Coaches Diary 2016

I don’t want to be a coach who looks back on a season and counts the wins, the goals achieved and say that I had a successful year. I want to look back at a season and count the losses, and the goals that weren’t achieved.

Every coach has his/her strength and weaknesses. Obviously the goal then of a coach is to identify these attributes and design your coaching methods based around them. My main strength has always been my knowledge of sport, the ability to sit down and watch the activity and come up with tactics that would be the most effective way for the sport to be conducted by the athlete. My weakness has always been my inability to convey these tactics to those around me.

When I sat down at the start of the year and thought about the direction that I wanted to go as a coach, these various attributes were at the forefront of my mind. How could I better convey my knowledge and tactics to my athletes?

I guess that is when I realised that this would not have to be as difficult a task as I first thought. Yes, some coaches are excellent talkers, some are great thinkers, others are more passive and let the athlete come up with things on their own. My tactic has been to simply apply the old adage of ‘lead from the front’. To coach a person or a team you don’t need to command respect by telling athletes what to do, yes this is sometimes an effective form of communication… its fast, the point can be made quickly. But my style has formed differently.

I like to think that my respect is gained and my thought processes conveyed better through the active approach, being down in the trenches with my athletes, engaging with them as a team-mate, as a fellow person in the war of the sport.

I believe that this technique has worked extremely well for me over the past year, firstly in creating a team-like culture that is not formed solely on a dictatorship, but a team-like culture that welcomes open feed-back from others in the group.

It would be unruly for a coach at my age and with my experience to demand an athlete who in some circumstances can be twice my age to shut-up and listen. It is also not right for me to think that what I say is the holy-grail of all concepts about the sport out there. Yes, I may have done my research and yes I might have watched and studied the sport intensely, but that does not mean that I cannot accept points from my athletes about themselves that simply do not work in the research and the data that has been formed over the years.

So I believe that my idea has changed based off this approach as to what a coach has/needs to be. When I first started my ideals on what the perfect coach might be, it turned out they were completely different to what they are now.

Instead of trying to change my methods I have accepted them and I think turned my weakness into a strength.


The toughest task this year I have been faced with as a coach.

Easily the toughest task from the onset was to take over the reins of an experienced triathlete who had already qualified for a world championship event. This athlete had been in the sport nearly as long as myself and already had an advanced idea on exercise prescription. As my methods differ from the norm, conveying this change and earning the trust with this athlete was always going to be the toughest aspect of this campaign.

With a full on schedule in place for the upcoming season, there was absolutely no room for error. I had to go with my gut, and create a plan that would make this triathlete competitive at the highest level and do it within only a few months. So having trust that her fitness was at a substantial level to begin a tough build we set about getting the program done. The most challenging thing was that the months leading into the event would also be the wettest that the region had seen on record. So with record rainfall and freezing temperatures we needed to prepare for an event in the north of the country where the temperature would exceed 35degrees.

Overall this went according to plan, albeit with a slight scare after foot pain indicated to me stress-fracture, fortunately this was a false alarm and the athlete went on to do extremely well in the event.


The most rewarding task this year

Definitely this one is overall. I have taken individual athletes and formed a group which is so close that it is literally a second family. This credit is not mine to accept however, it is a group gain that has come about through the sheer willingness and eagerness of each athlete to keep striving toward their goals. With this commonality in mind, they have each fed off this motivation and the common bond was formed. Seeing this bond grow at each session has been by far and away the most rewarding aspect for me.


Most rewarding individual performance

A tough question to ask, and a tough question to answer. The easy way out would be to say that they were all rewarding – but I guess sometimes there is always one which stands head and shoulders above the rest. For me that would be the day that I was watching my athletes swarm all over the Western Sydney 70.3. On this day we had a group who had prepared for the race all year and they were busting out of their socks to get going.

One athlete who had the worst possible preparation you could ever ask for leading into the race set a bloody awesome personal best despite everything set out before him. He spent half his life in the months preceding the event in motel rooms chasing mining organisations all over Australia and in some cases the world.

Then came to the race with two specific goals in his mind. The first was to do a <3h ride on a road bike, the second was to do a <6h race. He smashed both these goals, and also swam himself into 4th in his age-group. Setting a personal best time more than 46min faster than the year before. This was a very special result for me, and one that I am most proud of.


Best lesson learnt

I have learnt many, many, many lessons this year. But the one that stands out the most is the need to take responsibility for what goes on as a team. There are a lot of people who surround our group. Family members, friends, staff, club members, and the general public to name a few. My athletes are a reflection of me, their attitude is a reflection on the ideals that I represent within the sport and within the community. When I am positive the team is positive, and the world in and outside of the team is a great place to be. Reverse that, and when things are not rosy, the balance is out and the team and surrounding people suffer. So my main lesson is to always know that my attitude has a direct reflection on the team, and to always keep things positive and rarely critical.


My idea on periodization specifically Base training.

