Posts in Coach’s Corner

The state of British athletics

November 24th, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

We have been spoilt for choice with the amount of sporting events taking place this summer. Yet after the disappointment of the World Cup, Andy Murray losing his Wimbledon crown and Chris Froome crashing out of the Tour de France, it really has been a summer to forget for British sport.

So with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow fast approaching, is the state of British athletics any healthier? Who are our future stars, are the facilities up to scratch and are there enough opportunities for children to get involved in the sport?

“The positive thing is there are a lot more youngsters participating in athletics,” says Toni.

“This could have something to do with the success of London 2012. In Sheffield alone I have seen participation triple. I have also noticed more 6-11 year olds showing an interest in athletics. But it is about catering for the demand.”

The London Olympics might have raised the profile of athletics in the UK, but it is important to have the facilities in place to help cope with the increase in popularity.

“There are never enough facilities really,” says Toni. “You could always do with more and of better quality. I’ve been to many facilities which I think are outdated or they could do with a longer stand or indoor facilities. Sometimes it is still be difficult to find an indoor space where you can warm up during a championship. It doesn’t have to be massive, just a space to do some alternative work to prepare for the event.”

An inspiring coach can help make training fun, keep children interested and allow them to unlock their true potential. But coaches also need support so they can continue to progress and gain experience.

“There are not enough coaches to deal with demand in my opinion. The ideal group size for training is around 14-15 people and I see coaches working with well in advance of that. There also needs to be better education and more of a professional route for coaches. I don’t really think the coaching education programme is up to standard and there needs to be improvements at all levels of coaching.”

Next on the sporting horizon is the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and all eyes will be on Team GB’s rising stars to see who will grab the headlines.

“I think the standout star is Katarina Johnson-Thompson. The things she has done in the high jump and long jump are phenomenal. She is the real deal. I think she is the favourite for the heptathlon and already ranked number 1 so she is destined for good things.

“We also have a lot of exciting talent coming through in the sprint. Dina Asher-Smith has been outstanding in the Junior Championships and the things she has achieved at such a young age are amazing.”

Toni’s top tip – Diet

No matter how well you train, the fact is you can’t win them all. Yet it is important you take just as much out of a defeat as you do victory to help you progress as an athlete.

“After a defeat you need to take time to reflect on what has happened,” says Toni. “It’s like a gap analysis. You take a step back and consider what you wanted to happen and what actually happened. Then try to see the differences between the two and identify the changes you need to make.

“It is important to reflect on a race logically and not emotionally. After a defeat many people can be angry or frustrated, but you need to distance yourself from your emotions to see how you can improve. A defeat is a great opportunity to learn.”

Follow Toni on twitter @Coach_Toni 


Training in winter weather

October 15th, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

It was a magical start to 2014 for Jess. On 10 January she and her husband, Andy, announced they were expecting their first baby.  In July she gave birth to a little boy and they named him Reggie Ennis-Hill. Toni says she couldn’t be happier. “Jess is feeling great. She is obviously very excited, as I think a lot of people would be. She is now beginning to get back into training we are having a meeting soon to discuss the options.”

Elsewhere in Britain; however, the icy winds and heavy rain has meant it has been a slow start to the year for many other athletes. But, if you want to build up momentum, you can’t let the bad weather disrupt your training sessions.

“When we struggle with the weather we try to transfer everything we do on the track into the gym,”

Explains Toni. “We use the weight equipment and the static bikes and try to keep sessions the same length. We also do circuit training which consists of around 10 to 12 exercises, including body weight exercises, sit-ups and press-ups.” If you are not able to take advantage of proper gym equipment it is vital you find alternative ways of training so your standards don’t begin to slip. “Most of the exercises we do in circuit training are fine to do at home as they don’t require a lot of floor space,” says Toni. “I have even heard of athletes doing their exercises in the kitchen. But this is why I always say it’s important to join a gym so you can take advantage of the weight training facilities as well as the mats.”

It is easy to lose motivation during the long winter months, but setting yourself goals will help you stay focused and driven. “It all comes down to setting targets,” says Toni. “Obviously people tend to push really hard in January to make up for indulging over Christmas, but it’s about keeping it steady and progressive. Also, keep changing the training so it doesn’t become mundane.

Variety is the spice of life.” If you do manage to face the cold weather there are a few thing you need to remember to make sure you stay safe. “Muscles don’t function as well in cold weather. This means you shouldn’t focus too much on times, especially if you’re running into the wind and rain,” advises Toni. “Give more consideration to your warm up and take it easier at the start of the run.

