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Part II - Performing in Europe - Attitude and Approach Determines Success - by Gary Bourne

Wednesday, 13 June 2018 | Pat Birgan



Gary Bourne is Australia’s most successful (horizontal) jumps coach. He was the coach behind the Australian records and Olympic medals of Mitchell Watt and Bronwyn Thompson. He also recently guided Henry Frayne to Commonwealth bronze. And these are just three of his success stories out of Brisbane.

Gary has been travelling on the international circuit for 24 years and knows what is takes for athletes to deliver. Last week, in part 1, he explained that ‘there is nothing magic about performing in Europe’! In this piece he provides advice on avoiding pitfalls and being a professional.

Travelling to compete on the world athletics circuit sounds exciting but it is full of challenges for the High Performance athlete and their coach. It is important to get things right as errors can compound very quickly when living away from home in different countries. It is easy to go off the rails and difficult to get back on track in a strange environment.

Training base and cooking

Managing diet is another important factor. In part 1 I mentioned not over-eating on the plane. We used to rent a house from a lady in Cologne for our small group. This enabled us to cook our own meals and the coach to keep an eye on diets. They were great tours with (Chris) Noffke (8.33m-LJ Former Wold Youth Champ), Briggsy (Kane Briggs 16.97m-TJ, 2.24m-HJ), Mitch (Watt 8.54m-NR LJ), Henry (Frayne) & Dan Greenwood (Biomechanist). These days Airbnb seems to be the option for everyone as there is no central training base. Key training base considerations for my athletes are weather, access to facilities, familiar medical and relative closeness of several airports with discount European airlines. 

Houses or apartments (Airbnb) are better than hotels as athletes and coaches can prepare meals as they do at home. If in Italy it is worth bringing a can of protein (approved) as well, as the local food, with most of the cheaper options being pasta and pizza, does not contain much protein and meat / chicken can be expensive.

Cultural appreciation but no street food

The travelling HP athlete needs to be adaptive to new cultures and different environments and customs. Don’t expect things to be like they are at home. Be well mannered and courteous at all times wherever you are, and the locals will generally be welcoming. Make sure you dress in a manner that is respectful of local customs or beliefs. Boys should dress tidily and don’t walk around or train without your shirt on and girls should dress conservatively outside your training venues, so you don’t attract unwanted attention in some countries. 

“Be well mannered and courteous at all times wherever you are”

Do what the locals do. Be flexible – in Italy they eat meals much later than in Australia and most shops are closed between 1-4pm then opening until 9.00pm. Stay away from street food and cheap take-away food as a stomach virus can cost you dearly. Henry Frayne lost a week of training and about 7kg in the last 14 days before the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and it completely de-railed his campaign.

Rest over physio

Just because there is free physio or massage available don’t over-use it. Try to stick to the same routine you follow when at home in Australia. Henry has had much less physio in Europe this tour than he does in Australia. There is more time for recovery and rest before and after training and this will help in the macro-tapering between high level competitions and it will help bring about the best performances. 

Athletes’ form and sticking to the competition plan

It is essential that the coach controls the competition program. Good form does not mean an increased capacity for competitions. 

In a championship year I prefer a program of compete, compete, two weeks training, compete, compete and then into the team holding camp for 3 weeks training before the championship. It very much depends on how the athlete travels however. 

Professional athlete vs tourist

Travelling athletes can get off track by forgetting the reason they came to Europe in the first place. To stay on track the athlete has to live life as normal as possible.

When I see athletes eating out too often, putting on weight, doing the tourist spots at the expense of prioritising training, sitting around focussed on planning their holiday post the championship, rather than focussing on their upcoming performance at the championship, or going out regularly at night, I get concerned. I am concerned about where their focus is, and I have seen it often enough to know it will end badly for them when they get to the big stage. 

"You are privileged to be there and there is an entire history of parents, family, supporters, friends, Institutes and Academies back home who have contributed to getting you there"

Touring HP athletes are professionals, and this is their job. The European circuit is the only real test of their mettle and the only place to genuinely impress the world. Fiercely defend that opportunity as an athlete because if you don’t you may never get another one.

You are privileged to be there and there is an entire history of parents, family, supporters, friends, Institutes and Academies back home who have contributed to getting you there over your life to date. Honour that support through giving your European campaign and the championship at the end your total focus and effort toward being the best you can be. That will be appreciated far more by all involved compared to a host of pictures of you in tourist spots, in restaurants or drinking coffee.

Promise yourself a holiday after the championship as a reward for your good performance at the championship! Make it a motivating factor and not an end-in-itself.

A huge thank you to Gary Bourne for taking the time to provide this great advice over this two-part series.

With thanks to Gary Bourne

Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia


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