Stuart McMillan at has posted another excellent real high performance, no BS inteview, this time with Canadian coach Derek Evely. Derek developed the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre, along with Kevin Tyler, an outstanding coaching resource, before moving over to the UK prior to the London Games to work with UK Athletics in Loughborough, managing the training centre there. 

As I folllowed a similar path to the UK and Loughborough, much of what Derek writes about his experiences resonated with me, in addition to his overall throughts on high level elite sports structure. 

Here are a few excellent items from the interview:

Mentorship is critical. 

Mentorship is very important, and not utilized widely for developing elite coaches, particular in triathlon with as a young sport with a limited history in elite performance. For triathlon coaches it can be difficult to make meaningful connections with other elite coaches and share experience, given the very small pool of elite coaches who are working in a day-to-day coaching evironment. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to learn at the National Triathlon Centre in Victoria BC Canada early on, in a full time coaching environment, and critically around athletes like Simon Whitfield, and Greg and Laura Bennett. 

So every time I get the opportunity to watch a good coach work I watch the little things: where they stand or sit when they coach, their body language, how they modify their language, non-verbal cues, how they interact with an athlete, how they deal with mistakes, how they deal with successes, etc.  I don’t watch the methodology itself as much as I watch the coach. The methodology I can get from a book, email, or a sit down over a coffee. 

This is a brilliant observation and gets to what is really important about coaching, relationships and communicating effectively with athletes. 

Truly elite Centres are built around truly elite coaches. That is, those who consistently produce at the highest levels. I look at things very simply: what does it take to produce a champion athlete? Well, the only elements in successful programs that I have consistently seen are:
  1. Coaching excellence (far and away the most important)
  2. Quality sports medicine
  3. Access to warm weather (in Canada, this means camps)
These are the keys - everything else is secondary. First, put your resources into these three, then build your Centre around that - do not do it the other way around.
On the face of it this is a sensible strategy everyone agrees with, however it's rarely implemented effectively. Truley excellent coaches are not always the centre piece of a high performance strategy, either through difficulting in finding the right coach, or that the best coaches, like the best athletes are not necessarily the easist to work with, or the most complient. In the 'check-box' and 'accountability' world of government funded sport where the plot is more frequently lost than found, often significant resources are directed toward sports science, and sports medicine at the cost of coaching. As I consider the triathlon centres I am familiar with world wide, the number of examples where many pieces of the 'centre' model are in place without excellent coaching outnumber the centres built around productive and successful coaches. The same applies to sports medicine, quality is most often secondary to availability. 


The bottom line is this: Centres don’t produce athletes - coaches do. And Centres need good coaches far more than good coaches need Centres. Centres are simply an environment for coaches to produce. They work, but only when the people in them are top shelf.

'Nuff said.

It’s simple - hire the right people to make the decisions. 

Very rarely done. It's too easy rush to get someone in place to fill a vacancy vs find the right person, and team. 

I think the best model in Canada is to build ‘centres’ around coaches that are achieving consistently high results and let them determine their own needs. We need to look for coaches who are producing, and invest where it makes sense. Once the coaching, therapy and access to warm weather is where it should be, then, and only then, is it prudent to look at other investments like hiring biomechanists, physiologists and the like. And at that point I would only contract out the best of the best, guys like Barry Fudge or Paul Brice 

Centralization only works centered around great coaches. 

Great stuff from Derek, love his candor. Go read the full interview now.

AuthorJoel Filliol