June 3, 2015
Meet Gerry Rodriguez – one of triathlon’s elite swim coaches. Gerry’s story is one of true inspiration and his insights on coaching and competing will give you some very unique perspectives. Enjoy this episode of #TriathlonResearchRadio and check out the new TriathlonResearch.org for more great 100% free content.
Sam Cook introduces Gerry Rodriguez, elite triathlon swimm coach
Ranges of Athletes and Abilities
Dealing With Other Coaches
The Coach as the Athlete
Do Coaches Need to be Athletes?
Coaching and Competing
Paying the Bills as a Coach
Bringing Triathlon to a Larger Audience
Growing a Triathlon Community
Triathlon in LA
Training with Matt Dixon
Becoming an Elite Coach
Evolving as a Coach
Gerry’s Coaching Journey
Advice for Aspiring Coaches
Discovering What Your Goals Are
Your Training Habits Reflect Your Life Habits
The Ingredients of Outcome
Spotting Unique Talent
Levels of Ability
Amateurs vs Professionals
Sam Thanks Gerry
The New TriathlonResearch.org
Mark Allen Art of Competition Promo
Welcome to Triathlon Research, the podcast that brings together the world’s best triathlon coaches, athletes, equipment experts and medical professionals, to give you the right information that you need to race past your personal best, and get more enjoyment out of your triathlon journey. Triathlon Research – where we teach you how to train smart. Here is your host, Samuel Cook, Founder of Triathlon Research.
Hello again Triathlon Research radio listener, this is Sam Cook, Founder of
Triathlon Research, cohost of Triathlon Research radio. I am interviewing today, a very
wellknown swim coach in the world of triathlon name Gerry Rodrigues, who runs, I think the
largest open water swim training program in the country or in the sport of triathlon in Los
Angeles. Gerry is, was introduced to me by the director of Triathlon Research Camps Dennis
Mohagen. Who has followed him for many years since he, himself was a professional
triathlete growing up. Training in Southern California and Gerry has had the distinction of
coaching thousands, literally thousands of triathlete in swimming all the way from beginners
all the way up to Olympians and is the secret weapon that a lot of pro triathlon coaches use
get their swimmer up to speed. But without further ado and introduction I’m going to let Gerry
come in and correct any mistakes I might have made in the introduction there. So Gerry it is
Los Angeles right or did that wrong are you in San Diego?
We’re in Los Angeles.
Yeah. And, just expand a little bit on the back ground I tried to summarize about you so
that the audience can be familiar with where you’re coming from and then we’ll jump right into
teasing apart some things that I think will be helpful to the audience.
Sam I think that for this audience the things that would be most relevant would be the
specificity of some of background related triathletes at least. If I grew up in the Caribbean and
from nine years old we swam three or four times a week for about four months of the year in
open water. So are training sessions were based in the sea or in the ocean and that went on
for about eight years and then I move to the U.S. and went to college and competed and so
forth and so on. And after that it was my last year of college I got involved in triathlon and
started coaching, we started the first triathlon club in in Los Angeles 1983. It was the first one
to my knowledge and I was this swim and I it is the oldest and most distinguished from all of
the things I’ve heard, yeah definitely. So having a background as a kid growing up in open
water and then competing in open water racing for another fifteen years it been my daily wick
and you know what I do is pass along the knowledge that I have acquired over the years and
teach it to many of the up and coming athletes and try to make them the best that they can be
given their talent may not be or the time that they’ve had preparing for the swim portion is less
than a strict swimmer. We have to find ways to get that extra minute or two out of their swim
in a more precise and direct way. Cause they don’t have twenty hours a days to train
swimming. So let’s find them the best tools that we can use to reap the best rewards.
So Gerry, just, just listening to your introduction and a bit of a modest one on your side.
Can I just get you to talk about some of the different ranges of athletes that you’ve worked
with? I know that you’ve worked with people all the way from beginner age groupers all the
way to Olympians. Just talk a little bit about how you progress on that continuum of who you
work with and when and what you’re doing right now so that people get a sense of where you
are right now.
I think as it related to triathlon at least once I decide to coach triathletes specifically
and not just swimmer mainly, what quickly occurred was a number of coaches formed
relationships with me or I formed relationship with them and they send their athletes to Los
Angeles to swim in our program. So we have athletes moving from literally all over the world
and coming in for six months to two years. And the types of professional athletes we get are
typically, they might be very good rider or very good runner but their weakness is swimming.
