Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Junior Track Nationals: What, already??!!

Already??!! Yep, already.

I am part of Team Management for Junior Track Nationals again next year, and planning is underway already. It's a big job organising the team, where we stay, how we get there, when we train, when we come together to develop a team out of a group of individuals.

Next year, we'll be at Dunc Grey in March, for a bit under a week. We fly home on a Sunday, and then on Wednesday of that week, I drive back to Sydney for Masters Track Nationals. So I am deciding: do I just stay up there? Do I take a bike when I fly up with the juniors and leave it there? How much leave should I take, considering I am saving my days for a possible trip to France later that year.

It's an interesting role, being a Team Coach for the Junior State Team. I am lucky in that I have no direct "professional" interest in any of the kids in that I don't coach any of them, so can be objective, and deal with each without that baggage. Lately there has been some (implied) commentary on other blogs about what we do, and don't do as Team Coaches. It's been interesting to read, and has given me a bit of a laugh in regards to other people's perception of what's involved.

By the time a junior makes the team, they have already trained, been coached etc and come up with the goods to make it on the team. Once or twice, as a State Selector, we have taken a punt on a junior who shows excellent potential, and included them on the team. Fortunately those punts have paid off, and those kids are still shining, even more strongly than when we initially laid our bets.

So, the team coach's role is not to "improve" fitness etc. By the time we get them, it's too late for that. Our role is to shape up a team: get a bunch of young personalities, with all their hopes, egos and fears, to work with each other, support each other,while remaining focused on their own role and job within that team, and for themselves. They also need to learn to work with the Team Management, which means developing mutual trust and respect. That takes time, real investment, care and consideration for, and from each member of the team.

The team coach looks after the needs of a bunch of kids away from home, in a high-stress, high-pressure environment (for them, as much as us). We make sure they are properly fed, watered, rested and kept safe, 24/7. Trackside, we make sure they have their equipment ready, are dressed properly, have their numbers on, know what time they have to be on the rollers, in the pre-race holding pen, in the gate. We make sure they are focused, try to keep them emotionally stable, physically relaxed and prepared, mentally prepared with race plans sorted, make them laugh and chill out as best they can under the circumstances. We don't interfere with their own coach's instructions, but support their normal race routines as much as possible.

It's a very different kind of coaching role, and is as much about mentoring. It's a role that needs a complete and total understanding of high-performance racing situations, and one that helps guide a youngster, to whom this may be all very new, or totally overwhelming, through the business of elite racing, to give their very best on the day. You gotta keep your cool, be level-headed, not take things personally, be incredibly organised and proactive without being distant, over the top in or in people's faces.You must know how each individual in the team operates and reacts under pressure, be fully aware of everything that is going on around you and them, from commissaire's requests, to the day's race schedule, to what wheels are being swapped off one bike onto which other bike directly after X's race (and the gear to be used), to keeping an eye on how much Y has had to drink, and how long they have or have not been warming up, to any interpersonal conflicts that may be brewing.

It's high stress, not just because of the time pressures of getting people ready to race by a specific time, but also because you are dealing with teenaged emotions and personalities, their parents, their private coaches.

That being said, we volunteer to do this job, because we enjoy it, and believe we have something to offer the team, and the kids involved. All on the current Junior Team Management have raced at an elite level, from national to world championships. We all know that feeling of deep paralysing anxiety, the nausea of expectation and associated fear. We get it, when you are sitting in the gate shitting yourself in those five final moments before the brake releases and you jump out to totally hammer yourself against the clock. We get it when your legs are literally shaking with nerves, your breathing is non-existent from adrenalin and panic, and your quads are like lead as you line up for the start of a scratch race, not knowing how its really going to pan out. We are the first ones to see the utter joy, or utter devastation, and the complete exhaustion, as we catch them when the kids roll off the track. We get it, because we have been there, and we know what it means and what it does to you. We are the final part of a journey these kids take, to race at nationals, and one piece of a greater project for these kids.


Leanne said...

Wow, I have never thought of it like that. It must be hard at times, fun at other times, and pure joy at others. I was around you guys a bit for the last nationals and it was great seeing how it all worked together. Thanks for that insight.

Lawrence said...

Thanks Leanne. Your perspective will also be quite different to that of someone in the stands, or a parent, or of other team coaches etc. You would have seen a lot of stuff that we wouldn't have as well. Some of your photos very clearly show that :-) They were excellent to view for that reason.

I should clarify that it's not entirely true that when the team trains together we don't focus on fitness, because part of training is about fitness. It has to be. But there is a lot of skill and technique stuff as well, such as gate starts, team pursuiting and sprinting etc that needs to be worked on. These are really good opportunities to see how the kids work together and respond to each other!

Glad you got something out of it :-).