Ben Bright is a triathlon coach. He was a triathlete, competing for New Zealand in the 1st Olympic triathlon in Sydney 2000 Games. He was World Junior Champion in 1994 and 5th in the 1993 senior elite World Championships.
After a spell as a swim coach in Hong Kong, he took up the post of head coach at the British Triathlon High Performance Centre in Loughborough.
He was personal coach to Tim Don and Hollie Avil at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, and has coached triathletes to numerous titles from European and World Junior level to World Champion (Tim Don 2006).
In 2010 he left his post with British Triathlon to set up his own coaching business,
“Triathlon Performance Solutions” .
He then worked on contract for British Triathlon as the Men’s Coach for the 2012 Olympic Games, before returning to work for the national federation as head coach in 2013.
He lives in Leicestershire with his wife, daughter and dog.
So on to the questions....
First of all, on the old ITU site it states in your profile that your hobbies are green balloons and bull fighting and that your pre-race superstitions involved a bizarre red balloon ritual. To set things straight, is there any truth in this information?!
That was a long, long time ago when I had much more time on my hands. A friend and I had a running joke about red balloons, one of those jokes that is only funny to those involved so I won’t bore you with it. I thought it would be funny to put that in as part of my profile when the ITU was setting up their site.
It’s funny that it is still there and I get asked about it every once in a while. I think I also put in there that I spoke Yiddish. Short answer is that I didn’t used to have any sort of pre - race ritual other than the normal ones that every athlete has - green balloons and that type of thing.
You used to be a triathlete, how did you get into the sport and what are your favourite memories from your time as an athlete?
I got into the sport because we had moved from NZ to Australia and I was struggling to adjust to life after rugby union. I didn’t have an endurance sport background but my sister’s boyfriend at the time was interested in triathlon so we started training together. My cousin was a very successful athlete (Brad Beven) so that helped as well.
It sounds like a cliche but I don’t remember much about success and race wins, probably because they were few and far between, but I do remember the adventures along the way and the friends I made that I still have to this day.
I went to France for 6 months to live and train with my friends when I was 17 years old so you can imagine the sorts of things we got up to. I didn’t make a lot of money from the sport but I experienced a lot and I’m indebted to triathlon for that.
Why did you retire and had you achieved all you wanted as an athlete?
I retired soon after the Sydney Olympics due to a back injury that I had been nursing for a couple of years. I was only 26 at the time so I retired young but I had been racing as an elite since I was 14 or 15 so I’d had a relatively long career in that sense and it had been full of lots of ups and downs.
I think very few people retire from sport feeling they have achieved everything they want and I was no different. There are lots of races I felt I should have won and things I should have done better but anyone can be a shoulda, woulda, coulda.
I had an interesting time as an athlete, more interesting than some who were more successful I would think, so I’ve got lots of great memories.
Why coaching? Did it come naturally? Who was your coach and do they influence your coaching now?
I started coaching because I stopped competing abruptly due to injury and coaching was one of the very few avenues I had as far as work opportunities so I took it. I never had dreams of becoming a coach but I learned to enjoy it very quickly.
It did come naturally in some ways but initially you think you know it all, then you realise you know very little and you’re crestfallen, then you start to learn. Hopefully I’m in the learning stage at the moment and that will continue until I stop coaching.
I had two main coaches as an athlete - Brett Sutton and then John Hellemans - so I was very lucky to have two of the very best coaches in any sport look after me.
John and Brett have very different approaches and I hope my coaching is a mix of those as well as my own interpretations.
Brett is very hands on and sees his athletes for almost every session they do, whilst John gives over the bulk of responsibility to the athlete and manages the process from a little further back.
Different styles work for different athletes. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. I’ve tried.
On your Triathlon Performance Solutions website you state that you believe coaching is equal parts art and science. Can you describe how you put that into practice?
The art is getting to know the person and their personality and what approach you need to take to suit them. The science you use must match the art you need for that person or, in that situation, squad.
