What It Takes to Be an Olympic Triathlete 

Fast Talk’s first live recording took place at USAT’s 2024 Endurance Exchange, where we spoke with two top coaches who are helping to build Team USA’s Olympic hopefuls.

FTL endurance exchange

Racing at the Olympics is one of the greatest challenges of any athlete’s career. Perhaps the only thing to rival that challenge is the obstacle of getting to the Olympics in the first place. Athletes face difficult selection processes, competition from teammates, the need to be in top fitness at the right time, and many other difficulties to make the final selection.  

This is where national governing bodies can play a crucial role helping athletes in their quest for the Olympics. In this episode, Trevor talks with two top USA Triathlon coaches about both the challenges triathletes face and how to support Team USA’s Olympic hopefuls. 

RELATED: Episode 265 Learning About the Biopsychosocial Approach to Training 

Joining us are Christine Palmquist, who works with the paratriathlon team and owns Cloud 10 Multisport; Justin Trolle, who works with USAT’s elite athletes; and guest host Dr. Paul Laursen, owner of Athletica.ai and host of the Training Science Podcast. 

We discuss an array of topics, including the obstacles these athletes face, how to take a team approach when athletes are competing against their teammates, whether a centralized or decentralized strategy is best, and the challenges that all coaches face working with both elite and recreational athletes.  

RELATED: Episode 290: Why Coaches Need Support, too, with Lee Povey 

This episode is also a first for Fast Talk! The podcast was recorded live in front of the attendees at USA Triathlon’s 2024 Endurance Exchange Coaching Conference. We had to talk loud, in case you’re wondering why we’re shouting a bit.  

So, start thinking ahead to Paris 2024 and let’s make you fast! 

Episode Transcript

Trevor Connor  00:04

Hello and, welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Trevor Connor here with guest host Dr. Paul Larson. Racing the Olympics is one of the greatest challenges of any athlete’s career. Perhaps only thing to rival the challenge is the challenge of actually getting to the Olympics. Athletes face difficult selection processes, competition from teammates, they need to be on top fitness at the right time and a host of other obstacles to make the final selection.

Trevor Connor  00:29

This is where national governing bodies can play a crucial role helping or hindering athletes in their quest to go the Olympics. In today’s episode, we talk with two top level three coaches at USA Triathlon, about both the challenges and how they support triathletes looking to represent the US.

Trevor Connor  00:45

Joining us are Christine Palmquist, who works with the Para triathlon team and owns Cloud 10. Multi-sport Justin Trolle works at USA Triathlon with their elite athletes, and Dr. Paul Larson the owner of athletica.ai and hosts of the training Science Podcast who helped me host during the recording, we discussed a host of topics including the sort of challenges his athletes face, how to take a team approach, and athletes are competing for spots against those same teammates. Whether a centralized or decentralized approach is best and the challenges that all coaches face working with both elite and recreational athletes.

Trevor Connor  01:19

Also, this was a first for Fast Talk. The podcast was recorded live in front of all the attendees at USA triathlons, 2024 endurance exchange coaching conference. We had to talk loud, in case you’re wondering why we’re shouting a bit. So start thinking ahead to Paris 2024, and let’s make a fast.

Trevor Connor  01:39

Bur, winter, the air is cold. But getting, back to conditioning and looking to rev up your training. If you haven’t already, now’s a great time of year to reflect on the past season. Specifically, when it comes to data and recovery to very important metrics in endurance sports, visit Fast Talk Labs and take a look at our pathways on recovery and data analysis. These two in depth guides can help you get the most from your off-season. See more fasttalklabs.com/pathways.

Trevor Connor  02:13

Well hello, everybody. I hope you can hear us. My name is Trevor Connor, I host a podcast called Fast Talk, and we have been asked to do a live recording in front of you. This is a first for me. So I hope you enjoy this. I hope everybody can hear us, and let’s go around the room. Dr. Larson.

Justin Trolle  02:33

Hi, everyone. My name is Paul Larson. And I too am a podcast host called the training Science Podcast and I’m excited to do this live podcast today which I’ve never done before. This

Trevor Connor  02:45

Makes two of us so Christine.

Christine Palmquist  02:48

Hello everyone. I am Chris Palmquist from Chicago and I am a coach in many ways.

Trevor Connor  02:54

So you are a level three USA T coach and you work with their para athletes Correct.

Christine Palmquist  02:59

I’m a national team para triathlon coach for USA para triathlon and developer of para triathletes for USA Triathlon as well. Fantastic.

Trevor Connor  03:08

And Justin? Yeah, my

Justin Trolle  03:10

My name is Justin Trolle with Level Three coach based out of Colorado Springs. I work primarily with high performance athletes, and I’ve been in the states now for about 16 years.

