Stephen – who is more widely known as Sparky – has had a long and successful career in sport having spent 15 years as the Royal Yachting Association’s (RYA) Olympic manager. He also started competing at a young age, progressing from school championships all the way to the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
Fast forward to the present day and he has been in post as British Cycling’s performance director for over four months, attending huge international events such as the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Hong Kong. We grabbed a few minutes with Sparky to hear all about how the job is going, the goals he has for the team and what inspires him.
Why did you become a coach?
I wanted to help other people develop their potential. I realised I benefited from coaching when I was a youngster – both in sport and out of sport.
What advice would you give to people new to coaching?
I think that a good coach has got to be a really good listener. Having spent some time listening to your athletes, the next step is to be clear on what your goals are. With that you build trust and if you have trust with your athletes you build respect.
What was your immediate goal with the Great Britain Cycling Team coaches?
Similar to what I mentioned above, my immediate goal was to listen to them, learn how I can best support them and work with them to ensure that we have good clarity and alignment within our goals.
What inspires you about coaching/coaches?
It’s the thought, the passion, the application that really good coaches have to their sport and to the athletes that they’re working with – the efforts and personal sacrifices that they’re willing to go through to see somebody else deliver their best performance. So I suppose, in a word, the selflessness.
What’s the best piece of advice for a coach?
Take care of the processes, respect the athletes and the outcomes will take care of themselves.
How can coaches best develop their delivery?
Ultimately, the advice I would give is to never stop learning and to actively seek personal development. Seek out learning in your craft, whether that’s listening to sports coach podcasts, reading technical manuals – or a multitude of other ideas. Also areas such as training and leadership development in business are as applicable to sport as they are to business. Remember: every day is a school day.
It’s important to try and build a platform for success and develop a habit of winning. For me, there are a number of areas that can really help that. Be clear about what it is you want to do and what the things are that will put you off your result. Consider the factors and behaviours you display as a coach that may take the energy away from the team and those factors that will add energy to that team.