Character, coaching, leadership

Defining Greatness in Coaching

Lately, everywhere I turn the topic of character shows up.

Recently I taught a class on character in the Coaching & Leadership for Performance course at SMU. Coaches at all levels talk about it and by the time students are in college all they hear is blah blah blah, character, blah blah blah sense of community and family, blah blah teamwork.

That same week, the Provost gave each faculty member a copy of David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character. Then as I watched the latest Super Bowl between the Broncos and Panthers, I noticed how some players responded to the outcome of the game with character and honor while others did not. As I continue to listen to the presidential debates for the upcoming election, I wonder how important it is to each candidate for our nation to be one of high character.

In contemplating the sheer importance of character, I wonder why people have stopped listening? But then it’s clear – many coaches know how to talk the talk but don’t know how to walk the walk.

Here are 5 reasons why character is crucial in coaching:

1. Without a moral compass, the emphasis on winning becomes obnoxious and unhealthy.

Coaches are constantly balancing the objectives of winning, developing people, and having fun. The pitfall of placing too much emphasis on winning often results in either burnout or a general dissatisfaction. No amount of winning is enough for these coaches. The confusing part is that despite the inner struggle or lack of fulfillment, the adoration and/or money received from the outside world for continuing to improve a win-loss percentage makes it difficult to shift the emphasis back to balanced.

With all the focus on winning, somehow we have lost the sense of having fun and instead have replaced it with “hard work”. Then, we work so hard that it’s just not fun anymore. We need to be conscious to infuse fun back in to the mix of things.

A win-at-all-cost mentality produces superficial monsters. The win is ultimately the only thing that matters to these people and they will do anything to get it – including harming others in their way and/or bending rules. The social, physical, and psychological development of coaches and their athletes take a backseat to the priority of winning. Students start cheating their way to a degree, workers lie their way to a promotion, and athletes use performance enhancing drugs to elicit wins.

Win or lose, coaches with high character recognize the implications of their actions and are conscious to respond appropriately with honorable behavior. Coaches with moral strength and integrity identify with Arthur Calwell’s assertion that “It is better to be defeated on principle than to win on lies”. Truly, these coaches believe there are wins more significant than can be found in a race or on the fields and courts of competition.

2. Coaches of character create “friend energy” not “fan energy”.

I love one of John Maxwell’s blog posts that considers the question, “Do you want to have fans, or friends?” Coaches focused on character don’t care about impressing others or showing off as they are too concerned with connecting with others to influence their growth and development. These coaches understand that their current behavior is influencing the future behavior of the people they are coaching.

Egomaniacal coaches are likely to produce fans of those they lead. Relationships are not mutual and typically do not last. It doesn’t matter if the coaching style is autocratic or democratic, emotionally close or emotionally distant; the actions of these coaches are ultimately self-serving.

Notice I said friend “energy”, not friends. The goal at the end of the day is not to make friends with your athletes but to move the needle forward. HOW you go about moving the needle forward matters. Your ability to communicate in a caring manner greatly affects relationships and the results you do or don’t get.

Mark Allen, coach and 6 time winner of the Kona Ironman World Championship, shared some great content and coaching advice with me in a recent interview for a presentation I gave at USA Triathlon’s International Art & Science Symposium titled Coaching Powerfully: The Greatest Triathlon Coaching Minds. He said, “I help people get physically fit but I aim to help them with weak points in their inner character as well – human being stuff – that ultimately can help in a race.”

The energy you use to carry out your daily interactions with those you coach reveals the heart of your character.

3. Because we need more human beings that ADD TO society, not TAKE AWAY from it.

As a coach in a position of power and authority, people look up to you and look to you for guidance and direction. There is an inherent responsibility that comes with the great privilege of being a coach.

Once you step into a leadership position you soon realize that society’s problems become your problems. Especially for youth coaches, it is well-known that character education helps to fight against violence, drugs, theft, abuse, peer cruelty, etc. We know this all too well in professional sports too, as the media is quick to report athletes’ unbecoming and unlawful behavior.

So basically, a coach’s job is to get others to shine. That’s the task. You cannot assume that anyone you coach knows what the principles of character are. You have to identify these principles. Then teach them. The effort is more than worth it as traits like grit, self-discipline, and passion usually accompany those with high character.

Becky Burleigh, head women’s soccer coach at the University of Florida, wonderfully illustrates what the commitment looks like to build a culture of high character people. In this video, you will see an amazing demonstration team character in action.

4. Your credibility depends on it.

What you say and what you teach are a small part of what others actually remember of you. Your wins and any other short-lived successes are also likely to be forgotten. Rather, it’s the way you live your life, and how you go about it in the smallest of details — this is the strongest message that you send to those you lead.

The trail you leave behind is largely determined by your character. In order to be an effective teacher of the distinctions of character, it must be something you live. Once others SEE your commitment through your actions, you gain massive credibility with your audience.

Dr. Greg Dale, a Professor of Sport Psychology and Sport Ethics at Duke University, authored The Seven C’s of Coaching Credibility where he listed desired characteristics of the most credible coaches. While the list of seven characteristics are great, I most appreciate the poem from Linda Ellis called “the Dash” which Dr. Dale and a colleague adapted especially for coaches. I urge you to read it.

Your character shapes your destiny, as I am reminded in the below quote by Frank Outlaw (also seen as attributed to Lao Tzu).

As a coach and leader of others, you have the responsibility and great honor of guiding others to their destinies.

5. Because the world needs more humility and self-discipline in it.

It is possible to win and remain humble. Of course there will be those who win and act in a haughty manner, blow their own trumpets, and draw unnecessary attention to themselves. Let them be. Virtues like courage, humility, patience and perseverance are in short supply. Coaches who value these virtues can positively impact sport and in turn, the world we live in.

Be willing to examine yourself as a person and have the courage to confront your weaknesses as it relates to your character. Others you spend time with, your family and your athletes, see these weaknesses. How you go about your life acknowledging them with grace will give others a sense of your self-awareness and will enroll them in assisting you in your greater mission.

