By Ryan Ohashi
“Does the coach make the athlete or does the athlete make the coach?”
This is not the easiest question to start off with but when you’re a veteran of 30 years experience; six Olympic medals in three Olympic Games; a seven-time winner of the Longines-Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award; Speed Skating Canada’s 2004 Coach of the Year; the recipient of the Jack Donahue Coach of the Year Award in 2011; and the Coaching Association of Canada/Petro-Canada Coaching Excellence Award seven times you are expected to come with answers.
“That’s a good question haha” says Oval Associate Director of High Performance Marcel Lacroix in his usual jovial tone. Just as comfortable speaking about business as much as pleasure it’s rare that you’ll see a pause in the conversation; but in this case, the topic touches on both for Lacroix.
“It’s both ways because it’s a relationship.” says Lacroix “As a coach you can only suggest a certain way of doing things and it’s basically up to the athletes to really accept and understand that. It’s a two way street. A good coach will know how to suggest, present and know how to make the athlete buy into the concept but it’s up to the athlete to go along with it.”
In his current position, Lacroix remains one of the key contributors to the development of the sport of speed skating in Canada. His Oval program coaches are tasked with the Olympic Oval mandate of providing the best environment for high performance athlete success. He was integral in developing Canada’s new elite athlete pathway and like many others he is also frontline when it comes to its execution.
Most of us have at one point or another been influenced by a coach or a mentor in a positive way. The first ever National Coaches Week kicking off this weekend is an opportunity to look at some of these relationships and take the time to recognize some of these individuals.
“I wanted to coach since I was a kid – which I think makes me a little different. If you asked me at 17 what I wanted to be; I would have said a speed skating coach.” says current Oval Coach Todd McClements who is one of many current speed skating coaches who have been influenced by Lacroix having skated for him and coached as an assistant under him for many years. It’s given him a unique perspective on the coaching dynamic.
“The biggest thing is that Marcel is a great motivator – he always got you to do more than you ever thought you could” said McClements “That’s why when I did my NCI (National Coaching Institute) certification I wanted Marcel as my sort of mentor coach, because I wanted to tap into that side of what he was doing.”
McClements himself has already coached athletes to World Championships and World Cups – and he was a coach at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. With three generations of speed skating in his blood (Both his father and grandfather speed skated) it’s easy to see where the passion he has for the sport stems from. That passion and that drive is one of the many things he now tries to pass on to his athletes and to young coaches.
“What’s really neat is that when they start their coaching career you can see that their teachings are in line with your own teachings.” says Lacroix of some of his former skaters turned coaches like McClements and Oval coach Jeff Kitura
“So for example you see Jeff or Todd are using a lot of the same techniques that I remember coaching them with when they were skaters… You’re like: so they did learn something! Haha.”
“But they are using that knowledge and it’s quite rewarding to see that because it makes you realize that there was an education there - they learned things like how do they present themselves, how do they prepare and how do they compete… They learned things that at the time they maybe didn’t realize would have an effect on their career. To me that’s rewarding - to know that I wasn’t just telling them what to do. You realize they took something away from it .
It’s often too easy for us to define success by the number of medals and the number of championship banners we earn. This isn’t to take away from the quantitative numbers as those statistics in amateur sport are often the measuring stick for words like funding and sponsorship. But as a coach – success needs to be measured on so many levels to get the full picture of the “athlete and coach” dynamic.
“What is success? If we can only define success by if your athlete wins an Olympic gold medal – does that mean there is only one skater every four years that we can call a success?” said Lacroix “That sucks. Life is not like that. And to me that was key for me with my athletes - redefining what success is and making sure the athletes and the coaches really understand that you define your success and I am going to help you reach YOUR success not what someone else defines it for you as.”
“It’s not always about the athlete who is the fastest, to me it’s all about getting more out of them then they were capable of. Those athletes - the ones where maybe they aren’t the most talented but they work hard to the point where you know they are at the top of what they are capable of – they are the most fun to coach.” Said McClements
“My take away is making a difference in someone’s life.” Said Lacroix “You can look them in the eyes and know that we had together the best ride and you are proud of what they achieved. They feel like there was something special.”
FROM THE NATIONAL COACHES WEEK WEBSITE:
September 19-27 marks the first ever National Coaches Week and we’re asking Canadians everywhere for your help celebrating! Whether you are from a National Sport Organization, Provincial/Territorial Sport Organization, club or you are a coach, parent or athlete we want your help saying “Thanks” to coaches from coast to coast. For more information on National Coaches Week click the banner: