Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Ben Titley's "Fast"

I made a very clear point of being one of the first coaches to contact Mr. Titley prior to his arrival in Canada. Like many coaches and athletes, I was curious about what he was going to bring into the Canadian System, especially since the Canadian Swim Centre - Ontario only had about 5 athletes, none of which were the calibre that he was used to (Ben used to coach 8 athletes, all within the top 10 in the world in their events). Could he bring change to the typical Centre perception, or would this just be more of the same?

I had dinner with Ben in October and (after giving him some advice from my insignificant viewpoint) I invited him out to see my program. I offered to pick him up from his home downtown and drive him up to Georgetown because I was really interested in what I could learn from him. I figured that the invitation was well intentioned and expected that Ben would get too busy to actually visit. But last week, Ben texted me to ask if I could come get him on Tuesday November 6th so he could see some of my athletes. I jumped at the opportunity and made sure that my assistants were aware that he was coming in because I didn't want them to miss the learning opportunity either. 

I picked up Ben from Yorkdale mall around 3 and made it back to my pool before the start of my workout. I designed the workout so that the first 15min belonged to Ben. I wanted him to talk to my athletes about his experiences in Britain and in Canadian Swimming this far. 2 things were immediately evident: 
i.) Ben was not giving any messages that I don't already harp on on a daily basis: technique, discipline and respect. Its always good to hear it from someone else, especially someone with his clout. 
ii.) Ben always infused me into the conversation, praised me and made reference to me and my program about every 90 seconds. Ben did not have any interest in changing anyone's mind about anything; he wanted them to buy into what he was doing by reinforcing what I was already doing. I believe that this will work out in his favour in the Canadian system, particularly in the Ontario system!

Knowing that Ben was amongst the best sprint coaches in the world, I wanted to work on speed last night. Although I had a basic idea of what I wanted to do, Ben and I discussed what I should do and hammered out a solid workout plan on the drive up my pool. While he was looking at the plan on the whiteboard, he asked me a pretty simple question: "What are you trying to do achieve here?" I explained that we were going for maximum speed. Ben suggested that my terminology of "Speed" was possibly confused. He gave me a new suggestion (which challenged everything that I was taught in the past 3 years of NCCP's Senior Coach training) and drafted a set that would better achieve the speed that we were after. I then handed the keys to him and let him run the workout while I was content to sit in the student's chair for the rest of the practice.

Ben worked with my athletes in a series of 25s, 50s and activation activities in order to achieve faster than race pace speed (a number of those athletes had best times in 50s last night... go figure). Ben spent a lot of time talking to both the group of athletes as well as individuals. It was interesting to see the athletes react to the same feedback that they usually get in a different voice from a "V.I.P.". Many of them were able to correct (if not only for the night) MAJOR issues that we had been working on for a long time. The experience was fantastic!

Ben left my group with great words about commitment to doing difficult things and the understanding that being fast is hard... something that needs to be practiced honestly. He also made them promise that they would ALWAYS shake their coaches hand and say "Thank you" after each practice to show that they are responsible for their own training and that they appreciate that work of the coach who "Sweated his bits off for the last 2 hours to help you achieve your goals". 

Ben and I discussed more of his observations and goals on the way back to his apartment. Ben has some lofty goals and hard work ahead of him in order to achieve what he plans on achieving. I believe that his toughest goal is going to be a culture change. Historically, the Toronto Training Centre has been viewed as a recruiting ground for U of T and TSC and many athletes have left their home teams to swim there. While I do not want to get into debating if this viewpoint has merit; the reality is that the Centre is viewed that way, rightly or wrongly. I think the thing that many coaches need to understand is that Ben had nothing to do with any of that and is a fresh start at the concept. I think that rather than viewing this as a Centre initiative, look at it as a new world class coach coming in to help. While the "Centre" currently exists, it just barely exists - it is 3 or 4 lanes at U of T and has 6 athletes in it. Until the new pool is available in Scarborough in 2014, it is no more tangible than the concept of having a world class coach trying to make Ontario and Canadian Swimming better. Ignoring world class help is quite silly. We coaches should put this into perspective and accept the help of an expert!

It would be highly hypocritical of me to NOT push this agenda, but one of the biggest things that Ben Titley wants is the sharing of info between clubs and coaches. For 2 years now, I have been trying to share all of the info I have been able to get through this blog, my podcast and the Off The Deck web-series. I think this is a great initiative and that it is very counter productive to hide info. "I've never seen a system get worse from sharing, only better," he said as he explained it to me. Ben has tried to work in some sharing initiatives into his Own The Podium applications which stands to benefit everyone. I, for one, am loving this idea simply because it adds legacy to his work in Toronto. Previous coaches legacies are long gone with them.

The last thing Ben suggested was that Canadian Swim Centres need to stop hoarding athletes and clambering after them. Breaststrokers should go to see Jozsef Nagy in BC. Distance Freestylers should go see Randy in BC. He is interested in the athletes that best suit his program as a sprint and speed coach; not necessarily YOUR athletes. He is, however, interested in helping you figure out how to best train your athletes.

I must say that I really like what Ben Titley has to add to Canadian Swimming. I think that he adds some much needed fresh ideas and is willing to do facilitate the necessary education that younger coaches (such as myself... although I am rapidly aging) need. Ben's message to me that is echoing in my head since last night is: "Are we doing things because its the way its always been done, or because its the best way to do it?" This, appropriately enough, is the same message and attitude that I brought to my club when I took over 5 seasons ago. 

Do I like what Ben is doing because its great stuff or because he reminds me of myself in some weird narcissistic way? Check him out and decide for yourself. Email Dean Boles if you are interested in getting in touch with Ben Titley.