recap to capture my thoughts while they are still fresh.

“Lessons learned from review” was a constant theme of the weekend as you will see so this is my way of not only re-reading my notes but distilling some takeaway messages (as far as I saw them anyway!). 

European Speed Conference 2014 Schedule

Click to enlarge

The schedule can be seen on the right. I have taken a photo of the hard copy given out as the online versions are incorrect due to some last minute changes in the line up.

There is a dropbox folder here which contains the presentations. This is being updated as more of the speakers make them available so keep checking back.

As you can see the presentations for yourself I have tried to only put in key points not necessarily captured there.

 Loren Seagrave – Multi Direction Activities & Acceleration

  • Epistemology is Loren’s favourite philosophy 
  • When encountering “New Truths” be critically sceptical – It may not be true or applicable
  • Speed is a skill – any coach can make you tired, not every coach can make you faster
  • Increased Joint Stabilisation is key to multi direction agility
  • In Components of Sport Specific Speed “Conversion” is translating forces e.g. Momentum of one body into another such as a tackle or horizontal into vertical velocity such as jumping to catch a ball
  • Stephen Hill used Cutaneous Tapping of his Rectus Femoris between reps of 40yd dash at the Combine as a cue to pop the thigh forward
  • Best sprinters are at 35 degree angle in acceleration
  • Sport specific speed relies hugely on Perception Action Coupling
  • “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been” Wayne Gretzky
  • Transverse plane is hardest to work in for most athletes
  • Especially when turning out away from their field of vision as many are so reliant on visual system
  • Angled backpedal is key drill to teaching defenders to keep their hips square therefore making it easier to change direction

Ben Rosenblatt – Conditioning the Hips & Lower Limb

  • Replication vs Specificity – Power Cleans may look like acceleration but the musculo-skeletal demands are totally different. Inverse Dynamics were used to identify this
  • Each rugby player in a study performed their sprints in a different biomechanical way – no two players were the same so exercises need to be relevant to the individual
  • If you only look at one slide from the preso it would be Decision Making Process
  • Bigger pennation angle of muscles give tendons a bigger anchor which allow them to be stiffer
  • Long Time Under tension at low loads can match adaptations of heavy loads
  • This is important for athletes who can’t produce much force
  • Isometrics can be a good way to create stiffness without need for impact of plyometrics
  • Key takeaway – Target Adaptations not technical changes or replicating movement patterns

This was a great talk as Ben threw in several small group tasks discussing aspects of the topic which generated some great discussion and lifted the level of engagement.

Alan St Clair Gibson – CNS fatigue: Fact or Fiction?

Much of this talk was accurately captured in the slides so just a few points here that aren’t in there:

  • Perceptions of fatigue decrease if an attractive member of the opposite sex is in the room
  • Perceptions of fatigue increase if there is an attractive member of the same sex in the room
  • Fatigue is a subconscious fight between the Physiological Governor telling you to stop and the Psychological Governor telling you to push harder
  • Varies between athletes:
    • How much do they want to win vs How worried are they about the damage they are doing to themselves
  • Most highly successful athletes display obsessive compulsive sociopathic behaviour
  • Fatigue is highly complex depending on many factors
  • Athletes generally operating submaximally even if they think it’s a max effort
  • Athletes constantly processing lots of conflicting information to pace themselves
  • Fatigue is a composite of Physiological and Psychological factors

This was a fascinating talk that took a holistic approach to fatigue which was very refreshing as lots of the research has been very polarised and clearly performance is a blend of many factors.

My initial thought was that this links clearly to the “Talent needs Trauma” theories. Lots of top level athletes come from broken homes or lost a parent early in childhood and the theory is that this creates insecurity in them “You aren’t safe”. The result is a vastly increased work ethic in an attempt to safeguard against being hurt again.

The psychological/physiological play off is also clear when records are broken and suddenly other athletes achieve these levels regularly thereafter. The obvious example was the 4 minute mile which was thought impossible and the year after Bannister broke it 24 people then did the same. Big implications for coaches with many potential applications.