Trevor Connor  03:18

So I’m actually going to start this episode by giving you a little bit of a story because I know we’re coming up on the Olympics. And this is really important for USA tea. I used to train up at the Canadian National Center and I had a good friend who ultimately went to the Olympics was training very hard for it. And I’ll start by the little bit of a negative. She was at the Olympics, she was interviewed and she was asked how she felt and she gave the the answer everybody hears which is I’m just happy to be here. And I overheard somebody who and when they saw that interview, say, oh, that’s kind of lose her talk. You know, you should be there to win. And I had to kind of stop him and say, let me tell you what she went through. So the I was training with her throughout all of this. At one point. This wasn’t the best This isn’t she and the entire hopeful team was taken to Europe for three weeks they were all put in the same house. They started cutting one another’s brake cables, doing all sorts of things to eliminate the competition. She finally had to call her husband have him come out to Europe and get her out of the house. She’s She got the Olympic spot, but in the whole month leading up to the Olympics. She was sued by one of the other athletes who felt that it was unfair that my friend got the spot. And the whole month before the Olympics, she was in court defending her selection for the Olympics. So when she was there saying I’m just happy to be here. What she was talking about was the two years leading up those months leading up how hard it is how much she had to go through my Comment to her when she got to the Olympics was how do you have the energy left to race? So I think what’s really important to understand what these Olympic athletes is the challenge, not just the challenge at the event, but the challenge of getting there the challenges that lead up. And I don’t think there’s an appreciation for just how hard those challenges are. So this is what we’d really like to talk with the two of you about because you’ve had a lot of experience with this. Both of you have been coaching for over 30 years at the elite level. So let’s start with my first question to you, which is, we’re seven months away from the Olympics. Tell us what sort of challenges you as coaches face and these athletes face in this next seven months getting ready just to go to the Olympics. All

Christine Palmquist  05:48

right, well, I am all about the Paralympics, which are eight months away. And the timeline is so much longer than two years that an athlete faces if she or he wants to be an Olympian or a Paralympian, when we find promising athletes and entice them to come into para triathlon for triathlon, they face learning three different disciplines being, you know, nearly the best in the world in all three disciplines. And for para triathletes, they have to get a lot of different equipment, if they’re a wheelchair athlete, they’ve got to find a handcycle, that’s $20,000, they have to find a racing wheelchair, that’s $5,000, they have to train and work with a handler in races. So every time they traveled to a race, they have to race with another person and pay for their expenses to get to the race. So they have to come up with the funding to get into the game on their own for the first few years. And once they start getting pretty good, then they get more funding. But that journey, in the beginning is such a gamble. And there’s so much pressure, because to do well, you’ve got to kind of give away the rest of your life, the career, maybe the university, all of those things you set aside, starting a family, you’ve set those aside because your identity is your training for the games. And this might take you 3468 10 years to get to the games. And so all of the things that happen, the illnesses, the injuries, and the sacrifices, and all of those things are in that journey. And it is so hard just to get to the game. So you have to be amazing, and you have to have a lot of luck. And there’s a lot of pressure.

Trevor Connor  07:47

So you’ve mentioned this to me earlier, you’re right, all this equipment is expensive. How do you convince these pair athletes to try triathlon when if they just do running events, they just do cycling to so the expense, but it’s only a third the expense, it would

Christine Palmquist  08:05

be so much easier for them to just do one sports. Yes. So our job is to bring them in and give them a taste of the sport. So Tommy’s a Ferris is running a virtual combine, we’re encouraging anyone across the country to just submit their 200 swim time and their 1k runtime. And when they do Tommy can identify potential. If he sees something, then it’s my job, I get to invite them to a camp at the training center. And as soon as we can get them in person with other paragraph lates. We have them because what we have in our sport, is a sense of cooperation and community that the Canadian Olympian that you spoke about, in the beginning, it didn’t seem like she had or we have community we have cooperation in USA paratriathlon national team athletes, they’re pushing each other, they’re supporting each other, they’re training together in a lot of times, they’re happy for each other when each other gets success. You know, almost all of them are completely on board to help each other get to the games. And when a new adaptive athlete comes into our sport, they sense that community and that support and that friendship and they want to be part of that. And that is the big advantage that we have to get athletes into an incredibly competitive sport that is very difficult to enter. That’s how we do it.

Trevor Connor  09:32

So Justin, you’re working with the elite athletes going to the Olympics, because as we just mentioned, we’re seven months out what are the biggest challenges now?