“Greatness is not found in possessions, power, position or prestige. It is discovered in goodness, humility, service and character.” -William Arthur Ward

Greatness is not found in accumulating wins or trophies, either. If that’s your standard, maybe it’s time to raise it.

David Bertrand serves as Director and Clinical Assistant Professor of the Sport Performance Leadership coaching concentration within the Department of Applied Physiology and Wellness at Southern Methodist University. He is a practicing endurance and triathlon coach and is en route to graduate with a doctorate in higher education leadership in May of 2018. David lives in Dallas with his wife, Nikki, and their three children, Annie, Tessa, and John David.

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featured image photo credit: innovateus.net

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coaching, leadership, Teaching, triathlon

An Interview With Brett Sutton – Unorthodox Coach of World and Olympic Champions

Brett Sutton, aka “The Doc”, has coached Ironman world record holder Chrissie Wellington and Olympic gold medalists Nicola Spirig and Emma Snowsill.

First of all, let me just say that Brett’s interview was the longest (and perhaps the most provocative) of all the triathlon coaches I spoke with. He had a lot to say and a lot to offer. He did not shy away from bringing up controversial topics and did not hesitate to speak his mind on anything and everything.

Former professional athlete and now famed coach Siri Lindley has described Sutton as “the best coach in the world” (in January of 2011).

Here is the transcript from my conversation with Brett: (Note: Because the interview was NOT recorded, transcribing was not possible and many of the answers are thus paraphrased.)

David Bertrand (db): How many years have you been coaching?

Brett Sutton (bs): I come from a coaching family where both my mom and dad were coaches. I’ve been doing it since the age of 15 (which amounts to 40+ years).

db: What originally drew you into coaching and what do you enjoy most about it?

bs: My brother and sisters were all swimmers, so I was teaching them how to swim when I was 10 years old. It was a part of my life from very early on. My entire life has been centered around sport.

It’s what I do best – not necessarily what I enjoy – but it’s just what I do best. I get very emotionally involved with my athletes. At age 18 I had experienced a lot of success already having coached with the Australian national swim team. This early success made it difficult for my coaching career as I didn’t get another job until age 24 (parents of athletes thought he was too young to coach). In the interim I crossed over to coach greyhounds and horses.

Coaching is the family business. If I had to do it all over again, I’d have stayed with the animals. I had great success with them. My dad would always pull me back in to the swim training and stir my interest for working with people again, and sure enough I’d get drawn back in to the mainstream of swim coaching.

Triathlon coaching came in to the picture in 1999. I was working with swimmers on the gold coast, as coaching director for Queensland Swimming. Initially they asked if I could step in to the age group masters program for a few weeks. It was then that I met Ben Bright, national triathlon high performance coach for England. I worked with the triathlon age groupers for three months and absolutely loved it. I loved the atmosphere and the camaraderie of the age grouper environment. I had to make up my mind though and choose between coaching the swimmers or the triathletes, which I thought was totally unfair and disingenuous. Being the hot head that I was, I left swimming and began a 3-year stint of working with the age groupers. The rest is history.

db: What is your coaching philosophy and what if anything, do you consider to be unique or core to your approach?

bs: I’m an authoritarian who listens. A coach should be a coach and make decisions. The reason for loyalty is the listening part. From the outside looking in, it might just look like authoritarianism. But I listen first and then act decisively. I understand their feelings and the logic of what the athlete is trying to achieve. I’ve never looked at the sport of triathlon from a triathlon set of eyes, and that has been my biggest advantage.

The best medley swim coaches in the world make compromises of each stroke and technique, in order to make the best medley racers in the world. I brought that philosophy to triathlon. I have never done a triathlon. I did two bike rides just to see what the athletes are going through. What I learned is that coaches are far too technical and way too specific.

Teaching age groupers how to get a “feel’ for the water is just outright ridiculous. Michael Phelps and Alexander Popov are terrible distance swimmers, and yet that’s the model for many swim clinics. It drives me nuts. 

[In summary:]

  1. Being an authoritarian is not a bad thing because you have to make decisions. (I wear it like a badge of honor.)
  2. You must compromise certain things to get the best performance.

db: Did you receive any advice from early on in your coaching career, which has been something you draw strength from and/or something you consider to be a great piece of wisdom?

bs: My dad couldn’t read or write. All of his coaching was done by feel and with a great eye for the sport of swimming. Everything he learned was trial and error. After the age of 15 when an athlete typically begins to ask “Why?” in regards to training procedures and methods, things went south for my dad as ultimately he was insecure about it.

When I first set out to learn the craft of coaching, my dad sent me out to observe each of the top 5 programs in Australia. He wanted me to learn what I could and then report back as to what each program does and what they do to produce good athletes. He said, “Don’t come home until you know what’s going on.”

There was one program in particular that seemingly was accomplishing very little. The head coach would write the workout on the board and then go into his office, after which chaos and play would ensue with the group of youth swimmers. He reported back to his father that it was simply “pandemonium” and his dad’s response, “You’re only looking, not watching.” After the third visit, I finally figured it out: after the coach would go back to his office the young swimmers were doing relay after relay of 25 yard sprints. It was no wonder that the program was producing short-range rockets!

This example serves to illustrate that my first year of coaching was dedicated to observation. I consider it to have been an ingenious coaching expedition.

The observation skills I learned from training horses and greyhounds would put triathlon coaches to shame. And in a nutshell, that’s the mystique that I bring to triathlon. I spent the better part of 3 or 4 years around training animals, and that has had a huge influence on how I coach people.

The depth of the psychology needed to coach effectively is underrated. You must be a great observer and communicator but if I had to pick one between the two, observation trumps it every time. Great horse trainers don’t talk to the horses.

For example, at times I didn’t even talk to Nicola. I’d let her physiology do the talking. Earlier in my career I would never compromise, but in 2000 I started to compromise.

Emma Snowsill would not have achieved what she has without my authoritarian style. Same thing goes for Chrissie Wellington. Nicola Spirig too.

