It's close to the end of a long season and always time to step back and look at where it started and where things have finished. I have been coaching now for around seven years but this year by far has been my most challenging and different; a new country, new athletes, new dynamics, different races and different culture. Below I'll try and summarise some thoughts from the year so far, some key learnings and one or two things may be useful for other coaches or athletes.
I started working with a new group of athletes in January and while this may seem like an ideal time I always felt like I was chasing my tail, trying frantically to catch up and learn as much as I could as fast as I could. I was well aware of the upcoming season, the goals and ambitions the athletes had with this and felt an internal pressure to deliver something good. In an ideal world I would have liked to observe for a month or so before getting stuck in, being fully on deck and delivering the programme. That isn't how life works and really from day one the decisions were mine, training up to myself and I was hitting the ground running.
So with this in mind where did I start? Really with the basics, going back to the start and trying to "observe" while of course giving input and structure. I kept training simple, tried to understand and respect what was done before and not completely reinvent the wheel. I quickly built a weekly structure and template that alined with my training beliefs and philosophies and implemented this to see if it would work. I wanted to keep training consistent, my coaching consistent and start to understand the athletes. How they performed over certain sessions, where were they limited or needing work, how did doing x session affect the next day, just real basics. To try and do this while also trying to step back and observe was difficult, athletes want input, change and sometimes instruction. In a way I felt I needed to do this to give this impact and start strong but I was conscious of how much I needed to learn and understand to really make long term progress. I often say coaching has many of the same principles of training and for me this initial stage was trying to see the much bigger picture not just the here and now and the day to day. Focus on the process.
In any coach-athlete relationship building mutual trust is more important than any training or session you try and deliver. The athletes need to trust the coach to make the best decision, training and input and equally the coach must trust the athlete to do what is asked, provide feedback and be honest. Coming from abroad and being "new" I was very conscious of this, athletes knowing very little about you, your background and why you are good enough for the job! There is no secret or shortcut to building trust but I stuck by some basic principles which I believe help the process. Firstly being consistent, I believe the more you are around and on deck coaching, guiding and learning the more the athlete starts to trust you. They can see you are invested, not going away and hopefully there for the long haul. If they feel you are invested in them and their journey trust should naturally build and actually being there shows this. Equally being consistent in your behaviours as a coach, how you act, provide feedback and ask questions. If the athlete feels they know how you work, act and communicate again it becomes easier to trust you and to learn your style. The language barrier has of course thrown different challenges into the fold with communication and trust, I'm fortunate that the athletes speak very good English but I am conscious that things can go misunderstood and I have to think more about how best to feedback.
Over time this year I have learnt with athletes when to lean in and when to lean out. There will be moments an athlete needs more support, information and guidance and times when they need left, to figure things out themselves or just some space. This is a very fine line and difficult with a new group to learn but with time you begin to learn what is best. For me it is about trying to understand the individual infront of you and what they need in that moment, at times I have got this right and other times wrong!
In terms of the real details of training content and structure once again I have taken my time with this. For me it was important to see the athletes race, how they performed and actually put together swim/bike/run not just individually. You can't just suddenly change how the athletes have trained and what they have done, its about respecting what was there before but implementing small changes as you move through the year and sticking to your principles and philosophy. I remember being questioned a lot on how I was training them, how sessions linked up and why I did things a certain way, this is a great challenge to really be confident in what you are doing and show conviction of why you believe it works.
As I sit and write this I reflect on the months and races that have passed and I'm reasonably satisfied with where things have ended up. Once the season starts it always feels like a conveyor belt that you can't step away from, you are bouncing from race to race, week to week and juggling sessions with recovery, travel and learnings. I love working with and coaching a squad and group but really they are all individuals and balancing the group needs with personal needs has its challenges particularly through the season. You can go to a race and some will have a great race some not so much so you need to adjust the week and plans following to lift people up and keep others level. Being a triathlon coach keeps you humble as it is very rare all of your athletes will all perform well the same weekend! Whilst I enjoy the success and results if you get caught up in these you loose sight of the big picture and the process of where you want to go.
I feel this season I have done a good job, at times I have rushed or pushed too fast or in other areas been too slow to pick up pieces. Coaching isn't easy and part of the reason for moving abroad and changing group was to challenge myself, to continue to grow and get out of my comfort zone. I did feel in the UK I was building great momentum but the real question was could I do it somewhere totally new? There is a long way to go out here but the groundwork is starting to be laid and from that we can build.