Building the Athlete

How I like to develop an athlete is a question I get occasionally. There’s so much information out there now that it becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees. So the answer to the question “How do you develop an athlete?” becomes a question of my personal coaching philosophy. I highlight that this piece of writing is directed toward the age group athlete. High Performance has different nuances.

Philosophy
There’s a bit of a thing with coaching that you’re a “science” coach or an “art” coach. I don’t believe in this. I lean towards the art side but am definitely always working with science.
Generally as a coach I am not driven by numbers, but am guided by them. I think this comes from my experience in the sport from the 1980’s and competing without them. Basically, there’s a time to have them and a time not to have them. At HPT we will take Garmins away from the athlete at times to help build “feel”. Devices can definitely help us become faster, but also I tend to think it can take some of the beauty away from sport at times.
I work on the basic philosophy that I want to enable the athlete to reach their full potential. A lot of the time that is by helping the athlete get out of their own way.
What am I building?
First and foremost I take the approach that I am building an endurance athlete that can do most endurance events at any one time. Any one of my triathletes should be able to take on a 70.3 distance triathlon, a half marathon, a long bike race, a long swim, etc etc.
If they wanted to step the distance up to Ironman or marathon, well that should only take a specific 12-16 week block to build some longer km in the legs.
The Raw Materials
What am I trying to develop:
  • Aerobic Fitness – everything you do as an endurance athlete relies on the basic premise that you are aerobically “fit”
  • Strength – you need the strength to be able to withstand being on your feet for a long time, climb hills, swim in open water, ride or run into headwinds.
  • Endurance – at any point in time i want you to be able to swim for an hour straight, do a 3-4 hour ride, run for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Technique – poor technique can the root of all evil, however movement patterns are very entrenched in the age group athlete. I like to work on efficiency and making sure the technique isnt causing injury. technique should be a holistic approach to having enough strength, flexibility and range of motion to allow the body what it needs to do.
  • Resilience – I want the athlete to be resilient to the many obstacles that are thrown their way. Busy work weeks, family demands, etc etc. i want you to be able to continue to train in and around those challenges by adjusting your program – not throwing a week away.
  • Mental toughness – if you aren’t mentally tough, then endurance sports may not be for you. I work with you constantly on this and mostly in the area of believing in yourself. Most athletes are tough in sessions. Most don’t give up. Most get out of bed early. Not a lot will have the self belief but to say to the world “I am an endurance athlete”. They are too worried about what people will think of them.
  • Consistency – to continue a steady “build” in fitness its critical to get traction on your weekly training load. If one week it goes up and the next week it goes down, well its very hard to establish a decent overload / adaptation cycle. I would rather a consistent 10 hour week than 15 hours one week and 5 the next.
  • Communication – a key skill in being coached is the ability to communicate. It’s hard to read minds, but this definitely needs to be a key coaching skill if you are to be any good at this game.
  • Patience – probably the best thing you can have in endurance sport. Maybe a sign of the times that we are generally not as good at it these days?
  • Honesty – for some reason, athletes will hide things from their coach. I am looking for complete and open honesty.
  • Daring – I like athletes that have a crack, as long as they know the consequences. We can play it safe all the time but I would prefer that you occasionally test the waters.
Periodisation
A bit of a buzzword in triathlon. As far as periodisation goes I either work in base mode or race prep mode. Base will be predominantly aerobic but with a small amount of intensity. Race prep mode will have more intervals at race specific pace / power / speed. Come off a race and its back to base.
Build, build, build, recovery is a preference, but if the consistency isn’t there we will wait for the fatigue levels to build enough to warrant an adaptation week.
Some athletes can withstand a lot of fatigue in a build and some cant. Its a matter of applying what is right for the individual.
Execution of the Coaching Process 
All of the above is okay, but what we are dealing with is real people with real lives and many different backgrounds. What works with one doesn’t work with the other. I try to display a huge amount of empathy and take the long road to development by taking it back a few steps to sort things out so they don’t re-occur. Telling an athlete “my way or the highway” can be an easy and quick path, but I will leave it to the ego-driven.
As a coach I am malleable and observe deeply over a period of time. Then I work towards long-term sustainable success with the athlete, which in turn makes you a better person all up.
Hopefully this helps you understand what I am trying to do with you as we work together towards success.

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