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Performing in Europe - Attitude and Approach Determines Success - by Gary Bourne (Part 1)

Thursday, 7 June 2018 | Pat Birgan



Legendary jumps coach Gary Bourne has guided Mitchell Watt and Bronwyn Thompson to Australian records and championship medals. He also recently steered Henry Frayne to Commonwealth Games silver, and these are just three of his success stories over a long coaching career.

Gary has been travelling on the international circuit with his athletes for 24 years and knows what is takes for athletes to deliver. With the European season underway, Gary explains in this two-part series ‘there is nothing magic about performing in Europe’!

Before departure

Arriving in Europe in very good shape is the number one rule for a successful campaign. This means being toward the end of your specific physical conditioning phase of training when specific loads are reasonably high – for us this means our running speed and jumping / bounding and strength in the gym are close to PB shape. We train hard right up to the day before we leave Australia.

"If the athlete is not in shape for whatever reason, stay home and train until they are – you will save yourselves a lot of money, time and frustration."

Travel tips so you’re ready to continue training

The travel is long (24 hours or more in total) and arduous. For athletes with a history of back and hamstring issues it is important that they invest in their upcoming campaign by upgrading (at their own expense) to business (at least on the way over) or at least seats with more leg room for younger HP athletes. It is better to fly via Asia with a night’s stopover and the business class tickets are cheaper. 

This year Henry Frayne flew Australia - Shanghai – Moscow – Milan business class for a considerable saving. He will fly back to Australia in cattle class after Stockholm, but he achieved his aim of arriving in

Europe in good shape without any body sync issues, ready to continue training.

[Edit: Frayne has jumped 8.15m twice this campaign, in Shanghai and Rome, leading into the Stockholm Diamond League this weekend)

In my days of coaching Bronwyn Thompson, I developed a routine for long haul travel that involved getting up every two hours and spending 30 minutes down the back of the plane, standing and doing some light stretching and a few light (generally isometric) exercises. When in Singapore / Dubai or at other stop-overs, we would go into the airport gym and cycle / exercise and then shower & eat before re-boarding. If facilities were not available, we would walk for an hour or so. 

There was only one sleep on the flights over, minimum consumption of airline meals, no coffee and definitely no alcohol. It worked well. You arrived tired but not stiff and sore. Sleep can be had at the end of the first day in Europe, but you arrive ready to get on with training.

Off the plane we continue with a program I call “time-zone adaptation”. It is just getting the body and mind into the new time zone (8-9 hours different to Australia). If we arrive in the morning (usual), we start that afternoon. We do three days of tempo running (10x100’s @ 80%), followed by a gym day and then a faster running day. On day 6 we jump if everything is feeling OK. This is followed by a rest day. Then we are ready to compete a couple of days later or train until you do (like at home). 

Maintaining physical and mental shape

In Europe we continue with a training load like at home during a domestic season. There is a travel / rest day and then a warm-up only day before any competition day and competitions are followed by another travel/ rest day. I do an additional day’s taper only once during the European preparation for the championship – always for a single targeted meet where we are expecting good conditions and a good performance. I will do a light week and then a 3-day taper the next week for a major championship. It is the same program I follow at home during the domestic season. 

"There is nothing magic about competing in Europe – those in the best physical and mental shape perform the best."

Successfully managing the hiccup of long haul travel and adjustment to a new time zone is the key to starting off on the right foot. Getting on the plane in very good physical shape, getting off and managing the transition back to training with minimal reduction in load, provides the foundations for a good international season.

Attitude / self-belief

Athletes who are in shape are most likely to come unstuck on the circuit when they start to second guess their training and program. They don’t really believe in what they are doing and become distracted by watching what everyone else is doing in training or at the warm-up track for competition. 

They see other athletes doing different drills and they start to believe these things actually make a difference. I have observed this stuff for 24 years on the circuit now and never seen drills make any difference to performance unless they have been specifically developed to solve an individual technical issue an athlete may have. 

I feel the most valuable trait for an athlete to have to compete successfully on the circuit is self-belief. Much of this comes from knowing you have prepared well and are in great shape.

"I believe an athlete in good physical and mental condition can compete well anywhere in the world on any track and in any stadium." 

Henry has great belief in his own ability and when he is in shape I believe he is capable of beating anybody as he has a fierce competitive nature to go with it. The difference between 8.30m and 8.50m is some speed and technique, but it also ATTITUDE.

In part 2 of Gary Bourne’s insights into performing in Europe he’ll highlight potential pitfalls to help athletes be professional and avoid derailing their hard work.

With thanks to Gary Bourne

Andrew Reid for Athletics Australia


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