Ask the expert

Ask the Expert: Barry Alldrick (Poole Swimming Club)

Barry Alldrick earned junior international medals in swimming and competitive lifesaving, Barry continued to coach voluntary for Lincoln Vulcans and Bournemouth Dolphins. In 2004, he became the Head Coach of Dorset Club Christchurch Seagulls leading a team of coaches and committed volunteers to nurture international Swimmers, Para-Swimmers, Water Polo Players and Tri-athletes. Early in 2014, Barry took on the Head Coach role at Poole Swimming Club.  In 2018, he was named Swim England coach of the year after the most successful 12 months in the club’s 87-year history.

1)What has led you into youth sport?

As my mother voluntary coached the squads typically 60 minutes before I trained as a national level swimmer,  I had free time to become the unofficial club champion of the RAF Waddington assault course (still today, I am not sure if were actually allowed on the course), when this no longer became a challenge I jumped at the opportunity of assisting the same fundamental skill development groups my mother and other inspiring teachers at Lincoln Vulcans were instructing.  (That’s the way I remember it anyway, I am sure it would not have been a way of keeping me off areas of the base we weren’t supposed be on). 

Fast forward to post studying and gaining personal trainer qualifications I relocated and continued to swim with Bournemouth Dolphins. Within the first month I was voluntarily coaching the daily S & C programme for the performance squad and went on to develop the Strength & Conditioning programme for the whole club, manically networking with as many physio’s and S & C coaches as possible.  If truth be told I was enthusiastic, and it was certainly a case of learning on the hoof.  Somewhere in that time I was running a county/ regional level swimming squad too. 

Three years later I took a part time position as Head Coach of neighbouring Christchurch Seagulls. This very quickly became full time immersing myself in an impressive growth of a club that was developing young people in the disciplines of Swimming, Water Polo, Synchro and Open Water swimming.  With a tendency to over reach, the 10 years I was at the club was a perfect learning environment, working with stalwart coaches and the many varieties of athletes and parents we come across.    We were producing national level youth athletes in multiple disciplines, whom as they progressed to higher performing programmes went on to win international status and even earn Gold medals in Rio.  The club continues to produce National level athletes and is a stark contrast from when a small band of committee members marched through the high street to save the club with just 25 members when I started. 

A switch across the Bournemouth conurbation led to me taking on the Head Coach position at Poole Swimming Club, where for the last 5 years I have been fortunate to work with a great team of coaches and support staff creating dedicated athletes. Each year we have enjoyed building the environment along with the trials and tribulations of athletes climbing ladder rungs earning and continuing to progress international successes at junior and senior level.   This has involved working with many pools, school facilities and Bournemouth University.  I have coached at every level of the Swim England and British Swimming pathway and massively benefitted from their coach development programmes.  Fortunately, more than ever British Swimming has ensured that funding was spent reaching coaches at all levels and over the last two Olympic cycles it has bought both fresh and experienced swimming coaches into a much closer community.     

In what was once a protective culture in swimming, where coaches could be quite isolated.  It now feels the opposite with coaches sharing good practice and supporting each other far beyond the technical aspects of the sport.  

2) What has been your biggest influence in your practice in youth sport?

We are first and foremost influenced by our nurturing and how our personal values turn out.   During my own development as an athlete I was influenced by Frank Roberts and Ian Turner in Lincoln, both were wise and passionate.  I was fortunate that Frank lived around the corner, benefiting from extra time with him by scrounging lifts to training, it allowed me to acknowledge his points of view and often we would reflect on the squad training and types of training sets.   This was hugely beneficial for my understanding, motivation and made me feel like I was having input into training. Swimming is a sport where you are head down in a pool 90% of the time and coaches must make the most of expensive and available pool time, it simply does not leave a lot of time to chat.  This period certainly shaped part of my philosophy and I always aim to be available for all my athletes as much out the pool as in the pool.   Turner was a great story teller and athletes could not help but be drawn into the plot line in order to have every ounce of worth squeezed out of them in a challenging environment.  He was firm but fair and you wanted to please him.

In Bournemouth I built a close relationship with the late Laurie Dormer who was very humanistic and encouraged a lot of listening skills.  I learned that he was Samaritan for his church and ran a successful charity outfit providing tools for communities across Africa. My wife and I raise money for the Make-A-Wish Foundation who support children with limited lives, this drives me to ensure I develop the character and opportunities of the young people I work with and more than medals, I am enormously proud of the people that have studied around the world and taken prestigious roles in work and their communities.

Laurie’s predecessor at Bournemouth Dolphins was Graham Bassi who as a coach does not let anything go with an athlete until it’s solved.  His structure and planning were second to none and being in the neighbouring club I took it on myself to match this ethos. He was a British Coach at the time and passed down as much information as he was receiving to local coaches, a trait I have carried forward into my coaching.  I am literally ribbed by colleagues for liking a good spreadsheet (with pretty colours) but if there’s a gain, the stats are worth it.

