One of the reasons why I love watching sport is the unpredictability of the outcome of competition. I also enjoy being involved because of the uncertainty of the direction that sport will take next. These changes help to keep us all on our toes, but at times can be frustrating, with seemingly unnecessary changes of policy or administration being imposed through some unseen and unknown rationale requiring changes in coaching methodology or practice. At other times, and becoming more common however, are changes instigated by the press and, of course, the pressure of social media.
In a month where many sport related stories have caught my eye, one of the more significant, and one that has already resulted in changes in coaching methodology, is the continued fall-out from the claims of bullying and sexism at British Cycling. On the specific interactions between Jess Varnish and Shane Sutton, of course, I cannot comment. However, this month, and one can assume that this is a direct knee jerk reaction to those claims, British Cycling has announced a change in coaching strategy directly related to the coaching of women. Coaches are reminded, in case they didn’t know already, that not all female athletes will want to receive technical coaching and that many are looking for no more than a combination of fitness and fun. However, what any skilled coach will tell you, is that refining an athlete’s technical competency is probably the quickest way to achieving fitness and fun. In fact, I can’t think of a single sport where this is not the case.
If taken at face value, the directive is well-meaning, however it may well have unexpected consequences. Firstly, it suggests to women that there is no need and possibly no value in developing technical ability, and secondly, to perhaps less skilled or less conscientious coaches, there is the potential for a cop-out from acting in the more challenging role of technical coach. Thankfully, some of sport’s heavyweights quickly responded, Chrissie Wellington, amongst others, declaring the directive patronising. There is of course a chasm between encouraging women to take part in sport at grass roots level and coaching the likes of Chrissie and the sadly much maligned Jess, who are winning competition at the sharp end. However, the coaching process should remain the same.
An article by former British Swimming National Performance Director Bill Sweetenham reappeared, seemingly in support of Shane Sutton’s alleged methods. The somewhat dated article highlighted that many top athletes were not aware of how hard they could push themselves and thus how far they could go. Therefore, he surmised, it was the coach’s responsibility to use, for want of a better expression, additional encouragement to push the athlete on. Where Sweetenham, Sutton and British Cycling appear to have missed the point, is that coaching is, and should always be, a two-way relationship. Whilst exploring the validity of the concept of athlete-centred coaching for my MSc thesis, it became apparent that there has been a shift of both athlete expectations and coach practice that is having a sizable impact on the day-to-day interactions between the two. If the coach believes that the athlete is either under performing or could achieve higher levels of performance, then this should form part of a coach-athlete discussion which at least explores appropriate methods of bridging that gap. If extreme levels of encouragement are required, then this should already be by agreement between the coach and athlete. Nothing between coach and athlete should therefore come as a surprise.
No doubt this topic will rumble on and, sadly, I only have time to briefly introduce my thoughts in these monthly missives. I therefore remain available to discuss the implications of this and other relevant topics, further with you all by other means. I will also have to delay reporting on the many other news stories of interest such as the report in last week’s Sunday Times comparing age related marathon performances (this was first reported by Drs Bramble and Lieberman in 2004 and has featured in my running workshops pretty much ever since) and Loughborough University researchers finally accepting that running form is related to running efficiency (ditto). Take a deep breath, Cowell. Hopefully, more about both next month.
For now however the focus moves on to the early season training and racing and our athletes are already working hard, recording PBs in a range of disciplines and, in a few cases, qualifying for European and World Championships. Well done to you all. We are still busy analysing a range of swim and run video and lactate testing data from the training camp in France (more news to follow) and reviewing food diaries and preparing training plans for the racing season ahead. In addition, both Sarah and I will be in Glasgow for the 2018 European Sprint Triathlon Qualifier in May (27th), I am penciled in to deliver a workshop at the Ultra Festival in June (3rd/4th) and I will be accompanying Team GB at the Standard Distance Champs in Kitzbuhel (15th – 19th) as the Assistant Manager. I have been appointed Team Manager for the World Long Distance Duathlon team for September and the sprint Tri team for Glasgow 2018. A busy summer awaits!
Best wishes to all with your continued racing and training. Please book any calls, reviews or changes to plans early, especially because of the rapidly filling diary.