Who coaches the coach?

Coaching is all about guiding and teaching others to improve on their abilities and performance in their chosen sport or event. But what about the coach themselves? How do they get guidance and teaching?

All coaches initially go on a coaching course or courses to gain their qualifications and whilst that in itself is a good starting point, it doesn’t provide the coach all the answers and the continual improvement they need. Coaching is a pathway in itself; it is an ongoing path which a coach begins on and should always be striving to continue to walk along. At times the coach will reach a crossroad and how do they know for sure which path then to take? This is where every coach should have their own mentors or peers they can turn to and use their guidance to help the decision making process. This doesn’t mean what they say is always right; all good mentors and peers help the coach to make their own mind up. I myself spent many years being mentored by the late John MacDonald at Pitreavie AAC and I will always be grateful for his guidance, but there came the point when it was time for me to put my own thoughts and ideas into action and lead my own squad of athletes. Now several years down the line I have my own training techniques that sometimes relate to John’s philosophy, but also some that don’t. Since those days of being mentored I have worked on my ideas and gained relationships with other coaches who I can also seek advice from. An example of this coming into play was when one my athletes Craig decided to take a multi-event path. I knew each individual event but didn’t have any experience of coaching decathlon, so I turned to another respected coach Eamon Fitzgerald to ask advice on how to get the balance right. After guidance was able to plan how I could foresee the training plan working. Again like all good mentors, Eamon never laid down an exact plan, but he gave me guidance and food for thought so I could work it out for myself. This worked well and I now have a greater understanding of the balancing act required in training for this event. Now we have Ben in the squad who is one of Scotland best up and coming multi-eventers. The guidance I received will now benefit Ben and I know Eamon will be there should I need any further advice.

Another great source of knowledge that I always tap into is workshops and the annual Coaching Conference. You won’t always agree with all the ideas and techniques being presented, but they are there to both enrich and challenge your own ideas and methods. There are always however a little nugget or two that every coach can get that sparks your mind and leads to something new or different that can be used. This prevents coaching techniques from stagnating and keeps things fresh for the athletes too. These days are also always great for networking and getting the opportunity to chat to other coaches from across the country and beyond.

On top of that social media and the web are great sources of information. I follow several highly respected coaches on social media and read many of their posts and blogs as they offer great advice. So maybe you are reading this blog and it is helping you to gain some guidance which is great!
One of the coaches I rate very highly is Vern Gambetta. I follow Vern online however I’ve also had the pleasure of attending quite a few of his workshops. The last time I listened to Vern he said now that he has turned 70 he feels he is starting to understand his sport. He’s been doing it at a high level for over 40 years but here is a guy who always strives to learn more and never stop learning. So ask yourself are you continuing your own development? Are you willing to challenge what you know? Are you willing to adapt?

Everything is about challenging your own knowledge, if you don’t challenge what you know how do you know it is right? Times change, athletes change and coaching is not a “one size fits all” policy. You can’t do what you’ve always done as it doesn’t always keep on working; you have to adapt, keep learning and moving forward to benefit your athletes. If I ever get to the day where I think I have cracked it and I have the solution; that is the day I will retire from coaching. There is no single solution there are ways to get the results. The solution is different for every athlete you will coach.

If a coach ever wants to ask for guidance or advice I am always willing and available and have done so for several years now. I know how it helped me and continues to help me, so will always be willing to help others along their own coaching journey.

Warm Weather Training 2018

In 2016 we decided to look into taking the squad warm weather training. Usually this type of training is aimed at seniors and performance athletes, with a view to training hard in decent weather with a reduced risk of injury. With a training squad of 14 teenagers most folks thought we were mad to even suggest the idea, but we bashed on and in April 2016 we headed off to sunny Tenerife with myself, Nicola, 6 year Faye and the mixed squad of boys and girls ranging from ages 14-17.

Don’t get me wrong, in the lead up to it there were times when both Nicola and I started to panic. Would they behave? Would they get on? Would they think they could party?

Well yes they all behaved. Yes they all did get on. In fact the week really bonded the whole group where before it was often split into smaller fractions at training. This was probably one of the biggest benefits. As a development group we have younger athletes join each September as older athletes leave the group to head onto university. The training camp allows the group to really get to know each other and concrete friendships as well as training partners.

We set an 11pm curfew for being in the rooms which everyone respected. No one abused the week, they trained hard, were focused, motivated and an absolute pleasure to spend the week with.

So here we are, ready to head back next April, this time with 14 teenagers, myself, Nicola, Faye and a “PAACE” family wishing to train.

The training plan will be similar to last time with a mix of track, beach, gym and aquajogging sessions. Plus a day off midweek to hit the water park!
With two training sessions a day the squad are happy to relax in between, but this year we will be having a few activities planned during the relaxation time. We will also be putting some study time into the weekly plan for those who have exams.

This is a fantastic opportunity for young athletes to experience what it’s like to train as a performance athlete for a week, and be responsible for being ready and getting to training on time without parents on-hand to get them organised. Last time we were training on the track alongside some world class athletes including the Belgian Men’s 4×100 relay team. It was really satisfying to see them do a similar warm up to our own, and they gave our young squad the same respect on the track as we gave them.

