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Peter Clifford of HPT


The coach/ squad

Who is Peter Clifford / HPT?

Peter Clifford is a triathlon coach and has been since 2003. After coaching juniors for Cronulla Tri Club, together with Mick Delamotte we formed High Performance Tri in 2006. Our goal was to create a coaching program using high performance coaching for everybody. I am a coach educator and have recently finished a 5 year stint as the Triathlon NSW Coach Education Manager. I continue to present courses around the world for the ITU and do a lot of development work in the region for the Pacific Island Nations.

Where are you based?

Sutherland NSW.

How did you come to the sport?

In 1989 after watching the Wide World of Sport Hawaii coverage I decided to do my first triathlon at Bundeena.

How did you come to coaching?

I was (and still am) a member of Cronulla Triathlon Club and my kids were members also. There was an opening for a junior coach so I signed myself up. Best decision I ever made.

What type of coaching do you do? Face to face/ internet/ squad based?

I mainly do face to face coaching at the moment but following on from coaching some remote people that have sought me out to coach them I am going to coach more remote athletes. I really enjoy both styles.

Do you have a favourite distance to coach?

Not at all. My coaching started with juniors and as HPT has developed I have tended to move towards long course. But to be honest, coaching is coaching to me, and as I have experience in all distances it comes back to the basics of how to get the best out of athletes.

Do you have a favourite discipline to coach?

Not really, but I do love standing on pool deck interacting with 5 lanes all punching out their session watching for technique flaws and pushing the efforts.

What is the one thing that you think is unique about your coaching or squad?

Definitely our diversity. We have athletes from juniors to Age group to Pro.

Do you think it is important for a coach to have competed in triathlon/ competed at a high level in triathlon/ competed at the distances they coach?

It definitely helps. I have competed in triathlons of all distances from sprint to ironman. I have also raced bikes and done many runs from local cross country to Ultra distance. Competing as a family man amongst all that has given me a solid perspective of how to balance your life for success. That said, there are many examples where the coach has had no experience as a competitor and have become great coaches.

How many people do you coach?

About 12 face to face and 5 remote athletes. With a few changes I have made I now have room for more remote athletes.

Qualifications? (theoretical and/or real life experience)

I am a Triathlon Australia accredited High Performance (Level 2) Coach.

As a coach what are your goals?

To coach an elite World Champion is what drives me on a high level .... but on a day to day basis just being there to help athletes be their best is my goal that keeps me going.

 

Method/ style

How would you describe your coaching style?

Holistic. I am a coach that works on the athlete right across their life. I believe that for high performance to happen, everything in their life has to be right.

Do you follow a general philosophy or influence, e.g. Friel, Lydiard, etc.

Not really, my coaching style is my own, but as an athlete I grew up around many great athletes from the Sutherland Shire and was greatly influenced by the likes of the Southwells, Gorrick, Unicomb, Welch et al. Jamie Turner is one coach that has always had a huge influence on my coaching as well.

What method do you use to communicate with your clients (phone, email, face to face)?How often?

Absolutely anything that works. Everybody is different and have different access and preference to communication methods. At any one time, I will be messaging someone, writing comments in training peaks, calling someone, facebooking them or Skyping.

How do you gauge performance improvements? (Races, training, tts, power analysis)

TTs aren't that great a performance indicator really. There are too many variables. Power analysis is excellent and I am a huge believer in that. Races are the ultimate of course but even then weather plays a huge part. Really, as an athlete/coach partnership you just "know" if it's on track. Performance improvement is also such an up and down thing in people's lives so it needs to be tracked long term.

Do you believe in/use gadgets? (Pace watch/PM/hr monitor)

Yes I am a big believer in gadgets. But mainly post session. I prescribe sessions using training zones and want my athletes to use Rating of Perceived Exertion RPE. Then we look back at the data and see how they went. Data helps reinforce we are on track.

How much feedback do you give your athletes on workouts? (Daily/weekly/as needed)

As needed. For instance, a 50km aerobic ride hardly needs feedback does it. But likewise, a specific interval session needs a high level of feedback.

Do you use training peaks or something similar?

Training Peaks is amazing and I am a huge believer. I can track athletes, anywhere, anytime using my MacBook, my iPhone or my iPad. The apps are getting better and better every year and I can directly see graphs and feedback at a moments notice wherever i am in the world .

What's your experience working with people who work extreme hours and how do you adapt their programmes to that?

My experience is that is very difficult. It has advantages of daytime rides etc, but as a coach that likes repeatability that gives me challenges. I adapt their programs to their schedule as needed. Too easy. Not an issue.

How individually tailored are your program?

Very individually tailored. Everyone is pretty much at a completely different point on their journey and life situation. My job as a coach is to coach specifically to the athlete’s needs.

Do you have a holistic approach?

Holistic is very much a word that describes my coaching. I need to know everything about the athlete and their world to improve them. I need to know what makes them tick, what drives their decision making, what traps they fall into. Then we chip away at facing these issues in regard to their improvement as an athlete. Alex Reithmeier is a great example of this. he came from a history of junior success and then fell into Chronic fatigue. When I picked him up as an athlete he was on the road back and we had to face many challenges from a mental perspective in the first two years. Now that is cleared away we are able to work much more on a physical preparation along with technique and race day tactics.

