Meet Christian Malcolm - GB head coach Part 2/3

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This is the second piece by Stuart Weir on Christian Malcolm, the new GB head coach. This is a incredibly important position, and, as Stuart has noted, a view into the approach that Jo Coates, the new British Athletics CEO, is taking.

CM2.jpgChristian Malcolm, photo by British Athletics

Meet Christian Malcolm - GB head coach Part 2

I have had the opportunity of a one-to-one interview with Christian (December 2020) as well as participating in a media briefing with him.

1. What is the role of the national head coach?

To support the other coaches, to support their athletes. To help, check and challenge what's good, what's not good. To provide camps with a great training environment. To keep coaches motivated and focused on the task in hand - identifying and seeing where the pitfalls can be. I think that's my job as head coach.

2. What will you do day to day?

At the moment it's dealing with Covid! In the short term, the biggest challenge is getting the team ready for Tokyo because of the pandemic and the restrictions. Trying to arrange training camps, helping people to access training during lockdown. Finding people who would fit that philosophy going forward.

CM 1.jpgAdam Gemili and Christian Malcolm, photo by British Athletics

Going forward, setting up camps, having conversations with athletes and coaches: 'what are you doing? Why are you doing that? What do you need?' Trying to get coaches together. At the moment we don't have in place certain department heads or technical leads. What is the strategy? How will it look going forward? In 2022 we have World Championships, Commonwealth Games and European Championships, what is the plan going into that year? Where is the best place for us to go for training camps and preparation? What about the indoor season? What is the individual plan for our top athletes? Who are the promising athletes coming through? Speaking with the head of juniors and futures. Who do we foresee coming forward in the next Olympic cycle? I'll be working with the medical team. Sometimes that's firefighting. What's the plan who's doing the rehab?

3. What are your strengths? What do you bring to the job?

I have a good understanding of what it is like to be an athlete - a successful one but also one who has failed. At times athletes can feel unappreciated and I think that's important. I have also been there as a coach - coaching relays, coaching para-athletes and coaching at the grass roots level. Also speaking to international athletes that I have given advice to over the years. I've also been coached by some of the best coaches in the world. As a person, I am quite laid back and calming. I like to stand back, look at situations and analyse what is the best answer and not rush in and act. I like to get all the information and analyse before I express my opinion. I will be honest. That's one thing you always get from me. If I don't know, I don't know. But if I do know I will be honest and direct.

4. How do you expect the relationship between the head coach and the performance director to operate?

I think that is something that we're working through at the moment. Obviously, the performance director is looking at the sport more broadly whereas I'm dealing with the elite side of things but it's a relationship where we need to work closely together. We need to work in tandem. That's how it operated in Australia when I was head of high performance and coaching and we worked closely together on a daily basis.

5. There are a number of ways of measuring performance - medals, athletes reaching finals, athletes achieving a PR. Do you think British Athletics has got the criteria right?

Success is being able to raise your standard. If you are in the top 20 one year and next year you are top 12, top 16 that's an achievement. If you are top 12 and you become top eight, or if your top eight in you get into the top five that's an achievement. That is progression and after that you need to progress again. Wherever you sit on the landscape you will look at medals, you look at PRs and you look at performance. But if you're asking me as a head coach, I want to say to people 'get to a major championship and raise your game up a level'.

DSC_0224.JPGChristian Malcolm taking accolades at 2010 European Athletics Champs, photo by European Athletics

We all want to see the shiny medals. But we all want to see people achieving (more) generally. Athletics is an incredibly difficult sport. It's very challenging. Every country in the world does athletics. To be exceptional in athletics is a challenge but we have the pedigree and history of doing it. If you ask me what I think we can achieve, I can see us turning some of that young talent into achieving regular top 8s and hopefully being on the podium.

6. How will you know if you have been successful?

I don't know. I like to think, whether or not I go to a major championship like Paris and double our medal haul from Tokyo and do better than we expected, I wouldn't say that success for me. I think it is more about being able to leave a sport for someone else to come in and the machine to be able to continue going forward. I think that's success that you leave it with all the strategies, instruction and everything is in place for the sport to be able to move on.

7. How has training changed from your day as an athlete until now?

In my day a lot of coaches had another job and coached in the evening. Now it's much more daytime, more professional. You have a mixture of coaches who are academic - not smarter, don't get me wrong but more academically led - in the way they go about their training methods. But we still have good old school coaches alongside the modern coaches. I think the difference is that some of the modern coaches, who have had recent success, have been able to utilize sport science equipment in the way they go about it. A lot of them are data-led in their approach.

8. "Athletes first" seems to be the new mantra in British Athletics but what does it actually mean?

If it wasn't for the athletes we wouldn't be here. But if you took away the administration, the athletes could still go out and perform. Take the athletes away and leave us here - what are we doing? So it is about the athletes and what we can do to help them get the best out of themselves. That's what I mean by 'athletes first'.

9. How do you expect to interact with one of our podium athletes and their coach? What can you add?

I think, if it's not broken, don't try to fix it! I'm in close contact and conversation with a few of our athletes and coaches as well. Just checking in on them. Going to see where they are, keeping abreast of what they're doing. It's not about me coming in and saying 'I've got the magic dust which is going to make you better'. It's about them being able to continue what they're doing, having those conversations and being a sounding board for some of the coaches. I see myself fitting in in that role.

10. What is the biggest difference between being an athlete and now becoming a coach?

As an athlete you have to be selfish; as a coach you have to be selfless. I'm not in this job for me. I'm in this job for athletes, coaches and for the sport. There were so many conversations that we had as athletes about what we would do if we were in the position to run the sport. And you know what, I'm in that position so I need to be able to make good changes. I don't mean change everything but make good changes where change is needed.

DSC_0228.JPGChristian Malcolm, 2010 European Athletics Outdoor Champs, photo by British Athletics

As an athlete you have to be selfish because it's about getting the best out of yourself. It's about making sacrifices away from the track so that you can't go to family parties - because you are training or recovering or away on training camp. You may be on a strict diet. As head coach, I have to be available, on the end of a phone - whatever time someone wants to call. I got to be there to support people and find solutions.

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