So it’s you know, the task is high. It’s pretty easy to take a very talented swimmer and that
happens to be triathlete and take claim to their success in the swim portion. Well they started
off good so there is not really much work to be done there but there is some specificity
perhaps. But it’s a little more challenging to take the pros who don’t have any swim back
ground and shape to close enough, or at the, get them to the front, you know, get them to the
first, front of the pack. That takes little more work and a little more dedication, so that what
we’ve been doing for the last several years and that’s just on the elite end. Most of our
programs is for age groupers and beginners. Probably say 95% of our programs deals with
just the person who is doing their first triathlon all the way up to some veterans who have
been around for many, many years. So we cover the entire spectrum.
Well Gerry one of the, one of the thing I think is interesting about where you’re coming
from is, you were very early is the game to triathlon I think from swim coaching to moving into
triathlon specific. In 1983, I mean goodness that was right at the beginning of Kona as the
World Championship site so you must have seen a lot of the early days of the sport. What did
other swim coaches say to you when you got into the triathlon world? I can imagine that there
might have been a little bit of snickering or scorn that might have come over to you from the
swimming world for moving out of that realm into triathlon. Was there something like that or
what was the dynamic like when you made the decision to really become a triathlon swim
Gerry: I think most coaches we sort of live in our own little bubble and don’t pay a lot of
attention to what people are saying or thinking. At least I don’t very much So I really don’t
know what other were thinking at least from my perspective and I think from an intrinsic value
I enjoyed coaching triathlete a little bit more. For one simple reason they race all the time. And
what that meant was always a measure back to me as to how is my coaching performance?
How am I doing a as a coach, are they improving? As opposed to when your coaching some
masters programs at least many athletes don’t they swim for health and fitness and exercise
and just a small subset competes. So there was never really a complete feedback mechanism
as there is with triathletes plus open water is my specialty so the preparation for a triathlon is
more my daily work.
Sam: Yeah. And you, you were able to really transform your own experience in swimming into
triathlon and did you become a triathlete yourself at that point or did you really just focus on
the coaching side?
Just focused on the coaching side for the reason of, of the main reason I think it very
difficult to be a, ah, a full time coach and athlete that wants to do well. I believe we have a
quantifiable amount of, if it could be quantified but a finite amount of emotional energy and
we start portioning that too much of a healthy dose into ourselves as an athlete then it take
away from the ability, at least it does for me it takes away from the ability be a better coach.
So I chose not to really compete and once my swimming career was over then I may do a
little one race a year here and there but for the most part my energies is spent coaching the
triathletes making them better swimmers ultimately better triathlete. Swim has a better carry
over to other aspects of the sport, get onto the bike with fresher legs, and fresher body and it
a pretty big carry over to the run, big aerobic benefits. Big engine as they call it that comes
from being a good swimmer.
Absolutely. Well Gerry I think you brought up a really interesting point that I’d like to dig
into for the benefit of coaches and the sport and also for athletes who are considering being
coaches. I’m actually good friends and I’ve worked a lot with Bobby McGee the running coach
and Bobby use to a little bit of triathlon. But Bobby, Bobby said something really interesting to
me, he’s coached Olympians like you and helped out a lot of the top triathlon coaches with
their athletes. And he said, “triathlon is a very funny sport because it the only sport where
coaches try to athletes.” And there is even and it’s not so bad if you do it recreationally and
I’ve heard a lot of coaches who’ve been considering coming to our camps say to us, “I just
think that I need to be a good athlete to set the example for my athletes.” And it’s a credibility
issue and I really, I really kind of scratch my head when I think about that because if you look
at the assumption about an athlete and what they want from an athlete coach relationship. I
think a lot of coaches might be a little bit misguided in the belief that they have to be good at
triathlon or pour some energy. The insight you just gave I think was really important because
I’ve heard that from Bobby who I really respect and also felt that myself. I originally started
Triathlon Research because I wanted to become a better triathlete and found that running the
business side of the sport became so emotionally draining and allconsuming that I had to
focus on that rather than my own triathlon ambitions.
Well Bobby is the top of the mountain and in the coaching realm and I certainly hold
him in high esteem and respect what he does have to say. I think the sport itself has created
and so instead of a lock of a better term a pool of coaches that are divided into. Very few of us
are full time where you can make a living doing it. And then you have this plethora of coaches
that are really part timers that enjoy giving and sharing their knowledge and then there is a
subset of those that are athletes also. So it’s, it’s just where the, it’s where the sport is at the
moment from a professional standpoint in the development of it’s, of a coaching aspect. I
suspect in a few more years or maybe in another couple of decades you would see more full
time coaches and less part time coaches. That’s just the normal evolution of, of sort of
business development and that’s where we are presently with it being the other way around
less Bobbys and more part timers. But it doesn’t mean the part timers don’t have good, good
information to share and so on. It just would not be as qualitative as Bobby who’s just been
around for a long time and that’s their focus. It’s a 100% of their focus.