Justin Trolle  09:41

Yeah, I think when you’re working with any athlete is a lot of it is the culmination of the end of a long process. So for most of these athletes, they have started 1012 1314 years ago, and they started with a dream of what they wanted to achieve and a lot of athletes have that dream, but then it goes from it. dreamin as they get closer, it starts to become a hope. And then it goes from a hope it starts to become something that is essentially a goal. And then once they do make the team, I think it’s very easy for them to look, especially when we get this close to the Olympics, to suddenly start thinking about, I’d really like to do well, or I’d like to perform at my highest level. And I think that additional added level of stress and moving in that direction is very difficult. I had one of my girls qualify for the US Pentathlon team for the Olympics, about two months ago now. And for her, we’ve worked together for eight years. And when we started together, she was ranked eighth or ninth in the country. And we’ve slowly progressed through and I think as we’ve gone through that process, a lot of it is just a matter of chipping away. And initially, when they start out, they have these goals, but we have very much from a coaching perspective, a lot of the confidence that they have, and then the end product, if we believe in them, they believe in themselves. As they get closer, I think they start to believe a lot more in themselves, and they start to feel like they have more confidence. And that makes a world of difference. But I mean, that’s the pinnacle of our sport, it’s it’s what we all shoot for, as coaches, we want to coach athletes to the Olympics. From an athlete standpoint, it’s essentially the highest point. And so it comes with a lot of stress. And certainly, the athletes definitely feel it. But they love what they do. Yeah,

Justin Trolle  11:13

I’m just reflecting on on both of your conversations there. And within the Para context, you mentioned the word team, which I thought was really interesting, because I was reflecting also on the individual sports, at least, for all of them, but but certainly within the elite room. And being in that elite environment myself, the word team doesn’t always feel just right to all those individual campaigns that are working towards that goal. It’s pretty obvious why right? So I guess my question to you both is, how do you foster a sense of team if you do or not within your elite category across the whole team and individuals? And maybe back to you, Chris? My question is, is that fire still there when the gun goes off around the team environment? You

Christine Palmquist  12:07

know, we’ve been lucky in paratriathlon, that it’s a really new sports, it was just announced in 2010, that it would first appear in the Paralympic Games in 2016. So we’ve really only had 13 years, and we have been involved in that whole journey, we have had the opportunity to create the culture of the sport. And you’re right, the word team doesn’t seem to immediately apply when you’ve got a group of individuals who are competing against each other for something as important as the games. But on the other hand, if you work, work, work, work at it, everyone starts to understand that they need each other desperately to get to the games. So if your training partner is getting better, you’re going to be getting better as well. And the goal is to get us medals at the games. And I think the argument is that as a team, even though each individual is working so hard for him or herself, there is a sense that they’re playing a role in everyone else’s journey. And if any one of them gets to the podium at the games, they have played a role in getting that metal. And where I first saw this was in the women’s para Nordic team, Jessie Diggins and Kiki and Randall, were responsible with their coaches and their teammates are turning around a program that had never meddled in many, many, many Olympics. And they did it by becoming a team. And preparing for that moment when someone would win that first women’s Nordic medal, taking a picture with all the ski wax techs, the coaches, every skier on the team in that metal picture, and acknowledging that they’d all played a role in earning that first medal. And I think you can bring it to team sports. And it’s not unlike like a cross country team, which I’ve coached, you’ve got individual runners, but in the end, it’s the team’s goal. So it can apply. And I think it’s our superpower in our sport, that we’ve been able to develop that culture.

Justin Trolle  14:23

Okay, well, let’s do the Pinyon in the elite category, able bodied.

Justin Trolle  14:28

I think Christine is very correct in what she says. I think a lot of it comes down to the fact that you can look at it from two perspectives. When you put a lot of athletes together in a team. I mean, they could very well turn on each other if we didn’t build that team culture around them. But I think they all realize that their best chance is in each other. You cannot get to a high level without having other athletes to push you to your full potential. And if they trained separately, yes, one might be the other. But they will be infinitely better if they work together. And I think that’s one thing as a coach that we try to Faster within the teams. And it doesn’t matter who’s winning or losing, as long as we’re getting there together on moving forward. I think also, too, it’s important to remember that most of these athletes are training 20 to 30 hours a week minimum, and they probably need another 10 to 15 or 20 hours of extra recovery built in on top of that, with their lives built around it. So for most of these athletes, the environment itself is also their social environment, if we don’t build a team around them, that’s enjoyable. It’s something that they enjoy being around, then they don’t stay in the sport, because there’s no, there’s no social life. And so they feel like they’re missing things. And if you’re going to spend 10 years in a sport, you really need to enjoy what you do. You need to love the people, you’re around, and you need to make the most of that environment. And if they don’t have that, then it’s very, very difficult for them to succeed.

