Interview with Kevin Tyler, former UKA Head of Coaching

This is part 8 of the Freelap Friday Five Series, 2013 Edition. To review the 16 part 2012 edition, click here.

Part 1 was Matt Scherer, Professional Pacer-Rabbit.

Part 2 was Stuart McMillan, Bobsled and former UKA Sprint Coach.

Part 3 was Dean Starkey, PV Coach and former Elite Pole Vaulter.

Part 4 was Mike Hurst, Journalist and Australian 400 meter Coach.

Part 5 was Craig Pickering, UK Sprinter and Bobsledder

Part 6  was April Holmes, Paralympic 100m Olympic Gold Medalist

Part 7 was Chip Jenkins, former 600m AR, and 4x400m 1992 Olympic Gold Medalist

A Brief History with Kevin Tyler

I need to do a bit of memory lane here…

After competing in open track under my longtime coach Dennis Barrett of McGill for 9 years, I retired from “open” track and moved to Ottawa in 1993, then Vancouver.  I took a few years off training, and started a Masters comeback in 1997. (it was actually sub-masters at age 35 back then)

I was fortunate to join Kevin Tyler’s group in the 1997-99 years, with teammates Laurier Primeau, Shane Niemi, and Steve Walters. (Steve’s brother is Fraser Walters of the Canadian Tenors, who also ran the 400mH.  Great lungs comes from training!)

Kevin was the Sports Marketing Manager Running for Nike Canada.  Later, he moved to Edmonton to become the Director of The Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre.  It was here where he guided Tyler Christopher to a 44.44 at the 2005 World Championships.

In 2009, he became the Strategic Head of Coaching and Development for UKA until December 2012.

KEVIN TYLER UKA

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Interview with Kevin Tyler

Freelap Friday Five

Q1. Let’s talk about some of the “legacy” projects that hopefully will benefit coaches and athletes in the UK in the future. One of them was the master coach/apprentice coach program (correct me if I am using the proper terms). One of your coaches under your guidance was Steve Fudge (who is now at Loughborough HPC as one of the coaches) and one of his athletes was Richard Buck. Since you oversaw the program, was there a massive overhaul in his program?   Richard was a 46+ low journeyman and finally ran 45+ in 2011 & 2012. Can identify one or two key breakthroughs that led to sub-46?

Kevin Tyler: I think it would be accurate to say that the entire field of coach education / coach development is a legacy for British Athletics post 2012. When I first arrived there was very little resource or programming in this area, however a number of key individuals from UKA and England Athletics made the decision to invest heavily in coaching. Together we made a tremendous amount of change in a short period of time delivering a new formal coach education system, a National Mentoring scheme, 600 plus coach development events a year, an impressive online coaching resource (uCoach) and as you mentioned the UKA apprentice coach program. Most importantly, we linked the Performance and Coach Development departments to ensure we had a unified philosophy across both teams.

The UKA apprentice coach program employed eight apprentice coaches on full time contracts for nearly four years to work alongside senior or “master” coaches. I was fortunate to be able to work with one of the apprentices, Steve Fudge (his brother is Barry Fudge, the Head Physiologist for UKA, working with the endurance athletes year round and at altitude). Richard Buck was the first athlete we worked with.

I think it is fair to say that Richard was a talented young athlete. He ran 46.4 when he was 18, but was unable to break through as a senior. By age 23 he was still regularly running 46.2 – 46.3 with 200m PB of 21.75. He had also suffered through a number of significant injuries that were impacting his ability to progress. Steve and I assessed his program, and as you can imagine it was a traditional 400m program with lots of volume and an almost exclusive focus on special / specific endurance. We unloaded Richard in the first year, introducing more acceleration / speed work and we spent a lot of time developing his mechanics. Steve also did a great deal of soft tissue work on Richard, subsequently he was injury free for the first time and in the first year he ran 45.99 outdoors and won his first senior international medal (individual) winning a bronze at the 2011 European Indoor Championships. In 2011-2012 we shifted the program back to a long to short scheme, increasing the specific volume by 15 – 16% and he ran 45.88 indoors and 45.61 outdoors earning a berth on the Olympic 4 x 400m squad.