Sam: Yeah and I think that’s an important decision not to be critical of that like you just said
but that’s just the reality of where the sport is coaches have not yet found away in mask to
make a living being a triathlon coach so a lot of them have to be coaches on the side to
supplement a little bit of their income to help them pay for the sport of triathlon which is a big
investment from an equipment perspective and just all the calories you consume and the
races you do. It all kind of adds up and a lot of people that I know that who coaching are really
just doing it on the side to help pay the triathlon bill.
Gerry: Yeah correct and if someone wants to be a good coach or really invest their time and
make this a part of their future you know there ways to go about doing that. And I remember a
few years ago guy came to me and wanted to be, wanted to become actually a nutritionist and
asked my opinion and thoughts on it. He was changing careers and I told him it’s one of those
fields that low barrier but if you want to do I well I’ll introduce you to someone and go spend
two or three years and be an intern with them. Well his answer was, “I don’t have time to do
that. I just want to be a nutritionist tomorrow type of thing.” And coaching has that low barrier
to entry also and if those who want to be good coaches need to go spend time doing
stewardship with coaches who are full time like Bobby. Until there’s, until there is another way
to go about doing it well, but at the moment that one of the ways to do it. So that might be
helpful to some of the part timers.
Yeah and I think that coaches who do it really enjoy it and they have a passion for it
and they’re also probably a bit apprehensive about whether they can ever really get paid. And
one that I felt was pretty eliminating when I spoke to Bobby was he said for the first ten years
of his life run coaching career he was coaching people for just pennies really. And said, “I felt
bad for actually getting paid doing something I love to do.” So I think there is probably that in
all endurance sport coaching. I know probably in the swim coach world it’s probably the same
way but it is a bit more of a mature coaching scene that the triathlon world just because the
sport has been around in Olympics for a while.
And certainly evolved since the Olympics and the sport is more professional and
coaching is more professional and athletes get better guidance today than they did ten years
ago and ten years prior so. Over all and thanks to guys like you putting on the type of camps
that you’re doing it’s helpful for the audience.
Sam: Yeah, well and that’s, that’s one of the big missions or visions I see for … the people
out there, you know the guys who are on the, on the business side of this sport is just
everyone should work together to bring triathlon to a larger audience because I think that,
there is ninety nine per cent of the country is still not, or like ninety seven per cent of the
country is still not doing triathlons and, the pie is really growing. It is a rapidly growing sport.
It’s, I’ve heard, heard it called the new golf because golf is in decline in this country and
people are going for more extreme, versions of, athletic pursuit to feel more connected to their
own, I think, humanity because of the rise of the comfort of the modern world; we, we just feel
guilty sometimes for the lack of exertion we have in our day to day life.
Gerry: Absolutely, agreed.
Sam: Well Gerry you’ve dealt with thousands of swimmers and triathletes and what is your,
what is your favourite part of… well first of all how did you get to the point where you have
hundreds and sometimes, people showing up for your weekly sessions and you’ve also been
extremely popular in the triathlon and swim camp circuit, tell us for a bit about how you
manage to grow that community out, in, in Los Angeles and you know what you’ve learn in, in
the process of building that
You know Sam I think the main thing is commitment… it’s, whether you’re an athlete
or you’re a professional at any job, if you’re committed and dedicated to what you’re doing
and you’re, you’re emotionally committed especially over time if you’re doing good work,
people find you. So, you know, week sessions, once I started those several years ago it grew
rather quickly and there were a number of sessions occurring along beaches but they were
more loosely run and, sort of more athlete driven; let’s get together with a couple of buddies
and go swim a mile or whatever it may be. Those are generally Sam, pretty ineffective
workouts because they’re good one or two times after that they, the term I like to use is
they’re lower value. It’s not a big return on your time investment, doing you know a straight
one mile swim in open water, so you know I took the knowledge that I had from when I raced
and coached over the years and created a very specific, targeted open water training session
for triathletes and in a pretty short order it grew quickly.
We have at any given… we run these… We only run them six months of the year, in southern
California when the water is a bit warmer and , during the middle of the week when people go
to work and on any given Wednesday morning it’ll be a couple hundred people there, before
work. And we run twenty four sessions a season, for six week blocks and each block builds
on itself and… yeah… almost a beginner I had to cap who can actually come in to the… who
can enter the training session because it actually got too large a couple of years ago and, so
we have a sort of a minimum standard for you to get in now and all the way through, pros
obviously and we just divide, the group into sub groups and based on speed and run a very
efficient, structured workout. So its very specific to the needs of a triathlete and like anything
else, you do it week in, week out, once a month, year in, year out and you end up building
your success. So we become reasonably wellknown, in the triathlon circles, somewhat
wellknown I guess. When athletes come into town they contact us and come join in our, join
in our sessions.