Now as the year developed my plans changed somewhat. Through Uni we had been taught fluently on the specific art of program periodization, and how important the various aspects of these were. However, what was not really covered was the gaps in the standard periodisation protocol. For instance, one thing I have learnt over the years from watching hundreds of athletes both locally and on television and various other media outlets is what happens to them when they stop training. They die, and I am not specifically talking about closing eyes to never open them again, I am talking about mentally passing on. When an athlete stops training for any reason they lose sight of their identity, they are not the swimmer they used to be, they are not the rugby player anymore. And the old adage of training for a specific event fuels this ‘standard periodization protocol’ even more, leading to gaps in the athletes mental state.

My athletes do not do a base period, they are bogus, the base period should be happening whenever the athlete is not in full prep mode for a race. It is so important that the athlete keeps training, albeit different to the race prep. For a number of reasons this is important. Firstly, because the athlete is still being mentally and physically challenged, and they are still engaging in the lifestyle that surrounds this sport. When the athlete stops training it is too easy for them to fall back under their base, and thus make it more difficult to return to the level of competition that they were at previously.

If this start-stop approach is practiced over enough years than the athlete will eventually fall into a state of no return.


So my adaptation to this method is to form a higher base each year, and to ALWAYS hold that base. Purely from a healthy point of view the athlete should be doing some form of exercise every day, be it fitness related or active recovery and stretching. There should never be a state of inactivity as this just leads to unhealthy habits and a poor lifestyle.


My idea on the One size fits all approach

Pretty obvious my thoughts on this. The boot doesn’t fit every athlete, everyone has their own strength and weaknesses. As such a program and preparation has to change for the individual. However, the biggest change should not be during the build and peak periods of training, the separate programs should be implemented during the rest of the year. For instance, it is much easier to train an athlete to be a better swimmer during a low-loading period as the fatigue from other training will not affect the athlete’s ability to perform certain tasks, so a weak swimmer should be focusing on becoming a more economical swimmer during a low-loading point in the athlete’s program. This is the same with all disciplines. Focus on what needs to be changed when the pressure is off.

Too often I have seen athletes crammed with big changes and attempted improvements in limiters throughout a crucial point in their programming. Limiters should not be worked on during this time, limiters need to be addressed early so that during a build and a prep for competition the athlete is specifically working on doing these activities faster and for longer with the correct form already addressed.

So when I see programs for athletes with a copy-paste mentality or a group program through a non-peak season it makes we worried.

The best example of what I am trying to convey is two athletes that I trained this year for the same race. Both athletes had been in the sport for about the same amount of time. Both had completely different limiters and both had similar goals. One athlete was a specialist swimmer; one athlete was a specialist cyclist. Both these athletes worked on specific things within their base building program, then joined together during their build. The result was perfect. The specialist swimmer came out of the water at the same time as the specialist cyclist. They both had similar bike splits, and both had similar run splits. Both were exceptionally faster than the previous year.

If they had been doing the same training sessions all year than they would have never had the opportunity to work specifically on their limiters.


My idea of outsourcing athletes

One of the most important factors in training and coaching athletes is outsourcing. A coach is there to see his/her athletes become better at their sport. A smart coach will know when something is past their knowledge or training and seek advice, tips, and help on that subject. I am very lucky that I have a great team around to help aid me in outsourcing those with superior knowledge to myself. A dietitian knows more about an athlete’s diet than I do, it doesn’t matter how many books I have read on the subject, there is no substitute for 5 years of uni, 10years of experience, and networking the best practice over many years in the industry. So what do I do when an athlete needs specific help with their nutrition… I send them to a dietitian; and I have an excellent one.

If an athlete comes to me with a sore leg, again there is no point guessing the injury through my own research… send them to a physio.

The point I make here is over the past year, this kind of networking with a performance team has been very successful in my athlete’s ability to perform the program that I give them, and as such the improvements that they have made are a direct result of outsourcing more experienced help when required.


How do I define ‘success’ in my coaching ability?

I don’t want to be a coach who looks back on a season and counts the wins, the goals achieved and say that I had a successful year. I want to look back at a season and count the losses, and the goals that weren’t achieved.

After all – this number means more to me as a coach. How many athletes have been unsuccessful this year? It is easy to look at one or two huge wins and smile, it is however hard to look at one or two losses and frown. I have a positive outlook on life in general however this is one area that I really am critical on. How many of my athletes have been unhappy this year?

Fortunately my loss sheet is small after my first year, virtually every goal has been achieved. However again, as a coach I am not here for the whole group, I am here for each individual in the group and as such a few of my events have not gone according to plan and this is where I need to focus more of my time.

Overall however personally I rate my year as a huge success, my strike rate of goals unachieved is about the 7% mark. Obviously a number like this is hard to exactly calculate based on all the individual objectives that go along with each event, but with info formed at the start of each campaign and when it is finished, this calculation is about as accurate a representative of my season as I can get.


What is on the cards for 2017?

Personal growth! I want to continue to learn and develop my skills as a coach and programmer. I want to continue to educate myself in my field of Exercise Science and continue to provide best practice from the latest research and journal articles. But I also want to continue to leave my own mark in the industry.

I am not looking for bulk competitors to coach, I want to continue to provide the more direct approach with my athletes with the ability to shape and modify weeks and plans to reflect unforeseen changes. A skill that you simply cannot do with bulk athletes.

I want to continue to fight in the trenches alongside my athletes and provide the example that I really should be setting.


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