Conehead: Making the Complex Look Simple

Exploring the ‘Coaching DNA’

High Performance Manager Darren Roberts looks into the ‘Coaching DNA’.


Words: Darren ‘Conehead’ Roberts            Photos: Seb Schieck and Ben Winder

Sport can be a closed shop, in many different ways and on many different levels. This is to be expected in certain aspects, the manufacturers of equipment for example – what they’re doing, how and why are things they’d like to keep to themselves to maintain a competitive advantage, it stands to reason. However when it comes to the human component (the ‘human performance’ element), the same veil of secrecy descends over methods and ideas. This is of course to maintain competitive advantage, but this really is a perception rather than reality.

“that is the elegance of the framework, making the complex look simple”

The reality is (as I’ve written many times before) what works for one person does not work for another. However I’m not talking about simply cut and pasting another athlete’s physical and mental preparation onto your own; the ‘what’ is very rarely the issue, but it is the ‘how’. As coaches we develop methods, ideology, systems, paradigms and beliefs all underpinned by some old fashioned science but with the magic ingredient… experience. We develop this ‘performance framework’ over many years which is the core of what we hang everything else off for each athlete, it’s our ‘Coaching DNA’. A few minor changes to a few things get you very different results and outcomes, however that is the elegance of the framework, making the complex look simple.

It's not what you know, it's who you know... actually that's not true, it is both. Emmeline Ragot passes on her years of experience.

The key to this is sharing ideas and knowledge with other coaches. I’m not talking about telling a rival athlete’s coach all the stats, numbers and a complete physiological picture of who you’re working with, but rather sharing the knowledge journey which is as much about being a student of history as it is about progress. In human performance we spend so much time focussed on progression we sometimes don’t realise we’re in fact going in circles; sharing ideas and knowledge can help prevent this. It may all sound very counterintuitive, as the knowledge you’ve worked so hard to gain as a coach you perceive to be ‘yours’ and you’ve earned it – as well as providing your athletes with a competitive advantage as NO ONE else is doing what you do. However as a coach, if you spend time sharing with others you may find your unique and innovative methods aren’t so unique and innovative, but you’ve simply arrived at the same place everyone else has in different sports as well as your own.

“A tutor of mine told me a long time ago that coach’s minds should be like parachutes… they work best when open”

Working isolated in a sport means you may be missing out on a host of things which can expand your map of the performance world. Skate, surf and snowboard all have ‘learnings’ for each other as sports, but you’d need to spend time in all of those sports to appreciate that. I’m extraordinarily lucky to work with a diverse group of athletes, 30 different ones from 14 different sports and 10 different nationalities. What becomes immediately apparent is the similarities, not differences. Being able to cross pollinate ideas and learnings. How much has being a BMXer and a world class MTBer helped Peter Sagan in his road career? I don’t want to take this into a discussion on the pros and cons of early specialisation in athletes, but for us coaches we can become too ‘specialised’ if we’re not exposed to as much of the rich varied performance environment as possible.

A tutor of mine told me a long time ago that coach’s minds should be like parachutes… they work best when open. It’s part of my job to ensure it isn’t my limited map of the performance world and rigid framework that holds my athlete back. Having said all that, I need to go and hit the gym with an athlete – it’s 5 x 5 on deadlift, pretty certain no one has seen that before…

Darren ‘Conehead’ Roberts is High Performance Manager at Harris & Ross Healthcare. He’s been working with some of the UK’s and world’s biggest household names in extreme sports for nearly 15 years.


It's good to talk. Steve Peat and Brendan Fairclough are perfect examples of riders who share their experience and knowledge with others... well not everyone!
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