Jonas Tawiah Dodoo is one such coach. He coaches, among others, Olivia Breen, Paralympic bronze medallist Olivia Breen and Sky Academy Sports Scholar.
We spoke to Tawiah about how the program could benefit him and his athletes as the athletics season heats up.
Jonas, first of all, how do your thoughts about the coaching development program benefit you?
Sky Network is a strong network and a strong brand. They brought in Tony Lester and Tony Lycholat. Tony Lester has been involved with this sport for almost as long as my life. Tony Lycholat has been engaged almost in every guise of sport.
He has performed at a high level, has coached, and is very involved in sports science. He has all of these experiences. As a coach, my goal is to coach and manage my athletes well and manage the staff that supports my athletes. Tony Lycholat allows me to listen to his thoughts and understand elite athletes better.
Tony’s knowledge of the latest sports science means I can network with him and ask questions. He can keep me informed about what’s happening in sport science, new thinking, and how to apply what I know. It is an immeasurable blessing to have them as mentors. They have been successful in their work areas, and I want to be as successful as their success.
The second is the budget and financial support I need to continue my education. I can meet with Tony and learn from him.
My entire career, from my master’s to my current role with UKA and the UK Sport apprenticeship program, has been filled with opportunities to travel the world to learn what the best people know about a particular subject or area. This means I am always in front of the curve and don’t wait. I am constantly learning, and I continue to improve the things I do.
A PS2 coin has a phrase that says, “standing on the shoulders and giants”. This is huge for me because all my mentors have been experts in their fields. Although I still make mistakes throughout my career, I might make two or three instead of seven yearly mistakes and learn from them the following year. I have mentors who helped me avoid making mistakes, and I now apply my knowledge to my training immediately. It pays off.
The Sky programme will allow me to continue learning exponentially, so we will likely see more performances from Olivia (Ujah) and Chijindu(Ujah).
Do you consider it a validation of your training methods when you see your athletes run under 10 seconds in 100m?
It gives me confidence and encourages me to keep doing what I do. But, even before Chijindu ran it, other athletes ran very fast last Saturday. It makes me more confident in my beliefs, but it also confirms to other athletes that they are doing the right thing and are in the right place.
They see Chijindu’s progress and the obstacles that have been placed in front of him regarding injuries, lifestyle and training application. They realize that it will happen if they genuinely believe in themselves and are patient. It’s great for me and my self-confidence, but it’s even better to help other athletes and boost their confidence. They will be rewarded if they keep the faith and follow through.
You now coach some very high-level athletes, but how did your first coaching experience begin?
At university, I began coaching women’s rugby. In addition, I was also doing power work for the men’s team. I was able to meet many different kinds of athletes through this experience. Many athletes have different abilities, and I had to learn how to deal with them all.
This is how I started; it was my final year at university. It was also when I was finishing my master’s. From when I was 20 years old, I was coaching free of charge. I also did my training. I learned a lot from countless athletes.
After I graduated from university, I set up a youth team in Battersea with a few athletes who needed to be faster to make it to the national ranking. I used precisely what Dan Pfaff taught me (coach of 49 Olympians and nine medallists), and it worked in some cases and didn’t work in others.
That was very good because Dan’s system took me years to learn, and I then shared it with a group. It didn’t work for everyone, but it helped me understand why. It made me realize that Dan’s system was more than just a set of reps. I learned from that four-five year period of coaching as a volunteer.
The 10,000-hour rule is often mentioned. You need to spend that time in the trenches, paying your dues and trying to figure it all out in concrete terms. After a few successes, UK Athletics hired me as an apprentice coach. This was my next step, where I didn’t have to do any personal training. I was hired as a full-time coach. I was also exposed to better athletes. I worked with Dan Christian Malcolm, Marlon Devonish, Goldie Sayers, and Greg Rutherford. At an early stage of my career, I was exposed not only to elite athletes but also to the obstacles to becoming elite and the barriers to bringing the best athletes forward.
You can only progress or learn well if you have any issues. 70% of the time, you have to solve problems on the spot. You also need to convince people that there is a way if they are not progressing or hurt.
The second stage was being apprenticed under Dan Pfaff. This meant that I had to coach alongside Dan Pfaff’s athletes. I was allowed to make mistakes, and then he would be right there to correct them. Instead of coaching alone, I had good coaches around me – and that wasn’t just Dan Pfaff.
I spent time in America looking at great coaches and learning from them. There were many philosophies that they had. These initial stages helped me see the entire continuum of coaching systems and determine where I fit on it. This is the most important thing for a coach in development. We are exposed to many great mentors and good people, but we must ultimately decide our philosophy.
This process took at least six to seven years. It wasn’t until last season that I felt confident in my goals, the stages through the year, and how I would get there. We are beginning to see the fruits of our labour with young athletes progressing.
How much coaching is about problem-solving?
Coaching will only be a good fit if that’s what you love. Humans are complex, and athletes are human. Every day brings a new issue to the table. I am a problem solver. My master’s thesis on Dan Pfaff was based on expert decision-making. My entire career, a large part of my passion, has been about how experts make decisions. How do you quickly make precise decisions based only on what you have?
Most athletics focuses on highly talented athletes with much to offer but whose bodies need to prepare for that level of power. The development of many athletes is about getting them ready with the technical skills and physical abilities to handle the talent they have. They are too talented. I spend my time helping them understand their bodies.
Each athlete brings a different puzzle. Over the next 10 to 15 years, I will begin to understand the dilemma better and be able to give the solution faster.
Let’s finish by asking you what you think about Olivia Breen’s season thus far and the progress that she has made.
Olivia was a rookie last winter. She was new to the system, unique to how we train, and how heavy and intense she should be running, and she had an injury from last season.
We started with her with some issues, but now we are addressing them with essential conditioning and awareness of her body, some palates, and yoga. She won the 100m in 13.50 seconds at the Paralympic Games 2012 with a world record. She’s now running 13.47.
Her cerebral palsy has a more significant impact on her recovery than it does on her ability to learn and train. We must understand how athletes learn and adapt our coaching and programmes to suit them. We are finding ways to give Olivia more opportunities to retain movement patterns and information retention in cerebral palsy.
Long jumpers might run or skip between jumps. We must do more of this between jumps and more before the day. This may also apply to two to three of the ten non-disabled athletes, if I’m being honest.
Sir Dave Brailsford, Sky Cycling, and other like-minded people would be great opportunities to meet me. His philosophy and processes are inspiring. I love the way he views things. He breaks down the details, then looks at the finer points and puts them back together. This is my philosophy, but he has done it at a higher level and in another sport. I’d love to see his management style and how he manages his teams.
They will also have learned a lot from the time and investment they made in their Paralympic team. The Paralympic Team, the cycling, and the cerebral palsy side – I’d love their lessons. I know some key points they learned about recovery, loading, stress monitoring for athletes with cerebral palsy, nutrition, and supplementation. These are vital lessons that I’d like to pass on to Olivia. That’s what I am most focused on when it comes to using the programme. It’s how I believe we can make great leaps and significant progress.
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