Is it really a whole year?!!!! IUKL Dublin 2015

I’ve just been looking at a team mate’s blog and decided to write a post. However, when I looked at this site I realised that I haven’t blogged for over a year, ouch! I guess this is because I’ve been so busy just doing stuff rather than writing about it.
I’m now treasurer of the English Kettlebell Sport Team and I run the website (WordPress of course). I’ve come a long way from the little woman in the corner of the gym who inspired the name of this blog. It’s good to contribute something more than competing and training. Watching the sport grow from tiny roots and being part of the process has been a real privilege. It’s easy to stay within the boundaries of the big sports with their enormous funding and publicity machines, finding something new and working on growing it is challenging, but ultimately very rewarding.
Team England in Ireland (10)
My training has gone from strength to strength – literally. In February a small group from Team England made a flying visit to Ireland to compete in one of their competitions. I was on good form and hit 115 reps with 16kg, allowing me to qualify for the 2015 English team very early in the year. The Irish were lovely, showering us with warmth and presents – I must go back.

Then I went through quite a low period when I struggled to make the reps and got very tense about it. That early triumph put pressure on me and I didn’t cope well. I had a training session with Ivan Densiov a few years ago and he told me to take control of my own technique development and think through what I needed to do so I understood why I was using a technique or approach to training rather than doing something because my coach told me to. So I started to look for my own solutions. I approached both a sports psychologist and a fellow Team England athlete who offered diet coaching. Within weeks, my poor, long suffering, partner had his diet totally overhauled as I exchanged unhealthy food for healthier alternatives and he witnessed me walking round the house muttering “I’m proud of myself” to myself for the next month. The effect was dramatic, initially, I started to snatch 20kg, work with double kettlebells in jerk and I hit 4 minutes with 16kg. But competition was still an issue – I got so nervous.
In August and September my coach changed his approach to my programming. At the  IUKL World Championships this year I had decided to enter both the 16kg amateur 58kg snatch and the veteran 50-55yrs, under 68kg, snatch (12kg). I suspect that this was a challenge for my coach but he rose to that challenge admirably. I suddenly found myself with one ten minute set after another, sometimes with gloves on, and my running became more challenging with longer runs and intervals. The combination of this change in training and the change in diet led to a change in body shape and my level of fitness increased dramatically.

The time I had spent with the sports psychologist also began to embed and pay off. She taught me to celebrate the small gains and victories rather than worry about what I couldn’t do and, more importantly, she encouraged me to think logically. I know from the past that clock watching during a set made me tense. So I carefully chose a number of reps, based on how my training felt, and turned round the clock. Almost 10 minutes later with 120 reps under my belt, I’d beaten the mental block and had a plan for the World Championships.
Team England 2015
November came round very quickly. The World Championships were in Dublin this year, much easier to organise and I didn’t have to deal with the press as we were last year’s novelty story! Weigh in was just as chaotic, this year we only had one old Russian gentleman as the Irish had insisted on a woman’s presence. However I was greeted by the sight of a naked American woman, trying to make weight for the 4th time, Valerie, the woman who beat me last year. That woman is competitive.

Once again the atmosphere was fantastic, the event had grown again, nearly 600 athletes from all over the World, all ages, shapes and sizes. Many familiar faces were there, greeted with huge smiles and hugs. I was particularly pleased to see old friends from Kilkenny, who have joined the IUKL. Team England had grown to 20, a mixture of old faces from last year and new athletes competing internationally for the first time.
Amateur snatch was timetabled early on the first day. This gave me no time to get very nervous and having a plan in my head really, really helped – 60 each side was the goal and I knew I could do it. This time when I stood on the platform my fight or flight response was under control, enough adrenaline to compete but not so much that it was overwhelming. Sixty reps down on my dodgy side, I was flying! And then, it happened – I changed hands too vigorously and dropped the kettlebebell. I was so upset I walked off, the judge pointed at the bell, so I went back and stood it up. My coach came over but I was so angry with myself I couldn’t speak so I went off and stamped my foot a little. When I got back, he made me finish my set. I felt foolish on the mats but it was worthwhile and I felt better afterwards.