Justin Trolle  15:43

Can I ask one more follow up question to that is made me think of, you know, the coaches secret sauce, right, let’s talk about a lot, how much sharing goes on between coaches at the elite level in terms of their methodology towards the training? Yeah,

Justin Trolle  15:57

that’s an interesting question. Because I think a lot of coaches when they first come into the sport, feel like they have something that’s different than someone else, or they feel like they’re doing something different. And I think when you get to a high level, certainly, when we get our level threes together, or we get our high performance coaches together, one of the things that always stands out is how openly everyone is was sharing information. I think sharing that information is critically important. Yeah. And I think we also realized that there are really no secrets, most of the information is known, mostly athletes. And I think the real differentiator, the thing that makes things unique is the input from the athlete, what the athlete brings to it. So I mean, Christine, and I could coach this to different athletes, we could coach them exactly the same way with exactly the same program. And they would have different results. And I think the variety or the uniqueness of each athlete is what is important. So while there’s no real secrets, how we interact with the athletes, how we utilize that information is critically important. So I will reach out to other coaches regularly to have discussions about what they’re doing. And they will often discuss the same things with me. And I think that collaboration is really important. And we’ve been together here over the last three or four days going through the new group of level three coaches and working with them. And I think that’s one of the things that’s come out of that conversation is that idea of, we are a team, we work together, we lean on each other. I mean, I’ve been once like I said, I’ve been in the states now 16 years, most of my closest friends from a coaching perspective, are the same people I came through with who I would compete with if we had athletes competing against each other. But that doesn’t change our relationship. And that doesn’t change the fact that we want each other to succeed. And we want to move upwards together.

Trevor Connor  17:28

I’m really kind of fascinated by this. And I want to dig into this a little deeper because I have seen the other side by I’ve seen where you have athletes that are supposed to be on the same team that would push their quote teammate into a tree if they could get away with it, than to say, see them as you’re my competition, you’re in my way I’m trying to get to the Olympics. Triathlon, by its own nature is an individual sport, all these people that you are coaching, they’re not going to help one another in the race, because you’re racing kind of on your own. So all that person is is there competition for a spot, yet you’ve generated this teamwork between them. So I’m just interested in how you’re able to do that. Both of you have experience with the New Zealand program is that something that you felt was was very strong over there. That’s something you brought over here. I

Justin Trolle  18:17

think it doesn’t really matter which chain like I was lucky enough. When I came through, I was coming up as a high performance coach in New Zealand and their triathlon program, at pretty much the height of where New Zealand was at that point in time. We were very much at the top of the world we were doing very well. And that benefited me dramatically. But I think one of the things that was most important to me at that point in time was I got to be around some coaches who were world class and had done a lot of world class coaching of people like Hamish Carter, Bevan, Daugherty, Chris Gable, and those athletes at the time. And from my standpoint, I think, watching how they, those coaches controlled the team culture, how they controlled the interaction, like, I never once saw a situation where athletes were hit to hit with other athletes or felt bad just because another athlete qualified for a team and they didn’t I saw nothing but support. But I think that mindset that approach comes from both the environment you create for the athletes, and from the coaches, if we have athletes who are going to hate to hit, it’s as much a failure of the coaches and our control of the environment, because all athletes are going to feel pressure. They’re all going to struggle in that regard. But I mean, I haven’t seen that in New Zealand. I haven’t seen that in the US. I see a lot of athletes who are very supportive of each other, they really work hard. And maybe that is a factor of our sport. I mean, I think triathlon is a very supportive sport. It’s a very good sport from that perspective. And I think I see a lot of positivity in that now. Is that what you say? Possible? Very much. So. I mean, if we create the wrong environment, it could happen tomorrow. But it’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen and to make sure that we keep fostering a positive direction.

Christine Palmquist  19:51

Yeah, I really think that the best athletes and the best coaches now would not be in this environment. If it was was cutthroat. The true reality is, is there’s no special sauce I’m lucky enough to work with many of the best coaches are the most experienced coaches are the coaches who are working with Olympians and Paralympians, I get to teach those coaches sometimes, and we’re all the same, we all have the same sauce. And a special sauce is exactly what Justin said, it’s much more of the culture building and the relationship and the ability to communicate. And Justin and I and many of these coaches get together on a zoom call on the second Wednesday of every month to share information. And we look forward to those calls. So that’s kind of how it is. Now, I don’t think it was that way. 20 years ago, 10 years ago, but right now we are making that happen, for very good reason that feeds our coaching soul. And it’s good for the athletes that we coach,

Trevor Connor  20:55

both thing this reminds me of we did an episode about a year ago on the Ethiopian running model. And what we were actually talking about was the whole bio, psycho social side of sport, and how well they have the psycho social side put together. And what I really remember from that episode is one of the biggest values among the Ethiopian teams, is it’s always about the group, not the individual, doesn’t matter if you won the Boston Marathon, when you are training, you are a group. And if you start putting yourself as an individual ahead of the group that’s really looked down on that’s just not acceptable. And you can’t argue with the results. I mean, Ethiopians are absolutely dominant in the marathon. And one of the arguments that the the guests we had on this episode brought up is that social side that was that support side, it was the teamwork side that really developed these athletes.

Christine Palmquist  21:51

Exactly. Because it is so hard to be an athlete, it’s really hard to be a coach. So it has to feel like family to create resilience. And at both levels, both athlete and coach level, it has to feel safe, there has to be trust, there has to be support for all of the best people to stay at this difficult and challenging project that we’re working on.

