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!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Why do footballers need a rest?

I was scanning through the sports headlines on the BBC website and saw Jose Mourinho's comment about resting players at the weekend."The players that have accumulated lots of minutes are not going to play next weekend," he said. But what constitutes "lots of minutes"?

If a tennis player wants to win a grand slam they have to play 7 matches in 14 days and spend time on the practice courts too. A men's match might last anywhere between 2 and 5 hours, the women spend anywhere between 1 and 3 hours on court. The tennis season is also very long. Most top players will play around 20 tournaments a year. Getting through only 2 rounds each time would mean 60 matches.

So I'm perplexed. A tennis player has to give full commitment and concentration throughout the match. They don't' have a team around them to cover for any momentary lapses in concentration. So there must be something different that means a footballer can't cope with a heavy schedule. Is it recovery, fitness or what? I'm not suggesting they are somehow less of an athlete or poorly conditioned for their sport. I'm just wondering what makes one person able to sustain the effort and concentration required over an intense and focussed schedule of games and another not being able to do so.

Perhaps the fact that tennis is focussed on a much smaller area compared to a football pitch changes things, or the simple fact that you are only playing against one or two other people rather than eleven takes a different toll on your mental resources.

The bottom line is that you can't compare apples and oranges and so the difference between a footballer, a racquet sports person, a rugby player or a triathlete is an unrealistic comparison. The demands of their chosen sports must have an impact that differs from sport to sport.

Today's sportsman or sportswoman is more highly trained, better conditioned and better prepared. As a result the sport they play is more physically and mentally demanding. It's faster and as a result more intense. Perhaps this is why resting players is more common.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Time to update driver education for everyone

Last week there was another call for drivers over 70 to be compulsorily retested. While I understand the issue being raised and feel for the context in which it is raised (the loss of a family member to an older driver who 'loses control' of a car), it does seem to be something of a generalisation. Are all drivers over 70 more potentially dangerous than those under 70?

In these days of alternative facts, let me offer a few generalisations of my own.

I have never seen a driver over 70:

  • Fumble around using a mobile 'phone
  • Try to apply their make-up
  • Overtake on a pedestrian crossing
  • Use a right turn only lane to jump the queue
  • Listening to music so loud it make my car vibrate and clearly indicates they can't hear anything else
  • Do a seated version of a dance
  • Eat a MacDonald's meal
  • Carry a cup of coffee between their knees
  • Answer their 'phone and write in their diary, steering with their knees
I'm also pretty convinced that the motorcyclists and drivers who clearly exceed the 30mph speed limit through the village outside my house are not over 70, and of the 3 or 4 significant accidents that have happened on our road, none have involved anyone over 70.

It would appear that it's not the over 70's who need to be reeducated and retested!


As an alternative to putting everyone under pressure to pass a test, and let's be honest everyone can pass or fail a test, why not look at ways to encourage continual education. Why should safer driving courses only be something you attend in order to avoid having points added to your licence? Having attended such a course, I actually found it really interesting and helpful. And yes, I did change the way I did some things.

Perhaps we ought also to look at the process learning to drive. Make it more modular, demonstrating key skills as you progress over a minimum timeframe of say 2 years. Teaching people defensive driving skills and developing better habits and understanding of why the rules of the road are there.

Retesting is not the answer.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A quick comparison of Runkeeper and Polar A360 data

I've recently done a bit of interval training/walking again, and I've remembered to set Runkeeper going to record my efforts. I also have my trusty Polar A360 activity monitor strapped to my wrist. Perhaps I should have stuck my old pedometer in my pocket too, just for completeness!

Anyway, I thought it would be interesting to compare the data from both the A360 and Runkeeper. Here's the raw data:



The top screenshot is from Runkeeper, the lower one from the A360. There's clearly a discrepancy between the two, but there's also an obvious explanation. Runkeeper uses the GPS facility in my iPhone to map the route, the A360 does not have GPS capability. Consequently it has to use some form of algorithm to calculate distance which in turn impacts the calorie estimate and pace data too.

The point is simple. If you're going to buy an activity monitor then make sure you get something that suits the main type of exercise you do. If you're a runner or walker, then you really ought to consider something that has GPS if accurate distance is important. If like me, most of your activity takes place in a confined space like a tennis court, then GPS is irrelevant. I don't do enough running/walking to warrant a GPS enabled watch. It's all possible that if I activated the app on my phone form Polar (Polar Beat) it might se the GPS and compensate for the difference. I don't know, but it might be worth investigating. 

Activity monitors are simply that-monitors of activity. Some allow you to set the type of activity, the A360 has various sport/training modes that you can set, but generally speaking it's all about trends and making sure you get up and active on a daily basis. My Polar Flow did that and the A360 just gives me a bit more flexibility and a little more data (heart rate mostly).

Anyway, I just thought it was interesting to see the difference and be reminded that nothing is perfect and the data out is only every going to be as good as the data in.