Athletics SA Coaching Coordinator, Adam Didyk, has jetted off to Rio with the Australian Olympic team as a coach. In this exclusive blog post, Adam reflects on his journey to get to the Olympic Games as a young coach.
Coaching on the fly!
By Adam Didyk
I write this as I fly out of Adelaide over the SA Athletics Stadium with the Hilltop Hoods blasting in my ears making it a truly South Australian Experience. It’s a symbolic moment which forced me to rip my laptop out of my bag as the seatbelt sign dims and start typing.
On to a second Olympics and this time as a team coach, wow, who would have thought, not me. This was never the plan, well not yet anyway. My life plan was to pursue my running until the age of 35 when I would then shift my focus to coaching. I turn 35 a day after Madeline Hills lines up in round 1 of the 3000m Steeplechase and on the day that Jess toes the line in Rio to run her second Olympic Marathon. So what happened to put me in this position?
I’m a proud South Australian, actually very proud South Aussie. My Number 1 football team is Port Power, and unlike pretty much any Port Supporter my second team in the AFL is the Adelaide Crows - Jess has forced the Melbourne Demons into spot #3. Yes, this choice has been met with disgust from my parents, and most of my Port Power supporting friends, but suits the fact that my wife and her family are Crows supporters. So when I left Adelaide to pursue my running in the NCAA at the University of Memphis, then returned to Adelaide for a year before then move my running pursuits to Ballarat for a year, I had to return to where my heart was. I knew that something was missing in Adelaide to cause me as an athlete to move around in an attempt to pursue my running, but what was I searching for? I returned with the thought of: Why can’t Adelaide be the place to be?
So upon my return I was passionate about making that happen in Adelaide. We needed races to ignite some elite level performances. PJ Bosch spoke to me about creating a race series, so for the next 3 years I passionately threw my efforts into the Adelaide Invitational meets. It was a start!
After years of ignoring the requirements of managing an Achilles problem I was sidelined through surgery, and an unlikely dinner conversation with a mate of mine, saw me agreeing to coach him. I was in, I was hooked, I got home and madly wrote a program for his next 3 months that night. It suited my passion for developing distance running in South Australia, I had made a conscious choice to stop complaining about what I wanted for SA and now went about creating it. A year later and I had a squad forming at the age of 26….too early. I made many mistakes, I was in over my head. So when you are drowning, what’s your key to survival? Learn to swim, not just to the top, but swim so that you’ll never be at risk of drowning again……Thrive in your environment!
4 Years later and the girl who was so excited in those early days to tell me she ran the 30 mins I had set on her program (I replied, “Good! Do it again tomorrow”) was lining up for her first marathon in Nagoya, Japan. I had encouraged Jess to Dream Big, and I was committed to her dreams………was this too big though? We were about to find out! History shows that this debut marathoner went on to the Olympics, and performed outstandingly, this young coach though, had a very long way to go, I was not yet thriving, but only just surviving.
So 4 years later, and what has changed. I’m 4 years older and about to get to the age where I am supposed to start coaching. More importantly I have learnt a lot more about what coaching is all about, and what coaches go through to be there for their athletes. Most weeks throw up numerous challenges, stresses, and pressure……..and that’s all before you step foot on the track to hold the stopwatch. Yep, I’ve learnt that structure, programming, planning and science are crucially important to the development of an athlete, but realistically make up about 10% of the role of the coach. As an endurance coach, the time on the side of the track is less for me about holding the stopwatch (Athletes own watches, fancy ones, and they love to use them and share their data……some share it too much), and more about watching the athlete, and understanding how they are coping with the training, and in many cases life. The balance that athletes require to achieve their peak performance is more important than many recognise as they charge directly towards their goals with little periphery or distraction. Some battle on a daily basis, large battles, important battles before they even lace up their shoes. These athletes are my heroes!
As a coach, the battles are the same. I believe that coaches are there to perform also, but not to compete. I have learnt this upon reflection, I am certainly my own harshest critic, and I need to perform and be at my best, just as the athletes do. It is very important to me to play my role to the best of my ability and understanding. So without someone coaching us, and keeping us accountable to our own personal habits and behaviour, we have to find a way to manage ourselves effectively, especially in the key moments where it could certainly compromise us being effective coaches.
The demographic of coaches is an interesting discussion, and no stats will predetermine the age, marital status, or employment situation which will predict success or welcome coaches into the game. We are all at different stages in our life, with different levels of experience, different personalities, and different entry points and reasons for getting involved in coaching. There is one thing that we have in common….WE CARE! Sometimes things would be less stressful if we didn’t care, but let’s not kid ourselves, we do.
I’ve learnt not to take anything for granted on this journey. My family is the first thing I will acknowledge here. I just left my 2 year old son, and my wife who is pregnant with our next child at the airport. That was tough, and as I boarded the plane, I realised it was my pursuits that were causing this sadness, it’s hopefully my pursuits that will also make my family proud of me, and encourage my children to dream of doing things bigger than they thought were possible. My family is always in my planning - I wouldn’t coach if I couldn’t achieve an effective enough balance which considered my family first. My dream job and a move to Sydney last year was turned down, because I couldn’t justify the pressure it would place on my family, and this will always be my decision making gauge.
I certainly have learnt not to take any athletes for granted. The faith and trust they put in me can only be repaid by me committing to a high level of personal excellence and respect for their goals. I’m a lucky man, I have a huge athletics family, thanks to the athletes I get to work with and the community of passionate coaches in SA who offer their support. The greatest moments in coaching are the times when you see satisfaction and joy in the eyes of an athlete who has just achieved their goal. A business man will chase the dollars, a coach will chase those moments, they fuel the fire within. The relationship a coach builds with an athlete is extremely important, I’ve never taken this for granted, and always look for ways to keep building upon this. Find ways to celebrate with your athletes, the small things, and then let them enjoy the big things, because when they cross that finish line, they own that result.
I look forward to the challenges ahead at an Olympic level. Excitement is not the first feeling that comes to mind, instead an awareness of what lies ahead of me, and the moments we are chasing. As a coach, I am excited about the opportunity to be the best coach I can be, although in reality this started well before this flight took off, months and years of planning carefully, meticulously, passionately is where the pressure of my job lies. To this point, I have done everything ‘I’ can, and I am confident in the preparation and in the athletes as individuals to chase their own result with much vigour.
So coaching is challenging, extremely rewarding at times, but nothing worth doing comes easy!
I write this, not in an egotistical way to share my story, but to share the fact that as an athlete I never understood what my coaches went through to be there for me. I thank the coaches of my past with great appreciation for what they instilled in me, and what they taught me, so a shout out and a big thankyou to: Tony Checker, David Patterson, Glen Hays, Rod Griffin and Shaun Creighton. Some great men, who helped to shape my life in Athletics, and certainly would have given up a great deal to be there for me, to support my athletic pursuits.