I’ll level with you. I dislike this time of year. I know lots of people who relish the onset of Autumn with the prospect of bronzed leaves, tucking into Sunday roasts and pulling on new boots. All I can think about is the loss of bronzed skin, no more Saturday barbeques and saying goodbye to my flip-flops. When it comes to the passing of summer I’m nothing if not melancholic.

At least I’m too old to have that worst of Autumn’s curses inflicted on me: returning to school. Unlike Toni. In fact, ‘Back to School’ is the first text I receive on Tuesday morning rapidly followed by this photo:

Back to school

Toni’s View From The Back Of The class

When I look at the picture I’m not surprised Toni is at the back of the class. I’m also not surprised to learn he was late. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you also won’t be surprised to see he’s been taking pictures whilst the lecture is underway. (Then again, who is going to tell him to stop?). What might surprise you is that Toni Minichiello, world beating coach, is in class at all.

The reason? Toni is studying for his Masters in Sports Coaching. When we speak later in the day the course of the conversation is inevitable. I start the ball rolling,

“I’m not going to challenge anyone who looks to improve but given what you’ve achieved is it, well, any use to you?”

Fortunately, Toni takes the question in good spirit, “Definitely. Some of the things you learn help affirm what you already know or are doing. But there’s also the challenge of pushing yourself to read new articles, write essays, think differently”.

“How do you fit it in?”

“You can always make time. Anyone can find an hour or so a day”.

Given my seasonal state of mind I don’t challenge this comment despite finding getting out of bed an Olympian effort at the moment.

“So what’s today’s lecture about?”.

“We’re looking at all elements of nutrition for performance”.

“Performance enhancing food?”

Toni ignores my attempt at a joke, “We’re trying to help a judoka add two kilogrammes for competition”.

I’m reminded of Toni’s confessions earlier this year in relation to his weakness for doughnuts.

“So you’re cooking to bulk up?!”

Once again he chooses not to rise to the bait, “It’s good for me because all too often when it comes to nutrition matters these days I defer automatically to a nutritionist. Science constantly moves on so it’s good to revisit and upgrade my own understanding. It means I’ll be better able to ask the right questions of the support team and the athletes”.

I imagine groans emanating from the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield right now but choose not to mention the thought to Toni, “What are you making?”

“Chicken stir-fry”.

“How’s it going?”

“OK I think”

“I suppose back to basics can help all of us”.

“I think everything starts with the fundamentals.

It’s like blackcurrant cordial”.

Toni is evidently warming to the food theme and this final comment pulls me up short, “How so?”

“You start with the cordial, the bedrock of the athlete. You then add water and although the cordial thins out it’s always present. You put a few drops of cordial in a bath and fill it with water but the cordial is still visible. It’s the same with an athlete, good and poor technique and functionality carries through from your early development”.

“What makes a good cordial?”

“All round physical conditioning, good movement, basic physical literacy. I believe it’s also important to keep yourself involved with a range of activities before you specialize.

It’s the coaches’ responsibility to ensure a young athlete is getting the right technical advice and support. That means it’s critical for a coach to have a thorough understanding of all these areas”.

“Do you think they often don’t?”

“I know many don’t because I see the way some athletes are after they’ve been coached for many years.

That’s not even taking into account the critical ability for a coach to keep an athletes’ mind engaged and stimulated.

I decide to join in and mix the metaphors, “So the cordial is like the cake waiting for the cherry?”

“Yes. There’s no much point obsessing over statistics, refinement and marginal gains if you haven’t got the fundamentals, the base, sorted”.

“Talking of getting it sorted, shouldn’t you be attending to your stir-fry?”

“Probably, yes”.

For some reason I now fancy a glass of Ribena.

Toni Masters Cooking

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest