Who is Matt Koorey?
Published on Transitions Forum, 2014
A husband to Belinda and father to three sons aged 11, 10 and 7. I swam as a kid, just at the local swim club of a Saturday morning. I started swim squads at 13 years old but never more than 3x a week. I became quite a good swimmer but only at club level, outside of that I was ordinary. I grew up in Manly Surf Club where every second kid was a champion, and as a swimmer, I was a long way off the pace of most of my peers. But I was never the kid swimming 10 sessions a week, either. I surfed quite a lot. And I ran a bit, and was pretty good within my school but in the wider world I was pretty shit and in my final years of high school was the kid running 10:30 in the 3000m and nearly getting double lapped by the guys running 8:30.
My dad was a very good swimmer, pool and surf. He didn’t learn to swim properly until he was 17 years old, in fact, he failed his swim test for his bronze medallion to join Clovelly Surf Club a couple of times and the third time they turned a blind eye and let him in. Dad went on to win a national surf title, 5x Magnetic Island to Townsville champion, first Australian male to swim the English Channel and both north-south and south-north Cook Strait (NZ) record holder.
My dad was/is a hard bastard, you get that way when you are raised on the streets of Redfern back in the 1940’s and 1950’s I guess. My dad’s swimming career had a very powerful impact on me, he was a hero in many ways. I think one of the biggest things he taught me was how to really suffer in sport, it was always about emptying yourself at the end. In hindsight, I think this approach is what led me to a pretty rapid incline up the triathlon ladder when I started training hard (too hard, in hindsight), but equally ensured I never went on with it like so many of my peers. I maybe just tapped my well too hard, too fast, too soon. The other thing my dad liked to emphasis was being humble..not being your own best cheersquad. Maybe I shouldn’t say it but dang I see a lot of that in the tri-coaching industry today, although it gets taken even further in some circles from cheering for yourself to just bullshit central. I have a half finished website of my own under construction but every time I work on I can’t help but feel so vain I can’t finish it.
I came to triathlon in 1985. When I first started guys like Marc Dragan and Mark Pringle were established pro’s, same with Tony Unicomb. Many others as well like Paul Bannister, lots of Cronulla guys, Andrew Steel in Queensland was a gun, Mark and Tony Doyle, Glenn Forbes. In short order guys like Mick Maroney were making a big mark. These guys were all pretty much heroes to me. I remember a couple of races where I followed these guys on the bike and on the run. Mark Pringle was very nice, but Glen Forbes said ‘F#%k off, kid!’ Ha ha. Thanks Forbsey.
By 20 years old I somehow was going pretty good and soon found myself on the Commonwealth Games triathlon team for Auckland, NZ (1990). A few guys had a crash that day which was unfortunate (Maroney, Jabber, Steve Foster) but nonetheless, I had a race that for me was pretty stellar and I still have the most vivid memories of, taking 8th place. That was a most special one, that one.
I raced as a pro, albeit 2nd tier, although I seemed to have an ability to pull out a ‘relatively’ real big performance every so often. I always worked full-time, so I raced in the pro category but worked a normal job. I only ever won two races, but maybe I was most proud of a 2nd place to Bruce Thomas at the national long course champs one year in Canberra (Sri Chimnoy).
I proceeded to cook myself after this via too much intensive training and not enough volume to support it. I’m not sure anyone wanted it as bad as I did but I look back and think this in combo with my personality (I can be a bit serious 😉 ) was a limiter to my progression. But that said, I try to take comfort from what my coaching mentor Brett Sutton said to me a couple of years back, which was that as far as he could tell I had next to zero talent, that maybe even if I did get on his bus after the Coffs Harbour triathlon back in 1990 as he had invited me, he maybe couldn’t have made any more of me as an athlete than I made of myself. He also concluded that hackers like me generally make the best coaches because nothing comes naturally, and to skip forward a bit, this lead to his approach to mentor me back in 2010…a chance that I jumped at and am very appreciative of to this day.
