Getting the most out of continuing professional development

I recently returned from the Australian Strength and Conditioning Association (ASCA) Southeast Asian Conference on Applied Strength and Conditioning in Singapore. My experience at the conference and the communication I have had since returning to Hong Kong has given me reason to consider the value that comes from attending such events and a few things that coaches can do to get the most out of continuing professional development (CPD).

Ongoing CPD is invariably cited in most job descriptions. Employers want evidence that coaches are seeking to better themselves and stay abreast of the latest concepts and practices. What is more, we continually impress upon our athletes the necessity to improve and develop and so it would be hypocritical not to embody the same drive and ambition ourselves. Surely if you are engaged in the coaching profession you have an innate desire to learn and grow. Over the years I’ve attended conferences around the world, had the chance to visit coaches like Joe Kenn, Mike Young, and Duncan French while on holidays, and will be at GAIN 2018 in June. This is not intended to start a pissing contest. I merely aim to illustrate that opportunities to expand your network and your experiences abound but sometimes you must look further afield or get a bit creative. This is a highly competitive field, but many successful practitioners are willing to give up their time when they can.

» Related content: Hear more about learning to learn better on this week’s GAINcast.

This neatly brings me back round to the ASCA SEA conference. The event in Singapore was their second conference I had attended after speaking at the main conference last November. It was an outstanding conference but, just like training, simply showing up is not enough. In order to get the most out of CPD, coaches have to make an extra effort. Below are a few effective ideas I have seen in my own attempts to get better.

Find where the magic happens

My experiences to date are that the ASCA events are exemplified by excellent speakers, a positive, welcoming and supportive atmosphere, great social events and a seamless flow to proceedings. At the SEA conference there was a complementary blend of presenters – including strong academics, applied practitioners and coaches or those who provide an enviable combination of the two, delivering informative lecture sessions and entertaining practical workshops. But the magic doesn’t happen in the classroom. I am not telling anyone who has been to one of these things anything new, but as ever the best conversations, networking moments or learning opportunities typically happen away from the main stage or outside the scheduled presentation time slots.

Like any successful team, the ASCA has developed a winning culture. The culture and atmosphere that surrounds the ASCA, the camaraderie, the desire to advance the field and the people their organisation and their events attract ensure that these are the circles within which you want to be swimming. Get people together with this mindset, and it is inevitable that it sparks some ideas and creativity in the interactions between and after the presentations.

Whilst the Southeast Asian Conference was a more intimate event compared to the main international conference this can bring to the fore a number of strengths. The nature of smaller conferences can ensure greater face time with the people with whom you want to speak, providing greater interaction and feedback than a larger event. I would strongly recommend that any coaches or related practitioners in the region make the effort to attend future editions of this conference.

Don’t just go with the flow; step into the water and make waves

Coincidentally and wholly unrelated, it was on the same day that I decided to write this article that a friend sent me this photo:

All joking aside, it highlights a serious point. When you have invested significant time and resources attending these events, don’t hang out in the shadows or on the fringes. Make the most of your time and investment. Sit at the front, ask questions and seek out those whom have something to offer you or with whom you want to initiate a connection. Just as important, be welcoming to those who seek you out. If you are newer to the field do not be shy or intimidated; remember there are no stupid questions and those from whom you are seeking enlightenment have been in your position before themselves.

Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself

For all of us there is a cost – benefit ratio to be considered for any proposed CPD activity to be undertaken. For some coaches that process is considerably less complex than others. The financial challenge and burden placed upon a coach with a family and a mortgage to think about, for example, is different to that of a young single coach with only their own needs and desires to consider.

However, I would urge you to see the opportunity and not count the cost. On returning to Hong Kong I immediately began reaching out to or thanking connections new or renewed in Singapore which has already led to some interesting conversations, feedback and proposals. I was discussing my experiences at the conference with an aspiring young physio who remarked “names and connections are currency these days”. I do not know where they got this phrase from or if it was an original thought, but it is an incredibly insightful way to sum up the value of these events.

Depending on your situation and your employer you may find such events fully funded and supported, or you may have to find the financial means yourself. Attending any conference or training course there is usually a full range from individuals who are entirely self-funded to those who are fully supported by their work place. If finances are a major concern consider opportunities to present or submit research proposals that can significantly reduce the financial burden of attending such an event. Applied research from those who are in the trenches and getting their hands dirty at the sharp end, no matter their level or experience, is just as much in demand as from the seasoned academic.

Next up: GAIN

As mentioned at the outset of this article, my next CPD event is already scheduled. I shall be attending GAIN 2018 in Houston in June and I am looking forward to spending time with Vern Gambetta once more in addition to meeting many new faces or putting a face to some coaches with whom I have previously enjoyed only a virtual online relationship. The line-up for the latest hosting of GAIN looks exceptional with the likes of John Pryor, Steve Magness and several other contributors on HMMR Media are high on the list of people I am looking forward to talking to.

With GAIN I have decided to invest in myself. When I arrive you can be sure I’ll have a prime seat. And I’ll be looking to continue the conversation after the presentations end, so if you’ll be there, let’s grab a beer.