Q2. Speaking of Steve Fudge, James Dasaolu ran an impressive 6.48 60m at the European Indoor Champs (a photofinish gave him a silver). He’s only 26 years old. He, too, had the injury bug, much like Tyler Christopher in his early years. I recall some days all Tyler could do was a warm up and a couple of 30’s and call it the day. How did Steve (and yourself) handle those frustrating years with James? How different was your approach to his training? Performance therapy?

Kevin Tyler: First off I don’t believe in the terms injury bug or injury prone. If you look at each athlete as an individual and understand their capacity to train, then almost any athlete can train, compete and be healthy. James, like Tyler, is a phenomenal talent. He suffered 18 injuries in less than 5 years, despite having an enormous amount of resource around him. Ultimately, the nature and volume of his work (like Tyler previously) was inappropriate for his system. Steve and I started with James in January of 2012, when he joined our group with a grade 2 hamstring injury. We progressed him step by step, with the goal of having him complete a 30m + acceleration at speed in spikes by the end of March 2012. We felt if he could do this with greater technical proficiency then we could progress him to 60m’s by May, which would allow him to race. James opened on May 13th, with the Olympic A standard (10.18), which then gave us 5 weeks to prepare him for the British Olympic Trials. We never got ahead of ourselves, we worked step by step and focused on the targets ahead of us and James delivered. He finished third at the trials running 3 rounds in two days, and was named to the Olympic team and ran his fastest time of the season, 10.13 in the opening round of the Games, earning a semi-final berth. Impressively, he ran his second fastest time of the year, 10.15, in his last race of the season in mid September. If you know James, you know how impressive this is because he had never ran past July in any of the previous 5 seasons.

Usain Bolt James Dasaolu Olympics

The 6.48 James ran at the European Indoor Championships was simply a progression on his 2012 season. Steve has kept the work very specific, focused largely on acceleration development and delivering daily soft tissue work.

If there is anything I can take away from James and Tyler, it is the need to be incredibly sensitive to athletes that possess a great deal of natural ability. There is no such thing as a standard 100m or 400m training program when you work with these athletes. The program has to be based around their inherent qualities. I don’t buy the rhetoric that talented athletes can’t run world class times or will be unable to run “the rounds” without volume. In the first instance the ability to reach higher velocities will carry these athletes a long way. Notably the 6.48 came after two earlier rounds, and impressively after running a PB of 6.52 in the semi final. James ran no more than 6 training runs to 60m’s in the entire indoor preparation period and the bulk of the specific work was between 20 and 40m’s.

Q3. Another legacy project that was hailed by the press was the UCoach online website for coaching material. In a way, SpeedEndurance.com has been doing this since 2007 where I tried, as a one man show, to centralize coaching material in the form of videos, interviews, podcasts, ebooks, and articles. The problem is, how do you separate the good articles from the bad? Anyone can publish online, and there are a lot of “coaches and trainers” out there giving “not so great” advice, without having trained elite athletes. (Stu McMillan gives us great insight at the elite level)

Kevin Tyler: uCoach is a development on what Derek Evely and I started with our team in Edmonton at the Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre in 2005. It always struck me that there was a need to deliver high quality coach development materials to coaches online. Online access is not the panacea to all of our educational challenges, but it does make resources affordable and highly accessible, two qualities important to coaches with busy schedules.

Quality assurance is always going to be a challenge, but it is like anything in performance, it never comes easy. It is the result of painstaking work by committed individuals that have a strong technical understanding of the sport. I have had the good fortune to work with two outstanding educational leads, in Edmonton it was Derek and in the UK it was Tom Crick. Tom lives and breathes the uCoach website, and it would not exist without his tireless efforts.

One unique way around the issue of quality control is to have two distinct sites, one that is quality controlled and one that is populated by the membership and is then peer reviewed. Tom created a segment on uCoach called Share that fulfills the latter purpose. Interestingly, there are some incredibly insightful pieces on the Share site that would have never arisen in a quality controlled environment. At the end of the day the coaches on the ground have a pretty good idea of what they need / want, and out of that you will get relevant pieces of work that you would have never otherwise thought of.