Justin Trolle  22:18

Now. I think, following on from what Christine said, I think a lot of it also comes down to making sure the athletes no matter how high they climb, remain humble and understand where they came from, I’m gonna go to a New Zealand reference. But if we talk about something like the New Zealand, All Blacks, they have a very much a sort of a point of view where doesn’t matter how good you are as an as an athlete, you still take your chance sweeping out the changing rooms. And so everyone wants up at the same level, everyone she is in that growth, she isn’t that progressive movement forward. And I think the more you can stay humble as a coach or as an athlete, regardless of how climate high you climb, the easier it is to create an environment where everyone feels included and everyone feels equal.

Justin Trolle  22:58

Can I be the devil’s advocate to look at the other side. And maybe it’s personality based because when I was in the New Zealand team, working with Andrea Hewitt, and Laura Fidel, that’s just not how they operated. We were trying to drive exactly what you guys are talking about. We were trying to drive a centralized system. We wanted everyone involved in that centralized system, we wanted everyone sharing information, that was what the way we were going to do things that wasn’t working for them. That’s not what they wanted. And their success speaks for itself. That was their personality, they want to do their own thing. And there are arguments for being an island in an individual, small, tight team, because there’s less touch points that they have to, you know, they don’t want to touch all these various different services, sometimes they want to go and grab those services when they think they need them. So I’m all on board with what you’re saying. I think it’s great that you’ve established that culture, I think maybe a hybrid kind of model that can potentially be the best of both worlds.

Justin Trolle  24:04

Yeah, and I can speak to that, primarily, I did a prime minister scholarship from New Zealand and I think 2005 2006 and looked at how we coach coaches worldwide. And that gave me a chance to look at how we often structure a lot of the national federations worldwide as well. And I think one of the things that I think is central to all success is you really need a model that is essentially athlete focused, Coach driven and national governing body supported. And if you have that sort of feedback loop, it works really well. I think where we often sometimes fall down as we have this idea that if we create a centralized model, then we’re essentially from a national federation standpoint, trying to create a model that is set and then we’re trying to squeeze athletes into it. I know from a US standpoint, it’s worked exceptionally well like podium project has done exceptionally well and Park has done a fantastic job with that program and certainly as we move forward. I think one of the areas that New Zealand fell down a little bit when we were looking at very early on is going from a decentralized model which had been so successful in 2004, and creating our Olympians, and that golden silver medalists was we move from that to a centralized model in order to sort of account for the funding and to try and pour more money into the sport. And it was done with the best intentions, it was done with the idea in mind that we want to see more success. And we want to carry on with what we’ve done. Where the problem tended to come in as is. I think a lot of the time, athletes have to be organically choosing their own coaches and coaches have to be able to accept their own athletes, because when you can choose your own coach, it’s a choice that you made. So therefore, when you’re going through the hard times, and really, things are really bad, you’re not your first thought is not. I just liked this, because somebody told me I had to do this, and I have to deal with it, you chose that you made that decision. And I think that’s really, really important that the athletes choose the coaches, the coaches are able to accept the athletes, and we’ll find a way to support those those models. But I think decentralization or centralization both work, if you understand what the limitations in those systems are, and you’ll address them before they become a problem.

Christine Palmquist  26:01

Yeah, you know, and, and I actually I agree with you. So in paratriathlon, it’s different, it’s a much smaller population of, of athletes that are world class. And sometimes they don’t become a para athlete until later in life. So we have athletes scattered around the country training on their own, we only have five of our athletes that are on the resident team here training together, most of them are training on their own, hire their own coaches, and pick and choose the services that they need, you know, from USA T along the way, they have a lot of autonomy. But what I mean about being a Team is that when they come together at a race, they’re happy to be together. And when the gun goes off, they’re each climbing and scratching to beat each other for sure. And that’s part of it. That’s expected. That’s good. So

Justin Trolle  26:54

that’s what I experienced was definitely different. When they came together, they weren’t even weren’t even friends, unfortunately. So that’s just the way it was.

Justin Trolle  27:03

Yeah, high stress environments tend to create stressful moments. And I think, as a coach, you have to sort of address those things as they come along. You can’t be all things to all people. And you can’t always save relationships between athletes when they’re under pressure like that. But the more we do, the earlier we start, the more we recognize where the problems potentially could be, the easier it is to create an environment that works for everyone. And I think there is a there is a sort of perspective that you can’t really have a bad apple and a bunch because if you do, then things fall apart. And so from my standpoint, I would rather get rid of an athlete or move an athlete to a different squad, if even if they’re my best athlete, than to have it affect the dynamics of the squad. And I think it’s really important because if we’re going to get there in the long term, it’s going to take a long time and if we’re not getting along if we’re not, it’s a really long long road of everyone’s miserable.