Sam: Yeah Los Angeles is, it seems to be a, quite a wave station for the triathlon community
to, just move and… and, set up. I think, I was talking to whoever is running the L.A. Tri Club
and talking about all the different celebrity triathletes who’ve come through the area it seems
like, you know the Hollywood of triathlon in a way where everyone just has to go through
Gerry: Well, the, the Los Angeles area is not a… yes there, there a lot of triathletes but
interestingly no. There is a very low professional triathlete base; it has not become a hot bay
for pros to, to gather and are just – [Sam interjects]
Pass through is what I think, is what I heard.
Right, whether they’re going to a … a … a race in, you know in San Diego or wherever
it may be, they may stop and get away or something but it’s not a bed where triathletes, lay
down their roots and there, there are several reasons for it; the point is it’s not there yet.
And what is, what is the reason in you saying “not there yet”? Do you think Los Angeles
can ever become a hub like San Diego Boulder or is it , a bit of a bridge too far based on
training area availability and other things, or, you know; what’s the, what’s the situation there?
It has nothing to do with geography. You know I just went to see the movie McFarland.
Which is… I … I don’t know if you’ve seen it, it’s, a running movie. It’s about these kids in the,
the Central Valley of California that were, that are, children of migrant Mexican families and
they very poor community and they spend their time, picking fruits and vegetables in the fields
and a coach came in and created multiple winning cross country teams out of these kids. So
geography has little to do, it’s a variable but not with Los Angeles. The main, the main issue is
there is not enough, there are not enough coaches around that are coaching full time. They’re
coaches but, they’re not coaching full time. So, you know, to get professional athletes to come
to a location and make it their stable location you need one, good quality coaches and two full
time good quality coaches and we don’t have full time good quality coaches in Los Angeles
Sam: That’s interesting to hear.
We don’t, it’s just that we don’t, we have some but it’s not to the level of a Bobby
McGee or Matt Dixon or Sara Lindley or Darren Smith or… and names that most people
know, well that’s what we need.
And you, you mention some of those names and I’m gonna pick on, pick on one of
them, Matt Dixon is, is very well known in the world of triathlon and, you know you have a very
strong relationship with him. What, where did your, relationship with Matt begin and what do
you guys do together now; cause I know there’s an extent of cooperation there?
Matt was living in Los Angeles, oh gosh it must be fifteen years ago or so, at least a
dozen years and at that time he was a professional triathlete and he joined our, he joined my
swim program. So I coached him for a season and Matt is one of those athletes… background
in swimming and he didn’t really need much swim coaching, he was such an elite swimmer
already but he enjoyed and I think learned quite a bit from the specificity of the coaching that
was quite a bit different than any other swim coaching he had either received or had done
Anyone can do ten four hundreds or three fifteen hundreds that’s, that’s just pool swimming;
it’s how you do them. What’s the matrix to them what is that, what does that set need to look
like for a triathlete. So he had never done any of the types of training that he did with us and
that started our relationship and then when Matt moved to Northern California and started
Purplepatch Fitness we , he contacted me, he was putting on a camp and subsequently since
that time five years ago. So we’ve worked together on all of, all of his camps… and… so we
have a camper relationship and then many of Matt’s athletes that are from outer state or outer
country flow through L.A. and spend a year or two; at least the ones who need to improve
their swimming spend a year or two here and then they move up to Matt, to get his full
guidance. So we’ve become sort of, a filter, an assistance for him… many of his amateurs
That’s interesting and, and you know Matt’s one of those coaches that I’ve not had the,
the, privilege of working with yet on our education programme but I’ve heard quite a bit of, of,
you know great things about him from many different sources and, and you’ve obviously
worked with him. Talk about little… talk a little bit about, you know the state; because you are
an observer and you see, other coaches, other coaches working in this space, so talk a little
bit about what you see as you know as a part of the triathlon coaching space. You know you
see Matt come in and as you’ve been assume coach observing and working with triathlon
coaches how, how do you see things evolving especially at the elite level? Cause I think that’s
kinda burning a path for the, all these part time coaches that can follow.
Well to become an elite coach you need to start off being… (inaudible mumble) at
some point being a part time coach and getting… somewhere along the way. So maybe the
place to start is actually the entry point to coaching and as I stated earlier the entry point is a
pretty low barrier so almost anyone could become a triathlon coach. And, and, and the sport if
you took it all the way back to the eighties there were literally no coaches. There were a
couple of athletes sort of advising others and then, few more coaches started getting involved
and it was generally athletes sharing their knowledge during their career or after their career
with others. And then if we even fast forward that now to 2000 when triathlon got into
Olympics, once you get that stamp of endorsement, approval of a quality sport now, now you
have serious coaches starting to look at your, your sport.
