Nick Winkelman

Athletic Performance & Science Expert

Episode 52

Athletic Performance and Science expert, Nick Winkelman joins us on this week’s show. Nick is a highly regarded expert in athletic performance and has many years of experience working with top athletes, both in North America and in Europe.

Nick discusses a wide range of topics, including: His new book - The Language of Coaching, the difference between internal and external cue words, the Coaches Communication Loop, How to prolong your career and much more!

This episode offers a slightly different perspective on athletic performance and how it relates to tennis.

Don’t miss it!

 

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Nick has kindly offered 30% off his book, the Language of Coaching which can be ordered from http://www.humankinetics.com/ and use the code FTCOACH30 for 30% Off. (valid until July 25, 2020)


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Episode 52 Transcription

Nick Winkelman

Hi, this is Nick Winkelman and you are listening to the Functional Tennis Podcast.

 

Fabio Molle

Welcome to Episode 52 of the Functional Tennis Podcast. I'm your host, Fabio Molle. This week I've stepped outside the tennis world to speak to Nick Winkelman. Nick is highly regarded in the area of athletic performance in science and has recently released a book which helps coaches communicate better with their athletes. It's a great chat and parts of the conversation bring me back to why I started the Functional Tennis Instagram account four years ago, nearly to this very week. Nick has kindly agreed to offer a discount for his book, The Language of Coaching in which we share with you at the end of the show. Before we start a quick note to say we've launched a new tennis mount that allows you to easily record your tennis practice or matches with your phone. It only weighs 500 grams, easily fits in your racket bag and you can set up in seconds, head off to our website at Functionaltennis.com to get all the details. Finally, a shout out to our podcast sponsors HEAD who make amazing tennis rackets - our favorite here at Functional Tennis. Okay, lets chat to Nick. Hi, Nick, welcome to the Functional Tennis Podcast.

 

Nick Winkelman

Great to be here.

 

Fabio Molle

It's great to have you on. I was asked by some friends of mine who work in the tennis industry, national coaches, I should get you on the podcast so excited to have you. You're not our usual guest, you don't directly work in tennis. But I think what you can offer can be really valuable to our listeners who are a mix of parents, young players, coaches, and some federation directors. So it's going to be a really great chat. But before we get started, can you tell our listeners about bit about yourself?

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, so I've been a strength conditioning coach now for over 15 years, and maybe we'll kind of work from present to path. So my current role is as head of athletic performance and science for the Irish Rugby Football Union. So over here living in Dublin, with my family since 2016. And just to give people an insight into what that long title actually means, I have the fortunate opportunity to work across all national and our four provincial teams, overseeing if you would, and supporting the division, the execution and an application of all athletic performance and Sport Science, let's say initiatives, which if I'm honest, it's very much so in a lot that with medical and nutrition and rugby staff, but the really cool thing about Irish rugby, is if you would we operate like a team of teams. And so we have these domain level leads working for Irish rugby then can support and connect all national and provincial teams and obviously have an arm into supporting our domestic game as well. And so my my role is probably 70% on the leadership, the visioning, coach education side and 30% on the ground, but my background very much so in the trenches, helping people get bigger, faster, stronger for team sports primarily. But just out of interest prior to coming to Ireland, I worked for a company called EXOS formerly athlete's performance for the better part of the decade, and that was, and still is a high performance company that is a multinational - works across the United States and various country, in call it private client performance, which is pretty big business in the United States. And what I did there was throughout the year as the strength conditioning coach, but primarily my area was working with athletes transitioning into the NFL. Notably via the NFL combine, and so I would help collegiate American football players physically prepare themselves to go to the NFL combine, which happens at the end of February, and basically a physical interview of sorts where they go and run a 40, a vertical jump, a broad jump. And so it's fairly big business in the United States to help, let's say, guide, these players transition to the Combine, to the draft and then inevitably to the NFL. And the other half of my job, so to speak, was most certainly in coach education. And so it's always been a huge passion of mine. And when I started with EXOS, we were running these kind of week long, coaching mentorship programs in Phoenix, Arizona, and by the time I left, 10 years later, we had online certifications, and were running courses in over 25 different countries, and so very much so I see myself as one part coach, and one part, coach educator and kind of the red thread throughout that really is just that it's my interest in coaching and my interest in communication and how we as movement professionals whether you're a parent or a tennis coach, how we impact others, and their ability to learn to move through our language to our communication.

 

Fabio Molle

Wow, I can see how you've come to your recent role with Irish Rugby with all that experience.

 

Nick Winkelman

I appreciate it.

 

Fabio Molle

You really don't get to where you are without being in the trenches for many years. But just a quick aside here, my wife's sister was actually the Irish female team doctor, for I'm not sure if she did a year or two there. But she didn't like the amount of concussions so she she stepped down. And yeah, so tell me, how did you actually end up in Dublin, Ireland getting the job for IRFU? You come from the States?