Tony Hadley – Long Term Development of a 400m runner

  • Sport develops the character & mind of athletes which impacts them for the rest of their lives
  • Learnt more from the trials of coaching Derek Redmond than the successes of Phil Brown
  • Long Term Development is a necessity now where it wasn’t before because of the sedentary lifestyle of kids today
  • Many are like Crème Eggs – Hard shell but a soft centre – powerful levers but weak core
  • Start at the trunk and work outwards
  • Growth affects development and often means you have to start over
  • Aerobic Fitness is a low priority initially as you don’t want to load poor posture with high volumes
  • Efficiency – Consistency – Resilience
  • Co-ordination and Balance are critical qualities to develop
  • Check athletes vision as it has big impact. Many don’t want to wear glasses but has massive impact on performance
  • Young athletes listen more readily to Senior athletes than Coaches on nutrition & lifestyle

Fantastic talk which produced the quote of the weekend for me which I put at the top of these notes. Tony was very honest regarding mistakes he had made but it was clear he had learnt so much from them that he now applied.

It is no coincidence that so many top coaches were former PE teachers (back before OFSTED & the government took the Physical out of PE!) and have many years’ experience.

I was fortunate to have a chat with Tony at dinner and he was fascinating to talk to and very giving of his time for which I was very grateful.

Jonas Tawiah-Dodoo – Speed Development

  • Reflective Practice is key part of his coaching
  • Visited many top coaches searching for commonalities in what they do
  • MSc “Heuristics of expert decision makers”
  • Dan Pfaff’s heuristics:
    • Health
    • Efficiency
    • Skill Acquisition
  • Jonas’ Heuristics:
    • Values
    • Beliefs
    • Behaviours
  • Looked to identify “What is Talent? Why do talented athletes fail to make it? What breaks them?”
  • One takeaway message from Frans Bosch would be Cross Exchange Reflex:
    • If you quickly flex one leg the other leg rapidly extends & vice versa
  • Jonas cues this as “Switch”

A very engaging talk and Jonas’ passion came across loud and clear. The investment and commitment he has made to his coaching practice is a commonality that I have seen in many great coaches and it is no surprise to see the results coming from his group.

Steve Fudge – Evolution of the Athlete

  • Learn from your mistakes – Have a best guess, roll the dice, review what happened
  • Looking at his program be aware it is written for athletes who are equivalent to F1 cars not Trabants!
  • If you want to take the less is more approach you have to have an excellent understanding of your subject otherwise you may be removing essential components
  • Very individualised program from cueing to therapy
  • As a result has small group – Its why F1 teams only have 2 cars
  • When James Dasaolu ran 9.91s he had 474 days consecutive training
  • If you can stay injury free for that length of time the consistency of training will inevitably produce a fantastic result at some stage
  • Don’t worry about what other coaches are doing – they are working with different athletes
  • Speed & Endurance help recover from each other
  • There can be lots of pressure to compete but need to stay away from it to peak for best performances at the right time e.g. World Champs
  • If you have a vision of where you want to go you will find a way to get there
  • Mainly works on athletes’ strengths then tops up their weaknesses
  • Many athletes do far too much – if you are going to add to a program you need to take something else out
  • Support staff need to be coached to work to your vision
  • Can be hard as they are often experts in their field with ideas that conflict with you
  • Best people are often Mavericks and hard to work with but its worth the effort
  • Cryotherapy is an effective aid to sleep for his athletes
  • Athletes don’t need much gym work especially if they are naturally strong & powerful

Here is a great video showing Steve at work and here is a Q&A with him and his brother who is a Physiologist with British Athletics.


A brilliant conference which was very professionally organised. The speed and way in which material was distributed was second to none and something many other Conferences could learn from. The speakers were world class with excellent practical applications of everything they do. The delegates and speakers created a relaxed and friendly atmosphere where sharing was paramount. It was great to see some old faces and meet many new ones. I was lucky to travel to and from the Conference with Mark Williams from Southend United. Alongside putting the world to rights we had some great discussions around coaching – he is doing some fantastic work with the club and SEEVIC College athletes and students.

In the spirit of Jonas’ heuristics I will leave you with my 3 key heuristics.

Individualise – Review – Share

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