Episode 32 - Ben Gathercole

  

  

In this episode, we are joined by Ben Gathercole, the author of Better Than Winning book series, co-host of Active CEO podcast and NRG2Perform, a leader, mentor, entrepreneur and olympic coach, who works with organizations and teams to optimize their performance. Ben shares his story about his coaching career and how having type 1 diabetes hasn’t stopped him from achieving the success he has now.

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In this episode we cover: 

  • Ben’s story and transition to being a coach.
  • How he has dealt with and managed the effect of Type 1 Diabetes on his sporting ability.
  • The lessons that having diabetes has taught him in terms of planning more effectively in his personal and professional life.
  • How he coped and managed himself through the challenges of coaching top caliber athletes like Simon Thompson in his book Better Than Winning.
  • Pros and cons of coaching athletes in the olympic level.
  • The key to Ben’s success.
  • One of the funniest stories that happened in his travels as an olympic coach.
  • The learnings from his parents who are both coaches.
  • The changes that coaching has gone through over the years.
  • His interesting journey with Iron Man Triathlon and the lessons he learned from it.

Links


      Transcript:

      FELICITY:

      This is episode 32. Welcome to the All Torque podcast, where each episode we interview an inspiring person to share their story with you. I'm your host, Felicity Dales, managing director of Body Torque.

      I have here today, Ben Gathercole, the author of Better Than Winning book series, a leader, mentor, entrepreneur, and Olympic coach who works with organisations and teams to optimise their performance. He is the co-host of Active CEO Podcast and Energy to Perform. Your background includes starting Triathlon Coaching, director for Brumbies Rugby for four and a half hears, Triathlon Australia National Performance Director for Triathlon Australia for two years, and winning the Triathlon Australia Coach of The Year Award in 2005. You come from a strong pedigree and both your parents, Carol and Terry, being professional swim coaches, and your dad swam at the 1956 Melbourne and 1960 Rome Olympic Games, and then became a coach following that.

      Welcome, Ben.

      BEN:

      Thank you, Felicity. That all sounds fairly busy back there. But yeah.

      FELICITY:

      That's right.

      BEN:

      Thank you for saying those kind words.

      FELICITY:

      With your parents who were both swimming coaches, tell us about your journey, Ben, growing up and transitioning to taking the baton as a coach yourself.

      BEN:

      I think I was really lucky, Felicity. Growing up in Sydney through the late '60s and early '70s, I probably had that idyllic Australian childhood where playing sport, going to school, very carefree surf clubs, swimming clubs, cricket club, rugby club, all that sort of stuff all rolled in together with a fantastic school. So, I just developed as a young adult through a fantastic background. And it was probably pretty easy to see why I would fall into something like swimming, or then eventually triathlon. I was lucky enough that I earned a scholarship in the USA at Florida State University. And that's how I got my university education started. And then, I came home from there, and it was fairly simple for me to move into the coaching career. And I pretty much did that since I left uni. And I haven't had a day where I've been unemployed since.

      FELICITY:

      That's amazing.

      BEN:

      Yeah.

      FELICITY:

      So, you have type one diabetes, and how has that affected you and your sporting abilities?

      BEN:

      Yeah, diabetes is a curse of a disease, there's no doubt about that. And I do struggle, even to today, with the disease. It's about management. It's about good diet. It's about lifestyle. It's about reducing stress. It's about reducing anxiety. You know, all those things that we probably all know about and it's fairly difficult to control in today's professional environment. How do I deal with it? I would have to say, sometimes not very well. Although I've now had diabetes for more than 20 years, so I've just learnt to deal with it. I've got a fantastic family who's very supportive and understand the disease, and very helpful. But you know, I would like to continue to get better with trying to manage my diabetes, and particularly in the professional environment. It's not an easy journey, and anybody that struggles with either type one or type two diabetes, it's a tough gig, that's for sure.

      FELICITY:

      And I imagine it would be a daily practice that you would have to incorporate to manage that.

