Monday, September 11, 2017

Step comparison

As I've started my 100 day challenge, I thought I'd do a quick comparison of the data from my pedometer and from my activity monitor. I use a Polar A360. I've posted some stuff about it before, so I won't go into too much detail here.

The A360 takes all your activity and converts it into "equivalent steps". I'm guessing it uses some sort of algorithm to do this. So, when I play tennis for example, it will show a higher step count than when I go for a walk, not because I've necessarily taken more steps but because of the way it converts movement into steps. This shows up in the statistics. Interestingly, one day the A360 under-recorded steps compared to the pedometer rather than over-recording (although over and under recording aren't exactly the best way to describe what it does!).

Anyway, using the 14 days from August, here's what the comparative data looks like:


Total Steps: 192525
Average per day: 13751
Highest: 24750
Lowest: 10458


Total Steps: 233407
Average per day: 16672
Highest: 28693
Lowest: 10686

Interestingly, the day the A360 recorded fewer steps than the pedometer was the day I intentionally went for a walk and set my wristband to monitor that activity (i.e. to log the walk as a training event). It's also partly why I'm undecided about how best to monitor myself during the 100 days. At the moment I simply use my pedometer and make sure it hits 10k each day.

I guess in the end the data just underlines that you need to decide what you want to measure and then choose the appropriate method and equipment to do that job.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Aug 2017 stats

Each time I've done my 100 day challenge I've kept a record of steps in a simple spreadsheet. So here are the stats for August.

Total Steps: 192525
Average per day: 13751
Highest: 24750
Lowest: 10458
No. of consecutive days: 14

I was intending to start on September 1st, but having stuck the pedometer in my pocket and managed to hit my target, I decided just to keep going.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Counting steps again

Having fixed my old pedometer, I stuck it in my pocket and have let it count my steps for the past week. Apart from Saturday, when I went for a walk intentionally, I've just let it measure the steps I do as part of my daily routine. Given that I've done quite a bit of coaching, it's not surprising at all that I've passed 10k every day. In fact I've averaged around 13,500.

So I'm trying to think about what my goal ought to be when we start the challenge in September. Given what I currently do, I can't see any value in simply adding more steps, but maybe I could try targetting "aerobic" steps. When I first suggested doing the challenge again, I thought that maybe I could set a target around what proportion of steps come from simply walking. That would mean I would have to go out each day for a walk rather than just relying on being active enough to do my 10k.

Of course this is me just musing about things, knowing that I'm in quite a fortunate position by being as active as I am. It's not the case for everyone. It's also about these pesky "smart" targets too. You know the routine: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timed. But maybe smart needs a little more, a little extra. I'm trying to think about what other words to use. So far I've come up with "Stretching" and "Meaningful".

I think a target needs to stretch you. It's not really a target if it's easy to do. If it's easy for me to do 10k steps then it needs to be higher or simply different in some way. Not sure how meaningful fits in except that it begins with "m"! Perhaps it's about it having some purpose. Weight loss, heart health, part of a training programme to trek the coastal paths of the UK or the Great Wall of China. Motivational might another m-word. It has to be something you want to achieve, something that will drive you forward when it's raining and cold and you don't "feel" like going out or when things simply try to get in the way of achieving your goal.

I guess "a" could be ambitious or even audacious, but that moving beyond something objective which is the fundamental principle of smart. Sometimes it's "agreed upon", which might mean sharing your goal with someone to you can be accountable-which also starts with "a"!

That's it, I'm out of ideas. Time to stop typing and go for a walk instead!

PS Greg Whyte's book "Achieve the Impossible" is all about taking on a  challenge and he has a wider definition of SMART. I'll try and find it and post it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Pedometer update!

So, I had a quick look at new pedometers and discovered that many now have a reset button on the front. Why? Why would you want to reset it? I have a feeling that mine would continually be resetting itself as it bumped around in my pocket.

Anyway, I got out my screwdrivers and dismantled my old pedometer and cleaned up the contacts and now, with a bit of fiddling, I've been able to set the time and other parameters and I'm all set to get recording.

