I thought it would be interesting to get a coach’s perspective on the athlete/coach relationship, so I’ve grabbed the microphone, put on the interviewer hat and asked my coach, Grant ‘Gilesy’ Giles, some hard-hitting questions about coaching in general and coaching me in particular.
TB: So Grant, coach of Tim Van Berkel and Director of the Aeromax Team, welcome to this interview. Are you ready to go deep?
GG: Fire away!
TB: The athlete/coach relationship develops over time. Can you tell us how your relationship with Tim has changed through the nine years you’ve been together?
GG: It’s evolved from working on everything to working a lot more selectively on what needs to improve in the moment to move the whole thing forward. For a younger athlete it’s about building the platform to create a stable and consistent athlete. Once that’s achieved, like it is with Tim, at 30, then I look a lot more at what we need to get him to do not just to be consistent, but to place in world-class fields.
Having put down a good platform and foundation previously, we have a lot more flexibility to look at each individual key race and make training calls based on that.
TB: What’s the ‘state of the nation’ at this point in time – how would you describe your relationship with Tim in a few words?
GG: Collaboration with regard to calendar, mentorship with regard to mental prep, more-focused planning on both sides.
TB: How do you see the coaching relationship evolving over the next stage of Tim’s career?
GG: I’m the sort of person who likes to think outside the square of the norm and I really like to observe and make calls from that space. I think the best thing in this case, is simply to observe and see what we feel is lacking. From that point, we can make adjustments to suit the level where he is.
I think the biggest shift will be developing further power on the bike. Not only so he can keep the race under control and manage the gaps, but also to give him the opportunity to make better use of his run segment. Better bike strength always manifests itself as a faster run split, because the legs simply have less neuromuscular damage.
TB: Given that an experienced, mature athlete may have as much technical knowledge about their sport as their coach (maybe even more) what do you think a coach brings to the table for an elite athlete? What kind of an edge can a good coach give an athlete?
GG: I think the biggest thing a coach brings to the table is simply the Truth. The athlete needs to know they have someone in their corner that they can trust 100%, without BS or ego, who will act always in the best interests of their athlete. I think that’s a rare kind of relationship for most, but to me that is coaching.
As far as the edge goes, I feel that anyone who has spent a lot of time with the same person will learn a lot about that person simply by being present and observant. Anyone who makes it this far realises the Technical is just one side of a multi-faceted gem and certainly the Psychological aspects take more of a role as the performance level increases. Let’s face it, at world level, it’s as much about the mind as anything else. Possibly more so, because everyone at the highest performance level is approaching a fairly even physical fitness match.
TB: If there were one piece of advice you could give to athletes when they’re thinking about a coaching relationship, what would it be?
GG: Very simple answer – 100% trust or nothing at all. It takes time to build a relationship of this sort though, so you have to give the coach time to develop a game plan from what they see and hear from you, and only you. You have to put the opinions and thoughts of others on the backburner and let that coach do the job by simply having the belief that they will do their best.
TB: Nice work, Grant Giles. Once again, you’ve brought the truth and shared some valuable insights with us. Thanks Gilesy!