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, I know. I know. Funny enough, in American sports, here's a ton of imported call it strength conditioning coaches and sports scientists from throughout Europe and Australia, notably, very rarely do you see it happen the other way. And long story short, again, I guess it's in service of a network, I've done a lot of education in this part of the world and a lot of education in Australia. And David Nucifora, who's obviously our high performance director, he and I had a mutual friend from Australia who made the introduction when the position opened up, and it was one of those things where initial conversation happened. And it was hand in glove, you know, what the position required and kind of the vision that they had for it and what I was able to offer the position notably with a fairly diverse background, and if my position is anything you know, Fabio, it is diverse. Somedays, you're down in the trenches coaching, other days, you're giving a presentation to committee members. Another day, you're talking sports scientists with a data scientist and everything in between. And so it was just one of those things that happened and a few conversations later, we were like 'hey', I think this is gonna be a fit. And after now, over four years in the role, I can definitely say from my side of things, it's been absolutely amazing not only on the sports side and the role side which has been just class, but also on the personal side, you know, I have two young kids so the ability to bring them across the pond, allow them to be educated and exposed to another culture, to another country. And then obviously sitting on Europe's doorstep here the ability to travel around to different amazing for my family.

 

Fabio Molle

I can only imagine and plus you're working for one of the best world rugby teams in the world.

 

Nick Winkelman

Absolutely. I always tell people, and my friends back home can't fully appreciate this because you know, they didn't, let's say grew up in rugby. But my very first international match that I attended was the 2016 match in Chicago, where Ireland beat the All Blacks for the first time. And so to see that on, technically my home turf, and the fact that the Cubs had just won, you know, a few days prior being in Chicago, it was just a surreal experience and people joke well, it's only going to go down from here. But the reality is, it's been it's been an amazing it continues to be an amazing ride. And you know, there's a lot of work still to be done. And that's what I love about this organization and this country. Very hungry.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. Well, it's good to have you on board the Irish team. We will talk a bit more about the national standards, like I mentioned earlier, later on, but let's talk about your book, The Language of Coaching, maybe you can tell us what exactly that's about.

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah. So the book in principle is really, really simple in what is it trying to achieve and present and that is, it's attempting to help coaches or more broadly, I should say, movement professionals. So you know, it doesn't matter if you're a sport coach, if you're a physio, if you're a personal trainer, does not matter. If you teach movement for a living, teach movement skills for a living, this book is directed at you and so the objective is to help via communication, ie. the language of coaching, help those movement professionals connect better with their client with their athlete. And in doing so, help the athlete through the way they think. And the way they focus connect better with how they move, and notably how they learn to move. And if we think about it, as coaches we communicate all the time. And I would say if we were to look at the percentage of our communication, distributed across a number of different categories, obviously we have the communication falls into the relationship building. We have the communication that falls into the motivation, but we most certainly have the communication that falls into the teaching bucket. And that could be words like instruction, or feedback or cueing. There's there's many phrases that we use to describe what that teaching looks like. But the reality is there are very few resources there are few textbooks or even popular science books on the topic unless you get into more business communication. And so for me, this has been a passion project since I was very, very young. Since I was first in college, I always had an interest in the way we as coaches, communicated movements and helped our athletes or clients connect to that movement and ultimately just the final footnote here. If we think about communication, so someone here in you know, you're you're working in tennis, and so you have a tennis coach or a parent who is providing some kind of a cue on the forehand. Okay, well, ultimately, what's the objective of that cue? The objective of that cue is to change how that athlete focuses, how they, let's say draw out intention for the next repetition or the next series of repetitions and so ultimately, a coach's communication turns into an athletes thoughts. And so it's such an important concept that effects quite literally everything that we do in the coach/athlete or parent/child relationship when it comes to teaching movement. And so this book has over a decade of my own experience and thoughts in it. But decades of research and insight, as we say that the giants whose shoulders I stand on.

 

Fabio Molle

Did I read you're a big fan of Tim Galwey?

 

Nick Winkelman

Oh, yes. 1974- The Inner Game of Tennis is profiled in detail in chapter four, 'Finding Focus' in my book, and you know, to this day I think it is the one of if not the most important book ever written on coaching. I put his book and the varied ones from John Wooden, who was the famed UCLA basketball coach, as you know, top of the charts and what's crazy to think about is the that book was written in 1974. Yet the vast majority of the science, which really is intuitive as we get into it didn't come about for another 10 to 20 years after he wrote that book, and he just wrote that from a place of observation, a place of intuition. And obviously, he was quite eloquent with the pen having received in an English degree from Harvard. And so you know, for me, I look at it. That's what I'm trying to do with my book. It's to stand on the shoulders of individuals like Tim and share a resource that can globally impact the way that people think about communication and teaching it and developing called the future movers the future athletes.

 

Fabio Molle

I think it's important they start early, and can parents benefit from reading the book?