Do you offer advice on diet, vitamins, supplements and alternative therapies (such as chiro,accu, yoga)

Yes. I keep it basic however as these elements of a program are way over-thought. Get the 99%ers right before you look at 1%ers.

 

Athletes

What attributes do you think make an athlete easier to coach to their desired results?

Self-Belief is without a doubt the number one thing. We all have a perception of ourselves that is usually way out of alignment with who we actually are. This then affects decision making very much in a negative way. If I can make an athlete believe in their own ability and potential we are ready to take on the world.

Do you specialise in or have a preference for novice athletes, seasoned athletes, etc, etc.

I have no preferences at all for the type of athletes I personally coach. In fact I have a preference to have diversity to keep me thinking.

Would you be honest with me in regards to my goals and aspirations.

In my work as a coach educator I always ask the new coaches what they feel is the most important trait of a coach. Honesty is always number one. You have to be honest with them. That said, it is extremely important that you deliver honesty in the correct manner. For example, I would prefer to say "I think nutrition is an opportunity for you to develop" rather than saying "you need to lose weight"

Have you ever sacked a client who didn't follow your advice?

Yes, I have offered some athletes other alternatives that would be better for them to develop as athletes. Every single time it is about what is best for the athlete to develop. It’s not about me.

Have you coached mature athletes. How do you treat them differently?

Mature or old?? There is a difference. ;) Seriously but, yes I coach many mature athletes. I treat them quite differently but mostly in the method of delivery. Much less "in your face". They have got to this point of their lives quite well thanks very much. They don't need me preaching to them.

Do you understand the recovery needs of older athletes?

Yes. Of course. I am 53 years old myself. I know the issues. As older athletes get more time in their life they feel they can do more and more intensity. But usually with busy professional lives, the recovery is less than ideal. My post recovery Ironman bike sessions used to be walking a lawn mower around the yard. Younger athletes hit the couch.

What percentage of your athletes survive the training injury free?

Training for an endurance sport is not without risk of injuries. They key is management of that risk. I place huge importance in making sure we get onto anything as soon as possible. I recommend using regular massage and regular trips to a physio / chiro to keep an eye on things. To answer the question, a tiny percentage (if any) would miss a race due to injury.

Do you practice what you preach?

Yes. Whilst not being an athlete these days. I preach commitment to our goals and from that perspective I don't feel I could be personally more committed to my goals as a coach. Every day I work very hard on my craft, leaving no stone unturned. I expect the same from my athletes.

How do you look at intensity vs volumes?

I look at them very closely. I follow a system of using a Training Triad of Strength, Endurance, and Speed/Skill. For each individual athlete I look at getting the perfect "blend" at the corresponding times of their program to get the best from them come race day. Intensity must be matched to the demands of competition and unless the athlete is exposed in training they won't perform on race day.

Volume is one area that I feel most athletes get wrong. They think they can do way more than they actually can. They shoe horn sessions into any gap in their life they possibly can. Consequently they just get more tired and can't perform when needed. As a coach I pride myself on getting this blend just right. I like to get them just on the edge and move that edge forward as they progress.

 

Successes

Everyones idea of success is different. Tell me a couple of your success stories both as a coach and with athletes you train.

Alex Reithmeier is an athlete that was a very good junior but fell to Chronic Fatigue. He was and still is a very driven athlete. When we first started working together he was very afraid of fatigue and intensity. If he got fatigue he would have multiple days off to recover. I had to get his trust as his coach that I wouldn't hurt him. So we gradually built that trust and belief that he could come back. Bit by bit he improved and we set higher targets. By 2013 we had him running 1:15 off a hard bike on a flat course. But we needed to get to at least 1:13 for a podium. One year later, Alex came second in the Busselton 70.3 , 22 secs behind Tim Berkel and just beating Sam Applelton. He ran 1:13. Last year he had his first Ironman and on a very short prep came 7th and went 8:34. The world is at his feet.

Michael Fox and I started working together after a colleague heard he was keen to give triathlon a go. He was already a successful Surf lifesaver and was looking for new challenges. Foxy was 19 years old at the time and was clearly a very mature young man for his age. We took him through the regular athlete development pathway and set about getting him a pro license. After a few years he achieved that goal by getting a podium at the Mooloolaba Triathlon and we were then ready to enter the next phase, ITU Conti Cups. Foxy travelled to a number of races with varied results. He then had a go at some long course racing and found he loved it much more. In January this year he achieved his first major long course podium, a third place in Challenge Melbourne

Both of these athletes I must say are still working full time jobs. As developing athletes I believe a sound financial base is crucial to them moving forward and while they progress though the sport they have the time to do this. Of course, as they move up the ladder, their increased training loads will preclude full time employment .

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HPT Athlete Michael Fox in action

 

Optional.

Cost and what do I get for this?

All details are on the website - www.highperformancetri.com
But the basics of it are :
Online - $130 a month
Face to Face - $160 a month
Performance Level athletes - $200 a month

There are some slight variations and I do have some small performance based incentives for pro athletes.

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