I took a lot of confidence from Brett saying he believed I could be ‘not just be a good coach, but world class’. That feels like bragging when I type that, but, shit, I just did. He once said that ‘Matt has more knowledge of how I do things than most likely any coach on the planet’. I’m pretty sure there’s barely a word that I didn’t absorb from Brett in those 3 years. But the fact is I’d admired Brett’s squad since day dot, and even though many other athletes gave Brett and his crew a bit of shit for the way they went about things I always admired them and I think Brett knew that and respected that a bit and the way I raced (swim/biker) and that made me a bit more of an attractive prospect to him as well some two decades later.
Moving forward…I am a triathlete of 29 consecutive years, and my life is 1000-miles an hour, mostly because of all the activities the kids partake in and my insistence of being involved as much as I can as my dad was with me.
I still race a few times a year myself, with 70.3 probably being my best and favourite distance and the odd Ironman thrown in there but in regards to the latter I do a bit less work there than I should/need to, especially in regards to cycling…just not enough time and/or time I am not prepared to take from the kids. My long ride of a Saturday morning has to be done and dusted by 7:45am and it’s done indoors, as is all my cycling. I never ride on the road…except in a race or for 30minutes the day before. I hope that anything above didn’t across as egoistical?
Where are you based?
Manly Vale, on Sydney’s northern beaches.
How did you come to the sport?
Back in the early/mid 80’s a guy that swam in our swim squad, Sean Vale, who became a very good friend of mine, was a pretty decent triathlete and was training for a race (Ironman distance) called the Triple-M Triathlon at West Head/Akuna Bay. It grabbed my attention, and by December 1985 I had a shitty bike and no bike shoes and was off and away at the Nepean Triathlon, where I do recall a hill (fire-trail) that was like a vertical wall. Maybe it just felt like that, but you don’t see courses like that too often anymore.
How did you come to coaching?
I started doing it a bit with/alongside Gilesy (Grant Giles) back in 1999 or maybe even 1998. We ended up doing our own thing, but no split or anything. I have the highest regard for Grant…he’s one of the most intuitive athletes and coaches I’ve ever known, and a man of good values.
What type of coaching do you do? Face to face/ internet/ squad based?
Some face to face, mostly internet, the odd weekend camp. I did some squad stuff when I tagged along to a couple of pro camps with Sutto.
Do you have a favourite distance to coach?
70.3 & Ironman. But being of an Oly Tri background I still enjoy that, it’s in my heart.
Do you have a favourite discipline to coach?
Not really. I see triathlon as one sport, not three separate sports.
What is the one thing that you think is unique about your coaching or squad?
I am not scared to lose a client by telling them how it is. I tell them what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. And…I sack people. First I scrutinised them a bit to see if I think if they are a good fit with me before I even take them on. If it doesn’t work out that way then I end the relationship, which has, much to my wife’s displeasure, involved the refund of a few thousand dollars in coaching fees this year. I’m not capable of keeping them on the books and continuing to clip their ticket if I don’t believe I am helping them. Sometimes this is hard because no matter how many times I ask, some people just don’t seem to get it or understand that I need information. I am not a freakin’ magician. As for selling myself…I am shithouse. Nearly all my business is referred. The self-promo thing I find rather difficult and a bit embarrassing. If someone thinks I am good at what I do then I leave it to them to announce it. But then I did declare a few nice words that Brett said about me at the top of the page, so I hope that’s not a contradiction. Laughs.
Do you think it is important for a coach to have competed in triathlon/ competed at a high level in triathlon/ competed at the distances they coach?
I definitely think it’s an advantage to have been an athlete of some sort. The mental/ emotional side of racing and learning to truly tap your abilities and go-to-the-well on the day….you need to have experienced this in a sport of some kind, I believe, otherwise, I’d expect it to be hard to relate. It’s my opinion that many athletes barely touch the sides of this…#1 they don’t really get fit enough to do it, or else they have the wrong sort of fitness to enable themselves to do it and #2 they haven’t really learned how deep they can go in a race. Once you really learn to go deep…THAT is what you get nervous about pre-race, because you know it going to really suck.
How many people do you coach?
Usually 15, max of 20 but that’s rare. Any more and I don’t feel I can do the job I want to do, so I cap it there. And you are correct…I’ll never get rich off this shit.