Q4. I want to rewind back to the spring of 2005. You had Tyler Christopher run 3 races in Brazil in early May, to simulate 3 rounds at World Champs. He ran well enough that in Europe, meet organizers started to take notice, giving him preferential lane draws in the A meets. The better your times, the better your lane, it’s that simple, and Jeremy Wariner was the Golden Boy. Can you talk a bit about his periodization model, so that he was able to peak when it counted.. a bronze with a 44.44 PR and NR at the IAAF World Champs? [we are talking about a short to long program for 400m]

Kevin Tyler:  It is very difficult to classify Tyler’s training model in any classical sense. If you want to put a label on it I would call it shorter to short. Tyler ran 45.3 in 2004 with 4 hamstring injuries in the spring / summer of that year. He was only 20 years old and had a number of mechanical failings. It didn’t take much intelligence to realize that these injuries were impacting his ability to progress, so when I started with him in October of 2004, the goal was simple, keep him healthy and improve his mechanics. Because we were in Edmonton, where it is very cold in the winter with limited indoor facilities, his winter program consisted of lots of accelerations, limited speed, and small volumes of extensive tempo. We also did some light strengthening and lots of soft tissue (Dr. Gerry Ramogida was also very involved). We went outside in April and started running some special and specific endurance, but we only had 7 weeks before he raced in Brazil, where he opened in 44.88 and then ran 44.72 (then Canadian Record) in the second race of the year.

Kevin Tyler Tyler Christopher

Like James, Tyler never required a lot of volume, and he responded very poorly to speed / specific endurance in heavy loads. What he thrived off of was high quality work in low volumes. He used to amaze me in workout, running 11.7 for 120m, 14.6 for 150m, 19.7 for 200m, 24.9 for 250m and 30.8 for 300m’s all from a standing start (timing from back foot movement). Peaking him was relatively easy, slightly taper him from his already low volumes and maintain intensity right up to 10 days out. Inside of 10 days everything specific was at intensities of 95% or lower, right out of Charlie’s book. 

[JIMSON’S NOTE: See Peaking When It Counts: Perfecting the 10-Day Taper VIDEO by Derek Hansen and Charlie Francis]

I can’t emphasize this enough, you have to focus on each athlete as an individual and you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. With mature athletes specificity and quality are the key. It is very easy to start with low volumes and progress upwards if it is clear the athlete requires greater load, it is not as easy to start with high volumes and then try to correct downwards.

Q5. I am out of questions, so I will ask this ”How long is a piece of string-type question”.  How can we “own the podium?  Increase the medal count in 2016 or 2020? At a very high level, I say increase the participation at the grassroots, better coaching & coaching knowledge, better facilities, proper meets, and a proper ranking system for kids to compare themselves across the country. Since the non-track folks only follow track 16 days every 4 years, shouldn’t we have a better marketing plan? Isn’t the greatest turnout for kids is September following an Olympic year? Is moving to the USA always the “answer” for Canadians? (when you think of how many athletes had success living and training in the USA, NCAA or not)

Kevin Tyler: You could write a book on this question alone. Having just spent 4 years in the UK, arguably the wealthiest federation in the world, I am convinced that most of our issues in Athletics / Track and Field can be resolved through increased investment in coaches and coaching. Participation, quality competitions, and performance results are largely improved if we have more and better quality coaches. Of course you need the basic infrastructure, but the basic infrastructure is not going to convert a high percentage of developing athletes into high performers. I am not simply talking about paying lip service to coaching with some formal qualifications, I am talking about a fundamental reorganization of the sport to develop a truly coach led environment. I think there are too many examples where athletics federations get new monies and try to follow small sport models, starting talent identification / talent development programs and building centres with “integrated” sport science and medicine teams while ignoring the coach. This approach rarely results in improved performance because the process usually lacks strong technical leadership and is characterized by confounding inputs.

I believe federations have an important role to play in providing sound leadership with a strong vision and sensible programs, but that they also need to be thoughtful when extending their reach. They should not try to replace the coach in the field. Who is best suited for talent identification, talent development, athlete retention, athlete health, performance, it is the Coach! Our sport will only prosper through the efforts of hard working intelligent coaches. If we are working in a federation we have a responsibility to support coaches. We should also appreciate that coach development requires a long-term commitment and that it does not follow political time lines. You can make some changes in four years, but ideally this is a direction that an organization commits to for life. If we do this successfully then a coaching community will develop and they will start to work cooperatively and share information because they feel valued. If you doubt this then you only need to look at the National Coach Development Program started by England Athletics. The team of national coach mentors is doing a phenomenal job of transforming the coaching environment. They have contributed to the development of a true coaching community.

