My Favourite Coaches

My Coaching Heroes

As my very first coaching blog, I thought it would be good to reflect on some people that have had a major influence on me. Most people have sporting heroes. I have coaching heroes. They have inspired me to do something I thought I couldn’t do, supported me when I needed support or helped me change the way I think about things. Knowledge isn’t power, the ability to use knowledge effectively to influence others is! Here’s my coaching heroes:

Tim and Simon Tim and Simon are two of my favourite coaches. The Great Britain Cycling Team has a habit of employing the best people for the job and this pair are no different. They look after the development of younger riders and do so wonderfully. Both are born entertainers who understand how to coach the technicalities of cycling.

It’s many years since I got into cycling and it’s so exciting to see how the sport developed in the UK since the Boardman and Obree days. I’m of a generation that learnt to ride a bike the old skool way, using the HOIYC principle……hang on if you can. Things have changed now, helped by the success of Chris Hoy et al. and lottery funding. However, coaches like Tim and Simon are also making a huge contribution by helping youngsters learn good technique and race craft. This is resulting in more than a few riders progressing to the top level each year rather than a few each decade. Every stage of rider development is important but only those at the top end tend to receive the plaudits. This is understandable but it’s also good to stand back and recognise the unsung heroes

Scott “Bonkers” Balfour: Scott inspires me in his own quiet way. He sees potential in everyone and his snippets of advice are always wise. Scott introduced me to triathlon many years ago, encouraging me to go to a swim session when I could hardly swim. He’s a multiple IM Hawaii finisher and has done a sub 3-hour marathon when aged over 60! He doesn’t seem to wear his “legend” status well, probably wondering what all the fuss is about. A humble and brilliant guy. I even let him coach my girlfriend!

Darren Smith: Darren is probably the best triathlon coach in the world. There’s something special about him. The 1st time I met him, he really upset me by telling me to give it up. I wanted to prove him wrong. When I asked to shadow his coaching for a week, he said yes! That simply never happens in sport! When I email him, he replies! That’s very rare in elite sport. When he gets in wrong, he says so. When he gets it right, he says so. Athletes want to do their best for him. He may not always show it, but he cares deeply about his athletes and they give him the respect he deserves in return.

Heiko Salzwedel: Heiko has been a top level coach in cycling for many years and he’s now working for the Russian Federation. He implicitly taught me that coaching isn’t so much about numbers or analyses. It’s about trust and knowing how to motivate people. I’d like to think of the guy as a good friend, but I suspect so would most people he’s come into contact with in his career. He doesn’t have soft skills, he is Mr Soft-skills!

Amy Taylor: Amy is now Development Manager at Cycling New Zealand. I worked with her at BC for a while. She helped me look at the world in a different way, she got me to try yoga, encouraged me to study Buddhism and influenced me more than she’ll ever know. Trust and respect is everything in coaching and Amy is a master at fostering both. Nothing in life is permanent but it’s still OK to miss those that are far away.

Lessons Learnt

I come into contact with coaches all the time, some brilliant, some average and others not very good at all. The best seem to be those with an open mind, that are not hasty in offering an opinion, are good listeners, know what they’re talking about and see being wrong as a learning opportunity, not an ego damaging experience.

Being an ex-top athlete certainly isn’t a pre-requisite to being an effective coach, although experiencing top level competition does have its benefits. It would be worrying if a horse trainer was judged on their ability as a successful race horse, wouldn’t it? Less effective coaches tend to be the exact opposite i.e. closed-minded, set in their ways and do not readily listen. Yes, there are a few coaches of this type that are successful, but their style normally results in far more collateral damage than is necessary.

Most of us older ones, over about 23 years old have rarely experienced being coached, so we need to build up our own internal picture of what good coaching looks like. What’s really exciting is that youngsters who have gone through Go-Ride Clubs or been coached within talent programmes understand what good coaching is. They’re now coming through to be the new coaches of the future. Young Kev Stewart who has recently been appointed as Head Coach @ The Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome is a fine example.

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