The British Cycling head coach, and former professional racing cyclist, believes "If you go away and you prepare meticulously for whatever you do in any walk of life, you'll become a winner."
Raise Your Game: What makes you want to get up in the morning and do this job?
Shane Sutton: Not seeing it as a job. In working around the elite of cycling they're just fantastic people. You want to come in and you want to make a difference every day, and you know you walk into the building and it's full of energy. I love it.
13 June 1957
New South Wales, Australia
Great Britain Head Cycling Coach
- Appointed as Performance Manager for British Tour de France Team Sky+HD (2009)
- Coach of the Year, UK Coaching awards (2008)
- Coach of the Year Award, Sports Council for Wales (1998)
- 3rd - British National Road Race Championships (1993)
- 1st - Milk Race, Tour of Britain (1990)
- Gold - Team Pursuit, Commonwealth Games, Canada (1978)
RYG: How important is sport and physical education to you?
SS: It energises everybody. Even when we're away on big trips such as the World Championships all of us, including staff, go for a jog as a group. It just motivates you to become more productive during the day and it gives you a feel good factor in general.
RYG: One of the British Team has called you the heart and soul of a team. It's a great description, what was meant by it?
SS: The fact is I'm there 24/7 for the guys and the girls. We've been to hell and back on this programme and to be part of something that was created a long time ago and see it build into a crescendo effect in terms of our success in Beijing, I think you know you've got to be there.
There's so many emotions involved and fortunately we have people such as Steve Peters to say 'OK listen. We've got to get more logical.' I'm their dad, and unfortunately I've stepped away from the trackside of things now, but they still know they can pick the phone up to me, I'll still be there for them.
RYG: When you were at the Beijing Olympics, were you a carrot or a stick man?
SS: The track centre is a harsh environment and I think I've learnt from my experiences in Beijing. I was quite harsh on people and I was hard, but you're making life changing decisions. I'd say that a lot of people saw me as more of a stick man. However we do endorse the total carrot programme as well
RYG: What's the balance between individual coaching and a team ethos?
SS: If you look at the team pursuit event, you've got four guys within the squad and they're all different characters. It can be difficult to gel them together and to actually get them right on that one day.
One-on-one coaching is quite simple because you tend to know the person inside out. You know their moods the minute they walk into the track.
We also stipulate that in the team you have an individual role, and if you focus and play your role, the rest will happen.
RYG: What do you say to the team before they go out to compete?
SS: I don't actually say anything. That might sound a little bit strange, but I tend to believe that all the hard work is done behind doors.
What I do try to do is stand there, look them in the eye and be very strong to show them that there's a belief in me that we're going to go out and rip this race apart, and I think there's more said in the look than actually speaking.
We'll also go away, we'll prepare and we'll discuss and plan meticulously over a long period of time.
RYG: How do you cope with success, and more importantly, how do you cope with failure?
SS: Coming back from Beijing was difficult for us and all that success was always going to be one of the worries. Fortunately we had advice from one of the first big gold medal cyclists, Jason Quigley. He said to me that he never dealt with the success of it so we started to prepare ourselves for what was coming
Failure is dead simple. You roll your sleeves up, get back in the gym next week and back out racing and you get on with it.
The success factor has been a very difficult one. All of a sudden you have agents you have to deal with, everybody wants a piece of them and you lose that one-to-one time to speak with your athlete. You do lose a certain amount of control, but it's been a great learning curve for everybody.
There's no winners without losers. In sport you tend to lose more than you win. It gives you a feel good factor and it's taking part that matters. The body needs to be active to function.
RYG: How do you create a winning habit?
SS: Winning becomes a knock-on effect and I think we saw that in Beijing. We got a really good start winning the team sprint and it's like anything, once you've done it once, it becomes normal. If you go away and you prepare meticulously for whatever you do in any walk of life you'll become a winner.
RYG: How do you know what makes a training regime work?
SS: A training regime doesn't always work, it's trial and error. You have different types of coaches and the training regime is only a guide.
You look at your athlete, you assess where they're at and then, obviously, you've got to have a long-term objective, but how you get there changes on a daily basis.
RYG: What's most important for you talent or attitude?
SS: Definitely attitude. I think everyone has got a certain amount of talent, but if you don't have the right attitude you'll never ever bring out the talent.
RYG: What makes you most proud of being involved in this team?
SS: Personally it's the characters, your Sir Chris Hoy's, your Bradley Wiggins', your Nicky Pendleton's. They are great ambassadors for our sport.
RYG: How much of this sport is about hard work and dedication?
SS: To make it in this sport you need guts, grit, determination, sacrifice, training and more training. It's very harsh out there, but the rewards are great. Just to see the faces on these guys when they pull on a rainbow jersey or pick up their Olympic medal. If we can filter that down through the schools and through the clubs that we're associated with, that's going to work for us.
One thing that we never shy away from telling them is 'This isn't going to be easy.' It's very tough and it's hard work, but we've got great academy programmes, and we're dealing with so many personalities on a daily basis
RYG: How do you give praise and how do you give criticism?
SS: Praise for me is like a rollercoaster. It moves from one event to the next event. It's a bit like a football team, you're moving onto the next game straight away, shake hands, job done.
I don't actually like to criticize. I like to think of what we can do better. So if I have a young athlete, and I think something is not right, I'll turn around and say 'Hey listen mate, I think we can do this a little bit better.' I don't go in there and say 'That's a useless change, what were you thinking?' It's back to that 'can do' attitude.
RYG: Should cycling be part of the PE curriculum?
SS: I've advocated that cycling should be on the national curriculum from day one. We need to educate young people that cycling is a great outdoor sport. You can go out in the beautiful lanes, see the countryside and even learn about the wildlife of the UK.
RYG: For young people who feel like the pressure is on them, how do you turn pressure into a positive?
SS: In all walks of life there's pressure, it's how you deal with it. We've had young teams going to the World Championships and they all feel the pressure, we know that.
What we try to do is create a nice relaxed environment for them and we do a lot of tuition through the psyche to release that pressure valve a little bit. As long as you give 100% win, lose or draw, it doesn't matter to us.
RYG: Why is it important to play the game the honourable way?
SS: I think playing the game fairly is a must for us in cycling because we're actually such a small world. Every World Cup you see the same old faces, and there has to be a certain element of camaraderie. That's not to say that when we go on the boards that battle won't begin, but we do have good sportsman ship in general.
Cyclists are also travelling around at massive speeds and people's livelihoods are at stake. You have to be careful how far you go with the risk element and there are rules. Fair play is a must and it should be a must in all walks of life.
RYG: Sir Chris Hoy epitomises this fair hero. How important is it to respect the way he wins and how he conducts himself?
SS: Sir Chris Hoy is a one-off. Win, lose or draw he will never change. I think if you ask any of his adversaries, whether it's outside the track or wherever, he's gracious in winning and he's gracious in defeat.
RYG: Finally, if there was one phrase to describe the Great Britain cycling team, what would it be for you?
SS: I got asked this same question after the Beijing Olympics 2008 and the one thing I would say is that our approach to everything is speedy. Our philosophy is to go fast, faster than everybody else to kill off our opponent. We are British, we are bulldogs, we are warriors and we're fighters.
Keep persisting with it, work hard and, most of all, enjoy it.
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