 

Nick Winkelman

Absolutely. But if a parent was to ask me, Nick, should I read The Language of Coaching? My advice on how they navigate the book would very much so in impact based on their interest level. And so if we have someone who is, let's say, an actual volunteer coach, and coaching is a passion of theirs, and they enjoy doing it, and they'd likely do it, even if their children were in sport, then for them, I'd say, yeah, read it from cover to cover, just like any other movement professional, where this is what they do day in, day out. But if you're a parent that's more curious and you're just interested in you're trying to read up on better ways to communicate and teach your child let's say, or the group of athletes you're working with. If you're coaching a team sport, then I would suggest the book is broken into three parts. Part one is called learn. Part two is called coach. And part three is called cue. I would suggest that for that person, they start with part two, in chapter four called 'Finding Focus'. And what's cool about it as they get into it, if they find you, I'm curious, I want to know more. What's behind this, guess what, you can go right back to part one and read through it. The key thing to understand though, for the listeners is even though the book is very well referenced, it is not a textbook. It is not meant to be a textbook. There are plenty of textbooks on skill acquisition and motor learning. This is not meant to replace if you would, highly scientifically tilted books. So within it, I've written it through story, through narrative, through examples, and even though we dip our toe into the detail, I always tell people right when you feel that detail is taking you too deep and you need to come up for air - well, that's exactly what I do in the book. I bring you right out of the depths back into the shallow, give you an analogy, an example a story or an exercise to apply the principle. It launched stateside, April 24. And the the UK Amazon site just got updated about two weeks ago now it's already sold out in the UK, but my understanding from the publisher is they'll be back in stock by the end of the week.

 

Fabio Molle

Funny enough, we sell a match journal for kids, tennis players of all ages, some pros use them some top juniors use them. And it's just basically it's a pre and post match analysis. But one of the parts, we do have a part on cue words in it. But now we're going to you're going to explain to us internal and external cues, something I knew nothing about. I just basically knew them as cue words, and we provide a sticker pack. And the sticker pack has words like move feet, early take back, attack, relax, positive, strong, aggressive, those sort of words and we encourage them to put the stickers on their rackets. So 1-3, no more than three, possibly just one. And they can reference them in matches and practice sessions. But as I'm saying, that's just cue words. You go deeper than that. And in your book, you talk a lot of your content. You talked about external and internal keywords. Maybe you can tell us The difference between them?

 

Nick Winkelman

Absolutely. Well, you know, you've brought his name up, so let's just use it as a reference point because because arguably if there ever was a community that was more likely to have read, Gallwey's book its this community. And so if you read the inner game of tennis, you know, Tim talks about and uses different words. He doesn't say internal and external cues, but he kind of talks about body oriented thoughts. And let's say more environment oriented thoughts. And there's actually exact quotes in there that discussed the importance of envisioning or visualizing or thinking about or seeing the outcome you hope to achieve, and very much so insofar as an outcome is something that occurs outside of the body, that as we'll soon see, here is what we call external cues. And any of the, let's say, more technical cues around where the elbow goes or where the wrist goes or where the feet should be, because they reference the body. We call those Internal. And so the world that I come from is in sprinting and movement skill development in agility, and strength conditioning coach. So there's a lot of parallels here. But let's just take an example. And I do apologize, for you the listeners if I screw up any of the terminology here. But again, let's just stick with a forehand loosely. And so an internal cue on the forehand would be just that, hey, this is shoulder position. This is elbow position. This is wrist position. These are where your feet should be. You might even hear a coach talk about snapping the hips, keeping the trunk tight. And so because they all reference singular body movements, a single joint a limb or a muscle itself, those are collectively called internal cues. And I'm sure we have people who are listening nodding along saying Okay, yeah, I definitely use those cues. The interesting thing I would say is, well, why do you use those cues? And no one needs to answer that obviously, but I just want that to be a little bit of a thought experiment. As I'm going through this little why do you use one type of cue versus another. And that's very important. And so once we believe the body, then we start talking about external cues. So what are external cues and in the case of tennis, it would be the motion of the racket, it would be the motion of the ball, it would be the interaction between the racket and the ball. And then ultimately, let's say the trajectory or the endpoint of where we want the ball to go. Equally, if we were talking about footwork, we might instead of talking about where the feet should be, or you know, hey, be explosive through your feet, you might say things like being explosive off the ground, or quick off the ground, or there might be certain things where you want kind of a peppering of the feet on the ground. And you might say, hey, imagine the ground is hot, quick, quick, quick, quick, quick. And so referencing the ground, the racket, the ball and anything to do with the net of the opponent. Anything outside of the body is external. What all of these internal and external cues have in common is that our attempt is in using them, we improve the way the athlete is focusing to improve the way they move. And so the whole idea is if I focus on the feature of movement, or the feature of the skill that I'm struggling with, that somehow I will be able to improve that feature of the skill, improve efficiency and outcome, so on and so forth and thus we have learning. And so that's if you would the continuum of cues zoomed all the way inside to the body and then all the way out. The question, if you've never asked that you should ask is okay. Are both types of cues valuable? If so, when is it more valuable to use internal? When is it valuable to use external? Does it depend on the type of skill? For example, a serve versus a forehand versus a backhand versus a dig? Would all of these require different types of cues? Or maybe novice versus expert? And these are the kind of questions that flow, once you ask that initial question, Well, why would I give one versus the other? And so this is something that I been curious about for a very, very long time. And so we actually have a lot of science here, believe it or not, you know, Timothy Gallwey, if you read his book, what type of cue is he promoting? Well, I think based on my description, and my preface there, it's external cues. He is promoting that we get out of the body and into the physical action into the physical outcome. And he talks a lot about the importance of visualization. And funny enough in the book, he has a go he has a jab at internal cues, and even in kind of a malicious, sinister way, he says, go up to your opponent and say, Hey, your technique looks really good today, as you're trading sides of the court, and and then what is he suggesting you're doing you're promoting an internal body focus, but by drawing their attention to it and so if we were to if we were to ask Timothy Gallwey if he was on the call right now, hey, if you could only put one type of thought In your players head, would it be internal or external? I'm quite confident he would say external. And so the science for this kicked off in 1998. And I'll just give you the punchline, the summary, think 98 there's easily over 170 papers on this topic. Okay? Now I'm not just saying that we blindly succumb to what the evidence says, albeit evidence this robust is hard to deny. What everyone listening has to understand is I have well over 10 years of applying and challenging and at times, not believing these principles, and inevitably, I succumbed to what I'm about to share. And that is this the evidence says it doesn't matter if you're novice or expert. It doesn't matter if you're doing a simple task like balance, or a complex task like tennis, and everything in between, from vertical jumping to broad jumping, sprinting, changing direction, dart throwing you name it, likely something close to it has been done. And so there's research has gone well outside of the lab into the real life environment. And again, and again and again, well over 96% of these studies show that external cues or analogies, things that cause kind of figurative visuals in the mind that are still referencing the environment itself, these produce more often than not not only better performance in the moment, when the cue is delivered, assuming it's the right cue for the right person, but more importantly, that they drive better learning outcomes. That means the change promoted by the external cue is sticky. It doesn't require the coach to go in and do as much reminding long term and to put a footnote on that and then I'll leave it there. Think about how many times whether you're a parent working with a child or a coach working with an athlete, you've had a breakthrough session on a Monday or a Tuesday and then they come back on the following Monday and Tuesday. And it's like, you know, Will Smith and the men in black have gone into their house and use their mind erasing technology. And you're right back at square one or the person that has an unbelievable capacity to practice and execute the skill well, but when they get into competition, it all seems to fall apart. Well, there are many factors that go into that. The one that is arguably one of the most profound but underappreciated, even though it's utilized all the time, is the way we communicate. And that's what the language of coaching is looking to do is to bring these ideas out of the research out of the laboratory, into real life, so everybody can benefit from being a better communicator, so they can be a better mover.

