Colin Jackson, hurdler

Colin Jackson

The former hurdler takes time out from coaching in Florida to tell us what it takes to make it as an athlete and a coach.

Raise Your Game: You've come to Florida to coach other athletes - is warm weather training important for athletes?

CJ: One of the most important things is the sunshine so coming to Florida, where it always shines, is great. For our athletes to come out and prepare properly in our winter months, in good conditions, with good training facilities, makes all the difference.

RYG: Why is the USA so successful throughout the world of sport?

CJ: The United States is a country that has a passion and desire for sport. If you look at any list, anywhere around the world, you'll always see someone from the USA at the very highest level.

They invest a lot of time and effort in producing great sports stars. They have a great collegiate system, where a lot of the stars begin their career, and they move on into the international circuit. There are so many facilities that budding stars are really encouraged to achieve their goals.

RYG: How do you know if an athlete has what it takes to go all the way?

CJ: That's a hard question. With my athletes the first test I did was to see if they had any passion for their sport - to find out how much they really wanted to achieve. Did they just talk about achievement as something that was easy to come by or were they willing to work hard at it?

I started with some really general questions about time and effort, their lifestyle, their dedication to achieving their goal, their expectations of themselves and me as their coach. If they need me there 100% of the time, then I'd doubt whether they're really in it for themselves. You need to have that passion in your heart to want to achieve.

RYG: What has satisfied you most whilst coaching?

CJ: Changing somebody's attitude and physical stature is really great. I saw my athletes at the beginning of the winter, and they didn't look like they look now. Their attitude wasn't as positive as it is now, and for me, that means that I've achieved a lot already. If they left me tomorrow at least I know they'd carry that with them.

RYG: What works better for you as a coach - the stick or the carrot?

CJ: There's always a time to be nice and gentle with your athletes, but there are times when you have to be really firm with them - there's no messing about. When you get out on the track it's kill or be killed - that is track and field. If you want to cross the line first you've got to work hard at it.

RYG: Why do you make the guys repeat exercises again and again?

CJ: In track and field, as in anything, you repeat and repeat so you teach your body what to do. You get to a point where you're on autopilot. You do a routine - day after day, time after time. That's what I'm trying to achieve with these guys in training.

You try and get them to be able to do something again, and again, and again so they do it right. The more times they do it right, the more chance you have of getting near perfection.

RYG: How do you go about working on an athlete's confidence?

CJ: When I was doing 'Strictly Come Dancing' I used to pretend I was a dancer. I was a performer, I wasn't Colin Jackson the athlete. I had this image in my mind of what I wanted to look like and I tried to replicate that image in the way I danced.

Recently I asked an athlete 'Who do you think is the most efficient runner out there?', and he gave the name of a great Namibian sprinter called Frankie Fredericks. I said to him 'look like Frankie in your mind'. Have that in your mind and just think 'This is who I am, this is what I want to achieve, and I'm going to do it.'

RYG: Do you think this has improved your athletes physically and mentally?

Profile

Name:
Colin Jackson

Event:
110m Hurdles

Achievements:

  • World record holder 60 & 110m Hurdles
  • Major championship medals: 23 (13 Gold, 9 Silver, 1 Bronze)

CJ: I think they've grown from strength to strength mentally. Now they have a belief in their own ability and what they can achieve. Sometimes they know what I want them to do before I ask so we're creating a thinking athlete - thinking athletes are the best ones to have.

RYG: Who did you try to emulate when you were running?

CJ: When I was sprinting I always wanted to look like Don Quarry. He was a great Jamaican 200m Olympic champion. He was just so easy. He had great knee lift and, technically, he was a great runner. Lots of great sprinters, Carl Lewis for example, say they always watched little old Don Quarry because his technique always seemed to be perfect.

RYG: How do you keep an athlete progressing throughout the season?

CJ: Right now it's March - we're at the end of an indoor season. We're at the beginning of preparation for the summer season.

It's a long way away so, in the meantime, we have to set micro targets all the way through. All the time we're setting these micro targets that will help us to get to our ultimate goal in August.

RYG: So it's important not to peak too soon?

CJ: I think a lot of people expect everybody to be flying as soon as June comes around. Well yes, you should be flying, but you shouldn't be at the ultimate. The ultimate should be when the major titles are won, which is always in August. You always know that, so you prepare your athlete to be running well in June, but you want them to be running fantastically in August. It's like preparing for exams, you don't want to peak too soon, you want to have all your material ready for the exam date.

RYG: Was it the same with you?

CJ: Malcolm Arnold, my former coach, was really special. I don't know how he did it, but I was always running a metre quicker at a major championship than I had run all year.

I watched Jason Gardener run nearly a metre faster to win a major title very recently. I thought 'How does Malcolm get his athletes to produce the goods at the right time?' Perhaps, as an athlete, you put a value on a title and you naturally raise your game - I'm not so sure. I'm not going to question it - take the titles when they come.

RYG: Perhaps they naturally raise their game for a special coach?

CJ: Good point. I think you really need a great partnership to get the ultimate performance. If the athlete doesn't have full faith in what you can produce for them as a coach, you're not going to produce anything for them.

If they always question why, why, why, something's very wrong. They need to have their input because they're the ones who need to deliver the goods. You've got to have the right balance when you're coaching. You need to listen to your athlete and try to produce what they think they need to be at their ultimate.

RYG: There's a lot of talk about young people and obesity in the UK at the moment - where do we start making changes to reverse that trend?

CJ: They've got to want to make that change themselves. There are a lot of people who are more than happy to give the time and effort to assist them. Unless they have that passion in themselves - to decide to change their lifestyle, then we're fighting a losing battle.

If they don't have the desire then it will never happen. Not everybody is going to be a world record holder or Olympic champion. If you set your own goals and targets, and make them realistic, you can achieve them. Sport is something that's sociable and has the side benefit of making you fit.

RYG: If you were put in front of a group of young people, how would you get them excited about participating in sport?

CJ: I would start off by showing them pictures of myself when I was 15, 16 or 17. I didn't always look like an athlete. I had to work hard to get that way. It's about getting that message across to them 'Hey look, I used to look like this too', what I did to change my approach to my lifestyle would really help and assist you guys.

There's a sport for everyone and being fit helps you in most sports. Great chess players need to be fit, because unless you have a healthy body, your mind doesn't function as it should.

RYG: You were extremely successful in sport, you've also learnt to dance, and now I gather you're learning a language - how do you fit it all in?

CJ: Time management is crucial - certainly when I was doing sport. I've been able to take that into my new life. I'm actually trying to learn two new languages by 2012 for the Olympics. I'll be more help for the local organising committee if I have two languages under my belt. I'm really working hard towards that goal. I have to manage that, my television career and keeping fit. Now I'm also trying to get other athletes on the track, winning us medals.

RYG: Have you ever come off the track, as a coach or athlete, and thought 'that was perfect'?

CJ: There's never a time when things are perfect in athletics. In 110m hurdles you never take 10 perfect hurdles. You always strive to take 10 perfect hurdles, but in reality it'll never happen.


It's not always about winning or competing in major championships, you just need to make sure you keep progressing.

Lisa Dobriskey

British middle distance runner

Training ground

Colin Jackson

Work hard

Colin Jackson reveals more top tips on making exercise part of your lifestyle.

Media zone

Pierre Dulaine

Video clips

Check out the video with the famous dance instructor Pierre Dulaine.

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