On the 12th of April, 2019 with the support of the European Union’s Erasmus+ fund for sport education and training 32 athletes, 8 Athletics NI Staff, 11 Personal Coaches and 2 Performance Therapists travelled to the Algarve for Athletics NI’s Youth Academy Camp.

The two week training camp catering for athletes aged 15-21 years old focused on the development of physical and technical skills as well as performance behaviours and mind-set required to transition from promising junior to successful senior international athlete. Project Manager Laura Kerr who is Athletics NI’s Coach Development and Physical Preparation Lead said:

“Athletics NI seek to raise the potential of teenage athletes aspiring to achieve senior success. We hope to achieve this through early exposure to the physical preparation and lifestyle planning that facilitates high performance training. Through Erasmus+ we believe we are investing in young athletes who have the potential to represent Northern Ireland at Senior Commonwealth Games.”

Throughout the 14 day camp there were various educational sessions for coaches and athletes and the summaries and resources provided below have been made available to encourage on-going reflection and development.

Performance Behaviours

A presentation by Laura Kerr set the tone for the camp reinforcing the importance of consistent and well established routines to enhance health, recovery, training adaptation and peaking for competition. Laura reviewed circadian rhythms, sleep, digestion and hydration reinforcing the benefits of keeping a training diary to assist with monitoring daily wellness and readiness to train.  Laura also spoke about taking a professional approach to performance therapy with the aim of losing as few training days as possible through injury.

Find out more on ‘Performance Behaviours, Performance Mindset and Thriving in International Athletics Environments’ by downloading the following presentation…

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Performance Pathways

Athlete Development Lead Tom Reynolds’s presentation on Performance Pathways explained that the Youth Academy sits within Athletics NI’s aligned Athlete and Coach Development Pathway as a stepping stone toward the Commonwealth Potential and Podium Programmes. Tom explained the success of athletes supported at each stage of the pathway and the selection criteria and features of each programme. Eligibility to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games was also discussed as well the funding streams available through Athletics Ireland (Carding) and British Athletics (GB Futures.)  It is clear that athletes aspiring to senior success will benefit from full awareness of the benefits of Irish versus British support systems and should take responsibility for understanding selection policies for major championships.

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At the core of Youth Academy’s delivery are weekly speed development sessions delivered by Athletics NI’s professional staff. These sessions aim to improve the physical qualities necessary for sprinting and to enhance athlete and coach understanding of key positions for force production in acceleration and maximum velocity running.  Dean Adams (Ulster University Athletics Development Officer) delivered an engaging presentation to support the speed development sessions delivered in Portugal. Dean defined acceleration as “rate of change in velocity” before discussing projection angles and key body positions during the drive and transition phases. In line with Athletics NI’s approach  Dean also explained the rationale for using wall drills, hills, resisted running methods (Exer Genie or Prowler) to enhance proprioceptive learning and load acceleration.

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Maximum Velocity Running

Adam McMullen (Athletics NI Coach and personal coach to Lauren Roy-European Indoor 60m competitor) continued on the theme of Speed Development, breaking down an elite 100m race to explain the distribution of acceleration, maximum velocity and speed maintenance. Reviewing race data further Adam referred to the “need to achieve a harmonic increase in both stride length and stride frequency to obtain maximum velocity.” Using kinograms Adam was also able to demonstrate critical positions at “toe off, maximum vertical projection, strike, touch down and full support” before explaining Athletics NI’s rationale for using wicket runs throughout the year with Youth Academy Athletes.

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Injury Prevention

Youth Academy Athletes benefited from the services of two Performance Therapists on camp. William Wood (Osteopath – Core Movement, Newcastle) and Evan Burke (Physiotherapist-Advance Physiotherapy & Sports Injury Clinic, Lisburn ) provided a unique collaboration to integrate therapeutic interventions and athlete education within the training programme in Portugal. With the aim of enhancing performance/recovery and minimizing days lost through injury Evan and Will provided trackside interventions and manual therapy as well 1-1 assessment and specific education around lumbo pelvic control and lower limb injury prevention.  The presentation below prepared by Evan Burke provides a summery of risk factors, signs/symptoms related to boney stress injuries and Achilles tendonpathies as well as recommendations for treatment and prevention.  A practical guide to strengthening the intrinsic muscles of the foot and loading eccentric calf and Achilles exercises is included.

