In episode 4, coach Ben Richens talks about what it takes to build self-belief, his experience coaching at the Invictus Games, and the importance of an individualised training plan.
Ben Richens is a strength & conditioning coach who has athletes at European, Commonwealth, World Championship and Paralympic games level. His athletes span a wide range of sports including: men’s rugby (international 7’s), GB Wheelchair Basketball, Paralympic Powerlifting, Sailing, Squash, MMA, Ironman and much more.
Visit Ben’s website here.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 15.11.16 – Ep 4. Ben Richens – GB powerlifting coach on building self-belief
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR[Music]
TP: Welcome to A Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views on what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.[Music]
So I’m here with Ben Riches, Ben is a strength and conditioning coach who has athletes at European, Commonwealth, World Championship and Paralympic Games level. His athletes span a wide range of sports including Men’s International Rugby, GB Wheelchair Basketball, Paralympic Powering Lifting, sailing, squash, M&A, Iron Man and much much more. Ben’s also been my strength and conditioning coach for the past five years and he’s moving me into competing in powerlifting. Ben thanks for joining us today after a session [laughs] of putting me through my paces! How would you describe what you do?
BR: At heart, I’m a strength and conditioning coach, but recently I’ve got quite into powerlifting – I compete myself, and I’ve got a number of athletes who do as well and I work quite closely with St Mary’s University and I’m Head Coach at the St Mary’s Strength, Powerlifting and Weightlifting Club.
TP: What do you enjoy about working with athletes, what do you get the most buzz from?
BR: It’s the interaction, definitely. I find it very hard to work with somebody I don’t think we’re on the same page as, but its progress and that’s the main thing making that person fulfil their potential whatever that is, whatever level that is.
TP: When you say you’ve got someone who’s working on a different page, what do you mean?
BR: It’s mainly that point of trust hasn’t developed. So you can sometimes quite quickly realise if that person’s asking certain questions because they want to develop and get better, and that’s perfect and that’s how you develop understanding progression; or that person’s asking you questions because they don’t trust what you’re doing, so there are two different things.
TP: Yeah. I’ve been talking to a number of elite athletes recently and the athletes that I’ve spoken to say that winning and success is all about belief, how do you work with athletes to build that belief to make them think that they can do what they want to do? Or do you?
BR: [Laughs] I think mainly, first of all, it comes from an understanding of what it takes to where they want to get to? So maybe the sacrifices, the time that they put in and what that person’s willing to do. Say, for example, if I worked with an athlete who wants to be world champion, we have to have a sit down and look at what they’re willing to do to become a world champion. So, for example, if they’ve got a busy family and they can only train once a week and they’re coming in quite late to the sport say, that sort of goal of becoming a world champion is not maybe not that realistic so we then have to temper expectations and go, ‘That might not realistic given what you’re going to give, but this is realistic to compete at British level’ or whatever it is, and it’s knowing the sport and knowing what they want to do to see what they can put in and what they can get back I think that’s the main thing.
TP: From a personal perspective, you’ve been my strength and conditioning coach for about five years. I know that when I’m lifting with you I can lift more, I know that I trust you totally and we’ve been to one competition so far and I lifted more in that competition than I ever have done before, and I just believed that whatever you told me to go and lift that I could lift it.
TP: I don’t know, where does that come from?
BR: So like you touched on before its trust and that you absolutely believe the steps that you and your coach are taking are the right ones, and that’s often broken down into smaller steps. So, I thought you were going to be quite good at it, and you are. It’s almost having the coach or the person who is there having the confidence to let that person really do it? So it’s making smaller steps and then comparing to like what we did together was making smaller steps you lifted, you squatted, you dead-lifted, and then we make comparisons. So you’ve just dead-lifted X amount, that’s quite competitive for your age and your weight class, I think you could compete at a regional level/British level/English level whatever it maybe, so it’s making those comparisons of where that person is right now to the other standards around them and that creates confidence and belief as well.
TP: When does it go wrong? Do you have athletes that sort of come in and, I don’t know, they’ve been lifting zero and suddenly they want to lift 600?
BR: I think the main thing when it goes wrong is it’s mainly when expectations aren’t met. So, for example, again it’s like the landscape over the last few years has changed quite a lot in terms of social media and in terms of people putting up a post of what they’re doing and what they’re lifting, how fast they’re running, whatever it maybe, and people are just seeing those individual single posts but not seeing all the years of hard work that have gone on behind it, and just going, ‘Oh that person’s done that, okay I…’ so their expectations of what’s achievable without hard work are often quite skewed? And it does, to become good at a British level, at a European or world level it takes years of hard work. So, can you get yourself in an environment where you trust the process, because progress isn’t a linear thing, we’re going to have ups and downs and everything like that, so you have to be able to trust the process that even when you have a period of stagnation or you go down a little bit for example, you’re not running very fast, you’re not throwing as far, you’ve still got that potential to fulfil, so that’s the main thing and it’s not going to happen overnight, which I think sometimes people can caught up in social media of that. ‘Okay, I’ve seen this awesome montage on YouTube’ [laughs] or this thing happening, but it takes a lot of hard work to get there, and are people willing to put that hard work in to get that result?