Chris Case  27:55

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Trevor Connor  28:41

So you mentioned something that I really want to dig a little deeper into, because I’ve been wondering how USAT deals with this. Most of the athletes that are on the shortlist for the Olympics or going to the Olympics, have hired their own coaches. They’re working with private coaches. But USAT has a I believe it’s Ryan Bolton who’s taking all the triathletes to the Olympics. So for that year leading into the Olympics, in some ways, these athletes now have two coaches. They have the coach that they’ve always been working with. But then they have the coach that you know is in charge of taking the team to the Olympics. How do you manage that? How does USAT deal with that? Ryan

Christine Palmquist  29:22

is an amazing coach who I’ve known for 20 years, and we’re lucky to have him as kind of the coach above all the other coaches. So it’s not that the athlete who is selected for the Games has two coaches, but they have an advocate and Ryan who’s looking for resources looking for what all of the athletes need, helping their coaches as well if needed. So I don’t know he’s in a very supportive role, but he’s not, you know, dictating what the athlete train on a daily base versus unless someone needs to step in and make a change for an athlete’s. So he

Trevor Connor  30:04

would almost be more like a team manager role. Yeah. And the coaches remain the coaches.

Justin Trolle  30:10

Yeah. And I think from my standpoint, too, like, I’ve got Jessica going this this Olympic Games, it’s unlikely that I will be the coach that goes with that team. And so from my standpoint, I have a coach that will essentially oversee some of the work that I do now, for me, they won’t coach the athlete, but what they will do is they will, because they have a coaching background, because they’ve understanding what coaching is, they’re in a unique position to support me with the stuff that I need in order for our athletes to succeed. And I think USA Triathlon is in the same boat, like Ryan takes a role where he oversees and heat because of his knowledge and experience, he can add to the process and help with the overall outcome and get the best result. And I think it works really, really well. And I think as long as, as everyone has any system, and particularly for me, if we all put our egos aside and always think about what is best for the athlete, athlete focused driving towards a single goal, then it works. I think when we all start to do something for ourselves, or we start like, and we stop thinking about the athlete being the pointy end of the spear that’s going to do the real work. I think that’s when things fall apart. But I think as long as we keep the athlete centered and focused, and we drive our support behind, it doesn’t matter whether we’ve got one coach, two coaches, or 10 coaches behind them, as long as the athlete is moving forward towards that goal, and they get the best possible support that that’s what we’re really looking for.

Trevor Connor  31:25

That’s fair. So I’m Canadian, balls, Canadian as well, yeah, we’re known for our hockey players, we have all these great hockey players. But for the longest time, we could not perform at the Olympics. And they were looking at why is this news because you have all these superstars. So everybody wanted to be the star on the team. And nobody wanted to be the support. And they turned the Canadian national team around when they brought Wayne Gretzky on to coach it. Because doesn’t matter how good you think you are, you’re not Wayne Gretzky, and everybody would listen to him. And all of a sudden, they took all these stars, who couldn’t play well together and got them to work as a team. So it sounds like you’re talking about fostering something similar?

Justin Trolle  32:08

I think, yeah, you you’re looking for essentially trust, loyalty and respect. And I think in your, your scenario, you bring in someone like Wayne Gretzky, who has all those things automatically from the athletes, I think it’s very easy to get that buy in immediately. And so when he says you need to pass it, rather than play it, they listen to him. And I think a lot of it from a coaching perspective is having the respect of your athletes having that trust, when you have that, we have a lot of ability to make huge changes, if you lose that, it becomes very difficult. And in addition to that, too, like if you’re, if you’re at the top of the world, and you’re expected to win, there’s a lot more pressure on you to win. And I think that often causes things to come apart very, very easily. But certainly, I think if you have that trust, loyalty and respect from your athletes, and you respect them in the same way, then you can keep moving forward together very, very effectively.

Christine Palmquist  32:55

Yeah, at the coaching level, it’s not about us, it’s always about the athlete, every decision that we make is about the athlete and for the athlete. And our hope as coaches is that each athlete that we coach reaches his or her potential. And so that can be done without taking away from anyone else’s athletic journey. And if they go to the games, and I don’t get to go the games with them, it’s all about them. I’m still coaching them, you know, even if Ryan’s there with them, and I’m not with them. It’s all about the athlete, you know, I get to be that person that gets to partner with them, which is an amazing privilege is it’s a great joy. And it keeps me going. But if I’m doing this for fame, it’s not the right mentality at all. It’s all about the athlete.

Trevor Connor  33:44

So let’s go there. And I want to hear what are the biggest challenges for you as coaches coaching at this level. But the first thing I want to share because you just mentioned this is not about the coach. We did an episode not all that long ago, where we are talking about the importance of coaches taking care of themselves. And I can’t remember her name, but the story was shared about a I believe, was a running coach, who was absolutely phenomenal. And she took I think it was US team to the Olympics. They had a lot of success. And she quit right after the Olympics. And when they asked her why she said I was ready to commit suicide, because she had to focus so much on the athletes. And just as she was getting no sleep, she couldn’t take care of herself at all. It was literally killing her. So do you experience that? What are the challenges that you face coaching athletes at this level?