 

Fabio Molle

Wow, that's really interesting. I actually have a load of questions for you. First of all, your point on external versus internal when you speak to a tennis player that's a known gamesmanship for tennis players, when you tell your opponent, wow, you're serving great today, I guarantee nine times out of 10, they overanalyze like, well Im serving great, whatever I'm doing and their serve breaks down after that, or the forehand. Players do it all the time, especially at club level, it's crazy, the amount of that goes on. And now it just makes a bit more sense. But tell me Nick, does by focusing on external cues - it must ease the tension, it must make you perform better. And, you know, on those tight games where it's break pointe or, you know, you need to win certain games there must be a great advantage then to be able to think externally, rather than internally?

 

Nick Winkelman

100%. So to that point, what I've been sharing so far is all of the are alluding to, I should say, is the evidence and the research that is explicitly looked at internal versus external cueing in a teaching context, but there's a parallel stream of research that has happened completely separately on choking and performance under pressure, which is what you are referring to. And guess what? The story appears to be the exact same. And that is when people tend to underperform, or extreme under performance, which we called choking in sports. And there's certainly examples of that in the tennis community, both I'm sure locally in your own practice, but most certainly on the on the large stages like Wimbledon and the like, when we look at that, well guess what they've been able to show in terms of controlled studies on golfing and baseball is exactly what you said there. People go internal and in the formal term as you re-invest, you start thinking about parts of the movement that have already been automatized. And that don't need to be thought about explicitly, as long as you're focusing on the right features of the environment which might be the racket, eye contact on the ball, the opponent, it could pick up early signs, you know, in terms of spin rate where the ball is going to go and so on and so forth. But when I start to go back into my own body one, I don't pay attention to those early cues from the opponent and picking up where the ball might go in their movement. But equally, if you would throw a wrench in the engine, because I'm now trying to consciously control something that is far better off being automatically controlled. The second you try to think your way through a movement, you slow everything down to a halt. And in a game like tennis, you can't afford it.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, I completely agree with you. I did have a situation yesterday. This is in the gym. I do a bit of work with an Irish trainer called Mark McCabe. He's well known, he works a lot of Olympic athletes but we were working on my hip movements so getting the hip through and I'm terribly getting the hip through. And anyway, it wasn't going through and and he goes to me first of all, look, step down and turn the hip when you step go heal first and onto the toe and follow through and it still wasn't working. Then he goes just stomp your foot. And lately with our baby, he has a book and it has an elephant in it and there's a part in it where the elephant stomps his feet. And you know, it just brings you back to that. And all of a sudden, like the speed of the medicine ball increased by 20/30%, just by thinking of stamp the ball, stomp your feet instead of, you know, the technical movements. Is that an example of external?