      BEN:

      Yeah, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You better get used to it fairly quickly because there's no getting rid of it. So, I use pump therapy, rather than injections. So, I have a little pump attached to me that continually feeds insulin into my system to help regulate my blood sugars. But that takes a fair bit of management also. It's something that's attached to you 24/7. You can't really get away from that. So yeah, look, as I said, it's something that you manage. And I certainly admire younger kids that manage it through their formative years and their parents and their families. It's not easy to do.

      FELICITY:

      So having to incorporate that, do you plan more effectively because of it? Like, has it taught you that not just for yourself personally, but also professionally?

      BEN:

      Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everything that I do, really the background is always hovering there that you need to manage your diabetes, particularly with travel. It's not a very easy thing to manage while you travel, changing time zones. And for me, small time zone changes seem to throw me out more than big time zone changes. So, daylight savings or two or three hours north or south when you're travelling domestically seems to rattle more than when I, say, go to the States or Europe, which is pretty much on its head.

      FELICITY:

      Completely upside down.

      BEN:

      Yeah, just seems to be one of the things that rattle me a little bit more. And you just have to learn to deal with it as you go along, and learn to slow down and ensure that you're getting your exercise, you're getting your rest, your quality food, and those sorts of things.

      FELICITY:

      Absolutely. It's a domino effect, really.

      BEN:

      Yeah.

      FELICITY:

      It's a composite of everything.

      BEN:

      Yep, exactly. If you have one bad meal, or you have one later or time change or not hydrated enough, it just gives you that knock on effect, and it's hard to perform the way that you want to perform.

      FELICITY:

      Absolutely. Being the coach of Simon Thompson, reading your book, Better Than Winning, you would have to be really clear on your purpose and passion with so many sacrifices needed to support athletes of this calibre, such as the travel involved, the hurdles encountered along the way, and the politics, so many nuances. How did you cope or manage yourself throughout that?

      BEN:

      That in reality was pretty easy at the end of the day because we had that one purpose as we evolved as coach and athlete through our journey together, and then started the Olympic journey through world championships and Commonwealth Games and those sort of events, you know? I mean, every Olympic athlete will, once you qualify for the Olympics, the goal is to win the Olympic Games. So, when you start having a goal of winning the Olympic Games in a competitive sport like triathlon, that sort of focuses everybody's journey, so to speak. And it becomes quite easy, dare I say, in terms of the focus.

      So, how did we deal with all that sort of stuff? As I said, the focus was pretty easy because of the shared goal. And the goal is pretty straightforward when you are doing something like the Olympic Games. So, that sort of thing, that was pretty easy. The sacrifice, you know, and there's no.. the reality is there's no real living to be made from an Olympic journey on either the coach or the athlete's side of the fence. So, they were pretty lean years. But you know what? You look back at them and go, "Wow, they were probably the best years we ever had, and they were certainly very enjoyable and very challenging.” But you certainly wouldn't go back and change too much about it. We certainly learnt a lot. And the net result of all that journey was enabling me to sit down and write a book about that journey. And that, I know, has helped a lot of people sort of conquer their little journey, whether it happens to be sport, business, family, life or whatever it happens to be. So, one thing leads to another, as most things do.

      FELICITY:

      Yeah, absolutely. As you coached Simon for a number of years, you became very close. How does that differ from coaching other athletes where there isn't such a close relationship? What are the pros and cons to each?

      BEN:

      Yeah, look, certainly when you are coaching at that Olympic level and you spend that much time together, the bond is really formed and you do become very close friends. And you'll see a lot of Olympic level athletes, whether they're husband and wife or very good friends, you can't help not to be. You don't often see an athlete coach relationship that isn't a good relationship. At that level, it has to be that way in order to achieve, in order to sustain the intensity that's required in order to sustain the pressure that's involved, all those sorts of things. So, you have a very tight relationship.

      So, how do you, when you come back and you're developing athletes? I certainly know my joy in coaching has always been about the relationship with our athletes and what you learn from people and what you give to people, that's the real joy in coaching. I always talk about there's no real skill in just developing a program or writing a program out or coaching somebody online where you just deliver the program and you don't really get to know the person. The real joy, the real buzz in coaching is actually getting to know the person and developing a relationship as you go along and sharing the journey together. That's the big message I give to coaches. You've got to share the journey with your athletes. And there's obviously boundaries that are around that, whether it's junior athletes or more senior athletes. But that's part of your professionalism.

