The vision of yesterday’s doughnut is still haunting (or is that taunting?) Toni.
“I’m going to have to go there. But I can’t. I’ve got to keep losing the weight. I need to be TV weight”
“You know the telly adds 10lbs?”
“Yes, which is why I’ve got keep going and look less fat”.
“How much are you trying to lose?”
“Until I disappear. The invisible coach”.
Evidently no-one is in their element at this time of the season. Toni calls this phase of training ’sharpening’. The intention is to freshen athletes up by decreasing their workload and increasing their ‘snap’. It’s about being competition ready. It’s about confidence. The problem is it also means that, for the first time in months, the athletes have time; time to think and time on their hands. He’s aware that most of the athletes probably call it ‘boring’. It’s a big challenge.
Most are grumpy. All are twitchy.
I ask him how he manages that. He explains that the more experienced in the group cope better but that, ultimately, it’s down to each athlete to understand the importance of this stage to ensure they are in the best possible shape to compete.
“Take rest for example. They need to rest their bodies. That doesn’t stop them coming in after a rest day and telling me that they had a restful 6 hours walk in the Peak District. That’s not going to help”.
“Surely some of them chill?”
“Yeah. They sit on the couch or got to the cinema. Which is ok as long as they don’t do the £27 special”.
“There’s a £27 special?”
“Yes. John and Carla told me about it. You get to eat and drink as much as you want whilst watching the film on a big comfy chair. All the popcorn, pick n mix, nachos and coke you can stomach.”
I sense Toni getting dreamy at the prospect of a bottomless bag of popcorn so choose to change the subject to his forthcoming presentation to some of the world’s snooker coaches. Toni is in high demand as a specialist speaker for sport and business; a fact that appears to constantly surprise and please him in equal measure. This time his story, coaching practices and philosophies have drawn in the snooker contingent. It seems they’re particularly keen to talk about the effects of pressure and how Toni helps athletes manage themselves in pressurised situations. The fact that it’s in his home town and he’s invited to watch the world championships works out even better.
Mention of world championships allows me to make a, slightly ungainly, switch of topic to Jess and her progress. She’s been at Sheffield Wednesday football club. Richard, Toni’s team doctor works with The Owls so it’s not unusual to find Jess or the other team members making use of the football club’s specialist facilities. Facilities only a football club can afford. It seems she’s doing very well.
Mid conversation Toni is joined by Derry, the soft tissue specialist, another long-standing team member. Derry, apparently, has magic hands. Hands that, to my thinking, are complemented by a twinkle in his eye. There is a bromance in play that signals the end of my conversation. Always the gooseberry, never the pick n mix.
That said, Toni and Derry are happy to share a sneak insight into Jess’ progress.