As a youngster I did a lot of team sport, but I wasn’t very committed as I was very much an individual. It was easy for me to focus on myself as an athlete rather than enjoying depending on a team environment.
fell into cycling in Toowoomba at 14/15 and competed at state level and went to a few national championships until my early 20s. Balmoral was my home club where the system was to help out with the junior age groups as well as training yourself. I married quite young and we had our first child – a little boy who was soon cycling as well. It became a transfer, as I began to get involved in coaching to ensure I had enough knowledge to help his development and others in the club.
It was in the mid 80’s when I did my first coaching course and began to learn about the different energy systems – aerobic and anaerobic capacity, ATP, and so on. In those days, many people didn’t study science in school before going into coaching. It gave me a thirst for knowledge to understand more, rather than just riding your bike.
UNDERSTAND THE INDIVIDUAL
A lot of the older coaches were very prescriptive and were getting good results, but what also happened, was that the athletes with more potential weren’t satisfied with the knowledge they needed to progress. For me, working my day job in retail management, I brought those learned skills and communication style to my coaching so the athletes would understand the work they needed to do with and through others to achieve their outcomes. I looked at the coach as a manager rather than just training the athlete. With a manager mentality, I had to understand what their goals were and how their family situation and work life affected their training, which gave me a good formula for success.
Through listening and taking on other people’s ideas from outside cycling, particularly David Parkin, Wayne Bennett and Tim Sheen, I was able to transition my style of coaching to where I felt other coaches I was working with also started adopting similar attitudes and mannerisms. I took a mixed consultative/authoritarian approach dealing with the athletes.
Even at my age now, you can’t sit back and think that you know it all. I recall Leigh Matthews saying, “As you get older, you have to be prepared to reinvent yourself.” My early management background stood me in good stead to begin with, but as your athletes change, you have to be conscious of what their backgrounds are, especially in the para-cycling. It’s a constant awareness that people are individuals, and we have to manage, coach and direct with an understanding of the individual’s requirements.
I got to the point where I spent my summers coaching full-time while also working full-time, which took its toll. My professional work was suffering and lacked satisfaction by comparison, so I had to make a choice whether I would follow my cycling coaching as a career. Thankfully a job opened up at the Queensland Academy of Sport that I felt I’d enjoy and would also benefit my son’s career.
STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES
Immersed in coaching, I expanded my education where I could. I stayed with the QAS for many years before crossing over into their program management side for a short time, then returned to another coaching role. Soon after that, I was approached to take on the para-cycling role.
During my time at the QAS, I’d always had strong relationships with the para-cyclists, such as Chris Scott and Greg Ball. Chris was the highest winning para-cycling medallist in the world up until the 2012 London Games. When the opportunity came along to coach them, I jumped at it.
One of the most important things for any coach is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of any athlete you’re dealing with. You have to maintain their strengths and develop their weakness. With a para-athlete, their disability is their key weakness. Part of the identification is recognising that, and the fact that it is unlikely to get better. Therefore, you need to look at ways of improving their outcomes and working around the disability.
CLASSIFICATION AND SELECTION
Para cycling is unique in that is has both road and track cycling, and both men and women classes, all in one. A coach doesn’t just focus on road, or just female track cyclists. It requires a broader skill set and knowledge base.
In competition, you have single bikes for men and women, then tandems, trikes and hand cycles. Classification ranges from C1 – the most disabled, usually related to balance – up to C5 as the least with perhaps minor cerebral palsy. A C4 could be a below knee amputation, or a combination arms/legs cerebral palsy. C3 is the midpoint, then C2 are mostly above knee amputees or a high level cerebral palsy or similar. Tandems have a sighted, able-bodied athlete in front and a vision-impaired athlete on the back, which requires a lot of coordination, harmony and a strong working relationship between the two. Hand cycles have classification H1-4, and all have some sort of spinal injury and H5 have lower limb issues that negate effective use of their legs. Hand cyclists are still a challenge for a mainstream cycling coach as the physiology is somewhat different and the technical set up is another matter entirely.
Selection tends to be fairly straightforward. Our selection criteria are based on performance, and athletes have times that they need to make in national or international championships. They need to win their classification within Australia and meet the selection criteria time. Selectors are able to select outside of these criteria based on future potential for a talented athlete or for a classification where we don’t have any qualified athletes. But generally, selection criteria times are based on the top 5 in the world.
OUR FINAL PREPARATIONS FOR RIO
I’m now entirely in the para world for coaching rather than able-bodied. My role has also changed to include a lot of coach mentoring, overseeing the programs and regulating the program modules. In major competitions, I take over the role of Head Coach. Our para program is not centralised, so all our national team athletes are training with their home State Academy/Institute of Sport coaches or personal coaches, in cooperation with myself, all over the country.
The team heads over to Italy prior to Rio for a training camp. I’ve only been to one Paralympics prior to this – London 2012. This one will be a lot harder than London. For London, our staging camp was at Newport, only a bus trip down the road from the venue, which was an absolute breeze. The logistics of getting into Rio is quite a mammoth thing in regards to the amount of equipment we need to move. Nearly every athlete has 3 bikes, plus tandems, hand cycles and 2 trikes. We look at the ‘what if’ scenarios and how we can adapt to every situation. The challenges will apply to every country, so the teams that prepare the best and deal with situations that arise will be the best placed on the line for competition.
Overall, I prefer not to focus on outcomes. Our entire team is very solid and all bar one has medalled at a World Championships, with several multi-World Champions. I’m confident we’ve the team capacity to do well, but everyone is also trying to do the same. Every athlete will be there to do their personal best.
ONES TO WATCH
Track: Great Britain are exceptional with China second, then hopefully ourselves.
Road: the USA are clearly dominant, then Italy, Germany and Holland are ones to keep an eye on.
5 TOP TIPS
- Look, listen and learn!
- Have a very strong self-evaluation process to really evaluate what you did, how you did it, and how you managed the people who helped you achieve the outcome.
- No excuses, only reasons.
- Make decisions with justification, not preservation.
- Truly appreciate and recognise the contribution of all involved. Results may be good or bad, but collectively we all signed on for the process we felt would best deliver, so we all share the outcomes.
Powerful Stories, Tips and Amazing Insight
Ready, Set, Go! Everything you need to know to start coaching from the legends in the field. As well as the Business and Life coaches, our launch edition features David Parkin (AFL), Lisa Alexander (Netball Australia), Adam Commens (Hockey Australia), Simon Cusack (Swimming Australia), Sean Douglas (FFA) and many more!