ITU World Sport Development Camp: A Coach’s Perspective

by Peter Holmes on 22 Sep, 2009 04:51

by Bobby McGee, Head Coach, Gold Coast, Australia – 2009

After having done this camp three times now (2006, 2007 & 2009), this really did not feel like a development camp to me; it felt more like a junior & U23 high performance camp.  Having athletes come out of this camp & place in the top ten in the world championships was gratifying to say the least.  It pointed not only to the effectiveness of the final polishing provided by the camp, but also to the fact that countries formerly not known for their triathlon expertise have presented athletes that are talented, conditioned & skills trained sufficiently to be players at the highest level.  Every athlete completed their event! Not one was lapped out or technically excluded from finishing the event – a truly astonishing feat when the typically high rate of attrition at these events is considered.

I have been involved with endurance coaching & sport development for almost three decades.  In that time I have never seen a more effective Sport Development project.  The organization & administration was flawless & allowed the coaches plenty of room to effectively execute their mandate.  I have never seen a situation where a multi-national group completes a camp without any major issues – no injuries that led to withdrawal, no accidents that led to injury.  The level of cooperation, synergy & teamwork between head & assistant coaches of all three disciplines was unbelievable & extremely gratifying. 

I do not believe there was a mentor coach or athlete present who felt that their attendance did not lead to an improved chance at success at the championships.  Nor do I think there was a coach or athlete that went home without some belief, skill or confidence that what they acquired that would take them to the next level.  I belief seeds were planted that will keep athletes & coaches in the sport until potentials are fulfilled & champions created.

I appreciate the work that the ITU does in this respect – their staff’s organizational & support skills are nothing short of profound.  I feel totally enabled to do the best job I can when I play a role in these camps.  Libby Burrell & Zita Csovelyak represented the sport to its highest degree on every level.  The athletes & coaches, both head & mentor, felt empowered by the ITU on in every regard.

I was blown away by the level of discipline & commitment that each & every athlete brought to the camp—they came to be the best they could be & they left better able to do so because of their attitude.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have been involved in a project as crucial to the well being of our sport as this one.

I have been an endurance coach going on 29 years now.  I have been involved with triathlon since 1986.  In this time I have been a part of & observed the talent identification & development efforts of numerous countries.  I can honestly say that I have never seen a more effective program, nor seen the value more of the need for this type of work to be continual/long term.  To see the massive advances that athletes have made in just three years is testimony that this approach is exactly what ALL endurance sports need – not just triathlon.  Athletes that I viewed as marginal three years ago are now highly competitive on the world stage! Previously, at best, such efforts fulfilled the social responsibility requirements of federations, so that the larger, less vertically (performance) minded communities of government, youth issues & sport as a political vehicle could be assuaged.  This is still a necessity & the incredible efforts of ITU Sport Development effectively do serve the interests & requirements of these communities which may ultimately decide whether triathlon maintains its place &/or gains further admittance for other variations into the Olympic family.  Perhaps even more importantly these Sport Development efforts really do serve as a source for future champions & standard bearers that ultimately bring our discipline of triathlon more & more to the mainstream forefront of world sports.  Ultimately triathlon will produce a superstar that will represent our sport on a level beyond the sport, perhaps even approaching that of a Lance Armstrong, a Mohammad Ali, a Wayne Gretsky or a Tiger Woods.  While national federations will do the work to support this key process, their more immediate task is to produce athletes that represent their countries effectively on the world stage.  The countries that have effective programs will continue to stay ahead & the international triathlon gene pool that remains largely as yet untapped will not catch up & deliver possible superstars without the efforts of a well thought out & executed Sport Development plan.

Track & Field has already, on a number of occasions expressed both admiration and an interest in the triathlon model that to the outsider seems to work very effectively – large praise indeed!

I have seen athletes respond very favorably to the influence of expert coaches & make quantum leaps after just ten days of work with them.  Clearly these are not gains in physical conditioning – so what is it that brings an athlete to a peak & a level of performance at world championships, which in the opinion of athlete, coach & often home federation, would clearly NOT have been possible if the athlete had gone straight to the championships?

The answer is multi-facetted for sure, but I believe the following would go a long way to explaining this key phenomenon:

• ITU Sport Development’s placement of athletes with potential with skilled coaches some weeks before commencement of the camp.  The athletes go from being “also-rans” to believing they will be competitive on race day
• Confidence the athlete builds when in the company of similar athletes after an extended period of training in isolation, possible as a star within the confines of their limited triathlon environment
• Confidence the coach develops when tasked, trained, guided & informed by skilled, experienced coaches
• Skills acquisition – which is a shorter process than fitness attainment.  Athletes & coaches learn the most cutting edge, current, practical approach to the many technical challenges the sport has
• Training in a group environment – the athlete arrives at the world championships with a coach more exposed to the realities of the world stage.  The athlete also has some experience of the intensity & “crowded” frenetic nature of the sport, especially in the water & on the bike – something that many clearly do not have a sense of when they get to the camp
• The professional logistical support the athletes get in their lead up to & at the championships – something that the major players take for granted & that may be the difference between winning or losing on race day

Learn more about Bobby McGee by visiting his website or his blog at

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