Claire Hitchings Coaching

Do World Champions make good coaches?

Do World Champions make good coaches?

It's often assumed that just because a person was/is a successful athlete he or she will make a great coach.

And so in setting up my coaching business I have unashamedly milked that assumption! "Would your child love to give triathlon a go and receive coaching from a World Champion age group triathlete?" I've chosen having a World Championship title as my unique selling proposition (USP) - to make my business stand out from the crowd and to tell prospective customers what is special about me.

But do great athletes make great coaches? Some do of course. But not all and I suspect that's because their talent is very natural and they've mainly achieved their successes on instinct.

My own progression in triathlon has been very different. I am not a natural! I have had to work very hard to become an all-round triathlete and I think that helps when I am coaching.

To help my performance I have worked with numerous coaches across all three disciplines and I have had a range of extremely positive experiences as well as some quite disappointing ones. With my own coaching I've tried to 'copy' stuff I've liked and found useful and avoid the stuff that's irritated me. In short, for me to rate a coach they need to make me go faster! I also need to enjoy their company and they also need to be professional. So they need to know their stuff but be able to coach me (not teach me - there's a big difference!). They need to be able give specific feedback based on their observations. Coaching is not teaching.

With coaching children my emphasis is still on first teaching them something, then observing, and then providing feedback again. But having fun is key; as is building confidence.

I'm respectful of the need to gain appropriate qualifications - even if at times it has felt like jumping through hoops and death by group work with a flipchart and pen! Personally I don't think people should be coaching without qualifications. There needs to be assurances that a person has the minimum knowledge, skills and understanding necessary to be safe and fit to practice. 

So am I a good coach? Did becoming World Champion somehow morph me into a great coach? Who knows? I've had some really positive feedback from kids and parents so far. Feedback from my BTF Level 2 tutor on my assignments (based on my actual coaching sessions) has been excellent.

Coaching is a craft and with everything I do in life I am fully committed to being the best that I can be. 

Anyhow, that's enough about coaching! Let me talk you through the day I became World Champion...

It's 09:59 on Friday the 13th 2013. It is raining and I am sat on the pontoon on the Serpentine, Hyde Park, London. To make the start line has been a big achievement. For the past 2 years I have been trying unsuccessfully to sort out chronic high (proximal) hamstring tendinopathy symptoms. Ten weeks ago I decided to stop resting as it wasn't helping. So I am here, with no expectations.

I am frantically kicking my feet, trying to block out the cold. There are two girls to my left and 87 to my right. My race head on. I think about Peter my swim coach. I think of all the 800 metres he has made me do. Surely that gives me an advantage.

The starter signals to get in the water. I brace myself for the cold. Goggle check and then we are off. I get a flying start. I have managed to hook my legs up and do an ungraceful, but effective, make-shift backstroke start. When I take my breath to the right there are green swim hats for as far as I can see. I am momentarily in the lead - it will take me about an hour and 10 minutes to regain this lead!

I am approaching the first bouy about 200 m from the start. I am aware of a pack of girls ahead of me. I guestimate about 10 of them. 10th - I'll take tenth. I have girls all over my feet at the first bouy and have to kick hard to free myself. The next bouy is uneventful and I'm on the back straight. Trying to keep focus, swim straight and keep the turnover going. Two more bouys and then I see the exit. Two girls swim past me. Annoyingly, I've given them a free tow.

Goggles off, top half of the wetsuit off and then the long run to my bike, racked on a muddy grass slope. It's a long transition.

I mount my bike for what is normally my strongest discipline. Not now. I have only 10 weeks of bike and run training in my legs but I have opted for 4-6 runs per week and only one bike per week.

A GB athlete flies past me on the bike. Nice helmet - Add to wish list! Way too fast wheels to follow. There is a Kiwi girl just ahead. We seem quite evenly paced so I try and keep her in my sights. At the first chicane she crashes on the wet slippery roads. I think that is her race over but a minute later she goes past me, probably with a huge adrenaline surge. She resumes her normal pace. With T2 approaching I dig deep and try and close the gap. As we dismount I noticed her legs - proper nut cracking track cyclist's legs. Her power out of the turns now makes sense - but surely they can't be runner's legs? Please!

They aren't!

I feel like I am shuffling up the muddy slopes, the final surge on the bike has sent my heart rate sky high. When I get to my rack there is no space for my bike. My brain is in overload; caught in a loop - rack space...I am like a bunny rabbit in headlights. I shove my bike somewhere, helmet off, trainers on and GO!

I exit the transition area and hit the run course. At this stage I think I am still about 10th as I haven't seen anyone on the course apart from the Kiwi. I am actually 2nd. I look ahead and see a Brit - she looks familiar and good! I quickly work out that I am running faster than her. I tell myself not to rush the catch and to go at my own pace. At the end of lap one I catch my breath and go past her with a surge.

Ten minutes later I am approaching the finish - I look behind for the first time and see I am safe. There is an Aussie guy just ahead. I debate if I am up to trying to get a pointless scalp. I don't have anything left, but then he starts show-boating, so I sprint and dip and have him!

A good race - I think a Top 10.

The Brit I have passed on the run also finishes and she heads towards me with a huge smile, saying "I got silver - you got gold." "Really? Are you sure?" "Yes the guy announced it." The penny drops that this is Tanya Brightwell. Blimey how have I beaten her? Next a Canadian joins us. "I got bronze, which one of you won?" I say nothing. Tanya responds. Next more girls finish - some asking who has won. I remain silent as I get congratulatory hugs from some of the Brit finishers. It is all very surreal. Where are the ten girls in the lead pack of the swim? I am not at all convinced that I have won.

I decide to head to find Anthony, to get some normality.

When I see him I get all teary. He gives me a hug and says, "You didn't do too badly!" I mutter, "I think I won." "Really? Really? Are you sure?" "No, not really." "Well we need to see something in writing." And so one of the oddest hours of my life started. Anthony and I try to hang out like normal as he tries to access the results on his phone. We sought out Jon Hollidge in the mechanics tent and tried to chill in the dry. A random girl said she'd look to see if my results were up. She returned to the tent and told me I'd been disqualified. My brain instantly went back to T2 - did I do something wrong racking my bike? Lost in my thoughts I then hear her say "Only joking." Oh hilarious!

I go and check for myself and I see my name at the top of the list! World Champion!! Wow!



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