The rest of my team were fantastic, putting in some amazing and inspiring performances. I was so proud to be part of such an amazing group of people. My coach made me particularly proud, his first international set with 32kgs and he made the whole ten minutes. We even got our first gold medal, Dell Wilson and came 7th overall, one place higher than last year. I also made new friends, particularly with the Korean team. I persuaded one of them to give me an excellent shoulder massage, causing my coach to laugh out loud. In return, I joined his team mate in shouting encouragement from the barriers, he was brilliant, winning two bronze medals.

Once again the 50-55yrs snatch was one of the last flights, I wasn’t looking forward to this, I had a silver medal to defend but the competition had more than doubled and everyone was heavier than me. I was also competing against two excellent English women who would normally be in the next weight class up. Just before our flight the counters and timers broke down and everything became a little chaotic. My friend Maxine put in a fantastic set without any means of pacing herself, winning silver, but I missed it because we were trying to keep warmed up.
The moment arrived when I was stood on the platform again. In training I had glove snatched 12kg for ten minutes, doing the time wasn’t a problem, so decided to go for it, whatever the judge was indicating, this time he wasn’t going to slow me down. We were counted in, I picked up the bell, made eye contact with the judge and then gave the snatch set of my life. He did gesticulate at me a few times but I just kept going. I think they gave us some leeway due to the timer issue, but I had also worked on my lockout so he rarely indicated lock out. I changed hands carefully this time (apparently my coach couldn’t look and my partner was pacing the room at home) and continued going as fast as I could until I could hold the kettlebell no more, fortunately 10 seconds from the end.

We couldn’t see our scores so I went over to the judge, he had to show me mine twice, a PB by forty reps! 226 snatches, I walked off in shock but smiling. I hadn’t beaten Valerie (again), but I had beaten the rest of the field and came in second. This time the medal felt well earned, even Anton came up and gave me a hug (a moment to treasure, I felt like a school girl meeting her pop idol!).
Silver ladies
I learned some important lessons this year about taking charge of my approach to training and improving how I regarded competition. I have a very good coach, who has programmed me brilliantly this year, we have worked together for sometime now and trust each other. He knows I’ll put in the work, I know he does not ask me to do anything I can’t do, important when you are pushing forward all the time. But changing how I regarded myself as an athlete and dealing with nerves is as much my responsibility as his. I have finally begun to understand myself and how to help myself when I get a little stuck.

In fact I feel that I’ve grown up as an athlete this year and that I’ve earned my place on the platform.

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IUKL World Championships Hamburg 2014

Wow! the last few weeks have been unbelievable! I am only just coming back down to earth. I had hoped to have a quiet few days before flying out to Hamburg last week, tapering, ensuring I was up to date at work and sleeping. However my workplace had other ideas. A press release from both my coach and my boss led to interest from the local paper who came to visit and take photographs on Tuesday. This was followed by requests from local TV and the radio, a kettlebelling head teacher is news worthy, Wednesday afternoon was spent in front of cameras and radio mikes. Lots of fun but not restful! On top of this I had packing, organising and taking up trousers!


When coach and I finally took our seats on the train, I felt a sense of relief, all the planning and training was over, now we just had to get on that platform and do our best. Several people stopped me during the journey because they recognised me from the TV and radio and wished us luck, which was nice. We were both limiting our food intake to ensure we made weight so we were very hungry as we flew into Hamburg airport. Our team mates were also hungry and tracking us as we made our way through the Hamburg rush hour to the sports hall where we were weighing in.

The hall was buzzing and full of athletes registering and weighing in. Our forms submitted, we headed toward weigh in. As I’m in the lightest class, and making weight is hard, I always strip down to pants and bra when I weigh in. However the presence of two Russian men in suits, looking very official caused me to pause for a few moments before deciding to go ahead anyway, the room was full of young women so I was unlikely to cause a stir. All weighed in and within our weight classes, we headed for food and then bed.

The next few days were a blur of nerves and brilliant performances, both from our own team and some of the stars of the sport. World records were smashed, personal bests achieved and medals won.


