I'm writing this blog in my hotel room, the day before the National Multi-Events Championships in Sheffield. One of the group, Pippa Earley is competing in the u20 pentathlon. I'm her lead coach.
Multi-events are a juggling act, a balance between what training needs to be done and when and crucially what technical aspects need to be worked on (this became very apparent during the competition – of which more in another post). There are very few multi-event coaches who can coach all events individually to the same level that a specialist coach could. Thus it's very important - from my perspective at least - that the young multi-eventer gets the best coaching from the best technical coaches available – but with the added dimension/rider that they are coaching a multi-eventer and not a specialist (it may, for example, be better to use a more basic technical model for an event).
Pippa specifically works with specialist high jump, hurdles and throws coaches. This stands her in good stead. However, there are reverse sides to having individual event specific coaches for the multi-eventer. One very simply is being able to “see” them i.e. fitting all the training sessions into the training week/cycle (there's also the issue of coordinating training load and direction. I will save this for another post). In the U.K. our coaches are mostly amateur and often hold down jobs - this means there are only so many evenings and weekend slots available where coaching can take place. And of course if a coach is unavailable/has commitments with their own individual event athletes then the multi-event technical coaching plan can quickly start to unravel.
And so it did to a bit of a degree over and after the New Year in the run up to the national indoors. Coaches were quite reasonably unavailable over the Festive season and the competition just ran up on us so quickly. So in the weeks before the event I found myself coaching high jump, shot, hurdles and long jump and advising on the 800m. I say advising re the later as in my time coaching Pippa I have learnt what type of shape she is in for the ‘eight’ by understanding what she's done from her other running sessions. We are lucky, due to Pippa’s physiology that she's a natural 800m runner (her best at the time of writing is 2.14min indoors). Other multi-event coaches may have the additional conundrum of having to specifically coach the 800m. You can't really train like an 800m runner as a multi-eventer as it could detract from the speed and power requirements of the other events. Nevertheless, it's a crucial event and it has to be targeted (10 points a second gives much leeway to catch-up, for good 800m multi-eventers). For reference, we tack additional endurance sessions onto others to maintain the aerobic/anaerobic fitness and speed endurance required. And I also have, particularly for the summer season some ‘go-to’ sessions that deal with race pace and which are designed to get Pippa reacquainted with the requirement of running two laps. If times are achieved for specific intervals then we hopefully know that it'll be “alright on the day”. It's also very confidence inspiring as a coach to know that your athlete relishes the 800m and is not afraid of the distance.
Confidence however there may be for the two-lap event but it's not such a case of confidence in all events for Pippa. She can be frustrated with the high jump but it's not because she can't clear a bar at 1.65/70m. It’ll take time but I feel that the high jump nut will be cracked. There are lots of talented multi-eventers – in fact the majority - who have weaker events, we just need to make the high jump less weak.
As a coach you have a good idea of what your athletes can achieve at specific times in their careers and another good viewpoint as to where they may get. Each athlete has their strengths and weaknesses and no more is this apparent as in the multi-events where you can see a “thrower”, a “jumper”, a “speed athlete”, a “technician”, an “enduring athlete”, “a tough mind” and so on and all combinations under the sun of these. Very few multi-eventers get “10 out of 10” for all events and for all the qualities that contribute to being the best all-around athlete they can be . The multi-event coach/coaches need to try to keep on top of it all and do a lot of juggling to get as many 8-10’s as possible.
And what of the lead coach or multi-event specialist coach. I know my current limitations and am learning about the events I have less familiarity with. On the competition day we go with what the specialists have talked us through. However, having had to coach the shot and the high jump for example, is very valuable as you learn what’s required of the events and get feedback from the athlete. It is becoming apparent that if I am to become a good multi-event coach (and continue being involved as a multi-event coach) that I will need to learn more about some of the other events. It’s taken a life-time to “understand” the long jump and I keep coming across conflicting thoughts and ideas that I have to weigh up but with the “long” at least I’m in a position to be able to decide on the potential merits of divergent thoughts. This is not so with for example, the high jump or shot. That’s why going back to where this all started it’s important to get specific coaching for all the events (that you as a coach don’t have knowledge on) if possible from specialist coaches that teach the young multi-eventer the core requirements of each event.
If I’m still coaching multi-events in 5-10 years then I’ll probably be in a position to truly call myself a multi-event specialist and even then unless a decathlete decides to come my way, it’ll be a heptathlon specialist at that.
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