I have evolved as a coach.

db: Do you have any tips for athletes or coaches in regards to getting through injuries / difficult patches?

bs: Injuries are part of the deal. If you sign up to be a soldier, you can’t guarantee you won’t get shot. If you want to be a professional athlete and be the best you want to be, you are kidding yourself if you think you can do it without injury.

It’s HOW you deal with it that counts. Often times people do great things while injured.

When Loretta Harrop came to me, I was “Mr. Fix It” and would use horse remedies to help her and others. An art of coaching is being able to train around awkward physiology. For example, one recovering athlete I never gave any speed work to but she could handle 60k a week on the run at a steady-state pace and was strong as an ox. It’s how you set the session that matters.

Injuries usually come in three’s I’ve found. After 10 days off from an injury let’s say, an athlete might come back with a different set of legs. There is one legitimate injury and two illegitimate ones. 

db: Regarding the business of coaching, what do you see as the biggest challenge to establishing a successful coaching practice?

bs: I’m broke and the worst person to ask for this.

I get the best results of five coaches combined. But I’m a bad business man.

db: What are the most common mistakes you see coaches make?

bs: Letting athletes cram: “I missed this session, so I’ll fit it in there.” Don’t play catch up!

What’s ridiculously hard is to be consistent at my training sessions. I tell my athletes that I need 20 weeks of consistent work.

db: What types of collaborating do you do with other coaches to improve your own practice?

bs: I’m an eclectic. I’m not a very smart guy, but what I can do is tell you things about athletes and what they do that other triathlon coaches cannot see. I don’t necessarily collaborate with other tri coaches because there are only five that know what they’re doing.

I having great success with those I mentor because I can explain to them why I’m doing what I’m doing. I would advise coaches to be very careful who you are collaborating with.

An important thing to note here is that I don’t change anything if it’s working. I’m not thinking “Oh, how can I improve this next year?” if it’s working. Sometimes if you’re always thinking about ways to become a better coach, it can hurt you. That thirst for knowledge can hurt you. You may be passing over something that is working just fine.

Chrissie did the exact same program in year 1 as she did in year 2. She just did it faster. And did it better in year 2. Caroline Steffen trained the same way as Chrissie; they had similar body and emotional make-ups. Additionally I trained Nicola more like Loretta because of similar leg problems.

I spent 4 years in an apprenticeship standing on deck as a coach. I am not someone who was a great athlete or that has taken certain courses. That’s what I’ve found to be valuable.

Sidenote: The greatest swimmers don’t make as good coaches because they lack the empathy.

db: Where do you see the sport of triathlon headed?

bs:

  • Coaches are making money on age groupers and that part has never been better. 
  • If professionals don’t wake up and get organized, things are going to get ugly. It’s regressing completely. If you’re in the Ironman field, be very careful as prize money is shrinking.
  • If you strive to be a high performance coach, you’re going to be very broke.
  • A good business strategy does not revolve around the pro’s.
  • I’m very worried about the performance side of things. It’s very scary in regards to doping. I still think you can be clean and get the times necessary to win. If you train hard enough, you can still produce the results (this is NOT the case with cycling). I wish triathlon would wake up and nip it in their own sport.

db: If you could wish one thing for an ATHLETE that may be new to the sport, what would that be?

bs: Consistency. Understand if you’re coming in new to the sport, you’re not going to be a professional so the main goal is health…don’ destroy your family.

Follow this: Mon/Thurs = swim; Tues/Fri = bike; Wed/Sat = run; Sun = rest. That’s it.

All these “I want to go faster and longer” goals are being lost in the holistic pie as age groupers are starting to sacrifice other things to get 5 minutes faster. Is that healthy? Or does that cause you to unhinge in other areas? Or is there actually a health benefit? The competitive component of triathlon has over-run what triathlon is all about.

Use the sport to be healthy and to enhance your lifestyle and family life.

I advocate eliminating 1st, 2nd and 3rd place medals at these age group races. What about completing the event…that guy is a winner! How can you compare a guy with no job to another that has a family and works 12 hours a day? It’s just silliness.

db: If you could wish one thing for a COACH that may be new to the sport, what would that be?

bs: Spend time on the deck, observing. If you want to be a great coach, that’s the best way to do it. Don’t go straight to online programming and coaching; that is a mistake. Coach people and understand personalities. That’s the key. You’ve got to get the experience if you want to be a good coach. You learn that the books may not be right and then you bring in the “art” to find out how to help the athlete.

Nicola Sperry was out 6 months in 2011, but she swam 60k a week and we found things to work on.

Pick athletes to work with that have big results, not big egos. There’s a huge difference.

db: Any final thoughts?

bs:

  • Number one is that psychology wins over physiology, always.
  • A lot of coaches think they’re going to get “magic” out of a book.
  • Match your knowledge to what the person’s needs are at that particular time.
  • If you are doing a set of 4 x 800 on the track and the athlete looks agitated, then I might change the workout on the fly. Doing the original workout will only make the athlete worse. Never rely on a set program.

So there you have it, from the “coach with the most formidable resume in triathlon”.

Learned a lot. Hope you did too.

For your success,

David

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If you liked this article, then you also might appreciate interviews with the following:

Dave Scott

Mark Allen

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All triathlon coach interviews were conducted in April and May of 2014.

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coaching, Training, triathlon

Notes from Day 3 of USA Triathlon’s Elite Coaching Mentorship Program

Ken Axford – Observation of Elite Athletes’ Swimming Session and Swim Discussion

Coach Ken Axford coaching elite (Hunter Kemper in orange cap, near side).

Coach behavior: chit chat and loose on deck before workout begins; very active during workout with “signals” organized with the athletes beforehand so he can give them feedback during a long swim set without them stopping; method of delivery confident yet not overbearing, respectful, providing evidence and reasons as to “why” for every drill and set; there is purpose and something for each athlete to focus on for each swim set; very engaged throughout

Good swimmers hold their form when they’re tired.

Tuesday and Wednesday Elite Squad swim workouts

BPA = best possible average

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Bike handling “push the bike away” drill: take body as far as you can to one side of the bike, coast and then steer; hear the side wall of the tire on the ground

Cycling mentality: race your way into shape. In triathlon if you do that you race your way out of shape.