The science is in many ways the easy bit because if you follow sound basic training principles you will get improvement.
Many people want to take the short cuts and what you find with the best coaches is that they do the basics right and then when they have those basics right they then add the 1-2% bits on the top that can make the difference at the top level.
A lot of coaches try to do it the other way around and it doesn’t work.
What do you think are qualities that make a good triathlon coach?
Knowledge of the sport, understanding of people and their needs, a solid grounding in exercise physiology and a meticulous approach to planning and execution.
What should someone be looking for in a triathlon coach?
Someone who understands them and their needs and who has had experience from coaching other athletes to achieve the same goals they have, or who has the tools to learn and adapt to meet those goals.
Do you think an elite triathlete can be successful without a coach, How much you think a coach contributes to an athlete’s success?
It’s difficult for an elite to be successful without a coach but not impossible. Athletes find it very difficult to be objective about their training and racing and tend to do way too much training at too high an intensity if not monitored.
A coach contributes in different ways to different athletes. There is not one typical coach - athlete relationship and those relationships change and evolve over time as well.
The relationship you have with a young athlete must change as that athlete becomes an adult. So it’s difficult to quantify how important the coaches role is but for most athletes I would say it’s one of the non-negotiables as far as what they need to be successful.
What’s the hardest thing about being a coach?
When you see an athlete put in a huge amount of work and dedication and not be rewarded because of something that is out of their and your control.
Beijing in 2008 when Tim and Hollie both got ill is a case in point. It was devastating.
What is most rewarding?
The opposite of the above. It doesn’t matter what the level, when someone puts in the work and is rewarded with a great performance and you have helped them to achieve that it’s fantastic.
What is your proudest achievement as a coach?
The headline ones would have to be helping Tim win a world title in 2006, as well as Hollie winning in 2007 and 2009.
Lately I was very proud of Liz Blatchford in Beijing this year considering the injury problems she has had.
But genuinely, any time you see someone achieve something very important to them, and you have helped them to do that it makes you feel very proud. That can be a world title or a PB at the local sprint race.
You have coached several triathletes to world titles at both junior and senior level. What do you think makes a champion triathlete – why did those athletes win?
Those athletes won for a variety of reasons but the main ones are - genetic make up, psychological drivers and consistent, progressive training.
Psychological drivers are probably the most important but you can’t have success without any one of those three things.
You now have your own business, coaching a range of athletes. How have you found coaching age groupers compared to elites, and in an environment where you are on your own and the athletes don’t have a support group round them?
It’s very different from the point of view of who I see every day and I do miss coaching a squad or one-to-one sessions.
But the age group athletes that I coach are all professional people and are very good at managing themselves. Their motivation and drive constantly amazes me, and that is what you need to be successful.
The main bulk of what I prescribe is broadly similar but with an age group athlete you have so many more things to take into consideration, most importantly the amount of time they have to train.
But the basics of training and coaching don’t change. With an elite athlete there is more complexity to the program but 80-90% of it is the same.
Has your approach to coaching changed at all since starting your own coaching business?
From a philosophical perspective no, it hasn’t, but I have had to refine the processes I use and that has made me a better coach.
Good coaching when you are remote is about understanding one another and communicating well.
I use Training Peaks, an online piece of software that is a training diary and analysis tool and that makes it easy for me to prescribe training and get great feedback from my clients.
You are still coaching elites, and involved with the British Triathlon Federation for the 2012 Olympics. What are your plans for the future in triathlon?
At the moment I’m just focussed on getting through this week! My wife is studying to be a nurse and we have an 18 month old little girl and a dog so it’s a bit manic at the moment.
Past the Games I’m looking to expand my business - Triathlon Performance Solutions - especially camps and one-off training plans. In the meantime I have a camp in Fuerteventura in March which is going to be great. There are details about it at www.totaltricamp.com