As a matter of interest, I did a quick check. It was 2014/15 that I last did the challenge. I managed 183 consecutive before a calf injury ended the run. That was in March 2015 and for some reason I stopped recording the data too afterwards. I think it might be because I got my new Polar A360. That and the battery might have run out!

I think my plan will be the record the data over the next couple of weeks to see what's currently normal/typical and then plan to get out walking in September. I haven't yet decided whether I'll use tennis as part of the 10k or not. It would be interesting but possibly impractical to try and do 10k walking steps in addition to all the stuff I do on court. I will have to think about that carefully.

One solution would be to set a minimum walking target, say 6.5k steps. At a guess that's around 3 miles or 5Km and might be achievable even on heavy tennis days. I could work out a simple route that would hit that goal.

If I start on September 1st, 100 days takes me to December 9th, but I might be a bit later starting this year because of other commitments. Still, it would be nice to hit the target by Christmas. In 2014 I even did my 10k on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Get up, get out, get moving!

It's never a bad time to take on a challenge to get a little more active. I'm probably the most active I've ever been, what with all the coaching I now do. But I still feel the need to "do something". Quite what that is, I don't know.

So it could be time to hit the walking challenge yet again. It's simple, 10,000 steps a day for 100 days. I've blogged about it each time I've done it, and somewhere on my computer are the spreadsheets with all the data of my previous cycles. I've even put a new battery in my old pedometer. Sadly it doesn't seem to want to allow me to set the time etc, but maybe it's just sulking a bit having not been used for 3 years!

If I'm really honest, the thought of doing this again does not fill me with excitement or anticipation. Instead I feel a certain about of something between doom and lethargy about the whole idea. But I know how good it is to set a challenge and actually hit the target. I also know that once I get started it's a lot easier to keep gong than it is to take the first step. 

If you decide to do something similar, you need to know upfront that there will be days when you don't feel like do anything. Days when you will literally have to drag yourself out of bed and out of the house. If you could get fitter just by sitting on the sofa, we'd all opt for that. But the other day I was chatting to someone at the gym and they asked how I felt when I did the challenge. I couldn't quantify my response, it's been 3 years, but I know that there was something special about the experience, even on the hard days. 

Maybe that's it. Maybe it's having done something that wasn't easy, maybe it was persevering when you really wanted to stop. So maybe I need a new challenge, or the same challenge but done in a new way. I don't imagine there are many days when I don't do the equivalent of 10k steps. I might need to think more in terms of simply making sure I do a certain amount of walking each day. Set a percentage of total steps to have to come from walking alone. I don't know. I think I'll need to experiment a bit to find out what an achievable target might be. 

I'll also plot a few routes. I found it really useful to know that if I wanted/needed to do a certain number of steps then this or that route would give me that number.

Well, time to stop thinking and time to start planning and more importantly time to start walking. September will soon be here, and that's a good month to start a new plan.

Friday, June 02, 2017

For the love of practice!

How long does it take to get good at something? That's a question that fits into the "How long is a piece of string?" category, but there has been some research that suggests that it is possible to quantify the amount of time needed to develop a skill. Of course we shouldn't confuse developing a skill with achieving excellence. That is something on a different level.

In sport there is always a debate about the relationship between natural talent and hard work. Some have argued that talent is more a myth than a reality and that hard work and hours of practice is the true measure of what makes an elite athlete. Personally I think there's a middle ground somewhere that recognises talent but also understands than without hard work, commitment and long hours of purposeful practice, it will go to waste.

The bottom line is that you can't improve unless you practice, the only question that remains is how much are you willing to do, or able to do, to make practice a priority. Actually there is another question you need to answer: Do you love to practice?

Over the last 6 or 7 years of playing tennis I have grown to love practice. I miss when I can't do it. I don't miss playing anywhere near as much as I miss practising! Sounds odd, but the pleasure I get from working on shots, technique and strategy in a practice session makes all the sweat and effort worthwhile. Playing is a whole other dimension with different pressures. I still enjoy it, but it's definitely different.

This has become even more clear to me recently. I've suffered a knee injury that has made playing difficult. As I work on rehab I've started to practice again and I realised the other day that if I couldn't play another tournament because of the knee, I'd still turn up and practice. Weird or what! This last week I've managed about 6 hours of practice. The knee aches a little and yet I feel great.