      FELICITY:

      Yes, absolutely. And like you say, it's got to be clear, but you also need to know the nuances and work together. It's a team effort, really, isn't it?

      BEN:

      It's a team effort. And particularly in a sport as difficult as triathlon. It's so time consuming, travel's such a big part of it. And you know, the truth is that you don't have a lot of control over some of the variables in the performance. You just sort of have to deal with it.

      FELICITY:

      That's right.

      BEN:

      And you know, it's very similar to the time that I spent in rugby, although I wasn't coaching. I was just the performance director. Getting the know the players and developing the relationship with the players was certainly always the best part of the journey. It's not a simple.. you don't just ask them to go play. It's really a shared effort.

      FELICITY:

      And being a different sport, does that differ much from triathlon, like that relationship? Or not really?

      BEN:

      Nope, they're still people.

      FELICITY:

      Yes.

      BEN:

      Yep. Everyone's the same at the end of the day. And everybody probably wants the same sort of thing. And I always use a saying too, you want to treat people the way that you want to be treated. So, if you just stick to that sort of simple principles, you'll end up going pretty well.

      FELICITY:

      Yeah. In your book, you have a lesson learned in each chapter, such as be a realist, trust yourself and control the controllable, keep chipping away, plan on the key to success, etcetera. I found these really valuable. What would you say is the key to your success?

      BEN:

      Wow. That's a really interesting question. I don't think I've ever been asked that one before. Look, I would have to.. I think, it's trying to.. I like people. I like developing the relationship, and I like treating people the way that I like to be treated. So, just some really simple principles like that. And that doesn't matter to me whether it's in the business world or whether it's down at the local paper shop buying the paper in the morning, or the coffee shop, or whether you're dealing with Olympic athletes. I still have the great pleasure of dealing with athletes like David Pocock and those sort of players. And they're exceptional young men and really good young people. And I just really enjoy my time with them. And I think.. So, the secret to my success would be, I guess, being open and humble with the people that I like to engage with.

      FELICITY:

      What is one of the funniest stories that happened on your travels as an Olympic coach?

      BEN:

      Well, I certainly did talk about it in the book, but much to our embarrassment, we did actually leave a bike behind for the world championships in the lead up to the 2004 Olympic Games. Now..

      FELICITY:

      I wasn't sure you were going to mention that Ben, so I didn't really..

      BEN:

      Yeah, now, at the time that wasn't very funny, but you sort of look back on it now and go, "That was pretty funny." Everyone gets a fair chuckle out of that. Although, at the time, I can't imagine we had too much of a chuckle, but we certainly..

      FELICITY:

      No, it's lucky you've got hair left.

      BEN:

      Yeah. Yes. We certainly go back and have a laugh about that now. But there's lots of good times as you travel, lots of shared experiences. Life on the road's pretty tough. And particularly as a triathlete, there's not a whole lot of money involved. So, you're sort of doing it by the seat of your pants. When I moved into rugby, the money was probably a little bit better, and we were able to stay at five star hotels, but you still had the shared journey in the forgetting of luggage and missed buses and lost passports and all those sorts of things were still the funny stories, and it's not really the money that comes into it. You still share the same stories with the boys as you go along the journey, playing cards at an airport or those sorts of little things.

      FELICITY:

      That's right, it's all the little things that make up the bigger picture, really, isn't it?

      BEN:

      Yep, very much so.

      FELICITY:

      And with your parents both being coaches, swimming coaches, what did they impart on you? What did you learn from them?

      BEN:

      Probably just the love of giving back. Even to this day, my mum is 81 and she still essentially works daily with me in the swimming environment, and she still loves aquatic education and giving back to the.. we work at a girl's school. So, giving back to the girls and educating them in aquatic education. So, the love of passing on your knowledge and teaching and mentoring and being involved with young people, nothing better than that, really.

      FELICITY:

      And has a lot changed in that era? Like, I guess it would have in her era, but even in your era, being the second generation, has much changed in the way of coaching and how we deal with things or do things now?