As far as developing and marketing the sport, I think this is fairly simple, you need media / television to generate commercial revenue and you can only get this by creating excitement. Unfortunately creating excitement is not something many governing bodies excel at because too much energy goes into governance activities that speak to the average. We don’t need to worry about the platform, the sport can be incredibly exciting and we have the ultimate platform in the Olympics. What we need is performance. Once you have performance, you have excitement and the rest will fall into place.

It sounds simple, but in practice it isn’t. Each decision we make affects all future decisions and ultimately mediocrity begets mediocrity. It takes a very confident and focused organization to take positions that don’t always appeal to the majority. In the UK under Charles Van Commenee’s leadership we made brave decisions every day. We weren’t right all the time, but in the end we initiated a great deal of positive change, and that was particularly apparent within coaching and development.

With regards to athletes attending school and training in the USA, there is no blanket answer to this. I think athletes that mature early can benefit from staying in country when there is a solid performance environment for them to train within. However, we did some research in the UK and many of the athletes that go on to perform at medalist level don’t reveal themselves until they are past the age of 20 so it is impossible for a federation to capture and retain all of the young talent. Ultimately we can’t and shouldn’t try to control every element of the sport. There are always going to be activities outside of our control, so I believe we need to focus our energies in areas where we can make the biggest differences.

  • Really great interview.

    If you’re the guy behind athleticscoaching.ca ressources then a big THANK YOU. Those are phenomenal. The only drawback is that you never own any video you have to rent them and the price is quite high.

    • Thanks Fabien, yes I was the original director of the Canadian centre for 4.5 years, but the athleticscoaching.ca site is the result of the efforts of a number of passionate staff: Derek Evely, Brian Kropman, Scott Saunders and Jim Denison. There is a cost to the content now, but the money funds many of the coach development events that the centre delivers, so in the big picture everyone’s needs are met. If you are ever in the UK check out uCoach: http://www.ucoach.com, another outstanding coaching resource, and from within the UK it is free.

  • Kevin if i may call you. Many thanks for a good article interview. Good insight into Coach vs Athlete vs Athletes vs program. This just highlight the problems we have at the Club level. Not enough Coaches per group of Athletes. Too fewer Coaches. I only know of this based on the Clubs i have either spoken to or researched into in Southern England.

    For instance, Master Athletes are very hard to come by; even some Clubs have no Master Athletes anymore. I have been to a fair few of my regional’s Masters events; not many turning up anymore. The other issue is lack of cross Club Coach exchange program. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful idea if some Coaches assist or offer their expertise to other clubs who lacks those expert skills at a particular event/events. I have been looking to finding a long Jump coach in my area for about 2 years now and it has proven difficult to attain nor find any. Also, even if you do find one, the issue becomes – how the coach would be able to offer a 1-1 or athletic’s own specific training as mentioned by Kevin Tyler in his writings. At club level – it’s the same program for everyone. One program fits all. Readers – i am not putting blame on anyone. Here i am two years into Athletics, and it isn’t easy getting similar Coaching attention like the elites do. It just can’t happen. Every year i miss out on good LJ coaching for example, each year i get older, sloppy and losing out.

    I have to mention though that Jimson has been wonderful. Through his website i have managed to speak to the likes of Fabien, resources, podcasts and most notably…Kenta Bell via emails and his website (yourthinkingfeet.com)who has been very encouraging. Wish we have those calibre of people round our corner who can get us (All Athletes on the Amateur) to the highest level that we can.

    I wonder if other clubs are having the same issues. Or maybe it’s just my region. Athletics needs you as much as you need us. Help us see the light, and you shall bring smile to our faces…, our clubs…, and our beloved Athletics community. I wouldn’t want the younger generation to go through what some of us are going through now.

    I would like to hear what Kevin Tyler says or would suggest…, and from other people out there

    • @Manny, there is no doubt in my mind that the coaching resources are limited worldwide, and the quality can also be improved. But it doesn’t end there. We lack good therapy and massage and chiros. (Read the Mike Hurst interview) Massage is expensive so you have to find a way to get interns or students. Athletics is not like other sports where the parents have plenty of money. And then there is nutrition. How many athletes eat like crap? fast food? I’ve seen it all… It just doesn’t end… so many ways to improve an athlete. So all we can do is educate, and hopefully, like Gangnam Syle, it will catch on.

