Experience the Difference

Everyone Is An Expert

It seems that anyone who has competed in a sport these days and is not making a good enough living from their chosen sport suddenly becomes a ‘coach’.

Coaching any sport at any level is an extremely complex relationship between coach and athlete and conversely between athlete and coach. I should know, I have been a full time coach for the past 33 years. What we as coaches read in post training session feedback and data and then what we see with our own eyes are often very different things.

Combine that with the reality that an athlete’s genetic physiology ultimately determines what type of training that they, as adaptive organisms will adapt to. It makes sense that it is almost impossible to ‘coach’ any athlete to a high level in their sport without actually seeing them with your own eyes from time to time, but in order for any athlete to proceed to a high level of competition at least weekly.

The very thing that motivates me every day to leave my bed at 4am is the same today as it was back in 1986 – to spend time with my committed athletes.

As an aspiring track sprinter in my teens I had an experience with an Olympic athlete turned coach. The information I received as a 15, 16 and 17 year old athlete was incorrect and I subsequently ended my sprinting career at 17 because of that incorrect information. He WAS an Olympic athlete after all and I thought ‘surely he knows his stuff’. Nup – he didn’t and it wasn’t until I started my studies that I realised….too late now.

My path to becoming a professional coach started in 1977. I had just left high school and I had already decided that I wanted a career in high level sport as a professional athlete or as a head coach of elite athletes, whichever came first. I didn’t know how good I could be (no-one ever does at that age), if nothing else I had mental ability and strength but as for even which sport would best suit me, cricket, track and field, cycling or Australian rules football. I was no better than ok at all of them, exceptional at none.

Throughout my school years I always helped out the sports coaches and often took some of the ‘less skilled’ for extra drills. This training was to help them maintain their positions on our school sporting teams.

Little did I know then but that in itself was to formulate and begin to mould me into the coach I have become.

I was eventually diagnosed with a congenital back condition, ankylosing spondylitis in 1978. Made sense why my back was always sore. So seeing that I couldn’t fulfil my ultimate dream of being a professional athlete because of my injury it made it to be an easy decision to become a professional/career coach!

At that stage I looked at courses that were available to me to learn how to be a coach – any sort of coach. There was nothing, anywhere. There were university degrees that could help me to become a physical education teacher at a school. Not something I wanted as I am not very good with coaching and teaching children.

I wanted to coach adults and developmental athletes to an elite/professional level.

What and how to do this was now a dilemma as I wanted knowledge and experience, it was totally up to me as there was going to be no-one to learn from and/or mentor me. Once I made that decision to pursue that career path I then started to read and research whatever I could on developing the human body from all sorts of varied stimuli.  From training and varied dietary methods, and as it turned out the most useful was  reading many expedition accounts from early explorers in Australia and mountaineering in various parts of the world, all of which are exploits that place the human body under enormous amounts of stress, both physically and emotionally. I feel I learnt much about what the human body can do and adapt to and just how resilient it really is from reading and applying much of this information.

During this learning phase of my career I would often ask myself – “How much do you need to learn and how long does it take to be a ‘professional’ in a chosen field?”

Looking at occupations that the public view as professionals, it was clear to me the answer to that question is an absolute minimum of 6 years of studying, observing, continual application of varied methods before anyone could be considered to be an expert and a professional in whatever field you have chosen.

So my dilemma! I was a minimum of 6 years away from coaching at a level that mirrored the personal goal that I had set for myself.

The other major problem I had was – “How do I learn?”  There was no-one around to learn from or mentor me, no-one I could just drop in on and observe methods and ideas like aspiring coaches can now. These days there is any amount of coaches in any sport or aspect of sports that are only too willing to nurture and mentor prospective coaches that have a particular interest. Back then I was a country boy in a community with no professional coaches to speak of. The onus was on me to teach myself and to develop my own techniques and methods.

I had a farming upbringing so I had been taught mechanics and welding and all things to do with repairing machinery and cars and all things practical. The next 6 months or so was spent designing and building strength training and various testing equipment and installed it in a room my house.

It was from this room that I started to apply training techniques and methods that I read about in books and magazines. (No internet in those days). I worked as a mechanic during the day and by night I studied and devoured fitness and training and coaching information and applied it both to myself and a series of ‘guinea pig’ clients that I could ‘try’ methods and perceived ideas out on for extended periods of time.

I did this ‘testing’ in blocks of 6 weeks at a time on each of these people. Over the ensuing 6 years I gained first-hand knowledge of what works and what most likely doesn’t even though the ‘theory’ indicated that it ‘should’ work.

By now it was 1983 and triathlon was still in its real infancy but I felt I had an understanding of most of the fundamental training methods and techniques that I could make a reasonable difference to peoples’ lives.

It was only at this point after 6 years of trial and error, self-education, developing techniques and periodization methods that I figured I was ‘professional’ enough and knowledgeable enough to charge for my time and my knowledge.

I have been a ‘career’ coach for all of my adult life and maybe I have an ‘old timer’ view on things. But my question to everyone reading this is, –  “when did writing a program and emailing it to an athlete or writing a program on a web portal and delivering it that way get called COACHING?”. There is a big difference between racing/competing experience in a sport and then coaching that sport, the two things are rarely comparable or compatible. It is so important to remember that just because someone has managed to obtain a good result for themselves in an event doesn’t mean that they can transfer that to you just by calling themselves a ‘coach’.

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