TP: You’ve – on a slightly different tack – you’ve been involved in the Invictus Games, is it two years now?
BR: Yeah, 2014 and this year 2016.
TP: Yes, so that must be quite an experience, can you talk to me a little bit about how some of the highs and lows of working with Invictus?
BR: [Laughs] It’s, to be honest, it is probably the highlight of my career working with Invictus Games. I was quite lucky to be brought on early on, the first time it was done in London and then the second time this year in Orlando.
TP: Just, I suppose I want to say for the listeners, the Invictus is a Games for injured servicemen and women.
BR: Yeah, and it covers rarely indifferent types of injury, so unseen wounds, you know PTSD and all those other things. And also physical wounds, so people who’ve been in Afghanistan and been blown up and lost a limb, whatever it maybe; and often both as well so it’s not just separate you have mental or physical, it’s often both as well. So working with a bunch of people who have overcome massive massive things also puts a lot of things in your life in your own perspective, but it’s also again it’s the journey before the Games with these guys, the training camps that they’ve been on, how strong they’ve got, particularly with Orlando. So we did a good run-up of training camps, so you get to know everybody and you get to know lots of little bits about them and what they’ve overcome, if they open up and talk about some stuff it’s really…it’s really motivating actually what the human spirit can overcome and do, whatever you’ve come across. But that’s the main thing that these guys started a process and they followed it through to the Games and for me Orlando was awesome, awesomely organised, we had some great results. GB did really really well and lots of medals, but I think as one of the competitors said it’s the process that they go through that changes their lives, So I think that one of the guy’s said, “You can actually when we’re out there you can see some of these guys’ lives actually changing in front of you,’ it’s that powerful, sport is that powerful.
TP: So developing that belief that I can?
BR: Yeah. And even that tagline, ‘I am,’ so that I am master of my fate, so they are control and they can control through sport.
TP: Mmm. You’ve worked with individuals and teams, is there a difference to working with teams?
BR: Yeah, there is. I like working with both, like the team aspect is you definitely can breed a particular environment, which sometimes can be good [laughs] and sometimes can be bad, but that sort of team spirit and when somebody does have a bad day the other person, you’ve got different personalities in the team can bring them up, bring different people through different things, so that sort of team ethos and environment is a very very powerful thing. So for coaches and other players or whoever it maybe, that’s a really addictive thing as well to work together in a team. It’s difficult when you’re in an individual sport it’s really difficult because often you’re performing on your own, you’re the only person up there.
TP: And against your team mates?
BR: Yeah and even in powerlifting, so if we go back to St Mary’s, the sort of environment that me and the guys who work there try to create is like a team, so it’s an individual sport and you’re the only one on the platform, but we try to create that environment where everybody’s helping supporting and working together, it’s not just a bunch of individuals who train in the gym together it’s we need to create that team cohesion.
TP: Do you have people who are just so individual and they just don’t want to be part of it?
BR: I think everybody wants to belong at some level.
BR: You might have personality clashes that’s I think where it is, and it’s the same thing even in Invictus there were personality clashes of course, but at the end of it, I think everybody has sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves, and it’s enjoyable to be part of that, it’s enjoyable to be part of a team that are doing well.
TP: You’ve worked with GB Powerlifting, what do you think they need to do to excel in Tokyo?
BR: Like in Rio the guys did a really job, so Mickey, Ali, Natalie, Zoe and so Zoe got a bronze, Ali got a silver – fantastic results. On a fundamental level, we need to get more people into the sport basically or people competing. And from there where you get more people who can perform at a high level, so we’re quite lucky right now to have a good population and training group of injured service people who’ve come from the Invictus Games and who are training at Tedworth House under Strength and Conditioning JP there of the Help the Heroes team. And I think we’ll gradually see the fruits of this hopefully in the Commonwealth in the Gold Coast in two years in 2018 and then in Tokyo, but with any sport if you have a big grassroots participation you’re going to get a bigger base of the pyramid…
TP: And more people coming through the…?
BR: Exactly the higher the pyramid that it will filter though. So, basically, that’s the main thing really, get more people participating and knowing about sport.
TP: And talking about getting more people participating, you have two young children [laughs]?
BR: Yeah, I do.
