The Power of Collaboration

This article is guest blogged by Derrick Johnston, a Sprints Coach at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

His previous article was titled Coaching Cues For The Drive Phase.

When great minds come together, amazing things can happen. We’ve all heard the phrase “Two heads are better than one”. However, in the track and field world, coaches can be very territorial. They protect their athletes like momma bear protects her cubs. Why? Is there a single coach out there that knows everything and is the right coach for everyone? No. There are plenty of reasons for being territorial, ranging from selfish, personal recognition to protection from poaching. But, is that the right way to go about developing an athlete? It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a community to raise an athlete. World-class heptathlete/hurdler, Jessica Zelinka, wrote an article about the people and companies (outside of coaching) involved in her development on her website,   One person can’t do it all. We, as coaches, trust many other professionals (massage therapists, chiropractors, nutritionists…), but NEVER would we trust another coach with “our” athlete, right?

When I think of collaboration, the first examples that come to mind are from the music industry. Remember when Run DMC and Aerosmith got together for Walk This Way? Groundbreaking stuff! Or how about Jay-Z and Linkin Park? I am by no means a music buff, these just happen to be examples that popped into my head, but you get the point. When people that are equally passionate about something, but not necessarily on the same page, with a little compromise and collaboration, great things happen. What superhuman could Clyde Hart and Charlie Francis have created? They couldn’t be more opposite in their approach, but they both managed to develop incredible athletes, so is there a sweet spot in the middle?

On a personal level, I moved to London, Ontario for a year in 2011-2012 and was an Assistant Coach with the Western Mustangs (a Canadian University). The timing of that move was impeccable, because we managed to win our first Men’s Championship in the school’s history. I say “our”, because even though I only coached there for a year, it is my alma mater and my hometown. The unique bond between the coaching staff played an important role in the success of that team. Every Sunday morning, myself and another sprint coach, Jason Kerr, would grab a coffee or breakfast and hash out the workouts for the week. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but that was the beauty of it. I know we created a program that was better than what either of us could have done on our own. During speed sessions, the jumps and combined events coaches would often send their athletes to us for their speed work. No questions, just, “here are the athletes, make them faster”, and we did. Maybe, I have just been unfortunate in my young coaching career, but I had never seen that before. Pure teamwork. Coaches with common passions, but on different pages, coming together for the betterment of the athletes. It works and I have the ring to prove it! It helped to have an award-winning head coach in Vickie Croley.

This past week, an article came out on about renowned endurance coach, Alberto Salazar, teaming up with experts, John Smith and Ralph Mann to improve the sprinting mechanics of Galen Rupp and Mo Farah! Yes, distance runners learning to sprint. This is reminiscent of Aerosmith and Run DMC, isn’t it? It will be interesting to see how many distance coaches run to their sprinting colleagues for help now. Or vice versa. Can a distance coach help a sprinter?

The bottom line is, we all read the same books, take the same courses, listen to the same speakers, but we can interpret all of that knowledge differently. So, when we come together and share our insights, provided we keep an open mind, we can create something magical. It’s the power of collaboration.

About the Author

Coach Derrick Johnston, Kin. (Hons), CSCS, NCCP, heads the Competition Development and Sprints at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.

Jimson Lee

Jimson Lee

Coach & Founder at
I am a Masters Athlete and Coach currently based in London UK. My other projects include the Bud Winter Foundation, writer for the IAAF New Studies in Athletics Journal (NSA) and a member of the Track & Field Writers of America.
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
Jimson Lee
  • I enjoyed this article for suggesting the benefits of being open.

    A lot of the times as an athlete you appreciate the efforts of your coach and have to commit to their plan for you. However, when you perceive a coach is being over-protective for whatever reason, it can discredit them. Although a coach may be talented in creating workouts and working with their athletes its always nice to have an open mind. Resuming the article the idea of the article; no one person has all the answers