Obviously you also need to wear bright clothing and reflective jackets so cars can see you.” Finally, as tempting as it is, you shouldn’t take a long time off over Christmas as every day counts. “We try to train as normally as possible, unless we don’t have access to the facilities,” says Toni. “Over Christmas we just move the rest days round. Jess is not one for training on Christmas Day… unfortunately.”

Toni’s top tip – The perfect start

A strong start out from the blocks sets the foundation for an impressive sprint time, yet even the best athletes struggle with consistency when faced with the starting gun. “It’s not about running out of the blocks; it’s about driving out of them,” explains Toni. “You need to be pushing off with both legs and using your arms to help you drive out. Keep your head down, look at the track and use your arms to keep balance. “You need to be practicing the blocks regularly and not just in the last couple of weeks before a competition. Regular sessions will help you get use to the blocks and improve your reactions to the starting gun.”


Follow Coach Toni Minichiello on twitter @Coach_Toni


Commonwealth Games

August 28th, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

It started with dancing cupcakes and ended with a record breaking performance by the England team. The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games has already been hailed by politicians and organisers as one of the greatest in history, but does it deserve such high praise?

“It was a very successful event,” says Toni.

“I was there for the decathlon with John Lane and the crowds were fantastic. They showed so much enthusiasm. The organisation was sometimes not the best, but the crowds were amazing.”

A magnificent performance by England saw them finish top of the medal table with 58 gold, 59 silver and 57 bronze. It’s certainly a great turnaround following the disappointing result in Delhi four years ago, although many did predict England to do well.
“I did see that performance from England coming as we should be quite strong in the Commonwealths,” says Toni. “There was also a rollover effect. Scotland invested heavily in athletics as they were the host nations and this benefited Team GB and the English athletes. So it all rolled over from four years ago.”
There were so many impressive performances during the Games, but it was England’s rising stars who stole the show and proved why they are hotly tipped to be the future of British athletics.
“I think the real highlights were the emergence of Adam Gemili and Jodie Williams. These seem like the real deal sprinters,” says Toni. “They were big performances that you look at and think they could really make the grade at international level.

“Others are Greg Rutherford winning the long jump, although you expect that. Anything less is not acceptable for him. Silver medal is a loss. Laura Samuel scoring 14m in the triple jump was also a great performance as that is a good mark and to do it in a major tournament is very impressive.”

People are now speaking about a golden generation in British athletic, but there are still tougher challenges to come such as next year’s World Championship in Beijing and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
“Let me be honest. In the Commonwealths we are supposed to do well but there are still areas for concern,” admits Toni. “The job is not finished. They need to step up again in the next two years. This year is the last fallow year, as I call it. It means it’s the last ‘easy’ year because you have the World Championships after that and then Rio 2016. That is when statistically the standards usually rise and so you will need to be practicing harder and training harder.”

Toni’s top tip – bike training

To keep their training varied, many athletes come off the track and into the gym to use the training bikes. But what advantages do they offer and how can you achieve the best results?
“Jess’ training involves a lot of running and jumping. That’s a lot of pounding and force going through the lower limbs. So the bike gives you an alternative to take the pressure off,” says Toni.
“You still want to achieve the same physiological effects so you have to train longer and harder on the bike but it will give you a good break in your training. The Wattbike offers a high quality workout. It’s brilliant for training as it operates like a sturdy road bike rather than some of these training bikes which can be a bit easy.”

You can follow Toni Minichiello on twitter via @Coach_Toni


A diet fit for an athlete

July 4th, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

Two years ago this weekend Jess stood at the top of the podium on Super Saturday as Olympic champion. Now she’s battling with a recurring Achilles injury which forced her to miss the start of the season. However she was determined to take part in the Anniversary Games last week to celebrate the legacy of London 2012 and honour all the athletes who gave everything they had to compete.

Early nights, 9am training sessions and lengthy gym sessions are just some of the sacrifices you need to make to become a world beating athlete. However, being able to stick to a strict, nutritious diet could mean the difference between gold and silver.

“Diet is incredibly important,”

“It’s the petrol in your engine, it’s the fuel you need to live and compete.” With Jess struggling with injury, her diet has become an essential part of her recovery. “We have had to alter Jess’ diet slightly because of her injury. We added stuff like green tea which is a good anti-oxidant to improve tissue quality. We also encouraged her to eat oily fish and vitamin C, or supplement this, again for tissue repair.”

It’s true what they say, you are what you eat, so you need to make sure you are consuming the right amount of nutrients you need to perform. “Mostly you need to eat carbohydrate rich foods for energy, so you’re looking at your rice, pasta and bread,” says Toni. “Protein from meat and fish is also important for tissue repair. They’re your main essentials.”