In between cheering on team mates and eating lots of food I swung a few kettlebells and ran the streets of foggy Hamburg. There is no room for snobbery in kettlebell sport, the elite warm up and train on the same mats as everyone else. I spent a happy few moments watching Jonny Benidze warming up with 32kg, amazing! Leaning over a balcony, cheering on an athlete I dropped my glasses on one of the judges when he was taking a break, whoops! The atmosphere was great, at one point several hundred athletes hung over the balconies and cheered on Ksenia as she completed her snatch set alone on her flight. Afterwards she was kind enough to pose for a photograph with us.


Sadly I missed coach receiving his medal as I had decided to go to bed early. I’m very proud to be coached by such a great athlete. Not deterred by injury and setback, he has walked the talk, training hard and remaining positive.


Sunday morning I was really nervous and took a quiet walk around the locality before going to the stadium. However, once I arrived I felt better. The veteran’s competition is on the final day and both Andrew and I found this hard, so we were both relieved to be performing at last.


My flight was the penultimate fight. I had to change my travel arrangements because this ran so late on Sunday afternoon. In fact many athletes had left, including most of my team and my coach. Thankfully Andrew, Will and Mark were still around. Mark Stroud was brilliant. He steadied my nerves during my first competition in Kilkenny and he really helped me before my set in Hamburg too. My hamstrings were really painful and tight due to tension and sitting around for four days, so he gave me advice and helped me stretch. The great atmosphere helped too, lots of good feeling off the platform.


warm up

My moment in the sun came all too soon. I felt unusually calm as I walked out onto the platform. Mark and made a good job of chalking my kettlebell and we didn’t have much time to think before we heard 3,2,1 lift! My opponents were huge, 60kg and 65kg, 10kg more than I, so I knew I was up against it and had thought of making a complaint early in the competition. However I quickly realised I wouldn’t get far, so I made the best of a difficult situation. My judge was very strict about hesitating to allow him to count so I could not snatch at speed despite my grip holding out. Half way through I heard an opponent’s kettlebell fall and I knew I’d won silver, but could not keep up with my heavy neighbour (My coefficient score was higher in the end, by two points, but only absolute scores count). Mark encouraged me to go for it in the last minute but the judge held me back. The ten minutes went by in a flash, 185 reps, a PB but not what I’d hoped for. However, very proud to have won silver in a World Championship. Walking out to collect my medal was an incredible moment.


The support from friends, family and other athletes has been amazing. My partner made special mention about the warmth of the kettlebell community during an event like this. There is a lovely picture of my own children and their partners cheering me on during my set.

This week I’ve been relaxing a bit, drinking alcohol for the first time since September and enjoying some light circuit classes. My new program starts tomorrow, next year I would like to try the amateur, adult competition with 16kg. The next few months are going to be a challenge!

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World championships and all that.

I know I have not written a post in a while. Just too busy training, working and upgrading our lovely Victorian semi.However I have a few days off from it all, relaxing by a pool so have decided to add a new post.

As I’m sure you’ve understood from the title, I’m still competing and making steady progress. Last summer I won three gold medals, two were age graded and not really fought for as I’m the only over 50 competing in GSU competitions in my weight class with 16kg. The third however was not age graded, a straight win (but with a lighter weight as this was a qualifier for the World championships). I also had the honour of competing in a relay alongside Abigail Johnson and Anna Plumridge, two of my heroines. We came third, we were up against some young amazons from Darlington and Ireland who just jerked faster than me!

My biggest achievement has been making rank one snatch – I’m very proud of this as there is no allowance for age and other athletes have found this a challenge too. This ranking also meant that I qualified to compete for England at the IUKL world championships in November.

Given my past history in sport, I am really excited about competing in Hamburg. I’ve even been strong enough to avoid alcohol and keep to my training schedule on holiday. I’ve decided to enter as a veteran, 12kg snatch, because I don’t feel able to give a strong enough performance with 16kg in the amateur class. This has meant stepping back a little but my coach has kept me training with the 16kg so I don’t lose strength or confidence. The competition is a few weeks away so my training involves a lot of snatch sprint work and some cardio and strength work. Care needs to be taken with snatch preparation because it’s easy to damage you hands. I have a few blisters today because we were trialing a new chalk method. Dealing with the mental challenge is equally important, I have no idea what the standard of competition will be like because they have merged weights in my class, so I am trying to be realistic about expectations – just competing and being there will be amazing!