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, no, most certainly it is. But let me pause here because I know that there and I wanted, I want to talk about your use of the of the verb, stomp, because I think it's a really interesting one that we can get into here. But let me just put a flag on this because I know if everyone's listening, especially if we have highly technical coaches, listening, they're going to say, hold on, is this guy saying that we can never or should never give any internal language we should never reference the body? And the answer to that is no, there's absolutely room and a need to reference the body but in that case they are not calling those internal cues. I call it internal language. So the question is, is there a role or what is the role for internal language. And in the book, I cover this in very, very simply, but in a fair bit of detail to make sure that there's no confusion. And that is this and I called the coaching communication loop. Where what we've been discussing so far is this idea of the cue and the cue and so to speak, it's the last idea that goes in the athletes head before they move. And so Fabio, in your example, your coach from yesterday, the last thing they said was just stomp, and they left you with that. So that that was the idea that resonated through your mind and body when you perform the medicine ball throw and so though that by definition, is a cue my words turn into your thoughts. But let's be very clear, if I'm teaching a new technique, or if I'm working with a novice, I usually will do something before I give the cue. And I call that the description in the demonstration. And so the communication loop is exactly what it sounds like. It's what you say before, during, and after a movement. So it loops around in a teaching context. And it goes, describe, demonstrate cue, they do, right, and then you debrief or have a bit of feedback, and that continues on. And so in all of these cases, if I'm reviewing a movement or teaching a movement for the first time, most certainly, I can talk about the body, I can talk about what the body is doing. But in those cases, you are teaching the athlete, you're teaching the child about the movement, you're not teaching them how to perform. It's different. You're teaching them about it. And that's important because you're giving them knowledge. You're giving them certainty, or clarity on this new skill or this new drill that they're about to go through. And all of these things in a generally psychological sense, are really positive but the key thing that we have to understand is oftentimes when I describe a forehand to someone, there's a lot of detail there. And if I leave them with that dissertation, as Timothy Gallwey talks about very clearly, they're more likely than not to get the paralysis by analysis, they're going to overthink, or they're going to throw it all in the bin and they're not going to get anything from it. And so the key thing for me is, hey, just take one final step. Take that deep breath. Okay, now to do that, insert external cue or analogy here, and you leave them with that one guiding thought that one guiding focus point to help them and so I think that's a really rich and important point of clarification for everyone listening. So as I like to say internal language and external language, they both have houses on the block. We just want to get the order that we use that language precise, because we want to minimize the amount of head, shoulders, knees and toes in the mind while we're physically moving. Okay, so that's just an important flag to put on this conversation. Now, to your point around the word, stomp, so it's really interesting, right? So your coach is saying, I need you to put your foot here, and then your knee needs to go here and then your hip needs to go there. And so already right there, he's at three different things. But even then, if I say your foot goes here, your knee goes here, your hip goes here, that is giving you an indication of how to move in space, literally where my body goes. But here's the key thing that is oftentimes missing. And this is a failure of many internal cues, is they give you no indication of how fast to do that or even how to put the hip, the knee and the ankle together. So the second your coach says, stomp, you in your mind have an infinite collection of things movements, notably lower body movements, notably, that fall in the category of stops. You think of a marching band, you think of a child having a temper tantrum, you think of a loud noise. You think of something forceful. You think of something energetic. And these are not so much things that come to the mind, like a word document in terms of one thought at a time, but let's be honest, when people hear the word stomp, it's almost as if it bypasses the mind altogether, and it penetrates right into the body and you emotionally feel the word stomp, rather than cognitively think about the word stomp. And so that is the power of external cues. And when I talk about external cues, there are three main ingredients that I call distance, direction and description. And the description part of the cue is the verb. The verb is the heartbeat, it so to speak, gives the person the emotional sense of how to bring the movement to life. And so other words we could have used is drive, stomp, punch, push, right? These are all words that could relate to you putting your foot into the ground in a certain way. And so what I like about what you've expressed in that very simple, singular word is that in their lives, the power of that and external cues, it's like a Trojan horse for technical information. It's simple. It's visual. It's emotional, you feel it. But then the body can download all the technical information that's already mapped into your experience. You never have to think about it at all. And it just rolls it out like a piece of software. But all you get is that pretty visual, and emotional and your body does the rest.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense. And you do hope that when you go back to the exercise tomorrow, the next day, 'stomp' will be there forever.

 

Nick Winkelman

Exactly.

 

Fabio Molle

That's, I think that's important.

 

Nick Winkelman

It doesn't cause a lot of cognitive pollution. Stomp is easy to carry into battle.

 

Fabio Molle

True, but maybe can give us an example. I'm not sure if you can here now, let's say Johnny Sexton, the world's best rugby out half in the world of how you would use some external cue or language with him maybe good analogy that you've used?