TP: You’ve got a daughter who is three is she?
TP: Yes, and a son who hasn’t yet had his first birthday?
TP: Are you keen for them to get involved in sport and which sports would you like to see them doing?
BR: [Laughs] I had this conversation a while ago when my first daughter was born, and as a strength and conditioning coach one of the temptations is to draw out a long term athlete development plan, so…
BR: …when they’re six years old they will do this, and when they’re eight years old they’re going to gymnastics which will then carry through to rugby, and then that there will be in automatically for and this and this. It’s that sort of joke with some of the guys I was on the course with that her whole future is going to be mapped out and what sport she’s going to play. But then when you have kids you learn [laughs] it’s not that easy, like I was teaching her trying to clean and jerk yesterday actually with a wooden stick, and she did like two reps and then she just started spinning the stick around hitting things off the table and everything like that. The cute coaching cues that you use with some people [laughs] they just don’t…
TP: It’s just not going to work with a three year old [laughs].
BR: No they don’t, they don’t. So [laughs] the main thing is that she enjoys what she does in whatever sport that might be. I have in my mind [laughs] that athletically doing gymnastics, doing a combat sport…contact sport like rugby things like that they give her a good foundation of movement skills and strength and power and then that can transfer to whatever she wants to do. But in my heart – yeah, I do want her to be powerlifter.[Laughter]
TP: So as someone who worked with people who are wanting to perform to their best, what does performance mean to you?
BR: Again it goes back to the individual about what they’re willing to put in, and what they’re happy to do. So, for example, my point of view powerlifting wise, I came into it quite old, I know because I’ve got a family, work, etc, I’m never going to be a world champion powerlifter because the gap between what I’m doing lifting right now and what world champions are going to do is miles apart. But, I love whether it’s a master level lifter, whatever, I’d love to compete for my country and maybe even get to the European championships or whenever, and just have that experience of stepping on a stage to represent the country, I think that’s an awesome thing.
So performance is to be is quite individual. You might get somebody who comes into the gym – for example, I’ve got a cerebral palsy athlete I train, fantastic runner, to him performance was the ability, because he’s left side affected so cerebral palsy affects his left arm and left leg, to him performance was I want to be able to do a pull-up without any assistance, so with that left arm it’s really quite hard both in range and in strength to pull-up equally. We got there and he’s got the ability now to say to his mates, or whoever it is or just get in the gym and go, ‘I can perform eight strict pull-ups,’ to him that’s a very powerful thing in confidence and belief wise, it’s got nothing to do with his running, it won’t make him a better runner, but the feedback so the performance of that pull-up or the series of pull-ups is individual to him. So sometimes
TP: Sounds like something about progress as well?
BR: Yeah. Absolutely, yeah.
TP: Feels that one’s always learning and keeping moving forward and progressing, mmm.
BR: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s the biggest thing, if you keep on progressing as a human being, as an athlete, whatever it is, that can give you great drive, great happiness. And one of the most frustrating things is if you hit a stagnant patch or even decrease, so performance is – yeah, can you perform better, whenever that maybe to the individual.
TP: Well it’s been brilliant talking to you, Ben. I just want to round up with some quick fire questions.
TP: What did you eat for breakfast?
BR: [laughs] I literally had a cup of tea, to be honest, this morning because I was…
TP: That’s it?
BR: Yeah [laughs].
TP: Favourite piece of kit?
TP: Sporting hero?
BR: I’ll take you back to my childhood, Stuart Pearce, England.
BR: Passion, he was a left back player for England many times for Nottingham Forest Defender, pure passion for it. He came into the sport late as well, so he shouldn’t have been where he was, I think he came into the sport at 22 or 23 playing non-league before that, but the passion that he showed playing for his country, especially in Euro ’95 fantastic, yeah.
TP: Most useless piece of advice you have been given or given to someone else?
BR: I’ve been given was change of sport.
TP: What – change the sport?
BR: Change of sport that I’m doing. It’s like why? If somebody’s got a passion for something…
BR: …you telling them to change it that’s the most useless thing that you can do, like why?
TP: It’s not helpful.
BR: Not helpful at all.
TP: Greatest passion outside of sport?
BR: Kids and family.
TP: Best performance enhancer?
BR: [Laughs] In training wise to individualise a training schedule to what you’ve got going on outside of life. You can have the best training schedule whatever it is the world, but if you’re coming into that on the wrong day or tired or whatever it is, it doesn’t individually…if it isn’t individually specific to you then it’s useless.
TP: Mmm, that’s brilliant. Well thank you very much Ben for talking today, I really appreciate.
BR: You’re welcome. Thank you.[Music]
TP: Thanks for listening. You can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to aquestionofperformance.com.[Music]
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