As the 2011 world and 2012 Olympic champion, Sally Pearson is among the finest sprint hurdlers on the planet. But the Australian superstar’s career has not been plain sailing; here she talks about how taking on and committing to being self-coached has proven to be her greatest challenge.
The decision to go it alone
“For a long time, I had wondered about the possibility of being self-coached. I have a coaching certificate and in the past I had coached young kids, which was fun. Yet I had always doubted myself as to whether I could coach myself because I was fully aware of the effort and commitment needed to be an elite coach.
“I had suffered the hamstring tear and I was struggling to decide if I wanted to stay in the sport when I took a flight from Sydney back home to Gold Coast and I watched the story of Lydia Lassila, the 2010 Olympic aerial skiing gold medallist. I was inspired by that film and all the injuries and surgeries she had been through and I thought, I only have a hamstring injury for goodness sake. I know I can get back from that. Watching that video, I got off the plane and said; I’m staying in athletics, I’m going to start training and coach myself. By coincidence I started officially coaching myself on the first day of the athletics programme at the Rio Olympics.
“I believe being self-coached has allowed me to train a lot smarter by listening to my body. I’m also quite lucky in that my husband, Kieran, films me on his phone and we send that to a biomechanist I’ve worked with for many years even including in 2011 and 2012 when I was at my very best. Yet the role does present its challenges. I recall during the recent indoor season running 8.03 in my 60m hurdles heat in Berlin. I was very disappointed with the performance because I’d just come back from Karlsruhe having run both 7.91 in the heat and final. I had no coach to turn to but myself, so I had to take a deep breath, say it was a little hiccup and not to worry about it. I just needed to focus on my start and getting out quickly over the first few hurdles. I ran 7.91 for third in the final and that is the moment when I learned I needed to reassure yourself, not to freak out and just fine tune elements of my race.
“I’m also going through a challenge at the moment in terms of my training ahead of the European summer season. Between September and December I did my general preparation phase for the Australian season and now I face the challenge of not losing the speed I have gained during the Australian season but also adding a lot of the strength and endurance work that the Northern Hemisphere athletes have probably already been working on while I was competing in the Australian summer season. It has been difficult writing a programme to gain that balance, but I know how I feel from one session to the next and I have been making decisions on the back of this.
“I was fortunate to receive massive reassurance I had made the right decision to coach myself after running 12.53 (windy) to win the Australian Championships (in April).”
Steve Landells for the IAAF