There have also been opportunities to train with some of the best athletes in the world. As Kettlebell sport is a small sport you can train with world champions for a relatively small fee. I’ve group trained with Francesco Rigoli (Italian champion) and Denis Vasilev and had one to one training with Ivan Denisov. All of these sessions were great and I learnt a lot. Talking to Ivan was particularly good as his advice trained how I approach training not just how I move.If you get the opportunity, take it, you will gain something from every session.

My club hosted the British championships at the beginning of October. This was quite an experience, our team, our friends and our partners were fantastic and worked their socks off. We had a great day, everyone seemed to enjoy it and I improved my judging skills. You learn a lot by watching others!

I still gain enormous satisfaction from Kettlebell training, particularly after a good session where I’ve achieved more in terms of reps, weight or time. I would love to try for CMS, this means working with 20kg. Quite a challenge, but achievable if I take it in small steps. I have a good coach who carefully balances my load, he feels I can do it and I like having another challenge to work towards. Experience also begins to help as I know how my mind and body have reacted to moving out of my comfort zone previously. At the moment I’m roughly where I was with 16kg 18 months ago. I can snatch and jerk a few reps and can also complete a minute or so with 18kg. Time working with 12kg is not wasted as I’ve been continuing to work on skill and relaxation. There is also still work to be done with 16kg as I have not completed a 10 minute set yet. This project will keep me going, regardless of competitions of any type, for a few years I suspect, always good to have something to work towards.

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Working towards…

I have not yet decided quite which competition I’m working towards but have set my sights on rank one when I get there. I’ve returned to biathlon training as snatch is clearly my strongest event. The only reason I did not go for this in London was that I had not really managed many 16kg snatch reps prior to Manchester and was even more nervous about this than the long cycle.

If I feel reasonably confident by the closing date for entry, I’ll go to Glasgow, if not then Manchester. Until that point I’m resisting the temptation to rush around to training courses and competitions. A focused period of quiet training using one style is what I really need at the moment.

When we returned from London I decided to increase the weights I was using in group sessions as well as other training, it’s no good focussing on feeling that a weight is not heavy during training at home and then deciding it’s too heavy in class. This confuses my brain. I’ve really surprised myself too, squatting double 16kg and thrusting a single 16kg for a few reps, something I had not even tried before. 12kg has now replaced 8kg where ever possible too. Maria Willis and I had a great snatch race during a mini tetrathlon our coach put together for one group session. A callous tore in the first few minutes, I felt the blood on the handle of the kettlebell, hesitated, but didn’t give up. I managed 125 reps in 5 mins with 12kg, much faster than Manchester (however I could change hands). Everyone enjoyed the excitement and we both agreed that it’s great to have other competitors to race against in class!

My first attempt at snatching 16kg for 30 secs did not go well, however this was after a long period where I had hardly practised my snatch and at the end of a tough class. I tried again a few days later, at home, and succeeded, then, once more a few days later and this time found the kettlebell sailing into the air easily – mental block dealt with. I’m currently working on different ways to make 100, either as ladders or sets of ten (both snatch and jerks) so that my body is used to working with 100 reps.

Buying an 18kg was a good move too, 16kg is now not the heaviest weight I can snatch and jerk. This is great psychologically and will help me move towards snatch and jerk with 20kg. I can hold 20kg in the air at the moment but have to use two hands to get it there!

Skills work, strength work and an extra run are also building speed and endurance, with that will come much needed confidence. I finished London thinking I’d never win a medal again if I continued competing with 16kg.
In Glasgow I can compete in my age category, not against 24 year olds! Not that other competitors in my age group are going to be easy to compete against, competition will still be tough, but this seems fairer and gives me a chance to win a medal.

Well it’s rest week and I’m making the most of it, time to settle down to watch a good film and enjoy a pint of Wainwrightūüôā

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Making a start with 16kg and GSU London 2013

It is some time since I’ve posted because this summer has been really busy. Both work and training have been full on. I even took my kettlebell on holiday with me! The kettlebell passed through check in relatively easily but the timer in my hand luggage caused quite a stir!

