Monday, January 19, 2009

Bringing back the dead head coach

Mr. Schnitzspahn comments brought a lot to the discussion and I would like to thank him for that. There are some issues I would like to address, in order to clarify my position here.

First off, maybe there is some kind of terminology misunderstanding here, but when I talk about the Head coach position, I don’t see it as a position that is primarily devoted to coaching athletes, but mentoring and coaching the coaches, as well as providing objective and unbiased performance review and analysis of athletes and selections, and coordinating the overall coaching strategy and program delivery, including competition schedules, camps, etc. It is mainly a person that provides high-level technical input to the program. That is the profile of the person that BT and TriNZ are looking for.

It should be noted both BT and TriNZ Head Coach position are new positions, in a review of their structures both Federations deemed as an important one, to improve their chances in 2012. I feel this is an important aspect, since in an extremely competitive environment like Olympic Triathlon, doing things like before and hoping for things to happen is not the way to have success. It goes back to the classic definition of insanity. I wouldn't even say that BT and TriNZ have centralized systems, since their top athletes
train in different locations across the country, with different coaches. But both Federations saw the need to hire high level, experienced technical leaders. We also need to look at the context in which these Head Coaches will work. Both NZ and GB have great overall systems in place, with people with a high level of expertise in their jobs. It is my opinion that this is lacking in the US.

The question here is not the competence or ability of the people in the high-performance program, or themselves personally, so I don’t see any reason for anyone to be insulted. It is the fact that most of them are getting experience in their roles as things move along. This sort of “in-job training” is not in line with wanting the US to regain its place as the best Triathlon nation in the World. In the case of the high-performance director position, wouldn’t USAT profit from having Mr. Schnitzspahn take a step back and be in charge of hiring a true Head Coach along the lines I mentioned above? Wouldn’t USAT profit from doing an international and widely publicized job search for the coaching positions that the system in place has? I am sure that if the people that hold the position now are the best in the World, then they would win those job searches.

I didn’t want to turn this discussion as a GB vs USA contest, but since Mr. Schnitzspahn decided to compare both programs, I would like to comment on that. Looking at the list of results, it does seem that both programs are on an even keel. Now let’s look at the ages of the athletes that are getting those results: The truth is that the results from the US were obtained by a smaller number of athletes at an older age. The truth is that most of the US athletes that obtained those results will not be racing in 2012. If we further compare both programs, I have a question: Where are the US versions of athletes like Alistair Brownlee and Hollie Avil? This is the generation that will dominate the next two Olympic Games, and not a lot is being done in the US to bring up athletes with this profile. This is an issue that goes beyond personal vs centralized coaching, it goes to the core question which is: Is there a system in place in the US that allows to find and nurture the American versions of Alistair and Hollie? The answer is clearly no.

The issue of marketing and being known as a good coach is different from my inability to name a high-level US coach. I know who Darren Smith, Joel Filliol, Bill Davoren are (just to name a few), even if most people don’t know them. And even then, I would be hard pressed to name a good, high-level US coach. A coach with a history of developing several athletes to world-class, at least 4 years of coaching at ITU level, that maintains a training squad, just to name a few requisites. To sum it up, someone from the real world of coaching. Instead, the US bases all their medal hopes for 2012 in what a group of under-trained and under-experienced coaches can do in their spare time from (hopefully) full-time age-group coaching. In my opinion, this is just not enough.

Now, contrary to what Mr. Schnitzspahn might think, I am a big proponent of the de-centralized system. I think that is the best system if there are good local coaches that focus on working with juniors and under-23 athletes and that are always on the lookout for new talent. I think that is the best system if there is a strong club system, a system that provides support to development athletes and their coaches. The problem is that the US doesn’t have either, which means that any de-centralized system is based on little more than… hope. Hope that the next Sheila Taormina or Andy Potts will pop up.

This means that USAT needs to have a system in place that makes up for the lack structure in the sport. A system that, for example, has regional coaches with full-time training squads for junior and u-23 athletes. A system that rewards the coaches that work with Elite athletes. A system that creates more accountability at every level. My ideas regarding this will be the subject of my next post.

Lastly, I have had some people ask me, since I am not an American, why do I care about the direction USAT is taking its high-performance program? As a triathlon coach that currently lives in the US, I am somewhat puzzled by the fact that the Federation is not more pro-active in doing all it can to have a system in place that will discover, nurture and develop the 2012-2016 triathlon gold medalists. Throughout the World there are nations that with a lot less resources (not GB!) that are able to produce athletes at a higher rate than the US. With the resources available in this country and the huge talent pool there is, I can’t help feeling that more should be done.


Barrett Brandon said...

After that post, you can stay at my house as long as you want. I think also the development of other countries has a lot to do with their lack of collegiate sports and option of racing for high-level clubs teams (e.g europe). This is a little different matter, but I m sure we will talk about it when you arrive. Safe travels...

Barrett Brandon said...
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