 

Nick Winkelman

For sure, for sure. And so, you know, obviously, in the world that I work in, I'm not necessarily working on the rugby skills themselves. But I'm working on all the physical qualities, you know, the running, sprinting, the change of direction that the rugby skills depend on, both on attack and defensively. And so let me give you one cue that I know all of our athletes when we were preparing for the World Cup really enjoyed from an acceleration perspective. And so just to put a visual in everyone's mind, I want you to imagine Usain Bolt and obviously he's at the start line, and the starter gun goes off and what do you see, see this nice low drive position and his body gradually rises more vertical until he gets to about 60/70 meters, and he's almost completely vertically upright. And when we look at rugby, it's no different. Early on, I get the ball, I see a hole, I have to aggressively attack that hole. And that's like me accelerating over the first 10 meters, like Usain Bolt. But if that hole turns into a 40 meter lane, for me to go score a try, inevitably, my body's gonna continue to rise, just like Usain Bolt, because at that point, I'm no longer a rugby player. I'm a sprinter. And I'm trying to move as fast as I can, from A to Z. And so speed is such a critical part of our game that we work on it quite a bit. And so one of the cues that we would use to help the players understand that they need to continue to put a lot of energy, a lot of force in the ground, not dissimilar to your 'stomp', but at the same time in doing so their body needs to gradually rise and we used the single word word 'climb'. They will start to get to about 15 meters, climb, climb, climb. And if you think about the word climb, obviously we can think of climbing as a vertical cliff face. But in this case, we talked about climbing the mountain. And so if you visualize what is your body position, when you're climbing a mountain, it's slightly lean forward, you have good load that front leg and you have to push down and back at a good strong angle, or you're going to fall backwards. And so by the very word climb, and the emotion and the visual that it promotes, it actually hides inside of it, the technical positions, we wanted the lower body and the upper body, but also the energy that we want as well. And so what I did prior to using the word 'climb', is listen as we get past that 10/15 meters, gentlemen, I need you to feel like you're climbing up a mountain and you're driving, driving as hard as you can and that's steeper, steeper and steeper. And then by putting that visual in their mind, and this will be not dissimilar to before practice begins, let's say or before next drill, because then when the actual activity is going on, we have a single word to communicate, no pun intended a mountain of information, climb, climb. And inevitably, you know, guys, we're starting to repeat it back to themselves and to others. And that's one way to know in a team sport that the cue stuck, it works and it's helpful. In addition to objectively seen, did it improve, which in this case, it did.

 

Fabio Molle

That's interesting

 

Nick Winkelman

Is that kind of the example you're looking for?

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, just the way you use it in real world application within your current role is exactly what I was looking for. But I didn't know Usain Bolt like would drive for 60/70 meters without being straight up, which is crazy. Like it's a lot of driving going in.

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, well, it's gradual. It's like a jet taking off Fabio. And that's actually one of the cues I use all the time is we need you to explode out and up like a jet taking off. And even then you hear the jet taking off cue, what does that promote? It promotes low to high, massive force. A jet, if you look at it side on is long and lean from toe to tail. Well, those are all things that I would use to describe sprinting low to high, head to heel, long and lean are long and strong, as we say, and a rapid progressing of force to increase my speed as I go. And so hiding, and that's why I dedicated my book, chapter six 'Going Analog' is an entire chapter dedicated to analogy. And many great coaches, especially here in Ireland. They're beautiful storytellers. They take short phrases that put a visual in your mind that capture the outcome you're trying to achieve in an accessible way. And so analogies are the primary means we do that. And so that's why for me, it was important to articulate that in the book and, frankly, that's what we're talking about. Here's how we use analogy to take someone's past, something they've experienced climbing a mountain. Being or seeing a jet taking off and apply it to something that they're unfamiliar with, but still has movement relevance. It's our job as the coach to identify the two things that relate to each other, and then simply say, hey, it's kind of like that. And that's what I think the best coaches do naturally. My goal with the book is to bring that from chance to choice.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. As I said before, it all makes all makes a lot of sense. Devin Toner lives down the road here. Next time I see him walking up the road I must ask him what his favorite external cue is.

 

Nick Winkelman

The guys definitely get into it, you know, and sometimes they're taking it out of me as being the cue master. But ultimately, I think they all at the same time recognize that what you think while you move, impacts how you move, so it's been well received.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. That's great. Thank you. Maybe we can touch on this is maybe not book related but it's related on all your experience on a couple of things. One is just for I know this applies to young people or people in their 20s, who don't probably do enough of this, but plays more to people in their mid 30s, who want to prolong their career, it all becomes about movement, how well can you move and the players who can keep moving well are the players who can keep playing at a higher level, but what's important for somebody in their 30s and someone who wants a long career from a movement point of view, so they can prolong their career?

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, absolutely. For me, when we look at the way I like to answer a question like this is, what are the things that you can give to an older professional athlete, for which they respond by saying, I wish I had this when I was younger. I think that's a great way to assess what if you are younger, you should look to get ahead of the curve on and so a lot of the things that we look at that athletes will respond with that kind of an answer has to do with two categories that we in Irish rugby call movement health, and just generally speaking, recovery and regeneration. And so movement health is exactly what it sounds like. It's making sure you're taking the time to prepare your body to move at speed, to move with endurance to move with great force, especially if we're talking about heavy lifting in the weight room, for example. And simply what goes into movement health looks something like this. There's usually some level of call it what the technical term self myofascial release, but really just self massage, whether it's a foam roll, whether it's a massage stick, your mom or dad's rolling pin.

 

Fabio Molle

Are the guns any good I've seen a lot of Instagram now. Tennis players and using these guns we have we were sent them a few years ago.

