Simon Brundish from Strength: Lab Superheroes
Simon has been a sports scientist for 24 years. Much of his time is spent working within the elite sport environment, specialising in football, cricket and basketball at a regional, national and international level.
His resume is impressive. He’s worked with Manchester City, Coventry, Leads and Bordeaux football clubs, GB basketball and UK Gymnastics to name a few.
But Simon doesn’t spend all his time with elite athletes. In fact, he was awarded UKSCA Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year for youth sport in 2018.
Using his wealth of experience in strength and conditioning, Simon runs a ‘Fundamental Movement’ skills programme for primary-aged children called Superheroes.
The programme, which he runs with his wife, a PE teacher at a primary school, is designed to provide the necessary physical skills to help children reach their potential. It teaches fundamental movements and basic exercises that children need to stay in shape.
How it all started
Five years ago, the UK government established an initiative to improve physical literacy in children. The idea was to get children more engaged in physical activity and sport. As part of the initiative, each primary school is given £10,000 per year to put towards it.
This gave Simon and his wife an idea. They thought of creating a pathway/programme for young kids to develop their skill set and get them ready for sport or elite programmes.
The initial idea was to use good quality practitioners with kids and connect the allocated funding with the programme.
When starting out, Simon looked at the market to see how others were interpreting the government support. Everyone seemed to be using their own expertise to implement it. And since Simon had clear opinions – he looked at the best coaches in the world in sports science.
From there he worked with his wife to formulate a plan for her school. They used Simon’s network of coaches through the strength and conditioning association to see if he could connect athletic development coaches with primary schools.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Simon found that there wasn’t enough appetite to improve physical education (PE) in schools compared to maths and science. But, he still acknowledged it wasn’t enough that kids only get one set of 28 mins a week of PE.
So Simon revised his approach. This time the plan was to train teachers instead of getting strength and conditioning coaches. So it evolved into a web-based programme to help easily monitor and assess children’s skills.
I saw there was a market for it. I have two kids (at the time of set up) they were 7 and 10 and I’d seen the terrible PE they have in their schools.
Unfortunately, for various reasons, that didn’t take off either. So instead of giving up, Simon again refined the Superheroes programme. This time delivered through kids to other kids – “which is the best way, as it removes the necessity of the skill of the teacher” Simon admits. “And since schools have so many tablets and little time for PE, we decided to combine them.”
How it works
“There are five superheroes. We give the classroom tablets and divide the class up into groups of five. Each child learns a superhero movement from the web-based video and then teaches it to the class. From there, they assess each other.”
“Doing it this way allows the children to get more involved so there is more communication/teamwork and leadership and they get a better understanding of movement – which is the whole point.”
This gives children the chance to learn individual skills that they have no idea about, Simon explains. Each child builds an individual profile where they can log on and do homework and practice movements.
There are a lot of data points in the programme and we’ve started machine learning on it now too.
A typical day
A normal day for Simon starts by training elite athletes in the gym – usually two or three athletes. Currently these are tennis players and a world-class sprinter.
From there, he spends the afternoon at one of the schools overseeing the Superheroes programme. This often involves doing games with 5-11 year-olds.
“After school, kids then either come to our facility or we go to them to help to do climbing, running, jumping dodgeball etc.”
Superheroes is not just UK based, it's been adopted by many primary schools around the world.
Currently the programme has 85,000 thousand kids worldwide and 11,000 kids in the UK. But with 26,000 primary schools in the UK, the number of kids enrolled could reach 12.5 million.
Simon believes this is because the apathy with schools getting motivated. “They have the money – but we need to connect that to appropriate skills and motivation to do it.”
Simon laughs “Here’s me using my mettle to try and push our system forward in England”.
There are a number of partners running the programme around the world including Australia, NZ, Canada, US, France, Sweden – but not so much in England.
It’s a bit like a franchise – but it wasn’t set up that way. It wasn’t designed to make money Simon admits. “It was originally designed for my wife’s school. Because of my connections in the strength and conditioning community, a number of coaches came to us and it’s become a money-making business.”
The original design was for coaches to deliver the programme to children but it evolved into a web-based programme with data protection, licensing and video content. It was because of this that the start up cost was significant – well over £35,000. So Simon had to organise himself commercially to pay for the initial investment.
Simon recalls working with a six-year-old boy who found it very difficult to do the first superhero exercise. The exercise was the kneeling plank, and this particular child had very little strength.
But he stuck with it. “In six weeks, he went from not being able to lift off the floor to doing the plank for three minutes. His mother became a champion of the programme and helped to get other schools involved. This young man now plays rugby.”
The financial side of things – I’m not a financial guy, Simon says. “Organising expenses and tying invoices to other aspects of my account is definitely the hardest part for me.”
The best part
What Simon loves most is the idea of working with kids and seeing them take an interest in physical education. His goal is to ensure that when these kids turn 25, they’re still playing sports before heading to the pub with their mates!