Tempo blocks – work up to 6 X 10 minute intervals

Threshold blocks (never more than 30 minutes) – work up to 6 X 5 minute intervals from 6 X 3 minutes

All elites on long runs are doing the cycle of 9 minutes run, 1 minute walk. Walking is also worked into tempo runs as well.

There is always dynamic warm up before running.

One brick a week generally works well.

Workout plans done based on time not mileage.

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Melissa Mantak – Developing an Elite Squad: Balancing Elite and Age Group Performance and the

Different Performance Models

“Late Starters” and “Career Changers” – because triathlon is in its infancy as an Olympic sport, there are initiatives to help guide athletes that didn’t start triathlon until their teens or twenties

Important for youth to experience racing at high levels to get used to the pressure and to learn how to get to the place where the pressure is more of a non-factor.

In assessing an athlete’s capacity to be an elite, you must consider: Do they have the time for it and the ability?

You bring on athletes to a squad for different reasons. Must think about the chemistry of the group. Compatibility is very important.

The cross support between age groupers and elites provides for great interaction among a squad. Inspiration and motivation carries across the board. (e.g., Siri Lindley’s group)

Discussion around why the US’s best ITU athletes are all coached by International coaches. US triathlon coaching education is behind the curve.

There is support available ($) for those wanting to develop elite squads but it has to be 99% your initiative to start and to maintain it.

In running squad you must balance Team Dynamics vs. Individual Needs (with various adaptation rates) – all makes for a tough balance.

–2013 ITU Science & Triathlon Coaching–

Case Study of Elite Britain Tri Team in Leeds: atmosphere of extreme competition; exceptional athletes w/ exceptional coaching; exceptional attention to detail (e.g., Malcolm Brown leading up to 2012 London games, once a month he would go to the hotel the team would be staying in during the Olympics to meet the staff, get used to the food, stay a night, etc. – went to great extents in attempt to “control the environment”!); use Alter G for speed work; would bring in outside athletes to “stir the pot” that were great champions to challenge the team; Always training in rain and cold (mental toughness); no culture of ENTITLEMENT; intentional effort to empower the athletes to be decision makers (discussion around the controversy of when Johnny took his penalty during the Olympics); Manages the “noise” around the athletes; Alistair has a friend be the filter of all communication and only brought him the important stuff; feeling of we are “in it together”; always show confidence even when you’re not; team went to Switzerland and higher altitude; “old school” mentality: no power meters so athletes could not obsess over it.

The Alistair and Johnny dynamic was one of love but extreme competition. Before Olympics, Alistair was in a boot for 10 weeks and only did 3 races and 10 run workouts before winning the Gold Medal. He did lots of aqua jogging and used the Alter G.

Case Study of Darren Smith’s squad: works with a lot of the career changes and late starters; has a very robust pre-screening process (which includes financial, behavioral, potential to improve, motivation, coachability, skills, etc.); creates a culture of respect; doesn’t do a lot of training competitions; does a complete synthesis of racing skills day-in and day-out; uses respiratory work and accelerometers; no power meters or LT testing; does NOT use periodization

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Melissa Mantak – Periodization and Long Term Planning for the Elite Triathlete

You need to plan – you need to be flexible – and you need to change it up!

It’s important to create a plan and to have confidence in it. Include your athletes in the planning and remember to be flexible with it.

There is no such thing as spending too much time with the basics. There is no detail too small.

The dosage of hard efforts is important to get right (within the workout, within the week, etc.).

Before Gwen Jorgensen was full-time triathlete, MM remembers being at the airport with a team of professionals and the other athletes were napping and Gwen at the time was still an accountant so she was working. This impedes ability to recover!

Tudor Bompa and the concept of Super-compensation

Detraining or Reversibility (e.g., When coaching Matt Chrabot, she emphasized rest too much – the goal is enough recovery not too much to where you detrain!)

General rule of thumb is not very much taper with elites because they will detrain very quickly.

Bike skills one of the most important things to plan for in ITU racing.

What type of RESPONDER is your athlete?

  • Fast adapter – low volume: responds quickly to hard training doses but can only handle small amounts
  • Fast Adapter – high volume: responds quickly to hard training and can handle
  • Slow Adapter – low volume of intensity: typical Ironman athlete… responds slowly to hard training doses but can only handle small amounts
  • Slow Adapter – high volume of intensity: responds slowly to hard training and can handle a lot

Don’t pigeon-hole your athletes into these categories as they will move through them sometimes as they progress.

Concept of non-linear training is that you never have one system that falls behind. Keep the critical energy systems moving year-round.

One drawback to traditional periodization is that it’s an oversimplified planning model.

No one best model for all individuals.

Emphasis or “Block” periodization (a non-linear) – Verkhoshansky and Issurin

Laying out a yearly plan is not derived from scientific research. Periodization is not a science. Apply the principles of planning and “change it up” frequently.

Look up Jon Kailey – Periodization and Paradigms in the 21st century – most important thing is to CHANGE IT UP! Conclusions: high volume and threshold is the foundation of the plan all year.

Nordic ski and biathlon German model of periodization: similar conclusions of the need for aerobic volume and interval training.

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coaching, Training, triathlon

Notes from Day 2 of USA Triathlon’s Elite Coaching Mentorship Program

As a reminder, these notes are not comprehensive; the merely reflect what I personally found most interesting or helpful. Enjoy!

Daily Training Environment – Ken Axford

USA Triathlon’s Elite squad – current training load volume of ~22 hours a week:

  • 5-6 swims a week (60-75 minutes at 3200-4200 meters) – (Ken’s approach is very technique based)
  • 4-5 hours a week of running (35-45 miles), usually over 6 days a week
  • 6-7 hours a week of biking over 5-6 days a week
  • 5-2hours a week of strength over 2 sessions a week

Crash recovery skills are very important – the Elite squad practices these (e.g., how fast can you change out a wheel, put chain back on, etc.)

