Friday, 9 June 2017

4 years in the desert

It is amazing how time goes so fast. Today I celebrate my fourth anniversary living in the desert and working at Aspire Academy in Doha. It is as hot as I found it getting out of the airport (40 degrees C today!) when I arrived from a much colder London. While it seems like yesterday, four years have gone by quickly and a lot has happened professionally and personally. This blog article is a bit of a mix. A reflection on my work here but also on my life here with my family.

So what has happened in the last 4 years?
Quite a lot actually. I have seen four graduations of Aspire athletes with some of our graduates progressing their sporting careers to international stardom and some continuing a healthy lifestyle and  careers in education/army/business. I have worked with the rest of the coaching and sports science team to support the development of many young athletes over the last four years in Doha and abroad.

Getting ready for the Gymasiade 2013 in Brasilia with Coach Carlos Cavalheiro (now head coach of Brazil Athletics), Abubaker Hayder (who won Gold in that even and competed in Rio 2016 last summer) and training partner Adam Mousab (which we hope to see in London this summer)

It is great to see these young men grow in our facilities with the mentoring and support of teachers, parents, coaches and support staff to reach their potential on the international stage. I have written previously about our graduates in Rio Olympics. But it is not all about athletics in Aspire. We have had some great results with the squash programme, with our graduate Abdulla Al-Tamimi climbing the World Ranking in the seniors in the top 40 and reaching the first senior semifinal at the Pittsburgh Open in March this year and the younger boys have reached the podium in international competitions very often.


Table Tennis has also produced some good results with our young athletes Mohamed Abdulwahab and Nawaf Al-Malki and Abdulaziz Mohd winning medals in international competitions.


Finally, we have a new programme in Fencing, and the first few months with the new coaching team in place have been quite exciting.


My department has been providing relentless support to all the athletes in the programme and some senior athletes from national federations on a daily basis with training monitoring, testing, project-based support and many other activities required to make sure each individual athletes has the best chance to get better. Over the last four years, thousands of hours of services have been provided and  gigabytes of data have been analysed, turned into reports and into interventions. The team has also produced 36 articles on peer reviewed journals, which is an incredible accomplishment, considering that we are not an academic institution and all staff has limited time to produce research papers. For me, it is important to apply scientific principles to the activities we conduct and also communicate via peer review publications our work to share knowledge and engage with peer review. Two of my team members joined us and then moved on to more senior opportunities and are doing very well in their new roles. Andrew Murray as a Director of Performance and Sports Science at the University of Oregon and and Thomas Jones as a senior lecturer in Northumbria University have contributed enormously to the activities and culture of the sports physiology unit in Aspire and are now making an impact in sport and research in other cultures/environments. Seeing former staff move to bigger responsibilities and succeed always makes me proud as I always try to support and develop keen and motivated individuals. New staff will join us soon and I am already looking forward to next season for some exciting new projects and activities to support Aspire's mission to become the World reference.

I have been fortunate to work with colleagues in other departments to organise 3 conferences. Two youth athletics coaching conferences (the last one is available here) and the #trainingload2016 conference (all talks available here and special issue of International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance here) which will be for sure a major milestone in this scientific field for years to come. I was also involved in a big project during the Handball World Championships in Qatar 2015, developing a new analytical solution with Prozone for Handball and conducting a comprehensive study on the demands of elite men's handball with the scientific and medical commission of the World Championships. This was thanks to the vision of the organising committee, Aspetar hospital, and a fellow former handball player (albeit more successful than me with his Olympic Gold medal) Dr. Nebojsa Popovic, showing how great it is to work in a large campus (Aspire Zone) with amazing expertise and passion for learning and developing new knowledge.

Tracking camera ready before game 1 of Qatar 2015.


On a personal front it has been quite exciting too. I have taken on few new sports and I am enjoying a more active lifestyle since moving here.







I have managed to visit some pretty cool places here in Doha and in nearby countries and taken some nice pictures.














So, it's been a great 4 years after all.

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