At the Olympic Games Jess competed in seven events over two days, so it was vital she ate the right food at the right time. “Obviously you never get chance to sit down to have a big meal so it’s much more about snacking as you go. You don’t want too much in the stomach as you want to be comfortable. Eat nice and steady and focus on carb-rich foods for energy.”

Toni’s Top Tip – Long Jump

Technique, board control and timing are all essential to produce an impressive distance in the long jump. “It’s all about the speed on the runway as this is what carries you, so you need to make sure you work on your sprint technique,” explains Toni. “You also need to deal with the board as you can change direction a lot when you leap. It’s trying to get your optimum speed, which is your fastest controlled speed, and your top speed as close together as possible.”


The first steps to becoming a coach

June 30th, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

Who can forget the interview Jess gave after she won the gold medal in London; fighting back the tears as the full scale of her achievement began to dawn on her? Yet despite this surge of emotion she was quick to recognise those people who made it all possible – her family, friends and coaching staff. 

No athlete can do it all on their own. A great coach is there at every training session and competition, sharing in the highs and softening the lows. But how does anyone become a coach? “By accident,” jokes Toni.

“No, I actually started out coaching basketball. Then the person who was training the sports team left and I was asked to step in and it went on from there really. This must have been around 20 years ago.” 

It can be truly satisfying working closely with an athlete and watching them progress, but first it requires a lot of hard work to become a certified coach.


“If you want to take it seriously you will need to take your qualifications,” says Toni. “This is something you are best going onto the UK Athletics website for and looking at the courses they have on there.”

Many coaches dream of discovering someone with unbelievable natural talent; however, determination, passion and a high work rate are the key characteristics needed to become a successful athlete.

“To be honest I didn’t really see the extent of Jess’ talent at first,” admits Toni. “She was quicker than the rest of her peer group, so she had a level of ability, but it was all about training and moving on from there. She turned up regularly and worked hard which was the main thing.”

A coach has a huge amount of responsibility towards an athlete. It is no good just turning up every morning and running through the same old drills. For an athlete to raise their performance you have to keep up to date with the latest training techniques.

“You should be reading loads, going on courses and partaking in workshops,” says Toni. “I was very busy going on all sorts of courses which covered many different types of sports, not just athletics. I also sought out other coaches to get their advice. I always recommend two books to people; Periodization Theory and Methodology of Training by Tudor Bompa and Sports Training Principles by Dr Frank Dick. They cover all sports and are a great place to start.”

One of the hardest parts to coaching is instilling belief in an athlete, picking them up when they are down and keep them striving for more.

“So long as the training is progressive then an athlete will generally keep motivated because they are improving. You need to keep the training interesting and fresh. Psychologically speaking, I have been very fortunate to work closely with some great sports physiologists while taking part in the UK Sport Elite coaching programme.”

Toni’s top tip – Diet

To reach your targets as an athlete you need to be disciplined both on and off the track. This means sacrificing the junk food to stay ahead of the field.

“The most important thing is to have a varied and balanced diet,” explains Toni. “So we are talking about your five portions of fruit and veg a day and eating enough protein. You should also be drinking at least five glasses of water a day to keep hydrated.

“It’s important to have a plan for your pre and post-race meals. Ideally eat some carbohydrates three to four hours before a race. Then after the race protein is essential to aid in recovery. One thing I would suggest is eating two portions of red meat a week for iron. I see a lot of athletes who are slightly iron deficient because they don’t eat enough red meat and so they become tired and lethargic. If you are a vegetarian make sure you eat enough green leafy vegetables as they are high in iron.”

Follow Toni on twitter @Coach_Toni 


Keeping fit during pregnancy

May 31st, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

Four months ago Jess told the world she was expecting a baby and therefore taking a break from all competitive athletic events. Since then she has been working closely with her coaching team to make sure she is fit and ready for the 2015 Beijing World Championships where she plans to make her comeback. However pregnancy is a life changing event and can put the body under a large amount of strain, so Jess had to carefully consider her options before deciding to carry on with athletics.

Coach Toni remembers the day Jess called him to break the news, “She rang and asked if she could come around to have a chat, which sounded a bit ominous as Jess is not normally that formal. After she told me we talked and she said she did want to continue, especially because of her age. At that point she was already about 13-14 weeks pregnant, so first it was about sorting out the mechanics; letting British Athletics know, announcing it to the team and publically. Then we had a discussion with regards to going forward.”

No more heavy weight sessions or leaping over high jump poles, Jess’ training routine now consists of more moderate exercises.

“First she couldn’t do anything rotating because of how far she was in the pregnancy,” explains Toni. “Then it was no jumping or power work, so we adapted to keep her fit. This involved using the Wattbike and low-level aerobic running exercises. She has also taken up yoga, which you have probably seen in the pictures making their rounds on Twitter.”