The athletes need the OW simulation in the pool, not only for specificity but for CONFIDENCE (e.g., particularly in knowing they can get out fast and hang on to the pace).

Some athletes don’t swim on Saturday because they do fine on 5 days a week and are coming out with the first pack very easily. It’s important to remember the principle of individuality though; for example, Katie Hursey leads the ITU females out of the water and swims only 3 days a week. But when she had a bike crash and broke some ribs, she upped her swimming to 5 days a week so that she could maintain and then increase her aerobic capacity.

KA mentions this is not a formula for every squad; it’s just what works for his group, given their ages, maturity level, school schedules, etc.

Currently, athletes preparing for the ITU race in Monterrey are acclimating by starting trainer rides with sweatshirts and other layers and then de-robing as they get excessively hot. For the ultra-committed athletes, he might have them set up their trainers in the bathroom with a hot shower running to simulate hot AND humid conditions.

How Ken sets up cost for athletes: 20% of race winnings with a minimum of $300/month

On the high end, some ITU coaches are commanding close to $800 to $1k a month and on the low end, $200 a month.

AURUM project – goal is to bridge the gap between Junior/Collegiate Elites and the USAT High Performance pipeline.

How can Youth/Junior programs compete with swim and run scholarships that athletes are being offered? How can those athletes be kept in the pipeline with triathlon as their priority when the allure of these scholarships is so strong?

From Andy Schmitz: Have a thoughtful conversation with the athlete and the parent.  What is the athlete’s priority? There are many considerations, with financial only being one of them. It must be the right environment, with the right style of coach, at the right time, with the right student body, etc.

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Barb Linquist – College Recruitment Program (CRP)

Posed the question: If you could methodically recruit swimmers and runners from the college realm, how might that be done? Then someone came along and said, “How’d you like that to be your job?”

Three Arms of CRP:

  • Recruitment (How do we get the word out?)
  • Assessment (Do these athletes have Olympic medal potential?)
  • Mentorship (Now what do we do with them once we believe in them?)

USAT Coaches can help Barb in identifying athletes across the nation. A simple email with a link to a recent race is great. Know the standards, know the testing protocols, and know the goal of CRP: Olympic medalists.

It’s not just number crunching with the swim and run assessments – there are many “intangibles” to consider: Is the athlete coachable? Organized? Do they respond quickly? Do they ask good questions? Do they have to be motivated to do a simple recovery run? Can they respond well to a long email she sends them? (If not then it’s a good “weed out” process).

The Ideal Recruit: swimmer from age 8 to 15 and then in high school at age 15 switch over to running and improve skills to be good enough to run in college. Some mountain biking (or cyclocross) is a plus to develop bike handling skills. This is the ideal situation.

Steeplechasers are now being looked at as they tend to be a bit stronger than the distance-only folks and these athletes tend to be good on the bike as well.

The fatigue index of the best runners is somewhere between 3% and 5%, when doing the assessment of [400m all out, 7-minute rest, then 200m + 1600m].

As of late, USAT has leaned more towards recruiting the runners than the swimmers.

Men take longer than women to develop: women can race WTS within a year of being in the sport while male runners will spend more time developing the swim and bike.

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Running in ITU – Lindsay Hyman

Referencing The Lore of Running, by Tim Noakes – There is a chart, given optimal body weight and fitness, which predicts the potential that an athlete can reach for running events of varying distances. (The chart may also account for differing weather conditions and other variables).

In the last 12 months of ITU racing for Continental Cups:

  • The Top 30 Men for a sprint race ranges from 4:40 per mile to 6:07 per mile.
  • The Top 30 Men for an Olympic race ranges from 5:31 per mile to 6:07 to mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for a sprint race ranges from 5:29 per mile to 6:27 per mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for an Olympic race ranges from 5:58 per mile to 6:27 per mile.

The athletes that do the best on the run tend to fade the LEAST, with a 3-5% fatigue ratio (roughly 10 seconds per mile, even though the data can be misleading as it’s more common for the first two miles to be similar in time with the third further off).

Negative splitting on the run is not common in Continental Cups.

In the last 12 months of ITU racing for World Cups:

  • The Top 30 Men for a sprint race ranges from 4:40 per mile to 5:14 per mile.
  • The Top 30 Men for an Olympic race ranges from 5:00 per mile to 5:24 to mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for a sprint race ranges from 5:14 per mile to 5:48 per mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for an Olympic race ranges from 5:38 per mile to 6:09 per mile.

In WC’s it’s not about “fading the least” as much as it is RACING THE RACE.

More tactics come in to play, so that doesn’t always mean racing the “fastest” race.

In the last 12 months of ITU racing for WTS Cups:

  • The Top 30 Men for a sprint race ranges from 4:40 per mile to 5:19 per mile.
  • The Top 30 Men for an Olympic race ranges from 4:43 per mile to 5:09 to mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for a sprint race ranges from 4:53 per mile to 5:51 per mile.
  • The Top 15 Women for an Olympic race ranges from 5:21 per mile to 5:48 per mile.

Going from WC to WTS racing on the men’s side takes about 2 years; on the women’s side it could take as little as 3 months.

Case Scenario: How did your athlete originally get to a 17-minute 5k? Was it volume or was it speed? If we want to get back to that speed, do we use the same approach as before or different?

Considerations for effective running:  head position, arm carriage, forward lean, foot contact position, and range of motion for hips, knees, and ankles.

Many coaches become a jack of many things and master of nothing. Build a team of experts around you and be a master of something and don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself.

Speed before distance. (When LH polled 6 elite ITU high performance coaches in her network, 4 answered speed before distance, 2 answered distance before speed).

Stride Rate – less ground contact time is the goal

It’s harder to run off a volatile bike than off a steady bike (i.e., the more steady they can keep the LT [and the fewer spikes in VO2 and peaks in power] the better).

Athletes that only ride the trainer tend to be more inconsistent on the race course and have higher fear factors on the road.

Peripheral elasticity is critical in turning big engines into running speed. Neuromuscular training is very important!

