Talking through sensitive issues with the athletes you coach can be difficult to handle. Dr Josephine Perry provides tips on how it should be done
Coach insight – Trevor PainterJune 10, 2017
Best known for coaching his wife, Jenny Meadows, Trevor Painter guides a squad of Wigan-based athletes, as Emily Moss discovered
I have been coaching for 17 years. During this time, the group has grown to around 20 athletes from all over the North West. Although Jenny has retired, she is still joining in on quite a few sessions as she prepares for pace-making duties this summer. The group also includes Kirsten McAslan (2015 world 4x400m bronze medallist), four-time Paralympian Graeme Ballard who competes in the T36 100m and 200m, 2016 UK indoor 800m silver medallist Leah Barrow, 2:01 800m runner Hanna Tarver and 2:02 800m athlete Katy Brown, as well as a host of junior athletes.
Fun and individuality are two of my core values in life. I expect athletes to work hard and challenge themselves. So to lighten the load it’s good to make sure they have fun.
You learn from your own knocks. In my younger days, I was selected for a Rugby League academy team, but none of the coaching staff ever took me aside and figured out a personal development plan for me. I came into that sport quite late in comparison to the other players, so didn’t have the same background and experience as them, yet nobody did anything to help address this. As I have developed as a coach, I have realised how much better I could have been if my individual needs were addressed. Thankfully, the move to athletics ensured I didn’t get cauliflower ears and a broken nose.
Planning, organisation and patience – or POP – are the secrets to my coaching successes. Planning takes a big part of my time. I try to make sessions and programs specific for each individual, so this can be quite time-consuming, considering everyone has different requirements in terms of physiology, as well as maturation and training-age differences.
Organisation of structures and lifestyle is a big focus. I try to help athletes surround themselves with the right experts, and this isn’t necessarily the same person in each subject area for all my athletes. For example, I was working with three different sports psychologists at one time, as the athletes in the group all required different focuses and techniques relevant for them. With a lot of patience, your solid planning should pay dividends.
Speed should never be neglected with middle-distance athletes. A huge amount of physical conditioning is done to help maintain posture and mechanics and more importantly to ensure injury prevention as much as possible. Summer sessions will be very event-specific and will help the coach and athlete formulate the best race strategy.
For a 400m athlete, preparation involve precise knowledge and practice of hitting the 200m mark and an 800m athlete would run certain split times. As championship racing comes closer, training incorporates sessions that guide an 800m or 1500m athlete to decide how to pace the race, when and how to make tactical moves and ensure they have the tools to change speed.
The humble stopwatch is one of my favourite pieces of equipment. I usually have three in my bag. I’m a big fan of statistics and regularly take repetition times in training and work out average repetition times and differential times for most running sessions. I have a spreadsheet set up on the PC with stats from years gone by so that I can monitor progress and adjust training volumes and intensities accordingly.
I rely on an athlete’s feedback and observation more than scientific measures most of the time. But there are many useful tools available to the modern coach to help with guiding your performers. I use Coaches Eye for simple, instant feedback on mechanical issues or technique development in the gym. Garmin and TomTom devices offer valuable information when you can’t physically be out on a run with one of your athletes. I’ve also used the Lactic Pro machine for taking blood lactate measures.
“Planning, organisation and patience – or POP – are the secrets to my coaching successes”
The biggest mistake athletes and coaches make is to take short cuts. Building an elite performer requires many ingredients and, like a good cake, if you miss out any components, the finished product does not look as good. You can make huge improvements with young athletes following a high mileage program, but this success is usually short-lived. It is important to ensure you get the fundamentals right and build the volume of the program at the right rate for the individual.
Keep things simple. My top tips for any coach would be: set regular targets/goals; identify the barriers between current performance level and the ability to reach your goals; work to remove the barriers; reflect and be rational in your reflections.
There is far more to coaching than event knowledge. The British Milers’ Club has done some great work in terms of developing and sharing event specific knowledge, but I would like to see a stronger coaching structure in the UK. I and many other coaches have had to go externally to further our personal development. Guidance on developing your own personal coaching style and identifying your weaknesses in order to improve your coaching should be the next step.
You are not a complete coach just because you have attended UKA courses. You have your licence, but you have many years to perfect your knowledge and skills. I have recently completed an MSc in Elite Coaching Practice and have been surprised with how much knowledge and experience I have gained from it. I now have the academic recognition of that too.
Above all else, I believe an athlete’s mindset is the key component to making the top grade. Mechanical efficiency, leg speed, lactic tolerance and aerobic capacity are all important, but you need to have things right mentally and emotionally. We reward talented youngsters too much when their success could be partly due to early maturation, early specialisation or over-training. The conversion rate from medal-winning junior to medal-winning senior is quite low, so we need to identify athletes with the right mindset and nurture a wider field of youngsters, rather than just the elite juniors.
TYPICAL TRAINING SESSION FOR PAINTER’S SQUAD
Sessions are tailored specifically to the athletes I work with. As evidence of this, sessions Jenny Meadows did in her early career worked well at that time, but we tweaked and developed them throughout her career for what was required at that time.
For example, when Jenny was converting from 400m to 800m, she would run a session of 4x4min with 4min recovery, whereas towards the end of her career, she would be able to run 6x4min with 1min recovery at the same pace, as her physiology had changed and her psychology had improved.
Information on specific sessions should always be taken with a pinch of salt and you should look carefully into the full volume or specific requirements of the individual at that time. I like to work on an holistic approach all year round.
» The above sessions are specific to the individual athlete and may not be suitable for other athletes