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My 5 tips to help develop young talent

January 2019 - “Reaching a high level owes nothing to chance: it's the fruit of personal sacrifice and huge commitment... It’s obviously not a normal lifestyle but it's a chance to experience something extraordinary! It’s true that this chance comes at a price... It's up to the individual athlete to see what he or she is prepared to do.”

You don’t need to talk with Stéphanie Deanaz for very long to realize that customized work, for her, remains central to her profession: you talk to her about the “group,” and she answers with the word “athlete.” Every time. The reason? The former champion refuses the idea that a single path can lead her young talents towards autonomy, the principal goal of her mission. In her eyes, the individual athletes are all unique, with their own personalities, aptitudes, weaknesses, pace of development and (of course) their own long-term plans. But they must also be protected. The first few months of collaboration between her and each of her athletes are decisive. “You have to observe them on a daily basis, exchange ideas, get to know them, get to know yourself,” explains Stéphanie. “We're all different, we don't all experience things in the same way, and the coach must respect that.” Patience to focus later on boosting performance...

1. Helping them become adults
When the athletes first arrive at our center, I find it premature immediately to start defining our expectations in terms of results. They’re already experiencing so many changes: they’re 18 years old, moving to a new city, discovering higher education, life in an apartment, living alone... As soon as you have goals, you have pressure… and it's not easy to organize your life when under pressure! I think it's better to give them a little time and, above all, to give them support: for example, we advise them about nutrition, we make them realize how important sleep is, we also suggest they spend less time staring at screens in the evening. Of course, it's a very unusual pace of life for a young person, an ascetic life that is sometimes difficult to accept because it leaves them socially isolated. But once the sports project takes shape, once the athlete adopts it and fully embraces it, there's no need to “fight” (sic) anymore...

2. Heightening their awareness of the dangers of social networks
A real issue and a source of worry, too! Not only are social networks omnipresent in our profession, they have also become – and this is terrible to admit – essential because, with regard to their sponsors, athletes must keep their accounts “alive” by regularly posting up messages, photos, videos... Some are even graded according to their number of followers and the relevance of their communications! Well, there’s also at times a search for a form of recognition: it’s reassuring to know that you are loved... But certain less kindhearted comments can prove to be destructive. So I often warn them about this, advising them to “unplug” before a race. All the more so as mobile phones limit contacts with the rest of the team: “you’re there… without really being present.” But, personally, I argue in favor of the “here & now!” because, when you’re in a race, you have to be fully responsive to the present moment.

3. Not trying to stand in for their parents
Naturally, considering the age of my athletes, my work as a manager sometimes means that I have to step outside the sporting framework as such. But the young women know that they can contact me at any time, and I will always be there for them if they have a problem. But I'm neither their mother nor their father. Absolutely not! All the more so as the parents have an essential role to play: notably that of bringing their children back down to earth when they are all worked up after achieving good results... The family cocoon frequently brings stability to the athlete. In any case, I rather like parents who are somewhat “disconnected” from our environment, the fact that, in their eyes, they think: “OK, so it's the triathlon… but it's not the only thing in life”... In any case, my athletes prefer it when their parents remain parents, when they don't try to be coaches as well. In fact, the roles played by parents and coaches have to dovetail perfectly… and everyone stays in their respective places!

4. Deconstructing inhibiting beliefs
Probably, one of my biggest challenges is to break down the mental barriers unconsciously erected by my athletes to prevent them from reaching a certain level. This work calls for patience because at that age (18-19) the athletes don't necessarily know themselves very well and, frequently through a lack of confidence, lock themselves into certain beliefs – unfounded, of course – to justify a disappointing result, for example. We then have to lead them to change the way they see themselves, to get them to accept their strengths as well as their weaknesses while allowing them, at all times, to make sense of this approach. If it seems meaningless, the athletes may take it as a kind of attack. If it is meaningful, however, they realize that they will be able to grow by overcoming this mental barrier. My credo is to accept yourself, not want to resemble others, to compare yourself to others... When you abandon your own personality, you abandon the way your personality works.

5. Preserving humility 
A race rarely proceeds as we imagined it would and, in any case, with the risk of getting a puncture or falling off the bike, we don't even try to imagine the race beforehand, it’s a waste of time. That's why we can't let athletes believe that they can control everything, that they’ve he's going to dominate everything, that everything is cut & dried... Things are never settled in advance! I want to stress this point: you must never underestimate your opponents: they are also working hard, have potential, and striving to progress. Being confident is a quality but a lack of humility is a danger. When training, it’s easily to correct this overconfidence (smile): create situations where the athletes are going to have to work hard under stress because one of their partners is “pushing” hard next to them, and to work through their own physical pain because we have created a state of fatigue. Mentally, it is always harder to accept pain imposed by others, and harder not to give up. That’s something you can learn!

Stéphanie Deanaz at a glance

▶︎ Biography

Born May 26, 1975 in St Germain-en-Laye
Member of the French Triathlon Team from 1997 to 2004
World military champion
National coach for the French Triathlon Federation since 2009
Responsible for the Olympic team since London 2012.

▶︎ Coaching achievements

9th in the London Olympics with Jessica Harrison
2015 and 2018 European and World Mixed Relay Champion
U23 World Champion in 2015 with Audrey Merle, 2nd with Léonie Périault
3rd in the 2018 European Championships, and winner of a World Triathlon Series event with Cassandre Beaugrand.

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