Remember to keep listening and don’t ever think you know everything, says Steve Trew
Steve Trew explains why you must never think you know it all.
About one million years ago, I was looking after the British Triathlon Federation (then the BTA) coach education programme. It was early days and triathlon coaches were just beginning to get accredited. It was an exciting time to be in on the ground floor of coaching.
One weekend, the morning session was over, and one coach came out of the lecture room, carrying his backpack. “Everything alright?” I asked him. “I don’t think I can learn anything here, I’m off home,” he replied.
This particular coach was fairly well known, he’d had some success at international level with one athlete, but he felt that he couldn’t learn anything new. How can you judge that from a couple of hours input? How can you judge the next speaker on the previous one? How dare you think that you know it all?
I have been lucky enough to work with and to learn from some extraordinary coaches in triathlon, swimming, cycling and running. I have used that old coaches cliché method, CASE, (not Compare, Adapt, Specify, Examine but rather Copy And Steal Everything) by copying, stealing and learning from these coaches.
I have been privileged to stand poolside with Dan Bullock, with Archie and Robin Brew and I have learned and learned. My little coaches notebook has occasionally burst into flame as I’ve been writing so quickly, trying to take down every pearl of wisdom, every aspect of technique, every nuance of skill and stroke that these superb coaches have applied to the group in the water.
I’ve spent far too many nights in hotel rooms with my good friend and super successful coach Chris Jones. We have literally talked until the dawn has started to break; talking new ideas, talking old ideas with maybe a couple of subtle tweaks to make them more relevant to triathlon than one specific discipline. I’ve spent so many evenings at major competitions talking to, listening to and learning from coaches in different sports. Soaking up words from Jurgen Grobler in rowing, listening to Jon Isaacs and Mike McFarlane in track sprinting, Bud Baldaro in distance running. There are so many things to learn in so many different areas.
Okay, you probably won’t learn stunningly different techniques or fabulous new methods every time you sit in on a coaching seminar. But even then, isn’t it nice to hear methods and philosophies and realise that, yes, that’s pretty much what you’re doing. When you find yourself sitting there, listening and nodding your head in affirmation, and thinking “I must be doing something right”, it’s a good feeling! I remember listening to Dave Brailsford talking about his vision for British cycling in a coaching conference and coming away thinking, not “I can do that” but rather, “I must do that”.
To be inspired by other coaches is a tremendous thing; maybe the spin-off is that you want to help and inspire other coaches. The mentoring aspect of coaching has always seemed to me to be one of the quickest and hands on way of getting new coaches valuable experience. It invites working together, taking joint responsibility and learning how to do things in different ways.
It is sometimes questioned if, as coaches, we should encourage our athletes to join other coaches in workshops or regional camps. To me, if we don’t do that we are displaying our anxiety that “our” athletes will leave us and go to a new coach. Athletes need to take responsibility for themselves, they need to be able to see and experience other views, other ways of training. Athletes change coaches, some athletes change coaches frequently, some athletes (Carl Lewis in track, Michael Phelps in swimming) remain with their coaches their whole career. But when an athlete decides to go from one coach to another, for the old coach, this can be a real upset. One coach likened it to your first boyfriend/girlfriend leaving you. But it happens and you have to get on with it. Make no mistake, if you cling too hard to an athlete, they will definitely seek advice elsewhere. As you get a little older and a little more experienced, you accept that athletes will move around, athletes will come to you from their previous coach. So what do you do? Well, you phone them up and ask questions; you listen and you learn. It never, ever stops.