The Coaching Paradox - trackboundUSA

The Coaching Paradox

NCAA outdoor British track results

The Coaching Paradox

Recently BBC Radio 5 Live aired a documentary titled the ‘US Super Coaches. A 90 minute radio show that offered a fascinating insight as to the input that the coaches of Britain’s gold medal winning track and field athletes at the Olympics had, notably American’s Alberto Salazar and Dan Pfaff, as well as Brit Tony Minichiello. Each of the coaches spoke in great detail about the work they had done with their athletes to guide them to the gold medal winning performances, and in every case it became very clear from the outset just how strong the relationships that these coaches have with Mo Farah, Greg Rutherford and Jessica Ennis respectively.

This recent program got us thinking about one of the issues that perspective student athletes may face when they are considering a scholarship offer; convincing their current coach that it could be a good idea. Whilst there have been hundreds of athletes who have taken scholarships over the years, there will also be a high number who were talked out of the idea through the carefully used powers of persuasion from their domestic based coaches. These coaches are often able to convince the athletes that what they offer back home far outweighs the value of any scholarship. Whether this is true or not will vary from case to case.

In some cases, these reservations can be purely down to naivety from the coach: How can something that you know nothing about on the other side of the world possibly be better than the ‘perfect’ setup that you have here within your immediate and familiar surroundings. We have a great group already, there are nice places to train, and there is good spirit and morale, why would you want to go to America to a place where they speak funny and call football soccer?

Other coaches, still with very little accurate knowledge may have heard bits and pieces about what goes on and keep an eye on results, but scared of losing their star athlete will use all the traditional lines to talk the athlete round: ‘You will over race, you will get homesick, you will get injured, they don’t know you, you won’t improve when you come back.’ The list is a long one. From our experiences, there are a large number of coaches who take this viewpoint outside of the US.

Looking now at the legitimacy of these objections, in some cases the coach is right to urge the athlete not to go. In the case of truly world class athletes, embarking on a scholarship could potentially jeopardise or halt the athlete’s progression towards to the top of the podium. However, the number of 18-23 year old truly world class athletes will be very small. It will almost certainly involve a podium funded professionally paid athlete, who has a history of performing strongly at global championship level. The athlete will likely be guided by a coach who is able to offer full time support. Jessica Ennis is the obvious example of this in UK, and even more impressive with her is that her coach Tony Minichiello is the only one of the ‘super coaches’ who began working with his gold medal winner long before she had broken through to podium standard.

For athletes who have not shown this level of ability as well as the support that goes with it, we think that it would be a mistake for an athlete to rule out a scholarship offer based largely on objections cited by their club or university coach. The reason being is that the coach is almost certainly failing to consider the bigger picture of the overall journey and development of the young man or woman it is that they are advising.

For coaches and athletes reading, below is a non-exhaustive list of questions to consider when having this discussion of ‘what can my current coach offer versus a scholarship’? Whilst we have never claimed that America is for everyone, what we do strongly urge is that the athletes, parents, and coaches all try to consider every angle possible, and this is just one more thing to consider.

Questions worth asking:

  • Can my current coach provide me with a fully or partially paid university degree?
  • Is my current coach supported by numerous full time assistants, who as a unit offer twice daily supervised training sessions?
  • Does my current coach pay for all my travel, competition and kit?
  • Does my current coach provide me with regular competition opportunities that can compare with the standard of the collegiate system?
  • Can the set up with my current coach provide me with the overall life experience and enjoyment that 2-5 years living in a country like the US can bring?
  • Upon graduation or worst case scenario if I decide to leave, will my current coach still be there for me when I return from the US?
  • Can I stay in contact with my current coach for regular advice and support whilst I am away in the US?

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