High performance and long-term athlete development with Mark Elliott | EP#83

 December 11, 2017

By  Mikael Eriksson

High performance and long-term athlete development with Mark Elliott | EP#83

Mark Elliott is Triathlon New Zealand's High Performance Director. With a long background in high-performance sports and countless championships medal under his leadership in triathlon and cycling, he is the perfect person to talk about athlete development.

Discuss this episode!

  • Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments at the bottom of the shownotes. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 
  • What stood out to you in this discussion with Mark? Was it the key characteristics of successful elite athletes (that didn't include genetics), or something else?  
  • Join the discussion here!

In this Episode you'll learn about:

  • Triathlon New Zealand's high-performance initiative
  • Long-term athlete development
  • The three most important traits of any triathlete: elite or age-grouper
  • What age-groupers can learn from high-performance sports (that they aren't currently doing)
  • Advice for parents of kids doing triathlon or endurance sports

Sponsored by:

Precision Hydration

Precision Hydration
One size doesn't fit all when it comes to hydration. Take PH's free Triathlon Sweat Test to get personalised hydration advice tailored to what you're training for. Use the discount code THATTRIATHLONSHOW to get 15% off electrolyte supplements.

Ventum BIkes

The ultimate triathlon bikes, using technology from fighter jets and Formula One race cars. Easier to build, pack, and travel with than any other tri bike. Get 110% of the value of your old bike towards the purchase of a new Ventum bike.


About Mark Elliott

03:57 -

  • As High Performance Director of Triathlon New Zealand, I make sure that triathletes have all the support they need both in coaching and development for their long-term goals to win in the World Championships, Olympics and Commonwealth Games.
  • I’ve been involved in high performance sports in New Zealand for about 20 years. I started as a physiotherapist working with triathletes.
  • I was fortunate enough the guide the program in the Athens 2004 Summer Olympics where we got a gold and two silver medals.
  • I was Bevan Docherty’s coach for about 10 years.
  • I also led Cycling New Zealand for about 9 years.

As High Performance Director, what are the biggest challenges you see on any level of the athlete development program?

The biggest challenge at the moment is to make sure athletes are exposed to quality coaches at the right times in their career.

How do you overcome that challenge?

We have about 6 lead coaches who work with a number of our athletes across the country. It’s important to make sure that we are balancing an athlete’s year and not trying to achieve things in the short-term but thinking about long-term.

From the long-term development perspective of an athlete, is there such a thing as an ideal duration of a coach-athlete relationship?

07:38 -

  • That comes down to the relationship the coach and the athlete have.
  • The objective of being a coach is to make yourself redundant by passing your knowledge and skills to the athletes.
  • Over time, you would hope your athlete gets exposed to more than just one coach to get skill development from others.
  • It’s good for athletes to be exposed to different coaching styles.

How do you try to be better than other countries?

09:12 -

  • It's sports psychology 101, that you can only control what you do yourself.
  • For us at the moment, Triathlon New Zealand hasn’t really shown a lot of progression over the last few years.
  • At the moment, it’s about working out what works for us and what is right for our environment to develop our athletes.
  • They key thing for us in training is getting it right and doing what works for us as a country and not being caught up with what everyone else is doing.

Any theories on why it has been a few less successful years for New Zealand in triathlon success?

10:08 -

  • Back then, when I stepped out of the program in 2005, I don’t think we fully understood the importance of long-term development for athletes as opposed to rushing them through.
  • In a lot of countries, once they see talent, there’s a tendency to try and accelerate that talent.
  • For us, we just need to be mindful of not rushing athletes through. I think we probably lost a lot of young talented athletes by pushing through too early.
  • We need to show some patience and at the same time make sure that the athletes that we currently have are doing the right thing.

What are the most important factors that determine whether an athlete becomes successful or not in that long-term development cycle?

What are the key factors to becoming an elite athlete?

12:28 -

  • If we all base things on genetic factors, then that would really stifle a lot of reasons why kids do sports.
  • The best ones are the ones who are hungry and who are constantly wanting to push the boundaries.
  • If you look at the attributes of gold medalists, they are fast learners. They’re adaptive to change. They’re constantly challenging the boundaries.
  • Wanting to push boundaries is not about trying to do a 1000k bike week or a 150k run week. It’s actually about pushing boundaries around their ability to maximize their performance without pushing themselves over the edge and doing that constantly over time.