If you do want to continue to train during pregnancy it is essential you gradually relax your exercise routine as the pregnancy progresses and don’t do anything outside your comfort zone.

“It is all about general, moderate exercise,” says Toni. “It depends on your pregnancy and at what stage you are at, but your exercise should become gentler as you approach your due date, whether this is pool or bike based. You should definitely seek advice from your doctor or midwife. They can advise you on things you should monitor, such as ligaments getting looser, because, like with Jess, the most important thing is having a safe and healthy pregnancy.”

You should also do your research to make sure you know exactly what your body requires and the things you need to consider when training. This is exactly what Toni did when Jess became pregnant.

“I did learn a lot of stuff and it is important to know and absorb as much information as possible. We also spoke to Dr Steve Ingham, Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport, and looked at studies to help gain knowledge, because we were going into something that we didn’t know too much about.”

Toni’s Top Tip – Crossing the finish line

You fought your way to the front of the pack, the crowd is cheering and the finishing line is just in sight – at this crucial moment it is essential you don’t lose your concentration.

“First of all I don’t see enough people practicing the last 20 metres of a race, which is funny because it is really important,” says Toni. “You can get distracted or dip too soon and lose momentum. You should only really be dipping two or three steps before the finish line. I describe it as a kind of running lunge which helps drive you over the line.

“When nearing the finish line, especially in sprint races, you need to fix your eye on a spot in the distance and just run for it. This will help you keep focused and ignore the people around you as they can affect your running style. You should also practice driving off the last hurdle so you know how many strides until the finish line.”

Follow Toni on twitter @Coach_Toni 


Dress for success

March 31st, 2014 Posted by Coach's Corner No Comment yet

Every year sportswear brands invest millions in research so they can design the perfect piece of kit to help athletes compete at their very best. Recently Jess has been testing out the new Climachill range from adidas, an evolution in sports cooling technology.  Climachill takes cooling to the next level with advances in fabric composition and fit to help athletes stay cooler, dry and feel more comfortable.  This range combines aluminium cooling spheres on the back neck line, with SubZero yarn made from titanium to create a mesh like fabric. Together they help regulate your body temperature and enhance your training, leaving you to focus on improving your performance and techniques and thus shave vital seconds off your time. But Jess wore a completely different type of kit when she first stepped out onto the race track. 


“Jess started out with the basics; shorts, t-shirt, maybe some tights when they became fashionable and a tracksuit to keep warm between events,” says Toni. “She only had one pair of all-purpose spikes which she used for every event, from javelin to sprint.”

The start of spring brings the promise of warmer weather and longer days, meaning many people will be tempted to dig out their old trainers and hit the track. But, if you plan to be running regularly, it is wise to purchase some well-fitted running shoes for more support.

“When you’re looking at buying a pair of spikes you need to consider the event and the weight of the shoe,” explains Toni. “They usually come in three categories; sprint, middle and long-distance. When we’re training for a long time, doing lots of reps, we use the middle-distance spikes to ease pressure on her ankles.

“The science behind it is spikes retract more energy, so it is not lost in the floor. When you are running in flats you slightly sink into the floor and some energy is lost. In hard spikes you can skip off the surface, so that energy stays with you and you can run faster.”

Jess competes in seven events, each one putting a different demand on her body. This means she needs to be prepared for whatever the event has to throw at her.

“At the top level you need specialist shoes and Jess now has a different pair for almost every event,” says Toni. “They’re all designed slightly differently to enhance your performance in each event. So for the shot-put there is more slide and extra support around the ankles to help her when she spins, while for the jump competitions they’re more robust to protect her foot when she slams down on the board.

“Being an athlete can be expensive and you need to be frugal when you are starting out. I think too many people rush to buy expensive specialist shoes before they’ve even learnt the event. It’s like the saying, ‘All the gear and no idea.’ It’s far better to buy an all-purpose shoe to start with and develop from there.”

Toni’s Top Tips – Weight training

Whether you are lifting weights to improve your sporting performance or just for aesthetic purposes, it is vital you develop a good technique so you don’t injure yourself.

“For beginners I advise joining a gym to receive some proper instruction and start off on the supported weight machines,” says Toni. “We tend to do 15 to 8 reps at around 50-70% of your max weight lift for hypertrophy to build up muscle mass. This is usually quite intensive and has a short recovery time of between 30 seconds to two minutes.

“To build up power and enhance the speed of movement we do 75-85% max weight lift for six to four reps. This has a longer recovery time of between two to five minutes. Finally, for what I call pure strength training, we do 90% of your max lift for no more than three reps. This is so you can get as strong as possible; however, it puts a lot of pressure on the body so we don’t do it very often.”

Follow Toni on twitter @Coach_Toni 


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