Lessons Learned

National Endurance Coach Steve Macklin recalls lessons for coaches, learned in an 18 year career so far.



It’s all about relationships. The bottom line is that you are coaching people and not machines; building a relationship with your athletes and having open and honest communication is key to success.


Art vs Science: Coach the individual and match to the event they are training for (determine physiological/ mechanical/psychological profile of the athlete and match to event demands). Not all athletes are the same and not all respond the same to different types of training.


Coaches must be resilient themselves and be prepared for a rollercoaster ride. Coaching is not an easy gig, there are so many ups and downs, challenges and questions without answers at times. We must be resilient, strong and be ready for the long haul. It’s all about the journey and not the destination.


Sometimes a poor workout or race is not always a negative. Just because a single workout or race doesn’t go as planned, don’t panic. Stick to the process, keep to your plan and usually it works itself out. When something doesn’t go to plan it’s an opportunity to learn, which is a positive in the long run.


Stop sometimes and just listen to your athletes. It sounds very simple, but sometimes as coaches we can do all the talking, all the advice giving and sometimes we just need to sit back and listen to our athletes.

Let them be open and honest and contribute their reflections and feedback.


Don’t be afraid to fail; this is where we learn. When we fail we learn – that’s the bottom line. If we are not failing sometimes, we are not learning.


Normalise Excellence and Lifestyle Balance: Bring your best self to each and every day, have balance in your lifestyle as a coach. To perform at your best you must mind yourself as well as your athletes do. Busy people need to cultivate forms of rest (hobbies), because they are permanently unable to simply do nothing.


Tell your athletes that you believe in them; this is powerful. How many coaches have said this to an athlete they coach? Try it and see what happens.


Get out and coach as much as you can “Learning is experience, everything else is just information”, said Albert Einstein. We learn in the trenches, so get out and get yourself dirty!


Self-reflection is key for both athletes and coaches in fostering learning and making improvements going forward. Reflect on your own coaching style, your philosophy, your communication with athletes, your training ethos, your planning, etc.


Teach an athlete to be the ‘best them’ and to not try to copy others. Every athlete is an individual with their own personality and should always be themselves.


If an athlete isn’t responding to the training you are doing with them, change it. The bottom line is that every athlete responds differently to different stimuli, so play around with things and see what works and what doesn’t. It’s all about trial and error, finding what works best and what produces the best results.


Do some of what the athlete likes doing in training. Sometimes it becomes all about what we think works as coaches, possibly working on their weaknesses, but athletes like doing some of what they enjoy so make sure to incorporate this into their programme.


A good coach with a sound methodology is like a weathered captain steering a ship; he knows the sea and can read warning signs. Study the sport, learn from athletes and other coaches and find that sound methodology. Be present with them as much as possible and read the warning signs.


Coaching and athlete development is like a random experiment – one where you cannot be absolutely sure of the outcome prior to performing the experiment. No coach can be 100% sure of any training plan; nobody has the magic formula – it doesn’t exist!


Do not neglect the foundations of athletic development when coaching athletes at a young age, i.e. Stability, Mobility, Balance, Co-ordination, Agility, Speed, Strength, Skill of Running, Quality of Movement, etc.

This will put them in a better place to handle a certain amount of volume and intensity at a later stage in their athletic careers.


When writing a training programme, ask yourself “Why am I doing this and what is the reason behind it? Is it founded in logic and common sense?” These are key questions to think about when planning training. Have a reason for each and every day.


A coach must help an athlete understand the theory behind the training they are doing to increase buy-in and belief. It’s important that athletes understand what they are doing and the reasons/benefits behind it. This will help increase belief in what they are doing.


Best coaching style? One that is genuine to you. Learn from but don’t try to imitate others. Be yourself and bring your own strengths to the table, but always keep working on your weaknesses.


Any coach who is through learning is through! The biggest learning tool for a coach is the athletes themselves. Learn from them, learn from others, learn from anywhere you can. Soak up every ounce of information you can get your hands on and then filter what is of most relevance to you and your athletes.