 

Nick Winkelman

Well, you know what, for me, I'll be honest, the science on massage generally, is quite vague and inconclusive in many cases. But subjectively speaking, it's not vague at all. But players feel better. And they feel that they can sustain a higher level of recovery and readiness in my experience now, if they use one or more of these methods before, in some cases during and most certainly after a training has occurred, and so if you were to walk in any of our gyms, you would see massage sticks, you would see foam rolls, you would see kind of your old usually at the tennis ball or trigger type balls, you could also use a hurling ball or a lacrosse ball. And so that's going to be standard practice across the board. And so we think of it like brushing our teeth, but we're brushing our tissue and we're just trying to keep the blood flow and the health of the tissue so we'll always do something you know, before it's actually begins. Second thing is once you brush your tissue, so to speak, and the blood flow and the suppleness is good and you're feeling better, well then we go into usually some kind of mobility. And so our mobility is hip flexor stretches and hip stretches and shoulder, and thoracic spine, just all your good stuff. And there's many ways to do this. We don't need to get into the details, but we have soft tissue, we have mobility. So now I got my tissue feeling good. Now I've moved my tissue and my joint through, call it active ranges. I'm not trying to create new range of motion before a session begins. But I'm just trying to get the range of motion I do have warmed up, ready to go. And then the third thing we do is some kind of activation. And so let's say I foam rolled my quad. I then do kind of a kneeling hip flexor stretch. The third thing I might do is some kind of a hip bridge to do glute activation to now say I've created some range. Now I got to control the range of motion. And so you can see by doing that, for the shoulder, the trunk and the hip massage stretch activate, massage stretch activate that that as a formula, of sorts. pinpointing the areas that you need most is a great practice to get into. And then guess what? When we do recovery sessions, it involved very similar content. Yet we'd also usually use some kind of compression, you know, whether it's a Norma tech or compression clothing, and then hydrotherapy, some combination of hot and cold and there's other methods we could get into. But just I would say for the person that doesn't have the hot and cold plunge, just access to water and the compression and the buoyancy that water places on the body supports general recovery. And well being people just get out of the water feeling better. And so what let me put an asterisk on all this, we haven't talked about exercises and reps and sets in volume. So anyone interested in this kind of stuff, I would encourage you to search out more. Some great books by a former colleague of mine are called core performance by Mark Verstegen, they go through these kind of movement, health and recovery protocols. But those would be the main things I would say, Fabio that, you know, we do the strength, the power, the speed, most people know about that. But we have to do the things that prepare our body to deal with an endure all of that physical breakdown.

 

Fabio Molle

Great. It was a core performance by?

 

Nick Winkelman

Mark Verstegen. And he has a number of different books. But if you look up 'Core Performance' by Mark Verstegen, or 'Every Day is Game Day', by Mark Verstegen. He has a number of books, they're all going to have this movement health piece, which they call pillar prep in the book and recovery piece, and it's probably one of the best resources to get a practical programmatic guide that'll be safe and effective for people.

 

Fabio Molle

I'm going to check that out myself. As I was saying earlier, before we started recording that Functional Tennis was set up for this specific reason four years ago for somebody hitting their 30s, injuries. There wasn't any good resources. I found good videos online. There's a lot of good people online putting out content and we just shared it. That's how we started. So it's great to come full loop and be able to talk about it on the show with us. So it's really exciting. But just have a couple more questions for you. One is, I just want to reference the science part of your title with IRFU you. Is there anything you know that tennis players can use from a science from like a technological point of view to help them?

 

Nick Winkelman

Thats a great question. I would say it's specific to tennis on the technical side. I wouldn't even pretend to be able to answer that. My instinct says yes, I'm sure there are plenty of technologies. If not, we're overrun with technology that can tell us about technique and whatnot. But in so far as, let's say physical preparation, most certainly.

 

