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.

The Race Plan

The Race Plan

1. What outcomes are you looking for come race day ?

2. When will you be travelling to the race and what time to you plan to arrive on race day? 

3. What time is your race start ? 

4. What is your warm up plan ? 

5. What is your race nutrition plan ? 

6. What is your race pacing plan ? 

7. What is your strategy for mechanical mishap on the bike such as a flat tyre ?

8. What will be your pre-race dinner the night before ?

9. What will be your pre-race breakfast the morning of the race? 

10. What will you take to the race for post race re-fuelling ?

11. What equipment will you be using on the day? Is it prepared and ready to go? Have you checked it since last time you used it? 

12. What is the predicted weather on race day?

13. Have you studied the course maps? 

Hitting the Target

Just wanted to speak a little today about focus. For some people it just seems to come naturally, but for others it doesn’t. Believe me, it’s not just something you have or you don’t. it is definitely a skill that can be learnt.
My story is the same as many others. I came across the sport of triathlon and got thrown into a world where I firstly didn’t feel good enough but secondly didn’t know what I didn’t know. I had read about goal setting but didn’t know what was possible. So I just let the path wind underneath me and as I peeked around each corner I found a new challenge. If I saw a road to the left I sometimes took it, if I saw a path to the right I sometimes took it. What I didn’t know at the time was there was a better way. At the time I just brushed it off as wanting “balance”. But really I was getting pushed around by any wind that seemed to crop up.
It wasn’t until well into my time in the sport that I realised how much better it was to focus on what I wanted and then to go after it. It was a chance occurrence that led me to this realisation. My daughter Ellen was training for triathlon with a small group in Sutherland and we went down to Wollongong for a training clinic with the NSW Head Coach Jamie Turner. A day that was not only great for the athletes, but for me also. I got to watch a guy coaching group of kids in a carpark in Wollongong that eventually, some 14 years later become the coach of an Olympic Gold Medallist. I saw the value of focus. When you spoke to Jamie it was clear what he wanted. To be the best coach in the World.
So that’s where the target comes in. I wanted to be a coach and be the best I could be. I literally had my target. To one day coach the winner of the Hawaiian Ironman World Championships.
The value of the target can’t be underestimated. It gives you clear vision of what you want and how to go after it …. and that is exactly what I want you to do.
So a few tips on working with targets.
1. Be very clear about what you want. Describe it in detail and feel yourself in that position. Write it down and continue to check in on it.
2. Don’t be realistic. Is a massive plane flying through the air realistic ? Nope. Those people who have achieved greatness started from ground zero also.
3. Write it down. Once you have the goal, get a book and write it down. Don’t put it in your phone. It gets lost in there. Make sure the book is lying around so it can remind you about where you want to get to.
4. Get good people around you. I used to make up questions just so I could have an excuse to call my mentor. The more you stay in contact with your mentor the more accountable you are making yourself to them. It says you are serious about what you want and once the mentor sees you at that level you can move mountains. They will make it a personal mission to help you make it happen.
5. Don’t get pushed sideways by the latest fad promising a short cut. The old school values of work ethic, drive, dedication and discipline are still there for a reason. There are no “hacks”. There’s no “easy way”.
So I want you to reflect on your goals based on this, set big targets for yourself, and then work hard with laser-like focus towards achieving them. It will make a great story to tell your grandkids. There is nothing like committing to a lifetime of seeking mastery and achieving big goals.

It ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it

It’s quite a normal thing where i will see or hear a comment from an athlete saying they want to be ‘stronger’ on the bike. Or even also in the swim and run. People throw the word stronger around as its a physical ‘thing’ that can be measured. Lets face it we all want to be stronger. In every area we want to be the strongest even.
My approach is this….We as coaches can prescribe more strength work, and indeed we do. 4 x 5mins at 60 cadence, or 5 x 5min seated hill reps are tools to help us deal with getting stronger. But this is contributing in one way to the cause. Another way to getting stronger is actually taking a holistic strength approach across to your riding.
When you are doing your solo aerobic rides during the week or the long ones on the weekend you should be looking for opportunities to improve your strength the whole time. (be smart if you’re with a group). If you come up to a rise, resist switching it back a gear and hold the one you are in the whole way up. When you come to a set off lights, take off in a hard gear. Put a good effort in out of the saddle for 100m. When you turn the corner, punch a few good hard strokes out of it before settling back in. When you are riding home from the next ride take the undulating way and “work the hills”.
The best riders in the world didn’t just get strong by doing strength intervals. They did the strength intervals …. PLUS they worked on being stronger the whole time they were on the bike. The best swimmers do pull and paddles PLUS they take to the open water. The best runners do hill reps PLUS they take the stairs and get in the gym.

Podcast 4 – Alicia Edge on High Performance Nutrition

In this episode we have an interview with leading Australian Sports Dietician Alicia Edge. In the interview we discuss current trends in his performance sports nutrition, how the nutritionist can facilitate what the desired outcomes are for coaches and also delve into the world of REDS … Relative Energy Deficit Syndrome. REDS is a huge problem where athletes are compromising health for perceived performance gains by not eating enough.

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Pain

Recently we have been upping the game with T5 in more of the quality sessions. The intensity being prescribed to make sure you are able to tolerate the demands of endurance competition. When things are getting tough at the back end its good to know you have dealt with that in training and are able to endure just that little bit longer. In the back end of the race it’s key to understand your body is doing one thing and your mind is doing another. The mind wants you to stop but the body is more than likely ok to keep going. Your RPE shoots up to 9/10 or 10/10 when the body is working at 7/10. The key with hard training is that it gives you an opportunity to deal with that before the race and set your plan tolerance level higher.

Patience

The biggest skill in endurance sport is the endurance itself. It is said that training for this sport is like watching your hair grow. On a daily basis you see no growth, but all of a sudden after 2 months you notice you need a haircut.

Just keep at it.

Podcast Episode 3 – The Strategy of Support

I really believe that everything we do in coaching need support as the vital piece of the puzzle. In this podcast I explain how i got about providing support to an athlete.

 

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Planning and Preparation

Monday morning and the start of another 7 day “block” of training. Another chance to get a good crack at what is important for you at the moment. That might be re-establishing discipline and routine post big race or it might mean higher levels of accountability with a big race coming up. For those hitting Western Sydney it’s the key period now. Take it a day at a time and give yourself a chance to reflect at the end of the week. Remember to not look for perfection. Dont jump off the wagon and “start next Monday”.
 
A key skill that the best in all sports do really well is organisation and planning. Take it a step up in attention to detail and it not only takes the pressure off you but improves your ability to perform. Thinking ahead will help you. A lot.
 
Yesterday’s High Performance sporting environment of the Bathurst 1000 showed that the team’s that came out on top were the one’s that were best able to manage in turmoil. It wasn’t the ones that had no turmoil. Endurance is a game that demands planning and preparation. If you are ready for the unexpected then you will not only perform bette, but enjoy it more as well.
 
Do what the best in the world do. Plan your week to a level of detail that probably even blows your own mind. Then watch the results come.