Some of the best advice Phil Abbott, CSI Calgary cycling coach, ever got was, “don’t ever be in the photo with the athletes!” He took these words to heart, guiding his philosophy of creating an athlete-centric training environment that ensures he is not the center of attention when his athletes succeed.
“It’s about the athlete, not the coach,” says Abbott, also the head coach of the Alberta Bicycle Association. Except when it is about the coach – as it is with the Petro Canada Sport Leadership Awards gala, which recognizes Canada’s most dedicated, inspiring, and successful coaches.
Annually, award recipients are honoured for exemplifying the values and competencies of the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) and for their influence in positively shaping the Canadian sport community.
At the recent awards held in Richmond, BC., Abbott won a Petro Canada Coaching Excellence Award for his work with Paralympic cyclist Mike Sametz, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Paralympic Games. These prestigious awards recognize coaches whose athletes have excelled at World Championships, Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the Special Olympics World Games.
Despite his humble approach, Abbott acknowledges that the honour is appreciated. “It feels pretty good to be recognized by your peers, to know that your work is noticed.”
Wrestling Canada coach Paul Ragusa, who helped propel CSI Calgary athlete Erica Wiebe to Olympic gold in Rio, was also recognized for his coaching success. “It feels great to win the award,” he says. “It’s a great honour. It’s something that you never think about until it happens.”
Over the years, Abbott and Ragusa have developed and honed their coaching skills with help from experts at the CSI Calgary. Both credit access to experts like exercise physiologists, nutritionists and strength trainers for expanding their knowledge and skills.
Ragusa says that the chance to work closely with experts from the CSI Calgary helped him to formulate and ask the right questions. “As a coach I’m always trying to find that edge and having access to these experts is really helpful,” he says.
For example, having access to an exercise physiologist helped him collect objective data, something he didn’t focus on before. Ragusa says, “having this data often backs up what I might be thinking intuitively. I’m a better coach now that I can see the data and understand what the rational is behind some of the work we are doing.”
Abbott’s experience is very similar. He credits the CSI Calgary with fostering access to a variety of experts. “Once I was in my new coaching role, a lot of opportunities opened up and I had the chance to work with physiologists and nutritionists. This really accelerated my development as a coach.”
It’s not just CSI Calgary service providers that have contributed to coach development, but also partnerships with other organizations that have allowed program integration. Abbot explains, “It is a unique situation where the CSI Calgary is integrated with the velodrome and the provincial cycling program – being able to manage that relationship continuity between all programs and entities is valuable, everything is aligned. This benefits me and my athletes.”
For Ragusa the partnership between Wrestling Canada and the CSI Calgary has been very positive, especially in terms of establishing an IST (Integrated Support Team). “The team is more consolidated now and together we build a formalized plan that ensures the things we are all working on match up. As a coach it has helped me in terms of leadership, bringing everyone together.”
Jason Sjostrom, Director of Coaching Services at CSI Calgary, adds, “We have strong partnerships and we are very proud of that. These coaching awards are an example of that strength.”
Despite being content to remain in the shadows of their athletes’ success, coaches like Abbott and Ragusa are inspiring and worthy of the honour they have earned. It’s nice to see that sometimes it is about the coach.
Canadian Sport Institute Calgary: @csicalgary
Written by Kristina Groves: @kngrover
Photo by Dave Holland: @csicalgaryphoto