4 book recommendations (in order of importance!): Science of Running, Lore of Running, Jack Daniel’s Running Formula (book #2), Road To The Top

Cycling Power – Lindsay Hyman

Power = (Force X Distance) / Time

Make sure you use a device that measures the power NOT that calculates it.

Why use power? To track and assess training and racing.

Power meter prices are now coming down. Stages may be most affordable now.

Interesting notes: If a professional in a race has a TV camera on him/her (via motorcycle or car) then his/her power meter may not work (it will cut in and out) because the signals get crossed. At the velodrome, wired power meters are better than wireless because of all of the devices in the crowd that will potentially cross signals.

For intervals, using heart rate is an inferior method when compared to using power.

If you have different power meters on different bikes, then you need to test your power on each bike.

LH always does blood LT AND a field test to create custom wattage zones.

File Analysis Example– WKO+ Scatterplot overlayed with 3 different triathletes:

Being inefficient on 180 degree turns will require more wattage to then keep up with the pack and thus negatively affect the run. Higher cadence and limiting power spikes (to only “when necessary”) are keys to running optimally off the bike.

Example Race Preparation PowerPoint (for Gold Coast): pictures (LH watches TV coverage and takes screen shots AND/OR uses Google Maps) of the start line for athletes to visualize (including counting how many steps it takes to get to the water), pictures of each buoy and how wide the turns are, surface quality of the roads, sighting landmarks, # of turns on bike course and at what angles, elevation charts and visuals of each spike, landmark at which there is 60 seconds to go in the race, and other detailed course reconnaissance. Details details details!

Benchmark Testing and Mechanics Assessment: How Often to Test, What Kinds of Tests, and What to Do with the Data – Lindsay Hyman

We don’t test for the sake of testing. We test so that we can apply and use it in some way in the future. The results of testing should be able to tell us something.

The first rule of testing is to do it often and consistently so that eventually it’s just “another day” for the athlete (and so that test anxiety is a non-factor).

Application of the test – Move forward with the plan? Change training? Add in more recovery? Change system focus?

Goal of LAB testing: be able to control almost every variable (closed environment).

Do lab testing on back-to-back days to minimize the loss of training that occurs due to spreading out the tests.

Heart rate tends to be higher when testing outside vs. testing in a controlled lab environment.

Benchmark testing: not always consistent (the same test every time) but done in a testing environment.

LH makes a year calendar mapping out lab testing, fielding testing, benchmark testing, acclimatization, and racing.

BSX evaluation: Good noninvasive test but doesn’t provide all the information along the way (during the test) that she likes to analyze. It currently only provides break point (and an accurate one, at that). She thinks it might be better applied in a training (not lab) environment.

Showed how she uses VO2 max and LT tests to determine how training plan might be altered based on the results of these tests (i.e., more LT vs. top end work).

Many times when testing reveals that the athlete is not improving, the athlete is doing more training on his/her own which is getting in the way of the actual improvements.

Body composition is really taboo among athletes and coaches, and that’s a shame. When athlete is in a good state of mind for the testing, monitoring is very advantageous.

If you’re on a bike or run focus and you’re not seeing improvements, then after a dedicated recovery phase, you ought to be seeing improvements then.

Perhaps age 15 is the first time a junior might consider doing LT testing and even then, maybe once a year.

Telling someone to hold a certain power number during an LT test is NOT going to produce reliable data! You need a CompuTrainer or KICKR so that you can control the wattage.

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coaching, Training, triathlon

Notes from Day 1 of USA Triathlon’s Elite Coaching Mentorship Program

This week I am one of seven coaches nationwide fortunate to attend a unique offering from USAT at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. While the knowledge is fresh on my mind, I want to share with you some key points or “quick hits” about what we learned during today’s session.

I tried to capture the essence of each topic and write down the items I personally found most interesting and helpful.

Today’s presenters were Chris Baker and Mike Ricci – both outstanding. Here are a few takeaways…

Chris Baker – ITU Points

Knowing the different between ITU points and ITU rankings is paramount.

Great opportunity in 2015 if you think you want to coach elites: Go to Chicago this year for Grand Championship to observe athletes and coaches (e.g., where are coaches standing, how are they interacting with the athletes, etc.)

It is interesting that more emphasis is put on Grand Final (GF) than on the Olympics from the athlete perspective; this is mainly due to financial considerations (500k at GF vs. 25k at OLY).

It is a 10-15 hour-a-week job just to manage the points and the rankings for the US team alone!

If you haven’t won a Continental Cup (CC), then why would the athlete be moving up to a World Cup (WC)? … “I believe in experiencing the stages of success.”

Going from CC to WC to World Triathlon Series (WTS) and then GF and experiencing this success at each level is so important because of the CONFIDENCE it brings.

Current RIO 2016 Strategy: Men’s US Olympic field not as deep, so for the 3 available Olympic spots, coaches will pick one person to win and then 2 to support as domestiques – at the Olympic level it’s a team sport not individual! Many elites do not like this. However, women’s field much stronger and can pick three athletes to contend.

Steve Kelley is great to work with and one to know for anything related to youth/junior development.

Important coaching objectives for youth and juniors:

  1. Skill/technique (flip turn, turn a buoy, mount/dismount, the list goes on and on!)
  2. Games, fun and challenges, structured PLAY vs. a training session (it’s got to be fun and dynamic)
  3. Use the word “challenge” instead of “workout”

Video and Mechanical Analysis – Chris Baker

Best reasons to use video: 1) performance enhancement and 2) injury prevention (they go hand-in-hand)

The Olympic Training Center uses the upgraded version of Ubersense.

Video is the most important tool you can utilize as a coach.

Every training session has a purpose and objectives (e.g., A recovery run (4min run, 1min walk) with a focus on arm mechanics – Athletes always have a FOCUS for each s/b/r set). Not as important with other populations perhaps but a necessity with elites. Sessions must be designed around improving technical skills, efficiency, economy, and other factors.