Serious coaches meaning, indigenous coaches for each sport of swim, bike and run starting
to look at the sport of triathlon. So you now have swimming coaches being involved in
triathlon, you have biking coaches being involved in triathlon; you have running coaches like
Bobby being involved in triathlon. So quickly you had a, an elevated level of professionalism
in this sport because of 2000. Meaning because of triathlon getting in the Olympics in 2000.
So I think you’ve had this quick, quick ramp up on the coaching, the, the coaching level over
the last dozen or fifteen years and that’s only gonna get better and better; you know as we
move forward. So you know presently, you know they’re, there a handful of super fantastic
coaches like Bobby and Matt and so on around, but that will expand with time and, and, you
know more opportunity for everyone so it’s, it’s progressing; it just takes time. It’s a new sport
that’s, look at the reality of it.
This sport started in whatever year it was ’77, ’78 if you wanna use that as the official time,
there is history before that but let’s just call that a start date when they did that first Iron Man
in, in, in Hawaii, we use that. It’s it’s a young sport, so move out one generation from now and
things will look a whole lot different than they do presently. You know, Matt and I were
chatting just a year and I said you know we we’re doing things that we think are, are terrific
and helping athletes and so on and whatever we’re doing right now I think we’re gonna look
pretty silly in about twenty years [chuckles], you know or maybe even five, but you know that’s
the beauty of evolution. So guys like Matt and Bobby and so will keep their ears open and
their eyes open, continue to learn as you go and evolve with all the new knowledge and
continue to be good coaches into the future and sorta pass the baton along to all the, the up
and comers to lift the sport even further and help athletes more.
That’s interesting that you, you bring up I think one of my favourite points about
coaching is , this ethic among the elite coaches especially, I hear this comment or phrase
which is “Most of what I’m doing is probably not totally right or even close but it’s the best we
know at the time and, and we’re just gonna you know put it out there and, and be open to the
fact that we don’t know everything and as we continue to, to grow in the sport that, that people
will come in and innovate and come up with better ways and you know I think if you have that
mind set as a coach you, you’re, you’re gonna be part of that whereas a lot of coaches at the
lower level, come in learn a bunch of information think they’ve got all the answers and then
become a little bit closed off to, the possibility that they might not have, everything dialled in.
Talk a little bit more about that, I guess the selfconfidence to be able to say most of what
we’re doing is probably not wrong or probably not totally right and you know how long does it
take you to get to that point as a coach?
Well I think I got to that point as a person a long time ago [chuckles] first and,
especially as an athlete you… if you were the greatest you’d be winning all the time. So I
mean… it’s humbling being, being an athlete and winning some and losing some, and so on.
So you quickly get to learn that you don’t have all the answers or don’t know all the solutions
and, we’re human beings we’re not going to. That’s normal so you embed that into your
personal philosophy and along the way share ideas and, continue to be open to learning. You
know some of the best ideas are coming up from guys who are now coming into the sport as
coaches, some may be close minded but some are, they’re so fresh and so open minded
they’re thinking of things that perhaps we haven’t thought of. So it’s good to associate with
everyone at, at every level and listen to, you know what’s being put out into all three sports;
swim, bike and run.
Sam: Yeah. Well Gerry, you know, as a coach you started, you started coaching right after
college is that correct?
My last year of college yes.
Ok, and what, what did you, what did you study in college? I mean was there ever any
doubt that you were gonna be a coach or was that just something you knew you wanted to do
from an early age?
Well I finished college with a business degree and started coaching my last year of
college and continued coaching throughout while growing in the business world for a number
of years. So I was one of those part-time coaches initially, for probably half a dozen years and
then became a fulltime coach after that… but I also ran two, two different… I’m probably a little
bit different than most, but the point was I knew I always wanted to be a coach; it’s what I
enjoyed doing and happened to be ok at it according to others. So you stick with what you’re,
you’re good at.