3) What is your particular area of interest?

Give me six swimmers dolphin kicking underwater and when they make the perfect wave on the surface of the pool from having the same amplitude and tempo of movement, I find the shape and curves as stylish as a BMW driving through a strategically lit tunnel.  So, I guess my biggest area of interest is on movement and timing. It requires a lot of attention and the forces on water can often be opposite to what you would think if replicated on land.

Often with physios and S & C coaches observing then deciphering whether it’s an athlete’s movement patterns, or restrictions in their range of movement that enables them to become productive in a skill is where a lot of my coaching passion lies.   Even when the athlete rapidly grows, and we may need to disassociate current skills relearn or adapt.  Thinking outside the box on where we can increase proprioception such as performing a race start with ankle weights to signal where the legs are on a dive entry is one example on where we have thrived in developing awareness and improvements.   

4) How do you think this particular area applies to youth athletes? 

I feel athletes can often show a fixed mindset on what they believe their body is capable of and how their flexibility and range of motion is set.  There’s always a way to improve this area and with dedicated work it can make the second biggest measurable jumps in performance below attitude and above fitness.  It’s often about unlocking the ‘mind keys’ with youth athletes and providing the drive for them to spend time outside of their core training in order to enhance range of motion or stability or the specific effect that would enhance efficiency.

5) What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?

As we strive to upturn every stone in a youth athletes’ development, the most sticking piece of passed down advice came via British Swimming’s current pathway manager and former National Centre coach Kevin Renshaw.  It sounds simple “Train the event, Coach the person”. 

6) What advice would you give to coaches working with youth athletes? 

Touching on the advice in the last question, it is far from a simple statement of advice.  As a coach it requires you to challenge deeper in both parts of the statement. 

To “train the event” you must know what the best in the world have done, are doing and what they are predicted to do.  In a sport where an athlete could succeed in 15 individual Olympic events for each gender across four strokes or in the case of an Individual Medley a combination of all swimming strokes and turns, you must be one step ahead or validate each of your athlete’s own research and methodology as they take on more responsibility.

Then as a coach, there is certainly the case of the more you find, the less you know, the more questions need answering.  An area I am personally striving to improve is in the mastery of making decisions and prioritising the simple steps to further success.

To “coach the person”, you must learn how to dial up and down or completely switch off your own personal values in order to identify with the athlete and their developing values so you can transact effective communication. The athletes outlook on a situation will be different to yours based on each other’s values and life experiences and knowing when to trust or when to push the relationship is no mean fete.

To give example, after a recent qualifying meet, where one of my athletes although earning a personal best did not make the cut for the National team.  My outlook was 3 days off and hit the hard work straight away into the next opportunity, whereas the athlete’s outlook was 10 days off.  Careful negotiation and understanding the reflective downtime needed resulted in the athlete taking 7 days off and returning reframed and refocussed for the next cycle of work, where training has been very impressive and invigorating so far. We further cut down a pool session and replaced that with more recovery time.  Time will tell if this will work. However, had I pushed for what I wanted it could have led to mental fatigue or burn out in the next training cycle.  The time off is proving right so far and it’s important to note that we met a couple of times in a relaxed environment during that period to realign.

7) Can you recommend any particular resources for youth sport coaches?

The easy answer is currently you can leverage time everywhere.  In the car scrap the radio and stick on a Tim Ferris podcast, or a Ted-talk, or listen to an audible book. You can find a book for your needs at the time, whether that be on technical, tactical, philosophical or culture advice.

But the real advice is making time to meet, watch & observe fellow coaches. Wherever you fit into the scale learn from coaches that work at the performance levels below and above you.  The best coaches are not necessarily in the best positions. Look for patterns that impress you.  It’s as simple as thinking ‘If you are a specialist Heptathlete coach and one club always seems to produce successful young Javelin throwers, then go and visit the coaches and support staff in that programme’.  Chances are you will learn something about the technical and developing makeup of these athletes, when added to your own communication style it will undoubtedly improve your coaching repertoire.

I am going to repeat myself again “Make Time”.  Coaches are by nature busy people, with a job list that is rarely complete, it’s easy to get absorbed into our daily grind.  In my experience time out your programme and visiting someone else’s is invigorating.

8) Where can people find out more about you and your work? (Social media links, websites etc.)

I try and rise above hype and promotion and let our results do the talking, I can be found on Twitter and Instagram personally and have access to both these platforms through Poole Swimming club.  I occasionally will offer nuggets of advice, but I am much more open to people visiting. Twitter: @PooleSwimming @BarryAlldrick Instagram: @Poole_swimming_club @Balldrick1

A huge thankyou to Barry for his time and expertise!

Are you a grassroots youth sport coach or PE teacher who wants to improve the athleticism of your athletes?? Check out our Fundamental series athletic development programs here.