Rob is an athletics coach based in Bath University sports centre. A former athlete who specialised in 100m and 200m sprints at a high level in his home nation of Canada. He now provides his coaching expertise to a wide range of athletes of differing levels, including club athletes, weekend athletes, masters’ athletes and Paralympians. He also gives advice to British and Australian Bob skeleton athletes. His success at last years Rio Paralympics earned him a spot on the UK coaching hall of fame for 2016. He has agreed to give us a little insight on coaching and getting into athletics.
There are lots of questions I could ask you, but I feel it may end up being the size of a university thesis! So I will try and keep them brief.
- Lets start with the reason you were placed on the Coach Hall of fame in 2016. What success did you have at the Rio Paralympic games with your athletes?
Athletes that I personally coach won Gold, Silver and set a 100m World Record in Rio. Unfortunately the world record did not come in the final and that athlete missed out on the medals by a few hundredths of a second.
- How do you keep your athletes grounded at such big events?
Usually its pretty easy to keep people grounded, the first thing I do is to get us into a normal daily training routine that closely mimics what we do at home. Then I give the athletes 1 day of getting used to the surroundings before we start everything up. If possible I’ll hold a little meeting and stress all the mundane things that we need to focus on, like eating times/training times/sleep routine and I’ll keep that up as long as I think I need to. Basically I try to keep the athletes focussed on process and not outcomes (good or bad).
- How much of the training process revolves around psychology?
In my opinion pretty much everything revolves around psychology. An athlete that isn’t having their training programme adjusted based on psychological issues won’t achieve there best. If a coach doesn’t adjust things based on an individuals emotional/motivational state then they’re aren’t getting the best out of the athlete. I learned a long time ago that as a coach you can’t push someone to do something they don’t want to do, so its important to make constant adjustments between what needs to be done and what can be done. For example, if an athlete doesn’t like a particular exercise or distance, work around it. Find another way to get the work done that the athlete will be ‘happy’ to do that achieves the same thing.
- It seems quite easy these days to call yourself a coach or some description. You see the big movement of ‘functional movement coaches who are trying to dictate how we move. Are these just fancy words learnt from a weekend course or has coaching evolved from when you first began coaching?
Coaching has gone backwards from when I started back in the 80’s. People seem to think they can get everyone doing movement based off a model or some mis-information from a study. Instead of thinking through a problem and using the research as a base from which to then think about what is happening, people just narrow they’re focus and don’t engage critically with ‘functional movement’. By definition all movement is functional if it achieves its goal. Functional/model based movement ignores some very important research on motor learning and biomechanics and that’s before we even start to talk about the inherent differences between every human being. The whole functional/ model based movement concept is actually in direct opposition to Bernstein’s Degrees of Freedom motor learning theory, Dynamical Systems or Ecological Systems theory. These theories, at their basic level, show that variability of movement is the mark of a healthy system. Lack of co-ordinated variability in a movement system is the hallmark of a compromised/unhealthy system.
- Sticking with qualifications. How did you get to the position you are in now?
I started out with a Bachelors degree in Psychology, after years of reading thinking and being immersed in reality I went back to uni and achieved a Masters degree in Exercise and Sport Science and a few years after that a Masters degree in Research in Education. During that time I helped set up the UKSCA and I am also a professional member of BASES (British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences).
- How did you get to have such a mix of athletes in your training group?
The way I grew up, there were always a large mix of athletes in the training group. We had national champions/national record holders/multi-Olympians training alongside club level non-elite athletes, so I have just replicated the system I was exposed to as a youth. I’m not interested in some form of ‘elitism’ with a group as it sets you up for failure. Athletes themselves also appreciate having diverse groups of people to work with.
- Do you have a coaching style?
I’m really not sure if you could call how I interact with athletes I work with as a style, in the headlines these days I suppose it might be viewed as a transformational style. What I’m after is to help each individual achieve their best, inside and outside of sport, and for them to enjoy sport and physical activity.
- What is the most common mistake you see with new athletes running styles and is style important?
People try and correct things that don’t need correcting. This goes back to the ‘model’ idea, that there is 1 way for people to move. Especially with youngsters you don’t need to fix anything, let them develop and discover their own movement style. Invariably trying to change someone’s innate movement pattern leads to injuries and makes them slower.
- What advice can you give for people looking for an athletics coach?
When you go to see someone, question them about the things that matter to you. Be sceptical, are they trying to sell you something? look at the training group the coach has, does it look fun? are ALL the members of the group doing well or is it just 1 or 2? Speak to the training group away from the coach, what do they say? Watch a training session, see how everyone interacts. With all the information you gather, then you can make a decision.
Thank you Rob for your time in answering the questions. If you want to find out more about athletics or training you can reach Rob through his website (www.maniathletics.co.uk) or through twitter (@MANIathletics).