      • Totally agree Jim. Massage is expensive and even if you have the money, it doesn’t mean you’ll find a therapist that understand the demands of our sport.

        Concerning nutrition is not so difficult to fix I think.

  • Many thanks for getting back to me gentlemen. My other question is: how do we attract more ‘Masters or Senior Athletes’ to our beloved sport. I am slightly worried that we may have missed out on the Gangnam effect. I hope not.

    Tony Gamblin – many thanks for your support. I shall send you an email soon.

  • Hi Manny, just a couple of points in response to your questions.

    I understand the challenges you are facing with both the club and masters programs. Getting dedicated and insightful coaching is a challenge even in Britain where the the sport has a tremendous following and significant resources. This may surprise you, but I am highlighting the issue of individualised coaching because this is still an issue at the ELITE level, where millions of pounds are being invested. Both of the athletes I discussed with Jimson had suffered through injury histories as a result.
    If you want assistance in the horizontal jumps I would strongly encourage you to reach out to Peter Stanley or John Crotty. Both work for England Athletics as National Coach mentors and both are very passionate about the jumps. While they likely can’t coach you directly they can point you in the right direction.
    As far as attracting more masters athletes to the sport I think there are things you can do at variety of levels, but in the end it will take the efforts of dedicated individuals that want to see a change. As a start I would look at converting people who already have an interest in the sport: road runners and ex athletes and then have current masters athletes reach out to their friends. Of course adults are more discerning, and if you want to retain these athletes then I think clubs need to look at how they are delivering the sport.
    Finally, in regards to the exchange of coaches, this is already happening. England Athletics funds clubs to work cooperatively within networks, you should inquire with EA to see if your club sits in a network and what coaches might be available to help your club, at a minimum with some instruction.
    All the best in pursuit of your goals.
    Kevin

    • I face a bigger problem than you do Manny. I’m looking for a club here in Canada but none of the club in my area are willing to have an older athlete (I’m not master yet). I think it’s really difficult to train masters. It almost like coaching high level athletes cause you can not commit mistakes and think ok well let’s do this for the next four week. It doesn’t work cause the risk of injury is too high and it needs a real day by day monitoring of the athlete. The other problem is that a lot of coach don’t see any reward in training older people. They want you dude so they can go to the nationals or regionals and eventually get a genetic freak. To get more older athletes involved you need to :
      1) to set example to show that older athlete can perform at a very high level,
      2) to find good coaches that really understand their trade and the challenge and see the reward in training old dudes. But we need better educated coach.
      3) As a consequence we need to show people that it is safe and healthy to some extent to train even pass 40 or 50.

      We need people to show the way and put a lot of energy into it.

    • @kevin, totally agree with those comments, it takes an entire village to raise a child. Everyone has to “buy in” the concept of athletics/track. Track is **THE** sport in the Olympics, so we all have to do our part to make it work, from parents, to coaches, to administrators.

  • Good evening Kevin Tyler.
    I can only extend a grateful heart of thanks for your kind response, and also to hear your views and suggestions for any individual or clubs out there who are finding ways of moving forward. I shall duly take all your points on board and see how we can help our sports move forward.

    Fabien, i thought i have issues in my region, not knowing what you are facing over in Canada. I really hope Master Athletes who might have access to this site can hear your voice, come forward and join your club or clubs out there.

    • @Manny, as I mentioned in the intro, I was a “washed up, over the hill” elite athlete and Kevin welcomed me into his group. It was great to train alongside national level athletes, good days and bad days.

  • This comment is really for everyone involved in T&F.I have taken a different path.As someone who has competed at a high level,competing with Chip Jenkins in Europe`81,`85 Mt Sac Relays,`89 Penn Relays,etc. I have been lucky enough to gain some sprint knowledge.So, what I have done for the past five years is not only compete as a masters athlete,but start my own track club GTC/Desperados.It`s coed- ages 5 to masters, and we race indoors and outdoors.I`m also a high school sprint coach.My point is basically that we have to build from the grassroots,yet not ignore what the vets can offer us all.

    • @Tony Gamblin, great stuff! We need more clubs like yours! I never raced Chip Jenkins, only saw him run that 600m AR live!