Coaching in the UK

Coaching Insight: Team Sky Performance Coach Shaun Stephens

Fri, 27 Jun 2014

With the Tour de France Grand Depart taking place in Leeds, followed by two more stages in England, we caught up with Team Sky Performance Coach Shaun Stephens. Shaun talked about how he started coaching, his advice to prospective coaches, what he enjoys about coaching, and much more.

How did you get into coaching?
I first starting coaching rowing as soon as I finished secondary school.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and it complemented my University studies in Human Movement Studies (Sports Science).  The coaching assisted my studies as I could directly relate the theory learnt in the classroom into practice on a daily basis.  Obviously, the sport science degree also assisted my coaching but the learning is ongoing and experience is essential. 

You are a young coach at the top of your profession. What advice would you give coaches wanting to progress?
I don’t feel like a young coach as I have been coaching for over half of my life but I did start young and often found myself coaching athletes older than myself.  My advice would be to never stop learning.  It’s an old adage but so true to the game of coaching.  I think many coaches often feel like they need to know the answer to everything asked of them.  In fact, it’s completely understandable that a coach will not know all of the answers to the challenges faced by athletes on a daily basis.  

What satisfaction do you get from coaching? What is the best thing about it?
My satisfaction from coaching constantly changes but if I were to state one thing it would be ‘The Challenge’.  The human body is extraordinary.  The way it is capable of physically adapting and responding to different stimuli is remarkable.  Then there is the mind and what it is capable of achieving, or, in many cases sabotaging.  The challenge of coaching is trying to get the right mix of training to maximise the physical adaptation whilst satisfying and often tricking the athlete’s mind into enabling them to achieve something they did not think was possible.  It’s a huge challenge and one that is never ending.   

You’ve worked with junior and elite athletes. What have you learnt from coaching athletes of different ages and abilities?
To be honest I do not see much difference in coaching athletes of different ages or abilities.  Obviously there are training load considerations that need to be taken into account, but the general principles of coaching and different traits within each individual do not necessarily change with age or ability.  Some young athletes have very few inhibitions and high ambitions which is fantastic and should be encouraged, while many senior athletes have great knowledge and experience enabling them to perform at extremely high levels despite lacking some of the physical qualities or enthusiasm of their younger competitors.   The most important element is to treat each athlete as an individual regardless of their age or ability.  

You arrived at Sky from Triathlon. How can coaches transfer expertise and experience between sports?
I do not think this is done enough between sports.  From my experience, whenever a group of coaches from different sports meet up at conferences or workshops, the majority of challenges they face as coaches are consistent between sports.  Whilst there are specific technical elements within each sport that need to be understood and often mastered by the coach, the large majority of the coaching principles are consistent across sports.  This certainly applies for ‘like type sports’ such as individual endurance based sports like Cycling, Triathlon, Endurance Running, or team sports such as Football, Rugby, Hockey.  Just like a CEO of an organisation transferring across industries, providing, the individual has quality management practices, they can learn the intricacies of a new industry through a willingness to learn. I believe the same is true for coaching and if anything a new perspective is often highly beneficial to more traditional mindsets.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about getting into coaching?
You must enjoy a challenge and always be willing to commit more to becoming better than the athletes you coach.  

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