Coaching Association of Canada

Nicolas Gill, ChPC - Judo

Double Olympic medallist and now High Performance Director and Head Coach of the national team, Nicolas Gill became a coach to be able to continue to earn his living by practicing his favourite sport. As a fierce competitor, this transition from athlete to coach has enabled him to remain close to the competition and to pass his vast knowledge on to the next generation of judokas.

Nicolas admits that at the beginning, his point of reference was often his own career as an athlete and that this helped him understand what his athletes were experiencing. For example, at the 2015 World Championships, Antoine Valois-Fortier, one of his athletes, had to fight for the bronze medal shortly after a disappointing defeat in the semi-final. "I could see what state he was in mentally. I debated about what to say to him, and in the end I decided to say nothing to him. I drew on my own feelings in that situation and knew that, regardless of what anyone said, the message would not have gotten through," he said. The decision was the right one – Antoine won the bronze medal.

But over time, experience accumulates, points of comparison increase and Nicolas draws less on his experience as an athlete and more on his experience as a coach. He quickly realized that to execute, and to understand why and how to execute, are two different things. "As an athlete you do not always understand everything you do, and often there is a big instinctive part," says Nicolas. Reflecting on the how and the why was an important first step in his development. "After that, interpersonal skills, leadership and communication come into play. I had to learn to develop these skills in my work at the club before becoming an elite coach," he said.

Having been a coach at the club before taking on his current role, Nicolas noticed a significant difference. "The margin of error is greater with young people than with elite athletes, it allows me to learn from my mistakes and that the athlete doesn’t need all of my knowledge." As an athlete who has become an elite coach, Nicolas notes that not complicating things is part of the learning. "You have to look for ways to simplify things with young people. At the beginning you realize that you’ll probably only use a very small part of your knowledge and that the solutions are quite simple," he notes.

Nicolas quickly noted that his own level of motivation is not always there to the same degree in the athletes he coaches. "I was naive enough to think that all athletes had the same kind of motivation as I did, that they wanted to become the best in the world and had the motivation to make it happen. I quickly realized that this was not the case. Had I known this when I started, I would have taken a different approach to coaching,” he suggests.

It is important to emphasize that for athletes who become coaches, help from a mentor can be a great asset. "This is the key, because everyone needs more guidance at the beginning. It’s important to have the humility to know that, even as a good athlete, there are many things about the profession that you have to learn. It is much faster to learn if you work with someone you trust," said Nicolas.

Finally, even though he relies less on his experience as an athlete to provide good coaching, Nicolas suggests that this experience is very comforting to the athletes. "I have seen and experienced a great deal as an athlete. They have the impression that I will always have the answer and that there are no unknown situations. I think it’s comforting to always have someone to turn to when you have questions or concerns."