British Athletics’ Head of Coaching and Development Peter Stanley guided Jonathan Edwards to the world triple jump record and the 2000 Olympic title. Read his four-point guide to being a great coach…
“By communication, I don’t just mean instruction and guidance. It is also about listening. The coach listening to the athlete to get an idea as to how they are feeling.
“It is also about the athlete being aware of their own body and working closely with the coach as a sounding board. An athlete can have all the talent and physical ability in the world but to fulfill their potential they need to have a body awareness.
“This can mean finding that extra two or three per cent. For example, I worked with Jonathan Edwards for nine years and he has fabulous awareness – and a self-protective mechanism of his body.
“I would ask him to do six three-quarter length approach runs and if I said his third was ‘excellent’, he would say to me: ‘I don’t think I can do any better, so I don’t want to practise anything that is wrong. I’ll leave it there.’
“He had achieved the object of the session, so why overwork it? At that stage in his career – as a mature, experienced athlete – he was able to have major input into his own programme based on his extensive knowledge.”
2. Have empathy
“Athletics is a very individual sport and the coach has to have empathy with an athlete who is prepared to put themselves through the physical and psychological stresses of training on a daily basis. The coach has to have an empathy with that.
“How that comes out in the partnership depends on the individual coach and athlete. Both parties should agree on what is expected of each, initially, but also be prepared to allow the relationship to change as the athlete matures and develops.”
3. Solve the puzzle
“All good coaches need good technical ability, but more than that it is about observational skills. It is also not just knowing about what you are looking for but also about seeing patterns of movement and not just a series of stills. It is about how that movement is affected by a previous movement.
“A good coach should look at the whole movement, go back to working on parts of the movement, and then work on the whole again. It is not about isolated posture and shapes, it is about the whole pattern or cyclic movement.
“Many of us can see the effect but we must then isolate the cause and remedy the issue in such a way as to create an efficient, positive solution.”
4. Be patient
“There needs to be a very high level of trust and confidence in both athlete and coach to work on an athlete filling their potential. We live in a quick-fix society, but athletics and all athletics events are about long-term development.
“Patience has to be the watchword. Most athletes don’t reach their potential until the age of 28 plus: that is statistically proven.
“The truth is, it is a long-term project. You have to be patient. Everyone develops at different rates, and we should all be prepared to deal with changes in the lives of both coach and athlete.”