Training by the pool

Training by the pool

We decided that I would start with longcycle so that I only had to train one discipline with a heavier weight. I also saw this as an opportunity to improve my jerk technique. Training in earnest really started at the end of May, this work was much harder than I had been used to because I was so familiar with 8kg and 12kg. Fatigue became an issue I didn’t expect, I had to take care during classes and in Parkrun not to over do my workouts. I also noticed my legs now hurt more than my arms so I needed to strengthen my legs.

For me the summer is, surprisingly, not the best time to train. June is always wall to wall, 7 day working in my day job, meaning that I am exhausted in July. Then there is always my annual summer holiday in August, and this year my partner and I chose to go away for two weeks (my last two summers have been based around kettlebell events, he deserved a good break). The weekend after we returned from holiday I took part in a really challenging workshop with the Italian world champion Francesco Rigoli which took a week to recover from. This meant I didn’t really settle to a proper routine. However we were making good progress, up to 8 reps per minute before I went on holiday. My only ten minute test fell during my holiday, which meant I was relatively relaxed but had slowed down. To my relief I managed 9 mins 45secs, but only achieved around 50 reps.

Then it all went wrong, the workshop was excellent but tough and really knocked my confidence and then one of my potential competitors posted her very fast numbers. I knew I was going to find GSU London 2013 very hard. I decided to just do my best and look beyond this particular competition.

Mark Stroud and the Brighton team did us proud. The venue was great and organisation excellent. Teams came from England, Ireland, Scotland, Denmark and Russia. As the competition took place in the middle of an expensive gym in Canary Wharf we gained an audience beyond our friends and families. Hopefully the sport has gained a much higher profile from this. We were treated to some great sets from Anton, Aleksander and many great British athletes. I missed Natalia’s as I was on the platform at the same time. (I didn’t stand a chance!) All three Russian stars were lovely, approachable and willing to share advice.

My set was not great because I let nerves get the better of me, the women around me were very fast (and very young) and so I started too fast and ran out of steam between 6 and 7 minutes, with only 38 reps. As I was on platform One I also had difficulty seeing the time – something which could be changed on another occasion. Pacing is difficult if you can’t see the time. However I didn’t freeze, I resisted the temptation to run after my first few reps and I’ve faced the fear of losing which will help with nerves in the future.

All the other team members from Kettlebell Nottingham won medals in their categories. Our coach put in a great 24kg longcycle set, winning a well deserved silver and we may also have gained some much needed male members for our team. Great news for our team.

Mid set

Mid set

There is a famous quote, “failure is not about falling down, it is the not getting up again.” I’m old enough to have ‘fallen down’ many times and have pulled myself back up on countless occasions. My lovely partner was upset for me and suggested going back to 12kg so I can win medals and not find the training so tough. However I’m not really that type of person. So I’m back training with 16kg this week. We’re going for biathlon this time as I find snatch so much more enjoyable. My coach is taking apart my snatch technique, and improving it using the skills Francesco shared. I’ve even taken a kettlebell to Parkrun so I can fit in a re-patterning session before I run. I’m using Parkrun to get better at relaxation when moving and to develop a tougher, positive frame of mind. We’re also doing some good old fashioned weight training, filling in a gap in my knowledge and skills. Even better, I can get back into a regular training routine.

GSU are now offering a senior (over 50) division so I do have some hope of winning a medal at another competition – and we all need hope!

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Two days with Anton and Alexander (and Mark and Eddy again)

I’ve reached a time in my life¬†where¬†I’ve raised my children and climbed the career ladder, with all that entails, and now have some resources and a little freedom. Time has taught me to¬†take advantage of¬†opportunities when you see them because they may not come again. So when I saw that Anton and Alexander were running a seminar in Kilkenny during my school break I decided to go for it (school holidays are generous but do restrict when I can travel), I like a little adventure!

