Thursday, January 29, 2009

Joel Filliol appointed as the new Head Coach for BT

"After a world wide search to find a leading international coach with a proven track record of success, Canadian Joel Filliol has been appointed as the new Head Coach and will provide support to athletes and coaches identified in the Olympic Podium and Academy Squads to convert them into medal winners."

You can read the whole thing here.

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.

Friday, January 16, 2009


The Sport Performance Director for USAT, Scott Schnitzspahn, was kind enough to comment on two of my posts. I thought that since most of the readers of the blog don't follow the comments on the blog, it would be a good idea to publish Mr. Schnitzspahn's comments here. I will address his comments in my next post.

In response to this post, this is what Mr. Schnitzspahn had to say:

"Paulo- You've got my attention. I'm the high performance director for USAT. You make some great points, but are missing a few facts I would like to point out.

Starting with this post, TriNZ is advertising to fill Stephen Farrell's old position of High Performance Director but renamed it national coach. If you read the job description you should note two important points that indicate that TriNZ is not going to a true National Coach model-

• Build on the existing culture of excellence and inclusiveness with personal coaches involved in coaching our high performance athletes.
• Ensure that personal coaches of athletes in the programme are fostered and developed alongside their athletes in accordance with the coaching pathway

I can argue for the USAT decentralizing model all day if you want, but I'll keep it to this comment on your post for now and address the BT one separately."

In response to this blog, there were his comments:

"Hi Paulo- you bring up some of my concerns as well- a very limited number of high performance coaches in the USA and a to of age-group focused coaches who do not care for high performance athletes. However, I do not believe that a true national coach model is the best model for the USA. You can read all about it in our High Performance Plan if you like or I can debate it with you sometime. I would like to comment on a few things about your post though.

First, the you reference the success of British Triathlon who is looking for a new national coach. The fact of the matter is that USA has 1 more medal in Olympic Games history than BT, and BT has none. Since Worlds for elites went draft legal in 1995, both countries have won 11 medals each. Here’s the scorecard:
2008 1 1
2007 0 1
2006 1 0
2005 0 1
2004 0 2
2003 0 1
2002 3 1
2001 0 2
2000 0 0
1999 1 0
1998 2 0
1997 1 0
1996 1 0
1995 1 2

Total 11 11

If you look at the names of those athletes and you know who their coach is, you’ll see that most, if not all of them, are products of their own will and determination and a personal coach, not a national coach (Simon Lessing, Tim Don, Sheila Taormina, Siri Lindley, Laura Bennett to name a few). So, I would not use BT as the model of success for a national coach. Our top athletes who have been Worlds and Olympic medalists have all had personal coaches. I believe most if not all of the BT athletes have worked with a personal coach as well, instead of the national coach. I would add that all of these athletes benefited from coaching support and other sport science resources from their federation coaching staff though.

Second, you contradict yourself saying that the best coaches in the world are unknowns because they aren’t out there marketing themselves, then says the fact you can’t name a high level USA coach is concerning. I will admit that it also makes me sad that 99 percent of our certified coaches do not work with high performance athletes. But, this is a problem in all individual Olympic sports that do not have a strong university program. Without a salary, there is no way to make a living for a high performance coach in Olympic sport. It’s either private or university. Since there is no such thing as a university triathlon coach (salaried), our top coaches make a living with other jobs, many of them coaching age-groupers, including you. I don’t see anything wrong with that. Just because you coach a few age-groupers does not make you a “hack.” And, I believe we do need a Level I coaching program that is introductory in nature to give some guidance to those coaches servicing our 115,000 age group members and 200k+ non-members. Level III is for elite focused coaches and will continue to be. We are going to be revamping Level II this year to be more focused on developing those coaching pursuing Level III.

Finally, to imply that the staff at the OTC is limited in knowledge is insulting. Cliff is a great coach and very knowledgeable, but Cliff was so busy with the day to day coaching that he was not able to coach the coaches. A true national coach that is doing their job really can’t be that available to develop future coaches. Additionally, when a coach does a mentorship program at the OTC, they are spending time with other top notch individuals at the OTC, not just USAT staff. These people are some of the best in the world at what they do. I’m sure you have never even spoken to any of our current staff.

So, in closing, I’ll just say that you make some good points about the limited number of high-performance coaches in the sport in general and the proliferation of age-group coaches who do not have high-performance experience. However, you are uninformed about the staff and athletes succeeding at the international level in the USA and Great Britain, and you do not offer a plan to improve, other than re-hiring a national coach. I think if one is to really get to know the athletes winning medals in the various triathlon nations they will find a very mixed rate of success for both national coach and personal coach models."