Qualifications? (theoretical and/or real-life experience)
29 years of triathlon racing experience, Brett Sutton University of Triathlon. 3 years of mentorship from Brett, including 3-7 days a week of back and forth e-mailing and twice being on-deck at his pro camps (Thailand and Sunshine Coast). Part of the training involved working alongside Brett in the coaching of a couple of pros.
As a coach what are your goals?
To work backwards…I don’t particularly want my name up in lights. I kind of shun the limelight,
I’m not that comfortable with it. Heck, I don’t even like collecting age group trophies so I
generally leave before the presentation.
I just like to beaver away on developing solutions for individual athletes. If/when they/we
achieve what we are after, if that athlete gives me a discrete little mention then that feels
good and is what juices me in my job. At the opposite end of the spectrum is when an athlete
kicks goals and doesn’t mention you. Emotionally you then go the other way. But the
emotional roller-coaster is part and parcel of this job, at least if you have a conscience. As
my wife will attest…and I know Gilesy feels the same as we’ve discussed this…done right
then this is a stressful job. Just look at Sutto…damn, the job has messed the guy around a
bit, he’s paid a price. The more I have invested myself emotionally in the gig over the years,
the more I have come to understand this. It’s wearing (if you truly care), and there never
really is a total escape unless you go somewhere without an internet connection. Personally,
I always feel pretty insecure in my job, I try not to ever get complacent. But I think that
paranoia keeps you sharp.
Now I have gone away from the question..haha…my goals!? As I said, to have a positive impact at the individual level. But also a goal would probably be to be perceived well in the field, and not be seen as a freakin’ triathlon coaching mass marketing bullshit machine. Just saying that flicked my switch, I better not get started there. So I’d like to be thought of and known as giving a lot of myself to the athlete, of being a valuable resource to them, and being a well of knowledge that they were able to tap into.
To be thought of as someone that gives good value for money, and had a positive impact on someones life. I also wouldn’t mind working closely with a young up and coming prospect or two. But the biggie here is that they have to be willing to really come onboard with me, because there are no half measures around here it’s all in or don’t come in. For most this is easier said than done.
How would you describe your coaching style?
Old school. Rather authoritarian without, I’d like to think, being an arsehole. I have zero
tolerance for bullshit or excuses. And the biggest thing I see is age-groupers that SAY they
REALLY want one thing but their actions are not aligned with their desires, they are seriously
having themselves on. Something generally must be sacrificed for success (eg. excess
computer time/time, crappy diet, etc.) and few are willing to pay it to the level they should if
they are to achieve the goals they set for themselves. In most instances I see a requirement
for a change in actions, or a rationalisation of the goals.
I also have very high expectations of myself…almost too high many would say in that I am
rarely truly happy with anything I do or achieve…and this tends to flow into my work. I do
expect a lot of my athletes. But they are paying me dollars to improve. I am a performance
coach. I am not a lifestyle guy. In regards to that and the tri-geek type, I don’t gel with them,
I’m old school, and yes tools can be good but these people that are always looking for
performance in equipment or in a sports nutrition product before they look at themselves and
the training they do….need not apply to me. No doubt I won’t win friends by saying this but
that’s how I roll, I am more a leader and boss than a sugar-coater. I’m the same when I look
at a race result, I’m not going to say ‘Great job, well done’ when I’m thinking ‘that is shit, he’s
much better than that’. My wife might be American but there’s not much warm and fuzzy
coming out of me unless it’s warranted, and then I’ll deliver in spades. Maybe part of this is
that I never really had smoke blown up my arse as a kid like seems so prevalent to me
today, but I don’t think it hurt me any in what I ask of, and get out of myself or my people.
In regards to leading…I don’t know but I’d like to think those that know me or know of me
that see me train locally wouldn’t hesitate to say that I walk the talk. I might not have all the
time in the world to train but damned if I don’t get it done and make the most of what I have.
So, yeh, I expect that of my athletes, too. I don’t expect to see them hanging off the freakin’
wall at the pool, chatting away for 10-minutes between sets.
Back to the tech stuff, which I know so many are fans of…to be clear, I think I have a very
high level of understanding in regards to this…eg. wattage, lactate, run pace. So I do use it
to a degree, more to steer the athlete. But my reference point is a much higher level of
expertise than the latest power meter training book, and some of my ideas run contrary to
Do you follow a general philosophy or influence, e.g. Friel, Lydiard, etc.
