Coaching Association of Canada

Jamie Turner, ChPC - Triathlon

Developing Ownership of Performance in Your Athletes

Triathlon Canada’s adopted Kiwi coach Jamie Turner is “all substance, no fluff” when it comes to the performance of his athletes. He’s taken charge of his own deliverables and roles as a coach so that he can get the job done. He expects that same type of ownership and responsibility from his athletes.

“The group of individuals I coach call themselves the Wollongong Wizards, it’s an identity they’ve created. I’m not included, and I’m glad,” says Jamie. “I don’t expect the athletes to make a contribution to anyone else’s environment. Everything has to be for the individual’s betterment.” This coaching philosophy is based on providing the best training to the individual and doesn’t necessarily center on a team environment or dynamic. The athletes compete for the same medals and Jamie suggests codependence doesn’t create a responsible athlete. He doesn’t ignore the benefits that a training group can provide, but he is quick to point out that ultimately the athletes are responsible for themselves and that there is only room for one person on the top step of the triathlon podium.

“So many athletes externalize the performance; they don’t own it, and they attribute shortcomings to things they can’t control,” says Jamie. Doing so inhibits the athlete from seeing where they can improve. It’s important for them to find ways where they can impact the outcome, a framework called Attribution Theory. Regularly, the athletes will talk and think through scenarios where their problem problem-solving skills are tested. “The water is 24 degrees, it’s 26 degrees outside, and there’s no shade… Go!,” explains Jamie. These exercises help fill gaps in knowledge and help athletes come to their own conclusions. The athletes also work on very individualized skill sets even though they might all be in the same workout session. In the pool, for example, they’ll do 50m sections of what Jamie calls “betterment”, which implies the athlete is working on the components of the skill they need to improve. Instead of homogenizing the group, each athlete gets treated as an individual. This imparts a level of responsibility on the athlete and requires them to take ownership of the tasks. Jamie doesn’t believe in talent in the traditional sense and suggests instead that “it’s more about the athlete taking control and making change happen as a result of a strong work ethic.”

Part of what might contribute to the need for more independence and ownership of performance by the athletes is that, even though Jamie works for Triathlon Canada, and trains the Canadian athletes, there are a number of international athletes incorporated into the Triathlon Canada “fusion model”. It’s still a tight-knit group but there’s no doubt, it’s less familiar than a domestic training group and that in itself develops self-reliance. The fusion model in which the Wollongong Wizards participate has them training and competing all over the world as an international collective of athletes. Their home base is in Spain but they travel to Australia for a large portion of the year, and spend the balance of it competing around the globe, or recovering at home. “There’s a recent trend where many of the consistent medalists are coming from a multinational environment,” says Jamie. It appears to provide the ideal balance of unfamiliarity, to develop self-reliance and that ownership of performance, as well as direct athlete support in a competitive and stimulating daily-training environment.

The final secret to the Wollongong Wizards’s plentiful success lies in Jamie’s ability to “to get the athletes to feel good about themselves, allow themselves to develop a good self-concept and confidence,” says Jamie. It’s certainly not all tough love and independence then, and Jamie is clear that he does what he does, not for himself, but wholeheartedly for the athletes. “Winning: It’s what the athletes strive for, so for me as a coach I’m simply elated by what the athletes can extract from themselves on game day.”