Nearly 200 triathlon and multisport coaches from across the United States converged on Atlanta, Georgia, over the weekend for the 2016 USA Triathlon Art & Science of Triathlon International Coaching Symposium, held at the Omni Atlanta Hotel at CNN Center.
For two days, multisport experts shared their knowledge and experiences with USA Triathlon Certified Coaches, covering topics such as nutrition and hydration, altitude training, heart health, open water swimming and coaching for youth and paratriathletes.
“I think hearing all the different speakers, it reminds me how much knowledge you need to do triathlon coaching,” said Carrie Smith, who had coached for six years prior to taking a break to attend physical therapy school. “It’s hard to have that on your own, so having all these different resources and kind of a community to pull from to help you coach is really important.”
Smith was named the winner for her presentation during Friday’s Tri Tank competition, based on the popular "Shark Tank" reality TV show. Coaches attending the symposium were invited to pitch their solutions to a particular case scenario in order to generate a thought-provoking discussion among the coaches in the room as a learning opportunity. The selected coaches, one for each scenario, were given 15 minutes to present on their solution to that particular scenario.
Smith presented on a scenario in which a 26-year-old elite athlete cramped on the run and did not finish the race. She focused on addressing nutrition of the athlete as well as any neuromuscular impairment that may have impacted performance. Stephanie Grasky claimed the second-place prize for a presentation on long-course racing, while Marry Ritter took third in a discussion on a youth triathlete.
The two-day event was packed with information on coaching swim, bike and run, but attendees also had an opportunity to hear about the state of the sport from USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach. Urbach spoke on Friday afternoon and highlighted top-line initiatives for the year ahead, including a renewed focus on youth participation, women in triathlon and short-course (sprint and Olympic-distance) racing.
“It was encouraging to hear Rob (Urbach) talk about there being an emphasis on short-course racing. That’s pretty exciting,” said Mike Jotautas, a swim coach turned triathlon coach from Louisville, Kentucky. “In Louisville, we coach a lot of beginners. Not everybody can come into this thing and jump right into a long-distance race.”
Another highlight of the weekend for the crowd was the opportunity to hear from coaches at the highest level of the sport, including USA Triathlon’s High Performance department and Jamie Turner, coach of 2016 Olympic Champion Gwen Jorgensen.
“[Jamie] lets Gwen be the driver in a lot of ways, and he’s just there as a mentor and a guide for her,” said Vickie Yeingst, a Level II Certified Coach who has been working in the sport for more than 10 years. “He lets her have the reins, and I like that about him. To me, that’s the essence of a good coach, is when you let the athlete flourish, and you let them do the work, but you guide them. That makes a great coach.”
After listening to a few of the key sessions, individuals like first-time symposium attendee Andrew Dollar planned to immediately apply what they had learned to the athletes they coach.
“It’s a great collection of the intelligent minds behind our high performance teams, and wonderful presentations to allow all of us to learn a lot more,” said Dollar, who is based in the Nashville area and has coached for nearly seven years. “There’s been a good amount of information on nutrition strategies, looking at nutrition from an outside-the-box perspective. I think Dr. Lim provided some great information on hydration strategies that I think I’ll be implementing tomorrow with some of my athletes.”
The Art & Science of Triathlon International Coaching Symposium is held biennially, and it’s a unique opportunity for coaches to expand their skill set while networking with others in the sport. Once the event ends, coaches leave armed with valuable knowledge to revitalize their coaching techniques for the upcoming season.
“I just enjoy coming to learn,” Jotautas said. “It’s something I almost wish was every year, just to get around the gurus and hear what’s new.”