Graduate Sports Therapist Tom Cresswell was the 2016 winner of The Society of Sports Therapists Bruce Hobbs Travelling Scholarship. Tom who is Head of Physiotherapy at Hartpury College and Sports Therapist to GB Basketball had elected to visit Bill Knowles, Director of Reconditioning and Athletic Development for HPSports in Wayne, Pennsylvania. In his current roles Tom is well used to working in an environment with top athletes alongside some excellent facilities. So we were keen to hear more about his trip and his thoughts on someone who has developed a world-renowned reputation in the field of Sports Reconditioning and Athletic Development.
So Tom, why Bill Knowles and HPSports?
I’ve seen Bill present a few times and he’s never disappointed. I’m really biased to his style and honestly, I find him very inspiring. So an opportunity to spend some time learning and understanding his approach was really alluring.
Can you set the scene for us so that we get a snap shot of what HPSports is about.
Well it’s a training facility within a training facility. It’s run by Bill to host high profile athletes for residential reconditioning camps and for individuals for post-injury personal training. For the bigger facility (YSC Sports) it hosts the athletic development training for the Philadelphia Union youth academy football teams.
How were your days spent?
Each morning I’d watch Bill’s Athletic Development (ADT) staff work with the Philadelphia Union U14, U16 & U18 teams. Then I’d watch Bill train a visiting pro athlete from Australia. After lunch it was the second training session and late afternoon/evening I got the chance to see the ADT staff working with some private clients. The Philly Union teams would also be back in again after school.
The best parts of my day were when Bill would call me into his office and enthusiastically pull me apart on various academic topics: stiffness, athletic development, injury prevention, strength development. I’d rethink topics and learn new things very quickly. Then later, watching Bill coach was like watching a master at work and time just flew by. I was also able to speak every day with the visiting Physio from Australia which gave me insight into his culture and approach too.
I got a buzz when I shared a great article with Bill, by Tim Pelot (Rate Of Force Acceptance) The next day he bounds in, “Hey Tom get in my office.” He said he’d been up all night talking with Vern Gambetta about it… Which I thought was cool. The next day he told me he’d found a typo… Buzz gone
How did you find Bill’s approach to reconditioning and athletic development?
I’ve heard Bill speak on his belief in excellence, applying the art that accompanies the science of working in sports science and medicine. Bill’s training led approach to reconditioning and injury reduction, instead of scientific intervention led prevention is probably a great example of his artwork.
In a what comes first – the chicken-or-egg scenario, it seems organically correct to me that, exercise selection based on interpretation of principles of training, should come before a reductionist science, heavy meta-analysis of which, exercises reduce specific injuries. Roald Bahr’s critical review on screening in injury prevention (Found Here) strikes me as an academic hat tip to this way of thinking. So it’s no wonder it’s causing a stir in medico-performance circles.
Bill’s approach puts emphasis on neuromuscular coordination, which is perhaps less mechanistic than common strength and conditioning thinking. Or perhaps the mechanisms of coordination development are just exploited less often. The in-vogue Frans Bosch texts seem to be validating Bill’s approach too. Catch a great review of his most recent book here: Todd Hargrove's Book Review
As coordinated recruitment improves, Bill also utilises some novel approaches in strength development. Carrying a low mechanical demand there are benefits for joint-compromised athletes. So they could be preferable to traditional strength and conditioning that may have failed them previously.
Why do you think Bill has built up a world- wide reputation?
Bill is a first-class person as well as practitioner. His energy is as relentless as is his consistency of purpose to his training philosophy. When you’re so good you can’t be ignored, your results garner more attention and increasingly from more high profile athletes. I imagine it was a snowball effect.
Seeing him work up close it’s no wonder his approach is so successful because his excellence is infectious. The entire team around Bill wields his approach with total commitment, so his impact gets extended beyond his reach. Bill’s approach also has a tremendous feel-good-factor to it, restoring the literal PLAYer in every football or rugby player, which no doubt enhances the opportunity for each patient interaction to be positive and have a positive outcome.
It sounds like you were kept pretty busy – was there any time for socialising?
I had some fun moments with Bill and the guys visiting from Australia. I also took the opportunity to catch up with a GB Basketball player of mine playing nearby at Penn State University. I’ve looked after him since he was a young teenager so it was lovely to see him, well flown from the nest.
How do you feel the trip impacted on you as a Sports Therapist?
It was a remarkable experience. Most might see Bill present for 20 minutes at a conference. Some might be privy to a private in-service session at their club. Few visit him on his turf and even fewer have the extended and total access I did. I felt very lucky to have watched him work with a top pro and freely interact with Bill, the athlete and his Physio.
Now that you have had time to reflect on your trip, have you been able to use anything in your role at Hartpury?Absolutely. There are players on the field now, either having returned from injury or being sustained post-injury with strategies I picked up from Bill… And it’s proved to be a very successful season for Hartpury Rugby so far, securing promotion to the IPA Rugby Championship.
Before we finish can I just say a few thanks:
- Of course to Bill for hosting me and being so gracious with his time and knowledge
- To the team around him too because they were just as great
- Thank you to Hartpury for supporting my professional development and for allowing me to travel even though it fell during our competitive season
- Thank you to the guys from Sydney Swans for tolerating my awful toblerone boot.
And lastly thank you to The Society of Sports Therapists for considering my application for the Bruce Hobbs Travelling Scholarship.
Professor Graham N. Smith, Chairman of The Society of Sports Therapists said:
'You can see from Tom's report how inspired and excited he was to have the opportunity to spend time with someone who has the credibility and global reputation that Bill Knowles undoubtedly has. It also shows how Bill is happy to share not only his knowledge but also his enthusiasm and commitment for excellence. For the Society to be able to give one of its members the opportunity to undertake such a trip is something of which we are extremely proud. It is also exciting to know that Bill will be in the UK in May, sharing his knowledge and expertise at the From Pain to Performance' Conference 2017'.
i) Roald Bahr http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/bjsports/50/13/776.full.pdf
ii) Todd Hargrove’s Book Review: https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2016/review-of-strength-training-and-coordination-an-integrative-approach-by-frans-bosch
iii) Tim Pelot Article :