Have you coached many age-groupers or have you focused on elite triathletes in your own coaching?

14:22 -

  • In my earlier days, I ran when I was a physiotherapist. I ran a coaching business with age-groupers participating in Ironman and in our New Zealand event called Coast to Coast.
  • The focus for them was around making sure that they weren’t just focusing on physiology but focusing on good skill, efficiency on the bike, efficiency with your running technique, efficiency with your swimming or paddling as opposed to just training harder.
  • We also make sure that they are in an environment where they are really enjoying it. This is another factor that is critical for any athlete. That is you’ve got to love what you do.

Is there a common ground between success in an age-group triathlon or multisport and elite sport?

15:37 -

  • With age-groupers, there’s a real desire. They’re doing something because they’re passionate and they want to challenge themselves. It’s no different to an elite.
  • The best success with age-group athletes are the ones that have a goal and who are prepared to take the time to get it right to get there.
  • They realize their own limitations, so they just don’t pick up a program on the internet and think all of a sudden that they can go and ride 300-400k a week when they’ve never ridden a bike.
  • They’re prepared to take the time to get the right bike and the right setup. They enjoy it and can get the most out of it.
  • It’s about sitting down with that athlete and knowing where they’ve come from and then understanding where they want to go.
  • There is no difference in approach to elite and age-group athletes.

Advice for parents of kids doing triathlon or endurance sports

17:14 -

  • The focus for us is not about making these kids train every day, it’s actually about learning the skills to swim, run, and bike correctly. This is the priority.
  • However, what tends to happen is that a lot of kids get dragged into triathlon and athletics clubs and just get hammered with too much running and training load.
  • Also, it’s important to have an environment where the kids are having fun.
  • Kids are active. It doesn’t matter what they do. Whatever they do we need them to learn and enjoy the sport. We want kids to love the sport and carry on doing the sport for the rest of their lives.

Tips for age-groupers to improve in triathlon

20:19 -

  • If you’re an age-group athlete, the key thing is about enjoying the sport for what it is.
  • There’s so much to be gained by doing a triathlon. There’s nothing better than going running with a bunch of people on the hills. There’s nothing better than going for a bike ride for 3 hours with a bunch of people that are like-minded.
  • For any age-grouper out there, the first thing to do is to go and connect yourself with the community and get out riding and go do group rides.
  • If you’re training by yourself, you’re actually missing out what the core part of the sport is about.
  • Just enjoy it, and go and enjoy it with others is the best way to get the most out of the sport.

With Triathlon New Zealand, what do you do for age-groupers?

We connect the elite team with the age-group team when we’re at the World Championships.

What is the activity that you will do between now and Tokyo or even the Commonwealth games to help the New Zealand athletes achieve the best possible results?

24:06 -

  • The key thing that we’re focusing on at the moment is consistency in performance and consistency of training load.
  • At the moment for us, it’s about building strength and it will be our focus for the next 12 months.

Rapid-fire questions

  • My greatest resource is the coaches I work with.

Links, resources and contact

Links and resources mentioned

Connect with host Mikael Eriksson


Hi! I'm your host Mikael,

I am a full-time triathlon coach and an ambitious age-group triathlete. My goal is podium at the Finnish national championships within the next few years.

I first started the website Scientific Triathlon in autumn 2015 as a passion project to share my learnings with a larger triathlon audience. Later on, in early 2017 I started the podcast That Triathlon Show. 

I sincerely want you to contact me to

  • Send me feedback
  • Give constructive critic​ism 
  • Request topics and guests for the podcast
  • Send me your triathlon-related questions 
  • Tell me that you've rated and reviewed That Triathlon Show so I can give you a shout-out on the show and tell you how much it means to me!
Subscribe to That Triathlon Show and never miss an episode!


Let's discuss this episode and the topic in general. Post any comments or questions in the comments below. I'll be here to reply and take an active part in the conversation, so don't be shy! 

What stood out to you in this discussion with Mark? Was it the key characteristics of successful elite athletes (that didn't include genetics), or something else?

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.

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Explore our products and services