This year I have no apprehension, only appreciation of the benefits of this training week is for our squad. Roll on spring 2018…

Sprinters and Cross Country

Not a sentence you hear often?  Perhaps because too many teenage athletes are pigeon holed into a specialist event long before they should be?  Our squad is a speed based squad, however we are training athletes not events.  All athletes from Under 11 up to at least Under 17 should be participating in more than just sprints.  It is about building that engine, for example, we have the heart and lungs to consider when developing our bodies.  This is where we get the benefit of participating in Cross Country, it means we can get some more endurance to help the athlete develop.  We are also doing it in an arena instead of sending them out on a long slow plod themselves.  Will they ever win these races? Unlikely, but will they be able to hold their own? Absolutely.

Today was the Scottish Short Course Cross Country Championships held locally at Kirkcaldy.  An excellent spectator course and a beautiful sunny day to go along with it.  Our plan was to go out strong and hold the pace to the end.  First up was Beth in the Under 15 Girls 2K.  Beth followed the plan; went out strong and never let up.  She kept in touch with the main pack and finished an excellent 56th in a time of 8m 24s.  Next up was Ben and Sean in the Under 15 boys 2K.  Both boys took on the course and showed good strength all the way.  Ben ran the course in 7m 39s to finish in 80th place and Sean running his first ever cross country ran 8m 30s.

It was then the turn of the Under 17s; Ailsa, Aimee, Emilija and Sinead in the Women’s 3K and Joe in the Mens 3K.  The women took on the small lap with great spirit and looked very good, then had the large lap to go and they kept pushing. Unfortunately Ailsa went over her ankle slightly so we chose for her to stop to prevent any risk of damage. Aimee, Emilija and Sinead pushed on.  Aimee crossed the line first for the squad in 52nd position in a time of 14m 04s and as a counter for the Women’s team, then Emilija in 54th position in 14m 44s closely followed by Sinead in 55th position in 15m 04s.  Joe was next up and from the gun was fearless as he went with much more experienced cross country runners. Round the small lap he was up there with some excellent distance runners. Joe knew he couldn’t keep it going at that pace but hung in to not fade too much and finished really strong with a superb sprint finish to place 81st with 12m 38s.

Finally it was the turn of our Under 20s men Craig and Taylor, who had the 4K to run which was 2 large laps.  Both took off in a huge field and had to get those elbows out to defend their space which was a good learning curve for them.  They both worked hard and this time Taylor pulled away from Craig gradually over lap 1 and then maintained his lead over lap 2 to finish with a time of 15m 44s for 265th place and 51st Under 20.  Craig came in not far behind in 16m 29s for 305th place and 53rd Under 20.  Both had an excellent sprint finish to take over 10 athletes in the last 200m.

Well done to the squad and let’s keep showing everyone that we are building strong, adaptable, robust and quick athletes.


The Art of Coaching

Coaching; is it Art or Science? This has been discussed for many years now. The term The Science of Coaching is often banded about but for some reason The Art of Coaching is less used, why is that?

Over the years science has grown and more and more opportunities are there to utilise it to get lots of information. It is increasingly easy to get statistics on power output in gyms, speed of lifts, time between one point to another on the track, acceleration speeds etc. All of this of course can be useful and in the right hands may actually assist, however the key to the information is this; what do you actually do with it?

Is it worth having an increase in the speed of a lift in the gym if the technique is poor? Is it worth having a faster time between points A and B than the previous time it was tested if the running technique is flawed?

This is where the term The Art of Coaching comes into its own. Coaching is actually much more of an Art. It is knowing how to turn that painting into a Monet.

Start at the beginning to get the technique correct so drop the watch, the timing gates, the various gadgets and focus on the athlete. What is it they do right, what is it they can improve upon? Two simple massive tools make the bigger difference and thankfully most people are actually born with these tools; sight and hearing.

Watch the athlete with your own eyes initially, get used to how they move, spot the good parts and the weaker parts. Once you have seen it then you know what it is you are looking to improve.

If the visual doesn’t pick it up then the sounds can; listen to their stride pattern when running, is it even sounding on both sides on each foot strike? If it isn’t then there is likely an issue. This simple technique can spot early issues before they cause an injury; it may be a slight alignment issue of the hips causing the uneven sound, it may be an imbalance in the strength between the legs, it may be something else. But straight away you are building that picture and getting to know the athlete. The stats from some gadgets won’t tell you anything you can’t have already figured out with your own eyes and ears. Now you can work on various tests to check what the cause is.

For an alignment test simply lie down straight and check each leg length, it can be that simple. If it is imbalance in strength you can jump on single leg up steps on either side to check if there is a large difference. Lunging, single leg balance tests; all simple but can very effective in spotting imbalances.

However don’t take this as the prompt to throw your gadgets away, they can have a place but should never lead. For example when trying to see the issues sometimes it is useful to grab that Smart Phone or Tablet and record the athlete, the footage can even be enhanced using the Slo-Mo options as you can review it over and over to spot the visual cue you are looking for. This is where the coach controls the science and uses it to their advantage.

It is all about knowing your athlete, everyone is different and it takes time to know them, their ability and any quirks they may have.

Coaching is 80% art and 20% science and it takes flair and ability not facts and figures to get the best from each athlete.