Yeah; well I think that, you know coming to that realisation early, I know that talking to
the great coaches in this sport that I respect all seemed to have come to that conclusion very
early that’s what they wanna do. What advice do you have for someone who’s young just
getting started in, in their professional career and really wants to be a coach but is not quite
sure if, if its viable and if their parents are gonna disown them for, you know spending their
college education on a coaching career, rather than, you know the thing that their parents
might’ve think they should be doing in terms of a quote on quote profession, whatever that is
You know that’s sort of personal philosophy and then what people… at some point… I
think at some point many of us recognise in our lives that… or I, I hope many recognise and
come to the realization that if you, if you can find something that you enjoy doing if it happens
to be coaching, it happens to be a firefighter, if it happens to be a flight attendant, if it happens
to be a doctor, doesn’t really matter; if you find something that you really enjoy doing that’s
where you need to put your energy and your passion and your time into it. You’ll find a way to
make a living, ‘because it’s not work, you’d wanna do it all the time [chuckling]. So, so the
thing is, they key is, whether you’re twelve years old, twenty two or fifty two in my case,
search that thing out; start asking what do I wanna do? What do I wanna wake up and do
every single day; and go wow this is awesome? I don’t even have to…I’m never gonna say,
you know, unlikely would say, gosh I just don’t wanna do that tomorrow. What’s the thing that
makes you tick? If you can find that then you know; that and to getting the education and how
you go about doing it. Search out what that is.
Sam: Yeah, and I think your question is more related to how does a kid tell a parent I wanna
be a coach.
Gerry: Parents have been around the block, so they also recognise well gosh I’ve been a
parent for twenty years or whatever it may be I’m either happy with my job or I’m unhappy
with it and maybe life could have had a different course if I followed what my son or daughter
is saying here. So parents are also reasonably open minded, they could listen to that
message and say ok, Johnny or Jane, go for it go chase your dream.
Yeah and I think that the, the advice e that you have, especially what really resonates is
“Find that thing that you wanna do that just doesn’t feel like work because… I, I think I’ve
talked about this couple of times on different podcasts… before I started full time in, in my
business, entrepreneurship career, I was, I had my day job and it took me a while to you
know… and I loved that day job, I was in the army for thirteen years and really got a lot of
tremendous experience and life experience; but towards the end I realised that wasn’t my
passion in life… for the rest of my life and… and…think once you hit that point in life you can
really enter a bit of a funk when you’re not doing that which you’re passionate about; and the
reason I love triathlon and… even though I’m not doing it because I’m doing the, the industry
side of it now fulltime… it really helped me clarify what I wanted to do. Lot of times… because
I… it was a passion of mine… lot of times spent on the bike, spent running, just to think about
what am I really trying to do with my life and it gave me that space… I think that disconnect
from the modern world and you know, connection to your mind your body and your spirit
which happens when you’re doing them dirty sports to figure that out the, you know… if you’re
listening to this, it’s a common refrain I like to say, you know, triathlon is a metaphor for life,
and the way you do triathlon is the way you do life and if you wanna change the way you do
your life, change the way you do your triathlon first, it’s a safe place to experiment.
Yeah. A good little saying I… when I coach one of the things I tell our athletes, you
know the hour or the hour and a half that I see you in the pool is a reflection of the other
twenty three hours of your day. So if you’re late to workout you’re typically late to other things.
If you’re, if you’re the person that’s sitting on the wall missing the swim set when the going
gets tough, like waves when the going gets tough in life you sit it out…[chuckles]… you know,
you know, one hour is just a reflection of the other twenty three. Fix that hour and you can fix
the other twenty three.
Yeah and that’s, that’s why I think coaching is, is such a, such a powerful, I think a
rewarding, rewarding profession and might be seductive to people to pursue that career, you
know the ability to take someone aside and say look if you can just learn how to change your
habits in this little time you spend with me look what it will do for the rest of your life. And I
know when I was teaching at the, the Military Academy, getting to teaching cadets just for the
small time I get to interact with them was really one of the most rewarding times of my life and
if you haven’t had the privilege of, of teaching and giving back in coaching and you have the
opportunity presented to do that, I think it’s, it’s a really special experience to participate in.
Sam: Well Gerry what’s your… tell me one of your favourite stories of, of coaching. I
remember I was speaking to Jamie Turner, Gwen Jorgenson’s coach and he’s obviously
coached World Champions and Olympians and he told me this story about, his… his favourite
story had nothing to do with an athlete who won a big race but someone who kinda figured
out through sport what his real passion in life was the absolute special moment in coaching…
you know kind of epitomises what makes you tick.
You know Sam I, I received fortunately those in transit rewards often and, and they’re
not… they’re all so good that… that I… I can’t, it, it’s… you know, it’s similar to a relationship
you will see out of a relationship what you put into it. So I happen to receive a lot in return,
from coaching, so I have many such experiences. So to pick one would somewhat minimize
many of the others but I’ll give you two quick ones that just sort of happen to pop in my mind.
One has to do with actually my girlfriend who was a, a… who was a runner, or who is a runner
and started doing triathlons a number of years ago and swimming like many triathletes,
swimming is her weakness, and the one that she has the least confidence in and sort of the,
the norm of many triathletes and we were… and, she, she developed herself well enough to
be sort of coming around the top quarter of the, of her age group in a race, in the swim
portion. Said there were a hundred people in her age group, she’d be twenty fifth, thirtieth or
so out of the water, made some good, good improvements.