      BEN:

      Look, I don't think so. It's all pretty similar. I mean, the techniques have changed a little bit, but the principle of professionalism and putting your best effort in every day and knowing people by name, and all these just little nuances that is all very similar, I would imagine. It is great pride to my mother that my daughter now coaches with her, so we've got a third generation swim coach.

      FELICITY:

      Fantastic.

      BEN:

      Yeah. Yep. So, my daughter's just 15, and so, she's just started her first job of swim coaching, swim teaching. So, that's a pretty cool thing. And my mum certainly loves seeing that too.

      FELICITY:

      And what a heritage. I mean, she's got some great depth of knowledge there and experience already no doubt. For a 15-year-old, she'd know heaps.

      BEN:

      Yeah, but as you would.. or most of us would know that with a 15-year-old, she probably doesn't want to know about the heritage too much.

      FELICITY:

      No, that's right.

      BEN:

      It's all about the money, "How much are you paying me per hour, dad?"

      FELICITY:

      Well, at least I'm sure without her realizing it, even so, she'd be able to impart quite a bit of knowledge.

      BEN:

      Sure.

      FELICITY:

      And give a lot of value to the people that she coaches.

      BEN:

      Yeah. Yeah, and it's good fun too. It's good seeing her there doing that.

      FELICITY:

      Yeah, absolutely. You've also been involved with Iron Man, Ben, so tell us a bit more about that.

      BEN:

      Yeah, well I got started back in the early days with Ironman Triathlon, 1988, I think might have been my first, when I did Ironman. And I got involved with racing triathlon with a friend who said, "Hey, come and do this triathlon," and I didn't really have too much of an idea about it. I was like, "Sure, what's this involve?" And he goes, "It's a swim, but you'll be right on the swim. And then it's a fair ride, but I reckon you might struggle on the run." I'm like, "Nah, it's good mate. I'll be fine. We'll get it done." And subsequently, I'd found out what the distances were, and I was like, "This is a big ask." So, I lined up in a local Canberra race, which was Olympic distance race in those days. And I was like, "Well, this is going to be a test." And that was probably January. And I was lining up for Forster Ironman, which is commonly, January, February, March, I think first week in April when Forster-Tuncurry was. He suggested that we better do a Sri Chinmoy race, which is sort of the famous race in Australia at that time for a long period.

      FELICITY:

      Yeah, I remember Sri Chinmoy. Yeah.

      BEN:

      Yep, so I had a crack at that, and I swear I almost died. And from the famous expo there, I actually bought a pair of bike shoes and pedals, which sort of broke the bank. And my mum and dad were kind enough to buy a set of aero bars to go on this bike, which I think from memory is probably four weeks out from Ironman. So, you know, in the way that people go about their Ironman journeys today, it was far, far..

      FELICITY:

      Not ideal.

      BEN:

      No. Not ideal. So, I went to Ironman up in Forster-Tuncurry. Went around there and had a lot of fun. But the funny story to that was because I come from a swimming background, I swum fairly well and was first swimmer out without a wetsuit or anything like that. And I clearly remember the announcer, Peter Beckerleg, saying, "We've got.. this is unbelievable, we've got a new winner here," and I'm sitting on the ground trying to get these shoes on going, "Mate, you have no idea."

      FELICITY:

      No idea.

      BEN:

      No idea. But I led for a fair while on the bike, from memory. And then eventually ended up walking a lot of hours out in the back blocks of Forster-Tuncurry.

      FELICITY:

      Right. Yeah.

      BEN:

      That started my Ironman journey that went on for a couple of Ironmans, but that really got me into the triathlon coaching side of it. I was like, "Well, if I'm going to do this, I need to actually figure it out a little bit more," and there wasn't too many coaches around in those days. So, pretty much from that point, 1988, '89, 1990 is when I started coaching. So, that's a fair while ago.

      FELICITY:

      Yeah, that's right.

      BEN:

      As I said, there wasn't a lot of coaches around in those days. It was a very young industry, but there's still some coaches that are coaching currently that were involved in those days, and I still see them semi-regularly, which is pretty funny really. It's been a long time. But that's how I got involved with triathlon, that's how I got involved with coaching of triathlon, really. It was based on my lame performance at Ironman, and thinking, "I better figure this out."

