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Different approaches over winter to ensure it’s not a ‘slog’

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North Shields Polytechnic Club have found different ways to keep their winter training engaging while also valuing the importance of keeping the social interaction for the club’s members, particularly the junior section of the club.

Steve Turner is the lead junior triathlon coach at the club, overseeing the multiple swim, bike, run sessions the club puts on for juniors each week.

“It doesn’t have to be a slog in the winter at all,” Turner said. “I think people need different things in the winter, so it's been about keeping everything fresh and providing that social experience especially for the juniors.

“Athletes crave that group scenario for their mental and social health just as much as their physical health and I think that’s so important. So, when we are devising sessions, we are providing opportunities for that, we put in competitions, whether that’s relays, whether that’s sprints or a pursuit. They see it as some fun and they enjoy that competitive element but it’s good training too as the relays are basically sprints.”

Like many clubs and their members, the events targets for 2022 have already been circled and can seem like a distance away during the winter months. That’s the same at North Shields where they are always looking ahead in terms of events but also athlete development.

“In the winter there’s obviously that absence of tri competitions, whereas in the summer they have the events there for motivation, but the winter is a very different experience with the dark mornings, the dark nights, and a lack of events,” Turner commented.

“We remind our athletes as to why we’re doing things. For us in the north east, we’ll be talking about the big races, we’ve got Leeds, we talk about Hetton and we talk about the IRCs so we focus our training and they know why we’re doing it. Talking about the blue carpet at Leeds is always a good one to get their attention and focus.

“We’ve had members developing their skills over the winter across other events. Some have been to do Parkruns, we’ve had a lot doing swimming galas, a lot doing the cross-country series, and cyclo-cross which has been one of the strategies we’ve used at both club and development squad level to keep the outdoor cycling up throughout the winter.

“We only use virtual cycling indoors as a last resort now, people love being out in the fresh air, and we’ve found cyclo-cross offers just that little bit more than being out on the roads or at a circuit because it is less weather dependent. They’re also developing important cycling skills and there’s also that running element to cyclo-cross especially when it gets a bit boggy.”

Turner worked with the club’s trustees to set up the junior triathlon section of the club in 2017 and has been coaching the juniors ever since. Now, the section has over 50 competitive members and Turner believes winter is also a good opportunity for coaching and training to adapt, especially due to challenges juniors can face.

“As coaches, I think it’s a good time to reach out to other coaches for new ideas without feeling the pressure of upcoming competitions and events,” Turner said. “It’s important not to be afraid to try new things so, for example, we might put a sprint finisher into a set and then we would get athlete feedback on that to see how they feel and to see if we’re getting the progress that we want.

“It’s a good time to tweak technique and work on skills; whether that’s someone riding in cleats for the first time or whether that is someone re-constructing their freestyle which they might have been reluctant to do in competition season, or whether that’s someone learning to ride rollers.

“Also, with the juniors, we find at this time of the year they get a lot of growing pains so we’re able to adapt the training so they’re still part of it. We are always flexible in our approach with the training but we’re still always aiming towards that quality but at times the intensity might have to drop during certain sessions, but we still make it worthwhile.”

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