So we’re at a race in San Diego and when everyone was carolled together and they’re getting
ready to start and there’s probably three or four minutes before her heat took place, I said you
know what I’m noticing something out here that’s taking place… you know in the water so
here’s what I’d like you to do; when everyone runs in I’d like you to run, towards me which is
about thirty five yards away from everybody else and I’d like you to swim off course for about
three minutes and, and she looked at me because of the trust and the confidence, she said
“Ok, what do you want me to do?” and I told her what I wanted her to do based on this sort of
three levels of currant, currants that I saw offshore and fast forward without much details.
Here are two hundred women running into the water and here is one person running away
from everybody else and entering the water in a different place and swimming intentionally off
course and people are sort of pointing and frowning and wondering what’s taking place.
Well fast forward she got to that first buoy in third or fourth place and ended up being the sixth
person out of the water and it was a combined age group, so a couple of age groups. So she
ended up being one of the fastest… I had one of the fastest performances at that particular
race which had nothing, which had little to do… well I shouldn’t say nothing… which had little
to do with her swimming ability but to do with, with trusting her coach and following a plan,
and seeing an outcome which then gave her tremendous amount of confidence and also
helped her realise that it’s not only about how fast you can swim in the pool; that’s one of the
ingredients but there are a whole bunch of other ingredients that go into being a good triathlon
swimmer. Big difference between being a good triathlon swimmer and being a good swimmer
because open water is very dynamic, or can be and pool swimming is very static. So, so that
was one, it was an easy measure and obviously she was proud of it. Another one is when a
guy had moved here a few years ago, Sean Jefferson is his name and Sean was a pro and
was recruited by Barb Lindquist out of the Collegiate Program and Sean was an NCAA
Champion, won the mile, or collegiate mile, three fifty five or three fifty six mile, run mile in
college and like most athletes again, swimming was his weakness so he ended up moving to
Los Angeles and his swimming was actually ok by the time he moved here but he was still
about four minutes behind the lead athletes that he needed to be with; and to be an ITU
athlete , which is what he is… and Olympic distance athlete you can’t give up more than thirty
seconds on the swim and you need to be connected to the front pack because it’s then a
triathlete bike and then you know, everyone is off the bike together to race on the run.
And two months before Sean moved to Los Angeles the, the last race that he did he was a
little over four minutes behind Hunter Kemper which is our three or four time Olympian for the
US on the swim and fast forward one year later after being in our program for a full season
was the Los Angeles triathlon and he exited the water approximate… not knowing the exact
amount… somewhere around thirty, thirty two seconds behind Hunter Kemper [clears
throat]… that’s a big, big, big, big improvement in a very, very short period of time and that
doesn’t happen too often. So you know… and those are a lot of… and yes we did a lot of
swimming a lot of training and we had to put a ton of time in like everybody else has to but we
did a lot of specific training to, to the needs of the triathlete swimmer; and that gave him a ton
of confidence therefore make up a lot of ground. I’m sure if he raced Hunter Kemper in the
pool he’d probably still lose by two minutes over a mile, but in open water that deficit was
reduced pretty significantly.
And now, one more thing in my mind pretty quickly I’ll just make it a short one. There’s a guy
who came to camp, a clinic that I put on a couple of years ago and he had a running
background also; he was a decent runner in college one forty nine eight metre runner. Young
guy, maybe a year or two out of college and he’d never swam before… I shouldn’t say
never… he swam in the pool but he had no swim background or swim training, nothing, and
he decided he wanted to do triathlons. So he heard about our program, took a clinic and after
I give the lectures and put everyone in the water to swim, I looked at him to swim and I said
“Oh, wow”… I can just… you know, the eye of a coach that’s been doing this for a long time I
said “This guy is gonna be pretty good” and… at that point he was swimming about a minute
forty, a minute forty five per hundred yards… let’s push that out to maybe an hour thirty an
hour thirty five for an Iron Man swim.
Fast forward two years later, fifty five minutes for an Iron Man swim at Iron Man Arizona, fifty
four minutes, fifty five minutes. So pretty big improvement in two years, but he’s one in ten
thousand; that doesn’t happen too often. But I was able to notice it in the beginning and told
him that you’re gonna swim an hour in, in an Iron Man and he said… after he swam fifty four
minutes he said “I proved you wrong I went fifty four minutes.” [chuckles]. I don’t mind being
wrong on that one.
Yeah, please, please… please make me… you know, I think every coach wants to
under, under promise, over deliver to their athlete… it’s… and when your athlete allows you to
do that, that’s great.