Christine Palmquist  34:38

Yes, it is so hard to think of yourself first. So being athletes centered should not have to mean that our health has to suffer. There’s gotta be a way most of the time to have both. But the reality is that when you’re coaching at this level, you’re spending weeks you’re trying leveling, you’re giving from dawn to dusk, and then you’re doing work after dark. And it’s very hard to get in your own exercise and family time and relaxing time, there’s never a day off. It’s 24/7 is 365 days a year, which is another reason we are friends. And we have this coaching group. Because when we meet once a month, you know, we can say, hey, I’m feeling this way. And Justin will say, I’m feeling this way as well. And we can start to support each other and encourage each other to take care of ourselves as well. It’s it’s a super rewarding profession, I can’t think of a more rewarding profession. But it’s also as hard as it as it gets. And frustrating and difficult as can be, you know, you get a little above when you sign up to do this. And my biggest personal goal for the last couple of years has been to figure out how to take care of myself better. And I think I’m making some improvements, but it really is hard. And if you don’t do it, you’re you’re you’re out of here. Yep.

Trevor Connor  36:06

Justin, what are some of the biggest challenges you face as a coach?

Justin Trolle  36:10

I think Christine’s right. And I think a lot of it comes down to when you work at a high level, there is a lot of stress on the athletes, because the athletes like they prioritize the sport very, very high, they want to do their very best they want to perform at the highest level. And because of that, that comes with a lot of stress, in order for us to have them perform at their highest level, we need to try and reduce some of that stress, take that stress off them. And a lot of the time, that means a lot of their stress winds up on us. And that’s fine if it’s just one person. But when you take that from, say five 610 15 athletes, it does build up. And so certainly the mental component is a huge part. And Christine is right, we do need to do a better job of making sure we look after ourselves. And we make sure we take out and I certainly think the interaction between coaches makes a huge difference. It’s very coaching can be a very isolated position where everyone looks at us and thinks, wow, he spent all his time with athletes and you’re out there. It’s like you’re doing all the stuff and you must be very social. But the actual role of being a coach is actually very isolating because we don’t often get to interact with other coaches. And so events like this, certainly events or going to things where we actually talk to other coaches, I think makes a huge difference. I mean, there’s always going to be the usual complaints that coaches have of a financial strains, I don’t have enough money coming in from different things to in order to coach at the level I’d like to, but I think those things come and go. And I think the major one is definitely the mental component. I think if you can control that aspect, and from my standpoint, like, yeah, I feel it. But a lot of the times if I’m feeling it, and I let the athletes know that I’m feeling it, then they understand and so they also take care of me. So you will often have athletes say What are you doing? Okay, how you feeling. So that door swings both ways. We look after them, but they also look after us. And I think that’s why this profession is so rewarding. Yeah,

Christine Palmquist  37:50

you know, just to add on to what Justin just said, if you’re a coach, you are because you have coaching in your heart, and you just cannot help it, you just have to be a coach. And the really big reason we are coaches is we care we really, really, really care about the people we get to work with. And that just comes with that, you know, we carry the same baggage, the same grief, the same frustration, and sometimes the same joy as our athletes. And you know, you can’t stop thinking about it, you cannot stop thinking about your athletes.

Justin Trolle  38:26

So good. I’m kind of reflecting my, one of my mentors, in the Sport Sciences, Dr. Allen chin, and he said the number one fundamental thing you need to be as successful coach, as you must care. And you know, that is the number one thing and you’re talking to a physiologist who likes numbers and can totally geek out. But the secret sauce is just caring. That’s the number one fundamental thing, for sure.

Trevor Connor  38:51

So let’s take this to all the people here in the audience here in the room. Not all of them are coaching Olympic hopefuls, but they care as much they deal with a lot of the same challenges. So both of you combined have over 60 years coaching experience, which is extraordinary. While

Justin Trolle  39:09

it makes us feel really old,

Trevor Connor  39:11

not what I imagined. But let’s take it back to them. What words of wisdom can you share? What challenges do they face that you have faced again? And again and again? And what advice can you give them? And by the way, oh, this person in the room. So just to make it obvious, so bad?

Christine Palmquist  39:30

I doubt it. You know, I still coach a whole lot of athletes who are not ever going to be, you know, bound for the games. And all of the challenges are exactly the same. I think of all of those athletes as very similar. They’re not dealing with the same level of commitment and stress. Maybe that an Olympian or a Paralympian hopeful, has to invest, but they’re still dealing with the same stress the same up Send downs, I’ve worked with high school athletes recently, still my runners, my girls, you know, they’re they’re under a lot of stress high school kids are under so much stress. So coaching those athletes to me is very much exactly the same as when I’m coaching someone who’s hoping to get a battle in Paris. So the similarities are strong, the frustrations are the same. And I don’t consider any of the coaches in this room to be any different from me, I don’t have any special sauce, I care and they care. And that’s the common bond, as you said, I would be happy to work with any of their athletes in any of the ways they’re doing. I learned from all of them. We, Justin and I, you know, taught coaching clinics this week leading up to this day. And I learned so much from the coaches that were attending our clinic. So it’s all in my mind with all of my experiences with all the different types of athletes is all the same. And the more experience you can get with different types of athletes, the better coach you’re going to be. And that might mean working with some juniors, it might mean working with adaptive athletes, it might mean working with an elite if you get a chance. But you’re going to understand that every experience you get, and every athlete you get is going to make you a better coach. And it’s really, it’s really no different. What I do is no different from what they are doing.