The taxi came at 3:00am Monday morning and whisked me over to our local airport in plenty of time for my flight to Dublin. The journey was long but largely uneventful and I was able to check into my hotel early afternoon, catching up with some sleep and then going for a stroll in Kilkenny. As this is half term I treated myself to a nice hotel with a swimming pool, great breakfast buffet (not slimy scrambled eggs) and no squabbling prostitutes in the middle of the night. The only downside was the 20 minute walk, not a problem when the sun was shining, but I did get a little wet when the heavens opened.

9:00am Monday was a little different to my usual Monday morning, sat outside The training rooms waiting for everyone to arrive. Anton, Alexander and Mark pulled up, piling out of the car full of smiles and hearty handshakes.  I was really surprised to note that we were a very small group.

Lessons started at 9:30 ish with lectures about history (complete with test!) and training regimes. Anton and Alexander’s English was much better than my non-existent Russian, ¬†they explained some really complex ideas very well.

Lecture time

Lecture time

This was followed by warm up, a quick run round the yard outside, some active stretches and a few swings.(I’m learning quickly that lunch does not happen during training days or competition, hence the good breakfast)¬†Anton and Alexander took turns to demonstrate both jerk and snatch, breaking down into small steps, allowing us time to practice and then do short workouts. I played safe at first, keeping my weight low. Then I took on more challenge as I grew more confident. We were also treated to some great demonstration sessions by both athletes. The small group meant we got plenty of help and advice. Then we were treated to a little GPP ( general strength and conditioning) Russian style, the infamous pancake work out. A circuit I have not shared with my trainer! Although I will say that the circuit classes at my club offer a similar level of challenge.

Anton demonstrating snatch

Anton demonstrating snatch

The session finished around 4:00pm with an invitation to come back in the evening and join with the group session. Mark kindly gave me a lift back to my hotel, I had a quick bath, something to eat and then made my way back to the Training rooms, hoping my energy would hold. The evening session was great, covering jerk and snatch again. Both Russians seemed to relax more with this larger group and we had some fun. The Kilkenny women were lovely, welcoming me with smiles and hugs. On and off the platform, kettlebell sport is very friendly.

Tuesday morning began with more theory; diet, rest and how to stage a competition. Judging Anton and Alexander was a little unnerving but also very entertaining, we all laughed a lot. Anton also shared how he ensured that he fell just at the top of his weight class. I have been mulling this over for a while, because I usually compete a good 5 kilos below the top of my weight class. In terms of coefficient this works well, however most competitions are judged on absolute numbers which may mean I’m operating at a slight disadvantage. After this we warmed up and spent some time on clean and jerk form.¬† I received an appreciative nod from Alexander for my clean, phew, I’ve only been working on it for 6 years! The day followed a similar pattern, opportunities for observation and a final workout which looked much easier than it really was.

My favourite moment came at the end of Tuesday afternoon when Anton started to talk about tension and relaxation. He prodded us all in the back and commented about the amount of tension we were all carrying. Inevitably I was the worst (my job is known for it’s stress levels). Then he singled one of the men out for a back massage. As, at this point, I was the only woman (again) I thought I might miss out. But no, much to my amusement I found myself face down underneath a¬†burly Russian receiving a great back massage. I know lots of middle aged women who would pay a great deal of money for that!

Posing with our certificates.

Posing with our certificates.

At the end of the session we all received certificates and posed for photos. Once again we were invited back for an evening session. I went back to the hotel for something to eat and a shower. I must have looked fatigued because I got a sympathetic smile and efficient service from a waitress who had not been particularly approachable the day before.

Again the evening session was relaxed and friendly,¬†this was a new group¬†so we sped through jerk, snatch and clean. I think Anton would have continued until midnight had Mark not stopped him. As Mark had mentioned going for a drink afterwards, I hung around with the other person who travelled some distance. We were both laughing at Anton who was messing around lifting weights and kissing biceps. He is quite a character. I was gifted some yoghurt and a banana at the end –¬† perhaps I looked like I needed it.