Gerry: And Brad would have done well with any, any coach. He’s one of those… those old
sayings that I had, do the coach make the athlete or do the athlete make the coach and he’s
one of those athletes that if he swam with any other decent coach he would have done very
well. He’s just heavily gifted.
Yeah and I think that’s a really… really important distinction to make as a coach. Cause
people come in all different levels and they come in all different… And I think three
examples… the wonderful thing about the three examples you just gave is complete different
type of athlete your girlfriend who was obviously not a natural comfortable swimmer and then
the last example you gave was someone who is a natural or had a lot of developed
experience at an early age in swimming. And to become for temple coaching across that
range is really, I think important because a lot of people the either want to work with
Olympians or beginners there not a lot of in between sometime. How do you deal with the
different levels that you have to work with? What is that like as a coach?
Gerry: It’s the same, you need the same ingredients. You need commitment, you need follow
through, you need consistency, you need… the coach is the same. The specificity of protocol
are somewhat the same, you might have you know, one person is in just a little more
progressed in their career a little more seasoned (48:01). Everyone is going to become better
if they choose to make a commitment to doing it. Once they make that big emotional
commitment here is the path decide if you want to walk on it or not.
Gerry: The key distinction though is an amateur the great majority, you know, this is not their
career, this is not their job they have a family, they have a career, they have other aspect of
life that need to be balanced in and integrated and weaved into their athletics. The
professional that’s their job so have to be committed and they have to spend a certain amount
of time. For the amateur it’s a matter of proportioning their time properly and integrate it into
their lifestyle. In the other aspects of their lives, the professional it’s a little bit different it their
job so get it done.
Exactly! I think that’s a great, great way to summarize the distinctions. As a coach you
need to be able relate with your athletes in order to deliver the value that the coaches or your
athletes are paying you to get and that honestly goal and athletes. Results come in all shapes
and sizes but I think the thing that as a coach you have to focus on is this sport, making my
triathlete a better person in the rest of their life. Is it healthy for them the time they put into it?
Is it helping their relationship of hurting them? Is it helping them in their profession of hurting
them? You know look at all that thing in total and help that athlete get for A to Z. Whatever
that goal is, whatever that… The way you get them to that it’s important (49:55).
Right and the difference would be… one of the distinguishers would be if an amateur
doesn’t show up to a morning 5:30 AM swim, I’m not going to get on the telephone and call
them. But if a profession… a pro doesn’t show up you better believe I’m gonna call them or
I’m gonna email them. It’s your job why weren’t you there? [Chuckles] If you didn’t show up for
work tomorrow what do you think your employer does?
Sam: Exactly, exactly. Well Gerry thank you very much I think it’s been tremendously
helpful, you know for me to be able to share with the audience you philosophy on swimming
and I know that people are looking forward to working with you. We actually…are gonna have
you show up at our Tucson camp. Looking forward to have you run our swim education
program for that camp and seeing, you know, you working with individual athletes is gonna be
real special to, you know just see you work and get some footage of that for the Triathlon
Research video library we’re building but also just to see the impact you have on individual
swimmers as part of that is going to be exciting.
Gerry: Well thank you I’m really looking forward to it. I have a lot of good little, good little
nuggets share and one of the valuable things I after doing this for a long time is you’re able to
distil a lot of information down into very key and concise aspect of topic. So you can remove a
lot of circle around the bull’s eye and just deal with the bull’s eye. So we’ll get to, we’ll get to
share some of that next month.
Great! Well Gerry thanks again and Triathlon Research Radio listeners thank you for
tuning in and investing in your own education as a triathlete with another episode of Triathlon
Research Radio and we definitely, you know, invite you to go to triathlonresearch.org. We are
just finishing a overhaul of our website to get ready for, really an exciting new year of camps
and educational opportunities for triathlete all levels. We hope that you’ll take the opportunity
to share and so look forward to having you on the next episode watch for that. If you are not
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this can be delivered to you in your sleep and you wake up with the next episode in your
phone. And also I would encourage you if you enjoyed this episode please leave a comment
in ITunes and let us know how, you know how this helped you as triathlete and forward a copy
of it to friends if that was the case so. So Gerry thanks again for joining us and looking
forward to working with you and seeing you work very soon.
Thank you sir, see you next month.
Sam: Thank you Gerry and thank you Triathlon Research Radio listener, we’ll see you next
Hi! It’s Mark Allen 6 time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. I hope you enjoyed today’s
show. I recently participated in the Triathlon Research Boulder Summer Camp, and I spent
time with athletes on the final day of the camp teaching them how to quiet their mind on race
day to realize their full potential. To get a free copy of my new book the art of competition,
leave a review on iTunes and we will send you the book. All you have to do is email a copy of
your review to [email protected] and Triathlon Research will send to you the book.
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