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In Evan’s second presentation he referred to the function of the lumbo-pelvic-hip-core complex and good sequencing in efficient energy generation and transfer. Evan explained that poor ability to decouple the pelvis from the legs/lumbar spine can result in a  break in the kinetic chain and reduce overall force production. Evan related the ‘Summation of Speed Principle’ to a number of track and field events before leading the athletes through a lumbo pelvic control circuit.  Further detail is provided in the information sheet below.

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Monitoring for Endurance

Athletics NI’s Running Participation Officer Allister Woods who led the endurance group in Portugal (alongside Philip Tweedie and Francis Marsh) sought to educate athletes on various aspects of monitoring relevant to readiness to train and endurance performance.  Allister introduced athletes to the Daily Wellness Questionnaire where each athlete rates his or her soreness, sleep quality, perceived levels of mental and physical fatigue etc.  This allows the coach and athlete to arrive at a daily wellness score each morning.  Endurance athletes also monitored hydration via urine samples each morning and Allister explained the role of hydration in performance highlighting that dehydration led to decreased reaction times, coordination and levels of concentration.  Dehydration also causes early fatigue and reduction in endurance performance due to reduction in blood volume, decreased sweat rate and heat dissipation, increased core temperature and increased rate of muscle glycogen use.

Athletes also reviewed the theory of energy systems and how this relates to the intensity of their training sessions.   Allister explained the use of blood lactate testing during key sessions.  Lactate testing was carried out during sessions with a small sample of blood taken via thumb prick at consistent intervals. The presentation below defines lactate threshold and lactate turn point relating each of these to the corresponding percentage of maximum heart rate athletes and coaches can expect at each.  Lactate monitoring can assist with ensuring the correct intensity of effort to achieve a specific physiological adaptation to the training session.  Included in the presentation below are hydration charts, daily wellness questionnaire and reference points for monitoring blood lactate which athletes and coaches may like to print.


Clean Sport

Athletics NI Anti Doping Educator, Lyn Fisher explained the importance of anti doping awareness for teenage athletes progressing to international competition. Lyn discussed the values of UK Anti Doping before going on inform athletes of what constitutes an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV.) Lyn explained the concept of ‘strict liability’ referring to GlobalDro.com and Informed-Sport.com as important websites where athletes could check their purchased medications and supplements respectively. Athletics NI will continue to provide clean sport education for every athlete entering the Youth Academy.

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Ulster University Elite Athlete Education & Athletics Opportunities

Athletics NI partner with Ulster University to jointly host an Athletics Development officer based at the University. In post since January 2017 Dean Adams oversees the development of University Athletes and Performance Scholars. Dean explained the talented athlete entry scheme at Ulster which allows talented school athletes to benefit from a 2 grade reduction upon applying for an academic course at the University. Dean reviewed the success of Ulster’s current crop of athletes including Craig Newell (European U23 4x400m finalist) and Jack Magee (Irish Universities Javelin Record Holder.) Further information on courses available at Ulster, the elite athlete entry scheme, the student athletics club and training are all available in Dean’s presentation below.

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Wrap Up

In closing the camp Laura Kerr and Tom Reynolds reminded the athletes of the need to recover from both travel and training fatigue upon return to Northern Ireland. They recommended keeping up good routines with prehab, recovery and sleep as the competitive season begins at home and reminded the Youth Academy of some words from great athletes and coaches around the world;

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“We’ve all seen talented young players who get to a certain level but there comes a point where that talent will only take you so far. The great players go away and work on extra things. They work harder on their skills, they start having early nights and they think about their diet and training. That is what takes them to the next level.”

Warren Gatland OBE-3 x Six Nation Grand Slams

“It’s not just about the 2 hours at training- the 22 hours away from it are just as important.”

Gary Speed-Record Number of Premier League Appearances

“Make your hard days hard and your easy days easy.”

Dan Pfaff-Coach to Multiple Olympic Track & Field Champions


Athletics Northern Ireland would like to sincerely thank every personal coach and staff member who contributed to educating and training Youth Academy Athletes in Portugal…

Philip Tweedie

Francis Marsh Catherine Ashford
Michelle Rea Lewis Irwin Dean Adams
Ian Neely Alan Kennedy Adam McMullen
Michael Curran Michael Roberts Allister Woods
Jim O’Neill William Wood Tom Reynolds
Lyn Fisher Evan Burke Laura Kerr
Jim Alexander Luke Dinsmore