Justin Trolle  41:26

Yeah, I agree with Christina in that way, as well as like when we’re looking at athletes. I mean, it’s often said, Success is not measured by where you stand, but where a where you came to from where you want stood. And I think there’s nothing more true about that. Because I mean, yes, we have a lot of elite athletes, and yes, they have high aspirations. But there are athletes who are starting a sport today who have big dreams for themselves. And their dreams are just as valid their goals, their their ideas. And as a coach, I mean, I want to see them succeed just as much as I want to see an elite athlete succeed himself, my skill set or my knowledge can help that happen, then that that’s what I want to do. And I get just as much joy from seeing someone had a beginning level succeed and achieving their dreams and exceeding their goals, as I do from one of our elite athletes achieving the same thing because it’s important to each athlete to keep moving forward and for us to be a real part in that process. And so whether you’re starting out as a coach today, and you’re just thinking, Okay, I just want to I want to start with about beginner athletes. And I didn’t want to have these athletes who are just getting off the couch and getting their first race that doesn’t make you any less of a coach than someone who’s working with elite athletes or at the top. And I think you really have to realize that as a coach, you make a difference in everyone’s lives and everyone that you touch. And I think from that standpoint, each athlete has value and I think the role we play as coaches is to better facilitate that and make the most of it.

Trevor Connor  42:48

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Justin Trolle  43:54

I think I can go first. I mean, I think for me, my first couple of years of coaching coming in early, I had this massive passion for the sport, I wanted to move forward. I’m not sure what that looked like at the time. And I just wanted to see success. And I think finding people around me who are doing what I do and and excelling at what I do was the most important thing for me finding people who I could mimic or I could follow was really important. Now if you’re an athlete, looking to move forward, finding other athletes who are doing what you do at a higher level, helps you move forward helps you move faster, if you’re a coach, same sort of thing. Look for coaches, who around you who you can learn from who you can experience because if you’re doing it by yourself, it’s really difficult to move forward. But if you surround yourself with a community of people who love what you do have passion for what you do. It’s very quick to climb the ladder. It’s very quick to move forward. And I think that’s probably the most important thing. Find people who are like you find your people and really embrace the sport.

Trevor Connor  44:47

Great answer. Oh, you want to go next? Oh,

Justin Trolle  44:49

I would think a little bit different. I would say to myself, you’re gonna make mistakes, accept it and learn from those and it’s okay to make mistakes, because I made a whole lot of mistakes when I started. So that’s, that’s kind of what I’m reflecting on. So it was just about being comfortable making mistakes in your coaching with your prescription with what you’re doing, and then get out there and learn from them and move on. So that’s my my coaching advice.

Christine Palmquist  45:15

I would say, you know, when I started coaching, I had no idea that this would be how I would spend my professional life the most of it. So I would tell myself, hang on, Chris, you’re, you’re in for quite a ride, and it’s gonna be so much more than you can even imagine right now. But keep the faith and keep pushing forward, you’re gonna make a difference. And you’re gonna get to meet a lot of amazing people along the way and see a lot of places, man, I would encourage any new coaches to take the same ride, that’s for sure.

Trevor Connor  45:48

No regrets? Great answer. Mindsight can be nearly as good. But my answer is, I’ve spent the first four or five years of my coaching career obsessing. What interval do I want to give the athlete? What’s the training plan, figuring out the exact volume for every week, all that sort of stuff. And if I could go back and tell myself anything, it’s spend less time on that. Spend more time connecting with the athlete. Nice. All right. Well, thank you. It was a pleasure talking with both of you. Thanks for doing this on such short notice. I hope you had fun.

Justin Trolle  46:21

Thank you very much. Yeah, it

Christine Palmquist  46:22

was great. Definitely had fun. Thank

Justin Trolle  46:23

you, guys. Thanks, Trevor.

Trevor Connor  46:26

Thank you. That was another episode of Fast Talk. The thoughts and opinions expressed in Fast Talk are those of the individual. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and review. As always, we love your feedback. Tweet us at Fast Talk Labs and join the conversation at forums.fasttalklabs.com. Or learn from our experts at fasttalklabs.com. For Justin Trolle, Christine Palmquist, and Dr. Paul Larson. I’m Trevor Connor. Thanks for listening!