Coach Reflections Day 1 (Version 2)

It was a false start. At least in a metaphorical sense. With the 2023 National track championships kicking off the first event that our team was to be involved in came and went without a result. It is typical for rounds to be canceled but canceling the heats rather than a semi final round was kind of strange for the Women’s 400m. I know I am using a lot of analogies but it was very much as though we were all dressed up with nowhere to go. Standing on the track starting to initiate the warm up and the tyres were deflated from beneath us before the event even started. Alas we go today. 

In many ways today is the big day. Every athlete that I coach at this year’s national championships, six in total, are competing today. Most in the 100m and the other in the 400m. Heat day is a strange day, you cannot win anything on the day of the heats, but you can certainly lose everything. It is this asymmetric payoff that makes sport and in particular track and field not only enticing but daunting. Especially in the sprints, you make small mistakes, you go home. Whilst this often scares people away from the sport I find it much more interesting to be this way. It means that it builds into the understanding that you need to be well planned, well prepared and ready to execute your plan. Punishment is swift in this sport and for the most part that is a good thing. 

Why you might ask? 

Well instant feedback makes you better. And quickly. Especially if you are willing to listen to it, and act methodically. This also means that establishing the ability to work in a highly charged emotional environment with tools and strategies to manage emotional attachment to results is paramount.  If you cannot separate your emotions from the feedback effectively then you will either fail to act, or overreact, and this is most of the job at a championship. 

The other great thing about these types of environments is that they provide the opportunity to stress test processes repeatedly. The idea that a strategy is static and works consistently is very dangerous. I will try to illustrate this point if you will indulge me with a tangent. 

A question that I often get asked is what I do when I am at a championship like this. And for the longest time I probably couldn’t tell you. There is a lot of dead time at these championships. Typically competition is in the afternoon and evening with much of the morning free. But I would say that typically it is very hard to be productive. Obviously those that know me through my work as a physio, I am a physio, a business owner, with staff and projects that are ongoing, so the temptation to work these days and times is often there but it is typically unproductive time. And the reason for this is that coaching is by far the most intellectually challenging thing that I do. The amount of time that goes into planning aspects of performance increases as the level of competition increases. 

I believe I have written before about the pillars of performance. The general premise being that sports performance is underpinned by areas of Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological influence. And what has become more apparent as time continues is that the Technical, Tactical and Physical are only possible in the context of the psychological environment.  And when you look at the work of someone like John Kiely you start to get an understanding of why. Kiely’s work has highlighted that we do not perform in a vacuum. Our performance is influenced by how we perceive the situation to be unfolding in front of us. Do we perceive threats? Or adventure? Are we interested in exploring new ground? Or hold the ground that we already know? 

These are the questions that I work to understand for each of my athletes and put together an approach that aims to allow them to navigate this and express the features of their technical, tactical and physical aptitudes. As mentioned earlier this approach is a living entity and it changes across the days of competition. The one thing that I know is that my job is to be attentive to those changes and act quickly and with an appropriate amount of emotional attachment. And this is probably what I am doing for most of the time that seems unproductive at a championships, that is preparing myself and the athletes to be attentive when required. It makes the time feel as though it passes with a faint anxiety, as if something could happen at any moment and you must be ready. But I guess that is the nature of the job, and would I want it any other way? Of that I am not sure. 

Before I leave you I do want to say that I am very grateful to the MAD staff back in Melbourne that have supported the MAD Track Team enormously across the season with their physiotherapy and performance input. 

Check in tomorrow for an update on morning 2 of the competition for our team. 

John Nicolosi 

Physiotherapist / Director of Melbourne Athletic Development and Head Coach for MAD Track Team. 

If you are interested to look at some of John Kiely’s work head to and for some extended discussion on these concepts relating to how coaching has influenced our practice at Melbourne Athletic Development be sure to listen to this episode of our podcast