Coaching, Podcast

Perspectives on coaching with David Tilbury-Davis | EP#227

 March 30, 2020

By  Mikael Eriksson


​David Tilbury-Davis has been coaching professional and age group athletes since 1995, helping them achieve 3 World titles, 11 National titles, 3 Ironman Regional Championship titles, and numerous wins, podiums and personal bests in various races. In this interview, David discusses coaching from the coach's perspective - what goes on backstage away from workout prescriptions, coaching calls and training plans? This is part two of a two-part interview.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Defining success as a coach
  • Creating meaningful work as a coach
  • Remote coaching vs. face-to-face coaching
  • Work/life balance as a coach
  • Mental health for the athlete and the coach
  • Data vs. RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion)
  • Doping

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Defining success as a coach

05:05 - 

  • It’s easy to say that the success as a coach is defined by the performance of the athletes that the coach coaches.

    But to me successful coaching has a deeper meaning than purely being about race results, a very important part of being a successful coach for me is to what level I get to impact my athletes as individuals and give them new meaningful perspectives on life.
  • Another important area of defining success as a coach is how close I can get my athletes to their potential, both in regards to genetic talent and external conditions such as work, family commitment, etc.

    To this one can also add the ability for the athlete to perform at his or hers absolute when it really matters.

    I always feel satisfaction when an athlete after a race tells me that he or she left it all out there on the course and really gave everything they had on the day.

    It maybe a little bit outside the subject, but I would like to underline that it is really important to in most cases not define a good performance with times in triathlon, there are too many outside factors that may impact the time so it is generally better to look at how the athlete performed within the age group or percentage of the whole male/female start field.
  • I also listen to how my athletes define success and can consequently adjust my view of being a successful coach for this particular athlete, which I think is a very important perspective to remember.

    A couple of years ago, I was rather hung up on intrinsic or extrinsic motivational factors, believing that one of them were better than the other, however, in recent time I have come to realized that motivational factors are very individual and that one specific motivator very rarely is either good or bad.

Creating meaningful work as a coach

16:00 -

  • To me coaching is extremely much about building well-functioning interpersonal relationships, and this can obviously be something that puts your skills as a person sensor to a real test.

    As a coach I need to be able to find a way to be and communicate that is adjusted and specialized to the specific athlete I’m coaching.

    This can be really challenging at times and requires that I constantly develop certain personal traits, and this gives me plenty of meaning in the work that I do.

    The variety of coach-athlete relationships that athletes expects are also extremely diverse and being able to sense what kind of relationship this particular athlete wishes is also a big (and very fun/meaningful) challenge.
  • There are definitely some challenges with remote coaching, but there are also some benefits.

    The perks of seeing an athlete on a day-to-day basis are quite obvious, it provides you with plenty of information just observing the athlete train, their body language etc.

    The downside on the other hand could, however, be that you’re missing out on the objective data that one tend to pay more attention to as you are coaching remotely.

    Of course, biomechanical (technical) coaching is for obvious reasons much easier conducted when you get to see an athlete train first hand, however, it’s also easy to ”overwhelm” an athlete with too many technique tips, leading to non-ideal coaching, I only have my athletes to think about one or max two things at the same time.

    This subject also touches a little upon the discussion wether training camps are a great opportunity to get really high quality training or if they actually creates more stress than what the benefits are from them.

    I have athletes living in a very controlled and calm environment where they have everything (pools, run tracks, roads, trainer, etc.) very nearby and the benefits for them to pack their things and get on a long flight to get to a training camp may not be that high.

    For another athlete, however, getting away on a training camp could serve the opposite effect by getting away from a stressful every-day life of work and family commitments and get a chance to only focus on training for a week or two, consequently, going away on a training camp for such an athlete is probably something very beneficial.

The mental health aspect

28:50 -

  • I think this is a massively important topic, a vast majority of professional athletes or top range age group athletes definitely have addictive personality traits, meaning they are constantly searching for situations that provides outlet for the release of endorfins.

    At the very pointy end, there is also a fair bit of anxiety in relations to performance and this one needs to be vigilant on as a coach.

    As a coach, I think it is very important to be able to put the athlete into perspective of what he or she is doing, after all, this is only sport BUT as an athlete you serve a greater purpose and that is to inspire other people to a active and healthy life style, which goes beyond the results of certain races.
  • Another aspect of mental health is body imaging, which very many top level athletes do have some kind of thoughts or concerns about.

    As a coach, I think it is very important to be able to soundly bring this subject up and not avoid because it is sensitive.
  • One must also take care of oneself as a coach, which to a large part is about setting some boundaries for how available one can be for your athletes.

RPE or metrics

39:10 -

  • I think both RPE and more ”hard core” data have their place, I don’t think one is better than the other.

    Together, RPE and metrics is a very powerful tool and one should not replace the other.


45:03 -

  • It exists, that is for sure.
  • Today there exists certain methods that are very easy to get away with and since the rewards are so high in our sport, one can assume that people are taking that chance.
  • Anti dopers definitely have a very hard job today but I would like to see more to be done in the fight against illegal drug uses within our sport.
  • One also must be aware of the fact that there are certain stakeholders, which would also not benefit from dopers being revealed as it would generate bad press for the sport or a specific event.

Advice to coaches

50:00 -

  • Really try to understand your athletes as people and not only athletes
  • Try not to be too hard on yourself, many coaches exhibit the same behavior as many top performing athletes, sometimes shit happens and one needs to be able to roll with that!


Mikael Eriksson

I am a full-time triathlon coach, founder of Scientific Triathlon, and host of the top-rated podcast That Triathlon Show. I am from Finland but live in Lisbon, Portugal.

Please contact me if you have feedback on the podcast or want to make suggestions for improvement or send in a question for a Q&A episode.

If you are a long-time listener and appreciate the value the podcast brings, please consider taking a couple of minutes for leaving a rating and review on iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever else you can think of leaving a rating and review.

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