National Coach Barry Collie recently led the British Gymnastics men’s junior team to their most successful ever European Championships in Bulgaria, with the team collecting 10 individual medals and winning the overall title for the fourth successive time.
He talked us through the event from a coach’s perspective...
The focus is always on the long term goals, but in the run up to the major events I consume myself entirely in the sport for six weeks. I become completely focused with the team members for that crucial period. Everyone has to make personal sacrifices and focus on the job in hand for the interest of the whole team.
I push the athletes hard physically and mentally to build their resilience. Initially the focus is on loading the routines and making sure they are strong and fit enough. I take them outside their comfort zone. It becomes quite tough and at times during pressure periods, personal relationships are tested to the limits, but the coach can't be concerned about popularity. After that, it’s all about giving the athletes belief, building up their confidence and making sure we all have a really strong relationship going into the competition.
Confidence comes from planning. For the final three weeks we’re centralised at Lilleshall and we model the competition, doing exactly as we would do once we’re out there; the times, the structures, warm up, eating, everything. It helps me if we can rely on a plan, it takes away a lot of the pressure, and for the athletes it means that their behaviour becomes routine and habit.
Emotion is contagious. If I’m strong, courageous and confident, they will be the same. I have to lead, and at times I feel massively under pressure, but I have to be the strong person and stick to the plan, demonstrating behaviours that the gymnasts can learn from. I have strong values and beliefs; I invest a lot of time getting to know each and every individual, how best to deal with them and how to get them to believe in themselves so they can be their best.
When you arrive as champions, there’s a big expectation from other nations. It’s all about how you deal with pressure and react to it; it can either make you stronger, or it can break you. It’s my job to use it positively, and not let it impact on the team, making sure they focus on a small part of the target at a time. Our main target was to win the team gold as part of the long term plan to develop future Olympians. We broke that down into stages; eating the right breakfast, doing the best training, and just taking everything step by step. We build a strong team first and from that base, allow each member of the team to compete for the individual medals.
It’s massively important to celebrate a win. The team worked so incredibly hard, as well as the coaches and staff at British Gymnastics, and when we achieve our targets, we should enjoy that. In the past I’ve jumped too quickly back into training and the next result, instead of allowing myself to reflect. This time I allowed myself at times to sit back and take it all in, watch the athletes faces when a team mate did something really well, seeing that passion reminds you that it’s not just about the end result, it’s about those moments, and seeing them develop as people.
Every time I see the junior generation of athletes move up to senior level is tough, but the future’s exciting. When we arrived back at the airport, Frank Baines and Courtney Tulloch, who were the previous junior generation, were there and you could tell they were genuinely over the moon to see us and with what we’d achieved. It’s not just the team of five who are out there; there’s a huge team of people emotionally attached to the sport and the programme. I know we have another group of gymnasts capable of winning and willing to work hard, so it’s a case of me being happy to move those gymnasts on and still being proud of them, but always being willing to focus on the future and finding different ways to do that.
The most important thing about coaching is that it’s athlete driven. It’s not about the coaches, we’re here to develop the athletes and allow them to flourish, you offer them support and advice. You need to have your ego in check at all times and remember that it’s all about the athlete. The key to success is the effort and sacrifice of the clubs, parents and British Gymnastics, the collaboration of all three is vital to support the gymnasts.
Barry Collie is a graduate of UK Sport’s Elite Coaching Apprenticeship Programme (ECAP), a two-year development programme targeted at emerging coaches already working in the high performance system, enabling them to become the elite coaches of the future.