      FELICITY:

      And in your book, you mention living with Rod Cedaro, and I remember Rod because he's from Melbourne. So, yeah. That's back in the day.

      BEN:

      Yeah, and I think I actually met him up there, so it must have been the year before he won Ironman. So, he won Ironman Australia up there. And we went the next year together, and I remember it was the year that he won, and he got reprimanded by the referee post race because when he ran through the age station, the volunteer was handing out one biscuit, and he's just grabbed the whole packet and just scoffed the whole pack of biscuits down so he could keep going. And that was essentially a de-queueable offense. So, he had to plead his, "I'll say sorry. I'll pay my race fee for the next 40 years," type thing to good old Ken and Glenda Baggs who were the race organisers at that stage. So, pretty funny days. But he wasn't disqualified, and he went onto a pretty strong Ironman career, that's for sure.

      FELICITY:

      You wouldn't think of that in today's world, would you? About eating too much food or wanting too much food in a race like that that you'd be disqualified.

      BEN:

      No, and the biscuits were really the go in those days. There was no..

      FELICITY:

      Protein bars.

      BEN:

      No, nothing like that. I remember the power bars came out a year or two after that, and they were those terrible malt.. I can't remember the flavour, but they were malt something. They were shocking. Nothing fancy like we have nowadays.

      FELICITY:

      No, we're spoilt today, aren't we?

      BEN:

      Yeah, very much so.

      FELICITY:

      With choice and flavours.

      BEN:

      Yeah, so that Ironman journey, that taught me a lot. Met a lot of fantastic people in those early years, and people that are still involved in the sport today. Lucky enough to go to Kona in the early years as a coach, not as an athlete. Went to Kona as a coach, and learnt a lot of my trade there. But gee, what an unbelievably hot place that is. Any athlete that goes across there, and particularly from Australia if you're coming from the winter into the American race season, boy, you're in for a..

      FELICITY:

      Big contrast.

      BEN:

      Yeah, you're in for a journey, but I fully respect and admire anyone that goes and has a crack. It's a tough gig. So, yeah, that's my Ironman journey. And we went on to.. I think I might have been at something like 20, 21 Australian Ironmans in a row.

      FELICITY:

      Wow.

      BEN:

      Competed at the first few, and then as a coach. So, I've done my stint up in Forster-Tuncurry and then up into Port Mac, that's for sure.

      FELICITY:

      Wow, you definitely know what it's about, what it takes.

      BEN:

      Yeah, lots of years up there.

      FELICITY:

      Absolutely.

      BEN:

      You definitely learn a lot, and you share a journey, like we were talking before. You share a journey with people and you learn a lot about people. And I'd say pretty much everyone that does an Ironman, it's one of the pinnacles of their life, whether it's their first or fifth or eighth Ironman, it's that achievement. It takes many, many hours to accomplish, and that's just not on race day, and there's a big team of people behind it and there's a massive effort and a single focus and dedication to the task. And all those types of things come into it, and people are quite rightly really proud and very chuffed with what they do with an Ironman. You can see why it's still a big deal.

      FELICITY:

      Yes, right, justifiably so.

      BEN:

      Yeah, very much.

      FELICITY:

      Well, I'd like to thank you for joining us today, Ben. It's been fascinating to listen to your story and sharing your insights with our listeners. Our listeners can find you on your website, which is www.bengathercole.com.au and we'll have that in our show notes, as well as on Instagram and Twitter, which is @bengathercole1, the number one. They can also find you in NRG2Perform with Craig, so .com, so we'll have that in our show notes as well, and on Active CEO Podcast. So, you’re on a few different platforms there and keep yourself busy.

      We’d really like to thank you once again for joining us today, it’s been a pleasure.

      BEN:

      Yeah, fantastic. I really enjoy and hopefully it’s been insightful for people that are going to listen. Thank you, Felicity.

      FELICITY:

      You’re welcome, thanks Ben.

      Thanks for listening to the All Torque podcast. We'd love it if you would leave us a rating and review on iTunes. This helps us to deliver content you want to hear about. Please take a moment to share it with your friends and family on Instagram and Facebook. I'm Felicity Dales, see you next episode for another story of inspiration and motivation on the All Torque podcast.

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