08 February 2011

coaching age groupers vs. elites

February 8

This morning I had the opportunity to go onto IMTalk discuss Brett Sutton's comments and advice he gave to age groupers during a previous IMTalk interview.
The purpose of discussing my reactions to what he said was because I felt most age groupers listening to that interview wouldn't understand that Brett's advice would be the wrong advice for them, but coming from such a renowned coach they would accept his words as gospel.
And further to my resurrecting this blog - I want to put some of my thoughts on Triathlon coaching down on record.   Only then does it have the possibility of doing some one some good.

What Brett failed to do was to give proper context to his advice.
Some examples:
- He said a main swim set of 4 x 200 in the pool wouldn't properly prepare an age grouper for an IM swim without saying how long the longest swim the athlete has ever done is, how proficient a swimmer they are,  much time the athlete has for training, what other training priorities may affect if they even get to the pool or not, etc.  He gave an example of a set of 40x100 as a good set to do, but he didn't say when to do it or how long it might take to build up to that if a person has only swam 1-2 3km sessions as their furthest ones, etc.
- He said doing gym work was useless for age group IM athletes without saying that it might be useful to correct specific weakness, for injury re-hab, to correct general weakness due to a life of in-acivity, etc. In general my impression is he doesn't appreciate the benefits of strength training at all.   He gave the example of world record swimmer Kerin Perkins as an example of a real weakling who never did gym work.  But he didn't say if an age grouper swam 80+km/week for 10+ years then they wouldn't need to do any gym work either to swim well.
- He said stretching was a waste of time due to the fact that the specific range of motion required to swim/bike/run isn't great without discussing that some people are so tight they can't even put on their socks without putting their foot up on a bench and leaning into their thigh with a lot of force.  My own personal tightness at times is so bad I need 80kgs on the squat bar to get my gut down onto my quads.  When I'm tight (which is most of the f..n time!) every time I lift my leg to the top of the pedal stroke it takes a considerable amount of energy just to overcome the tightness pulling my leg in the other direction.

What I'm getting at is he failed to give proper context.  All of the things he said are useless are certainly not useless for a very large part of the age group IM population.
But its easy to understand how this can happen to any coach when they only work with elite athletes.         Brett has created a tremendous bubble that is Sutton-world and its the proper place for an elite athlete to train and live.  The results he and the athletes he's worked with have achieved attest to that.  You need to live a life un-obsturcted by normal life and people in order to have enough focus to get to that level.
I lived that life for many years and it took 3 long years of working as a personal trainer with normal folks (not IM folks) to start to comprehend what they (that means you!) are all about.

What we've seen in recent years is a very new phenomena - people signing up for IM's with very little idea what's involved in doing them and without the fitness to do them anywhere near decently.
I'm not saying normal people shouldn't be doing them,.
What I am saying is that the advice on how they get from point "A" (which is signing up for an IM) to point "B" (which is actually starting one)  is much different advice than an elite athlete should receive.

Most coaching models and advice was developed for elite athletes.
That's the only type of athlete there was until very recently.
Here's the main point - Age group racing is a relatively new thing and there hasn't been a lot of case studies on how to get a mother of 4 who's been raising kids and home-making her whole life and never worked out into decent IM shape.  Or an exec who's smoked for 20+ years and who's last serious exercise was 24 years ago playing H.S. football.

So I went onto IMTalk to encourage listeners to the show not to throw out the good advice they've been getting from good, experienced coaches who've been working with age groupers for many years.  Everyone is unique and will present unique strengths and weakness and living situations to work with.  Cookie cutter advice needs to be approached with proper context, and if that proper context isn't immediately at hand then it needs to be found and understood.

I'll re-iterate what I said at the beginning of this blog - I respect what Brett has done as a coach.  I wish in that interview he just would have said "I don't work with age groupers".  From my point of view there's no reason he should work with them anyway, and he's got enough responsibility guiding all of the elites who seek him out for his expertise.
So much of what Brett has to offer shouldn't get muddied by his few of his off-the cuff opinions.  You gotta admire his guts and willingness to speak his mind even if he misses the mark sometimes.