Drinking in Kilkenny on Tuesday is, I sense, not usually very lively¬†so we did bring some life to the bar. As I’d not eaten much I was quite measured and steady for me. Anton and Alexander were on the whisky and under other circumstances I would have joined them, but not that evening. Talking to Mark and Eddy about future plans was very interesting – I was a little disappointed that there was not more time for this. I’ve been watching the use of kettlebells grow in Britain for many years and am really interested in what happens next. I am also disappointed I won’t make St Petersburg in the summer, maybe next year. I decided to go at the point we all went into the small¬†night club next door,¬†leaving quietly so that no one made a fuss about walking me¬†back – I’ve survived many years of walking around Nottingham.

Leaving Kilkenny last year was easy as I was frustrated with myself for not performing as well as I knew I could. This time I left with a sense¬†of regret. Partly because I’d had a great few days and partly because I wasn’t¬†able to come back and compete this year. Lots of food for thought about my form, particularly in the jerk, where I have the most issues and some deeper knowledge about how to approach training. If you get the opportunity to train with either Anton and Alexander or Mark and Eddie, take it – you won’t regret it.

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Inclusivity wins the day.

This post is slightly off topic, but I am bursting with pride in the staff and pupils at the school which I lead and would like to share why.

First of all, a little biographical background for those who have not read my early posts. I went to school in the sixties and seventies. Sport was very traditional and, as I could not run or catch, I did not do well. In fact I am your typical ‘person to be picked last for the team’ type. Not that I was inactive. I attended ballet classes until I was 11, getting distinction in exams and I enjoyed non-competitive swimming and hill walking with my family. However, my confidence was so low that I gave up participating in any type of sport when I left school at 16. By the time I was 35¬† I was heavily overweight and had very high blood pressure. The story around why I changed has been covered in past posts and will be very familiar to may of the personal trainers who read my blog. What I will say is that several thoughtful and inspirational aerobics leaders and kettlebell trainers have really helped rebuild my confidence along the way. The fitness industry can play a huge role in doing the same for others, I am sure lack of confidence contributes to our obesity crisis.

Back to school. When I became Head Teacher a few years ago the school had a very traditional approach to physical education. Football and netball were high profile and selection for teams was very competitive. I had regular complaints about children being excluded from playing on teams, but worse than this was the atmosphere on the playground. Every playtime and lunchtime I had a queue of pupils who had been fighting or arguing over football and those pupils who were in teams were quick to put down pupils who were not. Yes we won cups and medals, however one fellow Head Teacher took me to one side and explained that we had a bad reputation for aggressive play.

This was not the type of school I wanted to lead. I wanted to encourage children to enjoy sport and being active so they became healthy adults. However, when I started to talk about change I faced stiff opposition from staff and parents. I remember the fierce argument in one senior leadership meeting when I suggested opening up selection of teams. I got very strange looks when I invited some boxfit coaches to run an after school club, but the children enjoyed it.

When the PE coordinator retired, I had the opportunity for real change. With the help of like minded staff we changed the selection criteria for our sports teams. The first criteria was simply that you turned up for practice sessions at lunchtime (that way children who struggled to attend after school clubs could take part) and the second was that children showed sportsman/woman like behaviour on and off the pitch. This last criteria had a real impact on playground behaviour, if children were either physically or verbally aggressive on the playground they were banned from playing in the next football fixture. In assembly we celebrated great sports behaviour so everyone knew our expectations. I now see very few pupils who have been fighting and arguing over football, in fact the number of serious incidents has dropped dramatically.

Our teams include boys, girls, a child with cerebral palsy and children from a wide range of social and cultural groups. Children have stopped in the middle of matches to help a player from another team who has been injured. Positive comments have been made about the behaviour of our pupils when they have attended sports events with other schools. Our reputation is changing. Everyone predicted we would lose and lose. But we haven’t! This year our Year 5¬† team won the league, our girls team came joint first in their league and our Year 6 came second, medals, trophies and smiles all round. Inclusion works.

Our government has recently pledged large sums of money for school sport, which means we can hire our own sports specialist coach. I’m going to use this to introduce new sports and fitness activities into school, with the aim of encouraging every child to find something they enjoy and will continue to enjoy as they become adults. I’m not sure they are ready for kettlebells yet, although I have taken my kettlebells into school and shown them how I use them. But I am thinking about introducing a mini Parkrun and I am reallyexcited about the future.

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