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The Athlete’s Perspective: What Makes a Great Coach?

Nobody knows more about what makes a good Olympic coach or trainer than the athletes themselves. Famed Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who aimed to improve her javelin- throwing technique for the 1996 Summer Olympics and the 1998 Goodwill Games, worked with Ashley Selman, MA, a former Olympic hopeful and two-time national
champion in the event.

“Ashley’s support and teaching were a big part of my success with the javelin,” recalls the six-time Olympic medalist. “She taught me how to relax and have fun with [the] event. Besides Ashley being a great thrower herself, her knowledge of coaching and her ability to communicate on a level that I could understand made a tremendous difference.”

Selman’s natural aptitude for coaching played a role in Joyner-Kersee finishing her career on a high note with a gold medal in the heptathlon—which features the javelin throw—at the 1998 Goodwill Games.

Sprinter Manteo Mitchell, who helped his team secure a silver medal in the 4×400 relay at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London (despite suffering a broken fibula midrace), believes a great coach knows how to connect with the athlete. “It’s all about relationships,” says Mitchell, who aims to return to the track during this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero. “Training 4–6 hours per day, 5–6 days per week, I’m obviously going to be spending tons of time one-on-one with my coach. My coach and I have a foundation that started back in 2005, when I was a freshman in college, and now, 11 years later, we are still kicking it. Trust goes a long way. I call my coach ‘Pops,’ because he’s like a father to me.”

Jonathan Garcia, who is currently training for the 2018 Olympic trials in speed skating, says he looks for a coach with a unique perspective. “I want an open-minded coach/trainer—someone who has different ideas about training than I do. It’s important for me to keep trying new exercises and training programs—there is always room for improvement.”

Garcia adds, “The best advice I could give a trainer working with Olympic hopefuls is to understand that every athlete is different,” he says. “What works for me mentally and physically may not work for my teammates.”

USA Rugby Sevens team member and Rio hopeful Carlin Isles echoes Garcia’s statements. “I look for [a coach] who knows what they’re doing and is willing to do whatever it takes to get me better,” says the 26-year-old athlete. “They need to understand me not only as an athlete but as a person and then go from there. [A great coach] knows my strengths and
weaknesses and has a good plan of attack to get me to where I want to go.”

To get the inside scoop on what it’s like to work with the world’s best athletes, please see “The People Behind the Champions” in the online IDEA Library or in the July-August 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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