The last few weeks have been a bit crazy but I’ve finally had a bit of time to put a post together! Recently I’ve been getting more questions from people asking why I do certain things when it comes to programming and why I make certain decisions during training sessions. Everything that I do is a result of past experiences and it may be surprising that it’s actually a bunch of one liners from individuals that often influence what I do the most as opposed to something I’ve read in a textbook! So here’s my top 10 that continue to have the biggest impact on what I do today…..
1 – “Avoid setting your athletes up for failure” – Derek Evely (Track & Field Coach)
Derek is probably unaware of the impact he has had on my career and I’m glad I had the chance to pick his brains on a few occasions while he was in the UK. One thing that Derek bought up in one of our chats was that when you’re dealing with athletes, you’re dealing with extremely complex individuals whose state of mind has a massive impact on their performance. Many elite athletes believe they are superhuman and are immune to the issues that affect “normal people” but this is simply not the case and no matter how mentally strong an athlete is, too many negative experiences will ultimately lead to a sub-optimal mental state.
With this in mind, decisions related to training and competition should be partly based on trying to give the athlete the best chance of a positive experience. So if I have the choice of two discus cages for training, I’m going to get my athletes to throw out of the cage with a favourable wind to give them the chance of throwing a few metres further and if they’re running, they’ll be doing so in a direction where the wind is not against them. Most athletes are results driven so better performances = happier athletes!
2 – “Control the controllable” – Steve Backley (Javelin Thrower – 3xOlympic Medallist)
I was fortunate enough to meet Steve when I was a young pup after an indoor competition in London. I can’t remember exactly how I performed but I know I was disappointed/being miserable because I didn’t win (I’ve never been a good loser!). Steve asked a simple question; “did you do everything you could to perform to the best of your ability?”. The answer was no - I had been distracted by an opponent and stopped focusing on myself. He went on to explain that as a young athlete, I had to learn to control the controllable and not waste my time or energy focusing on things beyond my control. To this day this influences what I do as an athlete, coach and also how I live my life in general. If it’s out of my control why waste my time thinking about it? Channelling my energy to something that I can control will be much more beneficial.
3 – “Stop focusing on all that stuff, it doesn’t make a difference because your technique is sh*t” – Tim Nedow (Shot Putter – Commonwealth Medallist)
Tim is a Canadian shot putter who I spent some time with on various training camps in 2015. We were relaxing between sessions during our camp in San Diego and I was boring Tim to death telling him about how I was tracking my HRV daily and monitoring various other things to try and see correlations with training distances. Tim jumped in and explained that all of this was irrelevant because my technique simply wasn’t good enough and that’s the main thing I needed to improve. This was a real light bulb moment for me and I realised I had become so obsessed with making marginal gains that I’d lost sight of the most important factors that influenced performance.
4 – “Wouldn’t it help you if you were just generally fitter?” – Grandma
My grandma definitely wasn’t a fan of me being a chubby shot putter. At the time my training programme was heavily influenced by some of Bondarchuk’s principles and I believed that anything that wasn’t going to directly transfer to the throw should be dismissed. At one point I was even limiting how much I walked to avoid converting my fast twitch fibres to slow twitch! Do you even science bro……
However, over time I realised that the general conditioning work that I had cut out was actually helping me throw further by allowing me to train at a higher intensity for longer during sessions and also recover faster etc. So grandma was right and Mr Sports Science graduate was wrong!
5 – “Making changes, even for the better, increases the chance of injury” – Derek Evely
This was another interesting point that Derek bought up in one of our chats. I’d seen many athlete’s get hurt soon after they changed their coaching set up and this seemed to provide an explanation as to why. Even if technical or programming changes are being made with sound reasoning, you have to understand that you will be exposing the athlete to stressors that their body may not have the capacity to tolerate. As a result, whenever I now take on a new athlete I try to maintain a fair amount of continuity at first and gradually make changes towards what I see as the ideal programme. Taking your time will pay off in the long run if you avoid injury set backs.
6 – “You have to become a student of your event” – John Hillier (Throws Coach)
John began coaching me at the age of 11 and although the relationship is different now, he continues to have a massive influence on what I do today as a mentor. John encourages all of his athletes to actively go out and learn about their event as he believes this is an essential part of an athlete’s development and will benefit them in the long run. This has obviously played a huge role in helping me become a coach as I was researching training programmes and looking at technique in detail from a very young age. This is also something that I am trying to pass on to the athletes that I now work with and hopefully a few of them will go on to become great coaches once they've finished competing.
7 – “NO DYLAN NO” – Anatoli Bondarchuk (Track & Field Coach)
Dr Anatoli Bondarchuk is a bit of a legend in the coaching world. I was fortunate to watch the man at work when he was coaching Dylan Armstrong, a Canadian shot putter with a personal best of over 22m. Dr B doesn’t speak fantastic English but that didn’t seem to be an issue when he was working with Dylan. For the most part, Dr B would just sit there and shake his head after most throws, often just saying “no” as Dylan would repeatedly fail to do what was being asked of him. Occasionally Dr B would raise his voice in frustration at not seeing the change he was demanding but communication during sessions rarely seemed to progress beyond that. Of course Dr B would say something more positive if he saw improvement but this was a great lesson for me in terms of how little feedback was required at times and also how persistent you may have to be as a coach until you see the smallest improvement. If you truly believe a technical change is required then be prepared for a long frustrating process if the athlete isn’t able to make the change straight away. Persistence and patience are key.
8 – “Don’t live like an amateur and expect to perform like a pro” – Vesteinn Hafsteinsson
Vesteinn has been someone I looked up to as a coach for a number of years. He’s extremely methodical and deliberate with what he does and he sets extremely high standards for the athletes he works with in all areas. His approach definitely isn’t for everyone, but one thing I liked was his consistency in demanding full commitment and if you weren’t convincing him that you were 100% committed it was just a matter of time before Vesteinn would let you know. Creating a culture based on hard work, commitment and ambition within the training group is massively important if you want everyone within the group to grow and develop to the best of their ability.
9 – “The more you learn the more you’ll realise you don’t know” – My old man
My dad is one of the smartest individuals I know when it comes to navigating life. He’s been through a lot and from what I can see, he’s got pretty good at making the right decisions so I definitely take note whenever he offers up some advice. My dad is a therapist and every time I speak to him he passionately tells me about something new that he’s learnt that’s having a positive impact with his clients. A few years back he came across something that opened his eyes to a whole new level of understanding of how the human body works. It became apparent that with every bit of new information you discover, a door to a whole world of information related to this is then opened and you realise just how little you originally knew. As a coach, understanding that you’re on a never-ending journey of learning is essential. Being stubborn and close-minded is the best way to limit your development and harm the development of your athletes.
10 – “If it doesn’t make you throw further why are you doing it?” – Tore Gustafsson (Throws Coach)
Sounds like a pretty obvious point doesn’t it? But often coaches and athletes fail to take the time to consider whether what they’re doing is actually helping them to achieve their goals. Don’t get me wrong though, this doesn’t mean that every single exercise in a training programme should have a direct transfer to your end goal. Certain training modalities are often implemented to indirectly help towards a goal by developing qualities that allow for training with a higher transfer to be performed more frequently or by better preparing the body to tolerate the demands placed upon it and reduce the risk of injury. So next time you’re writing a programme, take a minute to think about each exercise and make sure you understand how it fits into the grand plan and contributes towards the ultimate goal!