Podcast, Training

The evolution of coaching principles and practices with David Tilbury-Davis | EP#283

 April 26, 2021

By  Mikael Eriksson


Coach David Tilbury-Davis returns to the podcast for a different kind of episode. David and Mikael muse over how coaching and training principles and practices are evolving, and how training and learning frameworks already used successfully in many sports and contexts outside of triathlon can be applied in a triathlon or endurance sports setting.

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Autonomy
  • Diversity
  • Psychology
  • Specificity
  • The integration of physiology, psychology, and environmental constraints
  • Training athletes as "complex systems" vs. training "independent components of a system"

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  • This podcast episode is slightly different compared to the typical interview based episodes.

    In this podcast, I (Mikael) discuss the evolution of coaching principles and how they have changed over recent years together with coach David Tilbury-Davis.

    The key points of the discussion are summarized below in the show notes.

Short background (David Tilbury-Davis)

  • My name is David Tilbury-Davis and I have over 25 years experience from coaching athletes (mainly triathletes) all over the world.

    I have coached athletes on all continents and also lived in several different continents, which has contributed a lot to a broad understanding of different cultures and how to adjust my coaching to the individuals of these different cultures.

    Mainly, I have coached highly dedicated athletes, either professionals or top age grouper, trying to maximize their performance.

Paradigm shift in coaching

  • Previously, the typical coaching ”strategy” has been to try and induce a stimuli X in order to get a response Y, which one can argue might be a quite reductionist way of viewing coaching.

    This strategy might, however, work well in less ”developed” athletes, who have a steep learning curve and plenty of room for improvement.

    Then you can apply this rather reductionist strategy and still see plenty of improvement in the athletes.
  • However, as the athlete starts to reach the very pointy end of their physical ability, this strategy may not be the best to take.

    The physical ability of the athlete may not be the greatest area of improvement any longer and then it cannot either be successful to only focus on physiological adaptions in the athletes.
  • At this point it has then been debated that it is better to take a more ”holistic” approach, involving the mind and psychology of the athletes much more in the coaching.
  • One can also say that the coaching is starting to be more oriented towards trying to avoid failures rather than focus on success.
  • The dialogue between the coach and athlete may be more about trying to solve certain issues that may or have arose during races.

    For instance, one athlete may always get a good start in the swimming, but then after 500m starts to drop.

    This athlete may then turn to the coaching and say that ”this is what happens during the race”, what strategy in training should we take to solve this issue?

Embracing diversity

  • As the athletes are getting closer and closer towards his or hers physical ability, then it may also be more important to focus on race specificity rather than merely focusing on improving certain physiological parameters.

    This could for instance be to practice several race scenarios that may occur during a race.
  • This is because you can never fully know what physical demands that are going to be thrown at you on race day and hence, you need to be prepared for a broad variety of different scenarios.

    You must therefore be able to display a great ”resilience” towards plenty of different race scenarios.

    This, in turn, you can practice over and over again in training.

    Here it is important to stay creative, and let the athlete himself to a large extent decide what he or she wants to train in order to boost his or hers mental game before the race.
  • Plenty of this is about to familiarize the athlete with the demands of race day and always urge the athlete to stay present with the body and the signs that the body gives at different occasions during such sessions.
  • However, it is also very important not to forget the theory and physiology of racing and not only rely on what the body gives for type of signals at key race specific sessions.

    For instance, one can train an athlete to be able to ride at a certain power output for an IM (fixed watts or % of FTP), and this can be verified by several ”race simulation” sessions.

    But, in a sport that is as complex as long distance triathlon, then you can be ”fooled” by your body’s sensations, this power output may very well be sustainable for 4.5h or 5h but it may not be fuel-able in a sustainable manner.

    For instance, at that power output, the athlete may burn 130-140g of carbohydrates per hour, which is not possible for the gastro intestinal system absorb, and hence such a race pace strategy may not be doable.


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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