Fabio Molle

Like give us an example - let's say, Andy Murray,

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, yeah, for sure. So let me just walk you through. Let me walk you through a day in your life of a rugby player and the way we use technology, because then I can be authentic to the way we use it. And maybe you can riff off that and say, well, that might be relevant to a tennis player. And so, every morning when a player comes into a facility, so if it's Johnny Sexton, walking into Leinsterr, or Devin Toner or whoever it might be, they're going to go through what we just simply call a subjective questionnaire. And so this subjective questionnaire is on an iPad. It can also go onto a, you know, a mobile phone, and it's connected to what we call an athlete management system. And virtually all the technologies out there these days, whether it's, you know, push or bridge athletic, or train her heroic. There's all these consumer facing programming apps that allow you to monitor your strength programs and whatnot, and they have your ability to, to put a questionnaire that you answer on a daily basis. And so we ask questions around straps, and sleep and soreness and so on and so forth. These give us an understanding of that person's experience of the trade and how they as an individual are responding. But we know subjective is only one side of the coin. So then we also have objective assessments. And so these objective assessments would include things like vertical jump, would include things like a feet to toe touch, to look at hamstring and lumbar spine extensibility. Also kind of like a knee to wall to look at the ankle, and you can fill in the blanks from there. So we have the subjective pieces and objective pieces. And these all go in to an online system that our medical, and our athletic performance staff can look at and say, how is this player traveling? How are they tracking? You know, are we happy? Are they well above well below how they normally are, and it allows us to have better conversations from there, then they're on the pitch, let's say, and, at least in rugby, we can leverage the use of GPS. Now there might be some useful utility in tennis as well. But GPS basically tells us how far and how fast they go. So it gives us a measure of volume and intensity from a movement perspective on the pitch. And we have various ways to look at, you know, did you do too much? Did you do not enough? How does this relate to gain demands, and so on and so forth. So again, all that information automatically goes into our online systems, we use a company called staff sports, and then we analyze it. Now they come into the gym. Well, now they're in the gym, we use a company called push and push as a consumer facing programming tool. We use a very similar one. And so that allows us after every single set, after every rep to be logging, how much weight did they lift, how many sets did they do, we can even put a little sensor on the bar, which again consumers can buy as well, to tell us how fast the bar moves and so you can see throughout every single component of the training experience, we we collect information so that we can tell a holistic, unified profile about the player and be under no illusion. Are we perfect? No, no sports team is we're continuing to evolve in this space. But I think the key thing back to original question from a tennis perspective, for me, number one would be, are you doing something on a daily basis, you know, like a subjective questionnaire to just assess how you're tracking, how you're feeling? Are you at the very least getting an RPE at the end of your physical training sessions? And again, in one of the usually these technologies allow you to put an RPE which is a rate of perceived exertion, how hard was it, and how long was the session? Those two pieces of information can give us a little bit of this curve over time to see how you're responding subjectively, to what you're doing. And then finally, if you are lifting weights or you're in a gym program. Are you using a product like push, or another company just to track what you're doing to make sure that you have optics, objectively, on how you're trending, how you're improving. And so to be honest with you, we'd have to get a bit more specific into the context and the person what they're looking for. But hopefully, for you in the listener that at least gives you a day in the life and you can sample out of that will be most relevant to tennis.

 

Fabio Molle

Yeah, I think you can find some relevant bits. I do know Andy Murray use stats sports. And he used it for, let's say, before and after injury. So after his hip operation, he could tell he was only happy to go back playing matches when he got his certain speeds or changed directions to a certain speed and he's like, okay, now I'm ready. And that's how he used it. What do you guys use any sleep tracking devices that you track?

 

Nick Winkelman

We have played around with a number of different sleep tracking devices. Many of the players Fabio have have their own and they use their own I would say that for us, sleep is a critical area that we have a number of different education modules on. But let's say as a union as an entire country, we haven't settled on a single piece of technology that we use to track it. But most certainly we do it through education and individuals have their own.

 

Fabio Molle

I personally use an Oura device, which I think is great. The ring.

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, good. There's good feedback. We have a number of people using it. One of our strength coaches uses it as well. And that's definitely, let's say, of the products. You know, the aura ring is one of the most accurate, let's say, dependable.

 

Fabio Molle

And there are some other maybe our listeners can maybe look at, it's the whoop device, which does sleep and it does a lot of it does a lot of your training and it logs a lot of that and you can log your exertion rates and various bits, which I heard is good, but I tried it and for me, the battery charge wasn't long enough on it. You have charged every day, but I think it's getting better and better now.

 

Nick Winkelman

The sleep scientists and the people that we really believe in, there's a product from Fatigue Science is the name of the organization. And in so far as an on the market consumer facing, which I believe they do have, it's going to be the most costly, but arguably is one of the more accurate ones. Oura ring is another one out there. I would just say, for anyone looking at this, you know, just make sure you do your homework, there's a lot of competitors, there's always a lot of claims. And if you're going to if you're going to be using technology, influence, arguably one of the most important things that you do on a daily basis, you want to make sure you're getting something accurate, and that the experience is going to be positive. Because there there are many people out there that will sell you a bill of goods.

 

Fabio Molle

True. And I do think it's important also to even if you know, I don't know how accurate these things really are, I don't know without putting some patches on your head if you can really track sleep well, but at least you get a good baseline.

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, Fatigue Science is an organization whose product is going to be mighty close to what you get clinically.

 

Fabio Molle

Great, great. Okay. Well, that sounds that sounds great. Nick, where can people find out more about you?

 

Nick Winkelman

Yeah, for sure. Well, insofar as the book is concerned and everything in and around coaching, if that's of interest to people, my website is thelanguageofcoaching.com, and you can email me which I will personally respond at info@thelanguageofcoaching.com otherwise, as you know, once a book is published, you know, the people always joke by the time it's out, you already want to rewrite it because it takes that long and so if you want, so to speak, the fresh take on things @NickWinkelman on Twitter and Instagram, I'm quite active, putting coaching sound bites there that hopefully will help you coach better.

 

Fabio Molle

Amazing. Nick, really enjoyed that. It was really interesting. Thank you very much for coming on.

 

Nick Winkelman

hank you so much. It was a pleasure.

 

Fabio Molle

I hope you enjoyed the chat with Nick. It was great to get more in depth in the field, which I normally don't do, and I definitely learned a lot. If you enjoyed it, let me know over at our new Instagram account @functionaltennispodcast. As I mentioned earlier, Nick has offered X percent off his book. If you head over to this website, you get the discount, and until next week, goodbye.

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