Definitely not Friel. Gilesy once said to me,’A training BIBLE?…says f%$&ing who?’ That made me smile. Much more aligned with Lydiard/Zatopek and I come much more from the aerobic development angle than top-down. But Lydiard/Zatopek, along with others, is blended into what I learned from Brett. I was very much on track before my time with Brett, but refined my processes a lot more and received mental validation for how I was going about things from my time with him.
What method do you use to communicate with your clients (phone, email, face to face)? How often?
All of the above. My best athletes communicate the most, plain and simple. Those that touch base infrequently don’t get the results they should, or they get sacked by me. Some athletes call me. a
How do you gauge performance improvements? (Races, training, tts, power analysis)
Do you believe in/use gadgets? (Pace watch/PM/hr monitor)
Depends on the athlete and their personality. Some I take the devices off. Some I tell to start using devices. It depends if the device is a help or a hindrance. For me personally, they hinder me, and detach me from the best computer of all for me…the one between my ears. The mental strain of devices for some people also should not be underestimated. It’s real. How much feedback do you give your athletes on workouts? (Daily/weekly/as needed) As needed. They get back what they give me. Some athletes e-mail me with high frequency (2x a day), others rarely (good way to give me the shits and make me wonder why they even bother) Do you use training peaks or something similar? No, I am a back of the envelope guy. Just type it in the body of an e-mail. I can’t stand Training Peaks and the like, spreadsheets, etc. What’s your experience working with people who work extreme hours and how do you adapt their programmes to that? ‘Circumstances matter’. This is where the poor communicator that has a sudden increase in work hours gets into trouble..they think they should keep on the regular schema. But it’s a holistic picture. My key modus operandi is ‘consistency’, building a basic week that we do tweak but the basic weekly structure of which we can roll out from now until eternity while staying healthy and (hopefully) injury free while being able to capably attend to the other important things in our lives as well. But back to the question, yes it’s not uncommon for me to make plan adjustments on the fly, and/or for an athlete to call me with pen and paper at the ready while I head off on a rant of ‘what I would do right now in this circumstance is…’
How individually tailored are your programs?
Very. I use same/similar principles but most of my athletes are on slightly different weekly layouts. Also…and something that few, if no other coaches but one that I know of work to, is that the faster the athlete the bigger the set they can tolerate. You can’t give the same ‘load’ to all athletes, it’s ability dependent. eg. I might give an elite guy a 45-minute Sub-AT run, while the average age-grouper might go 30-minutes.
Do you have a holistic approach?
Totally. 100%. This is big picture stuff. Everything/all life’s stressors need to be factored into the equation. There’s only so much adrenal stress one can deal with before you get a blowout. Do you offer advice on diet, vitamins, supplements and alternative therapies (such as chiro, accu, yoga ) The first three, especially, yes. But my process is very much a drip feed of knowledge. They don’t sign up and learn it all in 2 weeks or get my latest glossy blue-print to whatever. And the absolute best way to learn from me is to talk to me with pen and paper at the ready, because this stuff is my passion and once I get rolling I can be hard to stop, it just flows out of me.
What attributes do you think make an athlete easier to coach to their desired results?
The one’s that call me ‘boss’ go the best. These guys are very impartial to triathlon noise, they aren’t data freaks, they don’t care very much at all for the latest training trends…they pick and stick (with me) and believe in me. This is why I scrutinise people before I take them on and to be honest I steer away probably 50% at least of all inquiries. The athletes that get results from me pretty much hand over, and trust. Those that 2nd guess me are doomed from the start. Some people like to pay you money so you can give them what they think is best for them. I just smile and hand the cash back. Some people have that much shit going through their heads I have no idea how they can even race. To me, they must just be so detached from the intuitive tools that can help you become the best you can be it’s just not funny. Do you specialise in or have a preference for novice athletes, seasoned athletes, etc, etc. Not really. I probably work best with higher performing athletes just because they tend to be more committed, but often it’s less about the ability level and more about the coaching relationship and how well I am able to understand that athlete, and in particular just how closely to how I want things done are they doing it? As a coach you need to be able to understand that the same words from two different athletes can mean two very different things.
