We often hear about how hard life is on the road is for athletes. For British winter sport athletes it is really hard! Apart from perhaps Curling and Skating where there are training opportunities at home (although they still spend many a month travelling!), being a Brit in a winter sport means lots of time on the road. A full time ski racer can expect to be out of the country for 7/8 months a year (maybe more) and this is just a necessary sacrifice they have to make. But with every ski team, bobsleigh team or any team there will be a coach, sometimes a team of coaches alongside also making that same sacrifice.
What of the demands placed upon these coaches? I’ll share some of my experiences and I hope you enjoy the read!
I got to spend many a month on the road in my trusty VW transporter. In one season I drove from the very bottom of Spain to the wilds of Norway, well it was just outside Oslo but you get the picture. I spent more time in the van with the athletes than I did anywhere else. It became a second home. The picture below summed up most of a season!
Perhaps the hardest thing for coaches (and athletes alike) when on the road are those months away from friends and family. In many cases athletes can’t wait to get away from home and out to the hills but it is not always so easy for the coaches. Many leave behind wives, girlfriends, children and this time apart can put a real strain on personal relationships. As many athletes get older they deal with the same issues. You are in constant search of a decent internet connection for that skype call home, thinking about when the next break in the programme is to allow for a visit, planning meal times around peoples schedules who are thousands of miles away so you can squeeze in that call.
I was a solo coach. For the most part I was on my own with the athletes and whilst there were always occasions to have a beer with other coaches at events, you life can be swallowed up and it can be very isolating. Often, athletes are part of a team so have that form of support network but if you are a coach on your own this doesn’t exist. I spent one season based in Nendaz, Switzerland which provides my team with a base and somewhere to call home for the season. It’s not home and never feels like home but it did provide that sense of routine which helped me do my job. I was also able to make some friends in resort which helped me gain a sense of normality. In short, it provided me with the opportunity to speak to people my own age who didn’t give a crap about ski racing.
Living with a group of ski racers is not always easy. You have to deal with the emotional ups and downs, as the athletes have to do with the coaches and sometimes athletes forget that just because we are in the mountains doing an amazing job doesn’t mean we will always be super happy!
It’s a tough life. It’s not 5 star hotels in St Moritz and Zermatt. It’s tiny apartment blocks in places you haven’t ever heard of and occasional nights in the van because you can’t afford a night in hotel on route somewhere. As coaches we know what we are getting in to. We expect this and deal with this as best we can. For me the best thing was text messages. A little and often approach to communicating with folk back home helped me rather than 3 hour emotional skype calls but that is just what worked for me. We do this job for the love of it. Some coaches are well paid and that sacrifice of being away from home is made up by financial reward but for many British coaches this isn’t the case. We do it because we love it!
The image above was a real highlight for me. With both the athletes we set out to achieve the goal of representing Team GB at the 2011 Winter Universiade in Erzurum, Turkey. As a coach, to be there and to share that experience and the feeling of helping athletes achieve their athletic goals is motivation enough to spend those months on the road!