CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – July 2022
“When you view the role of a sports coach, it’s fantastic. It’s like you’re being a mentor, or teacher, and get to see athletes conquer fears, overcome obstacles, learn new skills, and have fun.”
By David Grossman
You may not have heard of the new documentary show called “Every Second Counts”. That’s fine, but you are likely aware of the Emmy-award winning reality series called the “Amazing Race”.
Gabbi Whitlock may have, in her own way, started another fascinating competition. But, of a slightly different nature.
Having coached triathletes for 25 years, she’s now picking up the tempo to get more people actively involved in an endurance multi-sport race that encompasses various distances in swimming, cycling, and running.
Her goal is to, one day, see an assortment of Canada-wide provincial triathlon championships at the high school, college, and university levels. The triathlon is not considered a varsity sport at educational institutions, but things can change over time – and, especially, with increasing interest and participation.
Bright and energetic, Whitlock is quite optimistic – and thinks it’s possible.
She’s banking on young people benefitting from viewing other family members, even friends, taking part for pure enjoyment. Other people compete for a variety of awards. There’s also something catching the attention of many people. It’s called physical fitness.
“It might start in small pockets, but at least it’ll be a start,” said Whitlock, who is head coach of the Balance Point Triathlon Club in London, Ont.
“Unlike in other sports, where there is a grassroots system, that doesn’t exist in triathlon. I’m hoping to run a club for kids and their families. Once kids see their parents involved, maybe it will motivate them, too. That’s my goal.”
Whitlock fully understands that most people don’t swim 1,500 metres, then bike 40 kilometres and finish with a 10 kilometres run. That’s the Olympic way. While there are establishes distances for youth, her idea is to come up with distances more suitable for youngsters.
Originally from Toronto, Whitlock works for Western University as a research officer in the Dean’s Office in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. In short, her job is helping faculty apply for grants that investigate a variety of topics. Time management must be another strength as she also coaches competitive swimmers at the London Aquatic Club.
For those not acquainted with this challenging, and demanding sport, the triathlon was believed to have been invented in the 1970’s by the San Diego Track Club.
Folks at the California organization saw it as an alternative workout to the rigours of training by running around a track. The club’s first event consisted of a 10 kilometres run, an eight kilometres cycle and a 500 metres swim.
Just mentioning those numbers can make anyone ask for a short time out to take a breather.
The triathlon made its Olympic debut in Australia back in 2000, when Sydney hosted the Summer Games. Time for some trivia. Canada’s Simon Whitfield won the inaugural gold medal. The popularity could take a boost, but that will require participation and education.
For Whitlock, who volunteered to coach at the 2018 Ontario Summer Games in London, a few years later, she was chosen as a Canada Games Apprentice coach. Ask her about the role of a coach and if she’s enjoying the challenge that goes with it, and you may be surprised with her response.
“For me, and I am sure for many others, coaching is a passion and something that is very rewarding,” said Whitlock, who is a trained in cycling but a certified coach in swimming, personal training, as well as strength and conditioning.
“When you view the role of a sports coach, it’s fantastic. It’s like you’re being a mentor or teacher, and get to see athletes conquer fears, overcome obstacles, learn new skills, and have fun.”
One of the few women in Canada certified in the National Coaches Certification Program (NCCP) as a competition development triathlon coach, Whitlock also knows quite a bit about kinesiology and sports psychology. Admitting that she’s never been the athlete that stands on an awards podium, she’s a winner in other ways – including participation.
Whitlock is also a firm believer in giving back to the community. For her, it’s through coaching.
“The apprenticeship experience gave me confidence in my skills as a coach and pushed me to continue what am I doing and always look for ways to get better,” said Whitlock, who attempted an Ironman Triathlon in Texas in 2019 – and finished it.
That one encompassed a 3.8 kilometres swim, then a bike course of 180 kilometres and finished with a 42.2 kilometres run. Nothing to it, right?
A competitive swimmer in her younger years, entering the world of coaching may have started for Whitlock when she was a 15-year-old. That’s when she pitched in to help with the Scarborough Swim Club.
Five years later, on her way to getting a Degree in Psychology at Western, she enhanced on that coaching life by helping the triathlon club at the same university. She’s also coached the Provincial Development Team at camps for Triathlon Ontario.
“Triathlon encompasses so many people in many ways and at all ability levels,” said Whitlock, who has coached hundreds in the sport. “I see those as young as four years and up to 70 years of age who are involved. The challenge is to keep them – and build on it.”
“The apprenticeship experience gave me confidence in my skills as a coach and pushed me to continue what am I doing and always look for ways to get better.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
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This is a Competition Development multi-sport course. After this training, you will have the knowledge needed to Identify common injuries in your sport and develop appropriate prevention and recovery strategies.
This is a Competition Introduction Multi-Sport module. With the NCCP Make Ethical Decisions workshop you will be fully equipped to handle virtually any ethical situation with confidence and surety.
NCCP Psychology of Performance will allow you to help athletes learn to manage distractions and use visualization techniques to prepare themselves technically and tactically for training and competition.
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