Aggregation of Marginal Gains

Last night I co-ordinated a fitness monitoring session for more than 80 talented tennis players...welcome to the start of a new tennis season! The players ranged from little 7 year olds through to the most senior players at the age of 17. The session is really helpful for me as a coach as it provides myself and the tennis coaching team at the Northumberland Tennis Academy with a snapshot of the fitness levels of the academy players. Armed with this information I can start to put together a structured programme of physical preparation that will transfer to the tennis programme and improvements on court.  Everyone worked really hard and both players and parents were keen to learn how they or their sons/daughters had performed and what they could do this year to help their tennis performances. I found myself, as I often do, repeating the same message...'get the fundamentals right and repeat'. 

Fast forward to this morning when I was reading another extract from Boy Racer! The advice from British Cyclings Performance Director, Dave Brailsford sums it all up for me. Dave has a term, 'aggregation of marginal gains'. This term relates to the difference between winning and losing. If the players that I monitored last night need to do one thing to improve this year, it is to take care of the basics, making sure that they do all of the 'little' things (good nutrition, solid training, plenty of recovery...the list goes on). They need to be meticulous in their preparation. The day they stop dotting the 'i's' and crossing the 't's' will be the day they stop improving and will mean the difference between fighting out for a place on the podium, rather than holding the winners trophy. By taking care of all the small (seemingly unimportant stuff) they will make huge gains overall. All too often they are looking for something fancy that will make the difference and missing the point that you need to nail the fundamentals. 

Aggregation of marginal gains is not to be mistaken for another approach that I was sick of hearing whilst working in performance sport 'scrapping for percentage points'. This was a term that on first glance you may think is similar to 'aggregtion of marginal gains' but I think there is a difference. I used to hear time and time again that it was important to look for the 1-2% that would make the difference in performance. This is fine if you have taken care of the other 98-99% of what it takes to perform! All too often I was confronted with coaches and athletes looking for the 1-2% who in reality hadn't taken care of the basics, the other 98-99%. They were trying to ice a non existent cake! 

In my opinion you need to start by taking the Dave Brailsford approach, ensuring that you do everything you can. In doing so you will accumulate the 98-99% that will get you to within touching distance of the podium. Once you have taken care of that you can start to look for the 1-2%! 

I think that sometimes as coaches we are guilty of looking for the 1-2% when really we should be taking care of all the small parts of conditioning that will really have an impact....it's not always that sexy with bells and whistles, but it gets results. 

So my advice to the young aspiring tennis players. Get the fundamentals sorted...repeat!


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