Have an athlete watch a video of another athlete that is doing something well; then immediately have that athlete close their eyes and visualize doing the same skill from multiple angles. HIGHLY, HIGHLY EFFECTIVE. Within a session, pull athlete out of water and use black-out goggles to enhance visualization experience.

Show side-by-side video analysis of one athlete with another, and side-by-side with the same athlete showing today and 6 months previous – great way to show progression and to give feedback.

Look at run mechanics after a hard bike, after a hilly bike, with regular run shoes, with racing flats, etc. Form changes (sometimes drastically) after all of these situations (and in different ways), and so there are lots of areas to show the athlete where improvements can be made.

Shoe selection – take video camera to run shop and if a treadmill is available, take multiple angles with 4-5 pairs of shoes to determine ground force reactions on physiology, susceptibility to pronation, etc.

Keep a video library (one for skills/drills AND one for each individual athlete). Create key points to focus on with voice-over.

Make sure that you value your service and charge accordingly for video as most coaches do not offer this service.

Video is extremely useful for buy-in on getting athlete to incorporate recovery techniques (stretching, etc.) because you can show them how their gluts are shutting down or alignment issues, etc.

Each style of wetsuit has different drag, so video each wetsuit and the impact on form to see which is best.

Katie Hursey was terrible on handling the bike in 2013 and would fall down at 180 degree turns. She got better at OTC, now on the ITU circuit she is really good. Showing the youth and juniors that you can get better at skills by using Katie’s videos as proof and as motivation.

There are significant benefits to drafting on the run. Use video to show athletes how they are or are not doing this properly.

Video is also a great way to see if the changes we are asking athletes to make are actually working; we are not perfect so not everything we suggest is going to result in the performance we had in mind.

Key points:

  • Swim – video athletes sighting and then without sighting – this is very race specific. Every swim workout Chris writes has sighting in it – e.g., 6 times per 50 for a 500).
  • Bike – video athletes on the trainer and the open road, before and after a hard swim. All of his elites race crits once/twice a week – it’s a very important skill set. Compare power data with more and less hip angle (tweaking bike fit) and the impact it has on the run.
  • Run- video athletes on the treadmill, road, and track, in training and racing shoes, and before and after a hard bike.

Summary : Video Analysis is a continual, integrated process dealing the following five areas – preparation, observation, evaluation, feedback, monitoring.

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The Business of Coaching– Mike Ricci

The #1 way of advertising after 15 years is still: WORD OF MOUTH. Be nice to people and do a great job and others will find out about you.

Writing an article is better advertising than paying for an ad in a magazine.

Credibility will allow you to charge more but be aware that when you do, you must BE MORE yourself in order to justify the jump.

It’s possible that you don’t know why you’re clients really stay with you…you think it’s the results but don’t underestimate the power of the relationship, the friendship, the hand-holding, the listening – these reasons are why people will STAY with you.

Diversify revenue streams.

Along his way to the goal of 100 clients, he imploded at 53. Since then he’s gone from 53 to 30 to 20 to 15 and now less than 10. Of course he charges more now but with 53 clients he had a strong relationship with about 5-6; the rest just floating out there, so he advises against doing this!

Mike writes training plans for Training Peaks – soon he will have more than 300 and is moving towards his goal of $10k/month.

A business mentor challenged him to list 50 things he could do to increase his revenue (i.e., 50 different ideas). He got to 23 and then was stuck. The mentor said, “What about ‘buying CTS’?” The point is not about CTS but rather, to dream big and think outside the box of things you can do to have a thriving and growing business.

You have to take a step back from your business (out of the minutia) in order to take two steps forward. Read the E-Myth.

What separates you from the next guy? Product differentiation very important.

Be able to justify why you’re more expensive. Sell others on VALUE not price.

Weak sales people usually depend on brochures and websites (as opposed to explaining to people what the actual value is).

The favorite and ONLY station your client listens to is WIFM – What’s In it For Me!!

You can be Wal-Mart (everything to everyone) or you can be Mercedes-Benz (sell to a specific person). Over 95% of d3 clients are executives, which makes it easier to get more executives because they hang in the same circles.

Google “Hedgehog Concept” from Jim Collin’s book Good to Great – Find your “sweet spot”.

What Mike did at the beginning for a newsletter was to force himself 1) to write 2 articles a month…now after 12 years lots of content (500+ articles). And 2) build relationships. Those two things are critical.

Write down the type of athletes you want to coach. Gotta know where you are going.

Follow your passion, the money will come.

Team Leadership and Organization – Mike Ricci

Mike Ricci’s style – loves discipline and structure and that’s what brings out the best in his athletes. Must find what works for you and what is empowering for the athletes.

The “ability to inspire” is one of the most important leadership qualities to have.

Coach and athlete philosophies must align. You must convince the athlete that what you’re going to do will work. This is a constant process and requires a great relationship with the athlete.

Of course the plan has to be good, but you have to be able to EXCEED their expectations of what they even have of themselves (e.g., an athlete that wants a 20-minute 5k…Mike is thinking “how can I get him to 19:30”)

Treat everyone fairly, but don’t treat everyone the same.

Once a Runner – great book to put on your reading list.

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coaching, leadership, Training, triathlon

A Chat with Mark Allen – 6 time Ironman World Champion

Mark Allen is one of the most recognizable names in triathlon. He’s probably best known for winning in Kona 6 times.

Listening to Mark speak is quite a treat because he makes every word count. He has the gift of communicating in three sentences what might take others three paragraphs. Speaking simply and methodically, he offers profound lessons from his days as an athlete and now a coach.

Here are the highlights from my conversation with Mark: (Note: Because the interview was NOT recorded, many of the answers are paraphrased. I’ve done my best to be as accurate as possible.)

David Bertrand (db): What originally drew you into coaching and what do you enjoy most about it?

Mark Allen (ma): I got an email from a guy in Chicago, and he asked if I’d coach him. I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I started with one client and grew from there. The most I’ve had is 20 to 30 people. The idea for online coaching came from that.

db: What is your coaching philosophy and what if anything, do you consider to be unique or core to your approach?

ma: Everything people get is based on 15 years of personal experience racing at the highest level.