Maybe it's the purposefulness of the practice that makes it so much fun. Maybe it's the folk with whom I get to practice. I suspect it's a bit of both plus the coaching.

If, as some have suggested, it take an average of 10,000 hours of purposeful practice to achieve excellence, then I'm fast running out of time! On other the hand, no practice equals no improvement. So I'll keep putting in maximum effort while I can.

Yes, I'll admit it. I love practice!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Statistics and Sport

We all know that statistics don't tell the whole story, but sometimes they can fall into the "quite interesting" category and even make make to the status of "very interesting"! Take the Aviva Rugby Premiership Final for example. Exeter ran further and passed more. They had more possession and more territory than Wasps (68% to 31%). And yet the game was decided by a single penalty.

Dig a little deeper and you find that Wasps made more line breaks (15-8), but everything else was pretty similar in attack. Defending they made more tackles (282-120).

So we might say that Exeter's victory is reflected quite clearly in the statistics. But that's not the whole story. Wasps were pretty shambolic in the fist half and in the end their lack of precision and accuracy probably cost them the game. That and a certain forward's reluctance to let go of the ball when the referee told him four times to get his mitts off it! And what if Exeter hadn't scored a late penalty to level the scores? Wasps would have won the game having had half the possession and half the territory Exeter had. Interesting.

So are the statistics ever useful, particularly when it comes to coaching? Clearly from a rugby point of view the obvious thing the statistics tell you is that it's pretty difficult to win a match when you spend most of it defending your own try line as Wasps had to do on Saturday. But then again that was pretty obvious from simply watching the game.

But what about other sports, particularly the one in which I am most involved, tennis? There's a much vaunted statistic often discussed in post-analysis by commentators and pundits. It's the winner:unforced error ratio.

I watched some of the Murray/ Kuznetsov match yesterday and I had a look at the stats from it. Murray's ratio was 29:24 (1.20), Kuznetsov's was 33:45 (0.73) But does that tell the whole story? The thing about tennis is that you have to win more games than your opponent and that, you'd expect, means winning more points. But how many more? Take a really simple scenario where the match score is 6-4,4-6,6-4. You could actually win that match by winning only 2 more points than your opponent, the difference between wining and losing a single game. It could even be a single point and possibly no different at all although I'd have to do a lot of probability maths to work of if that was possible!

In the match Murray won a total of 118 points over 34 games. He won 22 games in total. He hit 29 winners. That's less than 30% of his points were won with outright winning shots. Now this is clay, and hitting winners on clay isn't easy! According to the stats, Kuznetsov made 45 unforced errors (not a helpful description because unforced is a rather subjective measure in my opinion). That leaves 44 points unaccounted for unless they are deemed forced errors, but that didn't appear in the statistics I was looking at. If you take both players together then out of 200 points played 63 were decided by winners (interestingly Kuznetsov hit more winners than Murray), whereas 69 were decided by unforced errors and the rest, 68, were unaccounted for in terms of how they were determined. So in this match everything seemed quite even and Kuznetsov's higher error count appears to have been a deciding factor.

What statistics can't tell you is how the style of play and the court surface, weather conditions etc affect the course of a match. An aggressive player may make more errors than a defensive player but their attacking style might create more opportunities to make winning shots. Two attacking players might have shorter rallies, two defensive players might have longer rallies. How might that affect errors and winners? Statically the player with a ratio higher than 1.0 should win, and that is nearly always the case. Nearly, but not always. On the ATP tour around 40% of matches are won by the player with the better than 1.0 ratio. On the WTA is nearer 90%.

So how does this affect the way we coach? Do we simply tell our players to make fewer errors, be difficult to beat, or do we need to adapt our coaching to their style of play. An aggressive all-court player might make more errors, but they might hit more winners too. Perhaps players need to learn how best to create the opportunity to hit the shots they hit best without worrying too much about error counts and winner/error ratios.

The overall stats from the ATP/WTA tours suggest that even if you keep the errors down and the winners up, you don't always significantly improve your chances of winning. Rugby and football matches can be won form statically weak positions. In then end, it just goes to show that sport is more than a statistical numbers game!