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Why real coaching is about the changes you don’t make

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

One of the challenges I face as a coach is in managing expectations of change. Battling the idea that camp athletes are coming for a one-week triathlon makeover, which will totally reinvent their swim, bike and run techniques with massive gains.

This is not what real coaching is about.

My focus, even when technique changes are needed, is in creating an environment so that the changes can take place in a positive and sustainable manner. Working on attitude, self-discipline and an overall approach to training.

The frustration this causes is sometimes immediate:

‘Oh yeah, I already get all of that. Can we get on with those changes you want to make?’

Of course, many don’t get it at all. If you’ve been involved in the sport long term, a major overhaul in the space of two days is not going to make a long-term difference to your performance. A little short-term satisfaction perhaps, but no movement forward on a consistent basis.

Before we can find what is the best technique for the individual, we must first have the body in a certain shape so that making changes will not injure them. If we feel an athlete is not fit enough using their current techniques, the first goal must be to try and get them to a certain fitness level where we can introduce changes that will have a positive impact.

If one isn’t fit enough to ride the training routes we use in camp with their current position, then trying to come up with a completely new one is going to cause trouble. If I introduce my swim toys to athletes whose muscles are not yet capable of dealing with what they are currently doing, then they have to be reconditioned before changes are made. The best way to do this is by working with the techniques they have already got.

As athletes you are all at different levels of development. So you shouldn’t be frustrated if your training partner is given the new toy and you’re not because it doesn’t suit your stroke yet.

The point I make, and I make it very loud for our newbies:


You cannot incorporate new things into your work if the main objective of your current training is simply to be able:

· Get to the other end of the pool

· Reach the top of the hill without unclipping

· Just make the time or distance of a planned run.

All these things must be able to be completed with consummate ease before you can incorporate changes and successfully bed them in.

As much as we all want fast gains, one must first understand the process to real improvement. Here at, we are not about the McDonaldization of performance training, where the same prognosis is dished up no matter what weight, body mass size or current style of an individual athlete.

I find it amazing that in IM we swim 3.8km, which equates roughly to 3,800 strokes and that people pay for the standard ‘stroke correction’ and a stroke change that they can only hold for 50m or 50 strokes max. The extra effort and concentration to hold the 50 then places an enormous load on the next 3,750 strokes and one actually swims slower over the said race distance. But because they now go faster for that 50m, the swim instruction has made them a ‘better’ swimmer.

Same with running and the traditional ‘on the toes, lean forward’ method; excellent for those 8 x 200m intervals on the track. “Wow! Look at your improvement!” But there always seems to be another excuse for why they end up walking in an Ironman.

This is neither a logical nor effective approach to coaching triathlon.

If you are an age group athlete trying to learn something, technique changes are useless unless you can hold them for the distance you plan to race.

I remember Ben Sanson, not a bad swimmer, 15 minutes 7 seconds for 1500m short course, turning up at camp and saying:

“Sutto, I do not want you to look at me for 4 weeks. My swim is naked, give me the training and I will look beautiful again, we make the changes then.”

Craig Walton too; “I know, I know, give me a month and then we start to make adjustments.”

It takes time to get the right to changes occur. For professional athletes, as the above examples should illustrate, it can take months (even years) to successfully implement changes. So why should it be any different for age-group athletes?

Yes, we have seen massive improvements from our athletes after attending our camps. But these improvements are generally not the result of quick fixes, but from a new approach that provides oneself with the tools to make long term gains.


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