2009 Program News

10/20/09: Panel of OTC Residents Give Coaches a Better Look at the Elite Athlete

APThroughout the course of ICECP, participants have attended presentations from and interacted with national leaders and professionals in sport administration and sport science, as well as elite-level coaches. These experts came to educate the participants on how to be better coaches, run better programs and get more out of their athletes.

On Tuesday, the participants got a new perspective when they were joined by a panel of athletes who train at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center. The guest athletes spent time answering questions from the coaches and discussing the life of someone who is training at the elite level.

The panel included Ryan Reser (judo), Myles Porter (Paralympic judo), Jimmy Moody (fencing), Seth Kelsey (fencing) and Allison Jones (Paralympic skiing and cycling). They opened the discussion with some background about themselves and the coaches were immediately impressed at the caliber of athletes gathered for their questioning.

Reser was a two-time Olympic alternate and an Olympic team member for the Beijing games. Porter played Division-I football in the Big 10 before transitioning to judo after taking a recreational class in college. Kelsey was a World Cup champion, and Jones has participated in every Paralympic games (summer and winter) since 2002.

The questions posed by the coaches ranged from competitive experiences and training to personal life and off-the-field concerns. Each athlete brought a unique perspective from personal experience.

All five athletes discussed the ways they balanced their training and sport life with their family and personal lives and education. They explained how prioritization and intrinsic motivation kept them focused on becoming elite athletes.

Moody said that having a plan and staying focused kept him on-task. He also spoke about the importance of setting goals to getting where he wants to be.

The panel also gave their advice for young athletes seeking to reach the elite level. Some of the participants work with junior- and cadet-level athletes and help them try to make the transition from a great youth athlete to an Olympian.

The advice offered included making athletes “comfortable being uncomfortable” by exposing them to change and variations, helping them to set progressive goals to reach their potential and ensuring they have a good support system of friends and family.

The ICECP participants were especially interested in the athletes’ relationships with their coaches. They probed deep into the minds of the kind of athletes they work with in their home countries.

Porter said that it was important for the coaches to learn about their athletes and what they need to hear. He said that to get the most of an athlete, each coach should “know what makes them tick.”

When asked what they look for in a coach, Jones responded that trust and faith in the coach and his/her plan or guidance for the athlete was crucial. She said that because she connected with and trusted her coach, she listened to him and saw great results.

Porter added that sometimes it is a matter of finding the right athlete-coach match and that certain athletes need certain kinds of coaches.

“For me, I need someone to talk to me more and joke around. Someone who will keep me relaxed,” Porter said.

Reser noted that no matter what, communication and trust between athletes and coaches was key. This is a lesson he is learning as he starts taking on more coaching roles in judo.

In developing this trust with their athletes, Porter said the coaches should care about their athletes and be there for them. They should want to help their athletes succeed in their sport and in their lives.

Kelsey said that individualization is also a big factor in developing trust. Coaches need to listen to their athletes and understand what they want and need in order to to bring out the most in them.

Moody added that interaction outside of training helped to develop the athlete-coach relationship.

“When a coach takes interest in my life, outside of fencing, and I can trust him as a APperson, then I can trust him as a coach,” Moody said.

The coaches were also interested in what the athletes would do down the line, after their competitive careers were over. Several noted the desire to get into coaching, and Moody noted that fencers “have a long shelf life,” so he plans to stay competitive as long as possible.

Reser summarized the athletes’ sentiments by saying that they would probably all stay involved in their sport in some way and capitalize on the doors opened to them by getting to this level.

“You don’t get this far and then just walk away from it completely. I think we will all stay involved in our sport in one way or another.”

Overall, the panel discussion gave the coaches a unique insight into the mind of the elite athlete, a vital look at the inner workings of the type of person they will work with every day upon returning home.