I sifted through lots of information over those years. Most of it didn’t work. Or it may have worked short-term but not long-term. 

One thing that’s unique is the deep, personal experience that happens when I coach athletes.

All training intensities are based on heart rate…it’s the #1 thing you can do to help you regulate training intensity. Some coaches only use watts and pace; I don’t do it that way as it doesn’t address the physiological aspects of where you’re at with your fitness on that day.

db: Did you receive any advice from early on in your coaching career, which has been something you draw strength from and/or something you consider to be a great piece of wisdom?

ma: The thing that’s helped me the most is the questions I get from my athletes. If I get the same questions over and over, then I have to be willing to looks at things differently.

Coaching is so multi-leveled…depending on how personally engaged you are, it becomes more about helping athletes through your wording and stories and helping them to stay in that calm place when they are training.

Helping them get physically fit but also helping them with weak points in their inner character as well…that can help tremendously in a race, the human being stuff.

db: Do you have any tips for athletes or coaches in regards to getting through injuries / difficult patches?

ma: An injury is just the end result of something that was out of balance. You have to ask “What led to it?”

Help them find out where it stemmed from. Go back to where imbalance started. Be disappointed for a while. It’s OK to be disappointed, but after a week, let’s circle back. It’ll be more clear maybe after that and we can look at it differently.

db: Regarding the business of coaching, what do you see as the biggest challenge to establishing a successful coaching practice?

ma: The biggest challenge is to stand out among all the noise out there. Asking questions like the following will help: “What’s my niche? What am I offering that will attract folks? What type of service does the client want and need? Do I need to train with my clients?”

My niche is providing customized training programs online.

db: What are the most common mistakes you see coaches make?

ma: Not providing the availability of support they they’re going to provide. Lack of integrity.

Next would be coaches who take too much out of the physiology textbook and try to implement it directly into practice, without real world experience.

It’s hard to tell athletes to hold back and to slow down. I see new coaches struggle with this a lot. Triathlon attracts Type A folks, coaches and athletes, so it’s a huge challenge to continually remind them that they need to slow down a little bit.

db: Where do you see the sport of triathlon headed?

ma: It seems like there’s still steady growth in the sport, in regards to the # of races. I think a cohesive Olympic-distance series will surface. Eventually somebody will figure this piece out.

In regards to coaching, we must continue to educate as there’s a lot of free stuff on the Internet…people will try these free programs out, and then they’ll need a real coach.

db: If you could wish one thing for an ATHLETE that may be new to the sport, what would that be?

ma: Start from where you’re at, not from where someone else is at. Build slowly and gradually.

You want to talk about Ironman? OK great, but you can barely finish a sprint properly. Make the journey a positive one (and don’t rush it).

db: If you could wish one thing for a COACH that may be new to the sport, what would that be?

ma: Figure out what your core training philosophy is that you will build on. Don’t get caught up in the latest and greatest. Lots of folks train by the “article de jour” whiplash, so don’t be a coach that does that too.

Understand that you’re going to deal with different personalities and not everyone is going to need the same approach to get the results they should. You’ve got to be willing to be part psychologist, so be ready for that.

Lastly, don’t feel like you need to know everything. We as a collective coaching community don’t know everything. There’s a lot of complexity out there. I’m asking the experts things all the time. I’ve got to be humble to do this.

Navigating this area can be confusing for a new coach because you will encounter some “know-it-all’s” that seem to get a lot of clients and do quite well. Some athletes feel more secure with that. But it’s these coaches that get stuck in their ways and don’t grow.

db: Any final thoughts?

ma: Just keep learning as a coach and as an athlete – about the sport AND about your physiology. USAT Level 1 certification doesn’t mean you’re “arrived”.

The learning keeps going and going. Get the experience.

A big thank you to Mark for helping us all get BETTER!

For your success,

David

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If you liked this article, then you also might appreciate interviews with the following:

Dave Scott

Brett Sutton

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All triathlon coach interviews were conducted in April and May of 2014.

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coaching, leadership, life

Manage ENERGY, not time.

Towards the tail end of 2014, I often times would think about getting an espresso shot (or two) on my way home from the office.

Why the thought?

Because I was tired & wanted to be on my “A” game for the most important part of the day – being with my family in the evening. Then it dawned on me…something is wrong with this picture…

How is it that I’ve got no juice left for the “main event”?

As the new year turned, the lemmings and I began to declare our resolutions. It was abundantly clear where I needed to turn my focus: to managing ENERGY in such a way that I have sufficient amounts of it for all the things I care about.

People talk about managing time A LOT. But what about paying attention to how energy flows throughout the day?

Never mind the occasional sleep deficit or the exhaustion of chasing toddlers…we all have something tugging at us.

For me, the catalyst for improvement is rooted in emotional control. I need to be more selective (i.e., smarter) in choosing what I get “worked up” and passionate about.

Coach John Wooden says, “Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.”

The idea isn’t to quell passion. The goal is intensity (passion WITH purpose and control) not emotion (passion WITHOUT stability or balance). [More on the “master of emotional control” here.]

Formula for better ENERGY management in 2015:

  1. Be honest.
    • Before committing to anything, take a quick inventory and ask myself, “Do I have the energy for it?” Notice I didn’t mention time. Of course I can find the time for it. But will that time spent leave my energy dry in other areas? Being truthful with myself around this is important, as I tend to overdo.
  2. Laugh.
    • Ask myself multiple times a day, perhaps on the hour, “Am I having fun?” Laughter keeps me loose and helps me from taking life (and myself) too seriously. The result is better energy as I am less drained and more invigorated.
  3. Limit email. 
    • Don’t live out of my email inbox. Respond to items efficiently, but not in undisciplined fashion. Don’t allow the addiction to take over and zap my creativity!

To ensure my “resolutions” are helping me to live out my purpose and not detracting me from it, I refer frequently (preferably daily) to my list of priorities that give meaning to my life.

This is an important “cross-check” because the last thing we all need is another useless list that is forgotten in two days and that doesn’t bring positive results.

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