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We're Playing for Engerland (sort of) - coaching for the England Team at the Loughborough International
After my last international as an athlete back in the Ukraine in the early nineties, it was an honour to be selected to be a coach for the England team at the recent Loughborough international. Teams included GB juniors and Scotland. There were also an increasing number of invitation events, with this year, the likes of CJ Ujah and James Dasaolu and Jessica Ennis taking part.
My weekend started early on Saturday when I left London for Loughborough, as the coaching team were to meet at the university that morning to gain an insight into our duties, and also to attend some sessions on, for example, the psychology of performance and dealing with athletes post event.
Introductions were made, and I was a bit surprised when we had, on introducing ourselves (thankfully briefly), to have say what our favourite music was! Tastes ranged from eighties pop to classical. Me, I said anything that goes with a 'fro' - funk, soul, etc. Amongst the coaches there was even a former Northern Soul DJ and, wait for this, a coach who'd met Jon Bon Jovi on Airforce One, and had 'only' met Michelle Obama. The First Lady then identified the guy sitting next to him as Bon Jovi. Apparently our coach's flight companion had not let on that he was in fact a very famous rock star and the coach did not recognise him!
Not knowing who you're talking to is actually a bit of the experience of national team duty as you often have athletes that you have not worked with before or even spoken to. And the England team was made of athletes from all ages - so you could be dealing with a senior or a junior, with international experience or none, or somewhere in between. Luckily I knew, at least on paper, the four athletes who'd be my responsibility, although I'd never spoken to any of them.
When an athlete's personal coach is at the meeting it's your job to ensure that their athlete gets to the event on time and has everything they need. We were told various stories of panic when a few minutes before callroom deadline that an athlete had 'disappeared'! The coach will supervise the warm-up and then deal with the athlete in the comp. When the personal coach is not attending you pay closer attention to the warm-up and where they are - it's amazing how finding the athlete you are looking after in a warm-up area full of other athletes becomes stressful, particularly when they disappear a few minutes before they are meant to report in! Losing an athlete is not an option!
Of the four horizontal jumpers I looked after, three had their personal coaches with them, so it was only the one that I had to help at the pit during warm-up and the comp.
However, as is required, I had previously contacted all the personal coaches of those athletes I was to look after on the day to gain any information that they thought necessary which would help in terms of actually supporting the athlete during the competition. One athlete dropped out the day before so the England team management drafted in a replacement and I had to make contact with the athlete on the Saturday evening. Having notes certainly helps and it's needed for all athletes, even when the personal coach is down to attend - motorways do have hold ups!
As you are dealing with another coach's athlete there's a sort of lime not to be crossed in terms of attempting to impose, perhaps your technical model, on the athlete. Feedback is therefore given, in terms of my events, for example, regarding board placement, speed of attack and wind conditions and so on. A coach may have told you specifically to look out for a technical aspect and that's when you can be a little more creative as it were. To reiterate though it can be difficult working with an athlete that you have little or no experience of however, and you'd not not want to 'confuse' them by using your coaching viewpoint and even 'sayings' during a competition - they need to focus on what they are comfortable with.
I was told that on overseas trips there's obviously more time to build up a relationship with an athlete and gain a greater understanding of how to assist their competitor experience. Personal coaches should forward detailed training plans in this respect.
All in all it was a great experience and I made some more coaching friends and gained an insight into how elite athletic team management functions.