Would you be honest with me in regards to my goals and aspirations?
Laughs…I’d like to think so. I never like to put a limit on what one might achieve, but what I do emphasise with athletes is the requirement for patience, and the ‘time course for adaptations’ is not always aligned with their own time-line. I mean, if you are regularly going 11h45m in an Ironman and you want to go 9h30m in 6 months…you get the picture.
Have you ever sacked a client who didn’t follow your advice?
Plenty! Usually I just tell them ‘we aren’t a good match’.
Have you coached mature athletes? How do you treat them differently?
Contrary to some opinions I read re; coaching the ageing athlete, I actually load there heartless rather than more. Especially run volumes I watch, too. Do you understand the recovery needs of older athletes? Well I might not be ‘old’ on paper yet myself but after nearly 30 years of triathlon my chassis is older than my chronological age so I’m gaining some hands-on experience. I place a high importance on quality eating for all athletes and this applies equally or even more so to older athletes. Quality nutrients foster better regeneration, period. But then, quality Macca’s on a Sunday night might feed the soul, too, so if that works for you like it does for me sometimes then go for it. What percentage of your athletes survive the training injury free? Many athletes, in general, have to deal with niggles here and there. Personally, I hate and get paranoid about any type of niggle and don’t like the idea of athletes training in an ongoing fashion on a problem unless the trend of that problem is on the improve. The biggest problem as a coach is athletes telling you 2-3 weeks after a problem developed that they have an issue….this is one of my biggest frustrations as a coach. The over 40’s athletes seem to have to keep a constant eye out for lower leg problems like PF, AT, calf tears. For them, I do recommend a 3x a week eccentric calf raise/lowers exercise program. Do you practice what you preach? Yes. And I teach what I personally practice, but not in all cases. That’s because one of the biggest mistakes a coach can make is to assume that all athletes are the same as him/her, and/or respond the same way. I train men and women differently, large males differently to small one’s, experienced athletes differently to novices, etc. This will impact the volumes and intensity that I prescribe for the athlete. How do you look at intensity vs volumes? It’s about ‘the mix’. AND what you call INTENSITY. Intensity for many age-groupers is too much of the wrong kind, aka in the red-zone, over threshold. Too much intensity and acid, as too high percentage of the training volume in general, with too much frequency, plain and simply tearing down their aerobic capacity. It’s a disaster waiting to happen but it feeds their ego. Many of the best athletes I’ve ever trained never hit some of the intensities that age-groupers do, but damned if they don’t go fast at a high aerobic effort.
Everyones idea of success is different. Tell me a couple of your success stories both as a coach and with athletes you train. I would probably say that a Kiwi named Carl Read has been my biggest success story. Carl is very easy for me to coach. He just does what I say, and he trusts me 100%. He came to me as an age grouper, but has since dived into the pro ranks, albeit while working in a full-time job as I used to do myself. So Carl can’t train to the typical pro milage levels, but we do what we can with what we’ve got. It’s been immensely satisfying seeing him nab a 4th at Challenge Wanaka, and a 6th at IMNZ in 8:48. The hardest thing in training Carl is not going over the edge. It’s not like he is able to take naps after workouts as many of his peers do. I also worked with Carrie Lester a while back and getting her to a level where Brett said I’d done a good job with her and that he’d take her into the TeamTBB pro squadra was very satisfying to me. Carrie was very hesitant and fearful at first, but finally made the jump to full-time pro. Soon enough she won Ironman Cairns and that warmed my insides a bit. She has since followed up with some other good Ironman distance wins since. Developing US Pro, Dan McIntosh, to the point where he also was invited onto Brett’s pro team was also very full-filling.
Cost and what do I get for this?
I cost more than most, but I’d like to think I’m worth it. Athletes get ‘coached/trained’..IF they are pro-active and work with me. But I am here as needed. I’m not the right coach for many athletes and I’ll happily admit that. Athletes need to understand that coaching is not a program. I can give the same program to 20 athletes and they can all execute on it in a different way. It’s a relationship. Athletes can feel free to contact me at email@example.com or www.facebook.com/matt.koorey
Currently, I am fully booked.