Nick Butler
Nick Butler insidethegames tieA study in Scotland produced in recent weeks has found how coaches can play an important role in influencing the choices of athletes for or against doping in sport. 

The study, commissioned by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) and undertaken at the University of Stirling, found that Scotland's excellent anti-doping record is heavily linked to coaches' attitudes, but also found they do not have as much influence as perhaps they should.

It certainly raises an interesting point regarding both the influences an athlete faces regarding doping and the role of a coach in professional sport today.

To a young athlete at least, the role and influence of a coach is fairly obvious. A coach is a figure of authority, someone you look up to and consider a hub of information and expertise on that given sport. They do not just help you develop as an athlete but as a person as well and in many cases play a role rather like a second mother or father-like figure.

So if bad habits are introduced at this young stage - as they were, for example, in the state sponsored East German system of the Cold War era - it seems unlikely that an aspiring sportsman is going to have the knowledge, experience or foresight to resist temptation.

An interesting comparison is if I, as a young journalist starting out my career at insidethegames last year, had entered an environment where phone hacking is rife and is practised and encouraged by all the senior writers and editors who I look up to, how would I have reacted? Especially if I was convinced that it was both morally and legally acceptable?

Much as I would like to say otherwise, I would probably have followed suit.

Phone hacking is a journalistic scandal with some semblance of similarity to doping in sport ©Getty ImagesPhone hacking, the source of much controversy in Britain in recent years, is a journalistic scandal with some semblance of similarity to doping in sport ©Getty Images

Before you get worried I can assure you that no such thing goes on at insidethegames but it is an interesting parallel to the challenges faced by many young athletes thrust so innocently into the unremitting world of professional sport.

The obvious example is cycling, where youngsters of the 1990s and 2000s did not just enter a culture where doping was rife, but they were actively ordered to participate by teammates and coaches and with their whole professional future at risk if they refused.

In this environment the coach is just one of many influences on an athlete. There are a whole number of physios, psychologists, doctors, trainers and soigneurs, not to mention managers, agents and sponsors who also wield power. Then there are family members, friends and even rivals who can, inadvertently at least, alter decision making.

Last but certainly not least is teammates - with senior ones often acting, most obviously in the case of Lance Armstrong, as the predominant influence and persuading voice either way.

Cyclists and athletes from other sports have certainly been persuaded to dope by their teammates ©AFP/Getty ImagesCyclists and athletes from other sports have certainly been persuaded to dope by their teammates ©AFP/Getty Images

This begs the question of what role does the coach play in sport today?

The Scottish study admitted that there are other influences but insisted the role of the coach remains paramount. It claimed: "It might be the responsibility of the coach, an anti-doping officer or the physio - it's up to the Governing Body to determine the best fit for them, but the crucial thing is that they define the responsibilities clearly as it should be an around the clock role."

In my own personal experience the phrase "around the clock role" rings true. Although I was a very low standard runner I was lucky enough to have a coach who took a marathon-runner to two Olympic Games and I would consider among the best in the business.

An individual approach and attention to detail were two key concepts which I learnt. In other words knowing what works and does not, and what affects each individual athlete. So in terms of training, working out that one athlete can comfortably run 100 miles a week but another of a similar ability will work better off a lower number of miles but at a higher intensity. 

But variety in approach is just as important. One athlete might be highly motivated and need only a whisper in the ear more than a kick up the backside while another might require every run and every aspect of training to be organised in a more regimented and hands on way.

Finding what works for each person is key not to mention finding what affects the attitude and ability of each individual to train - be it work, studies, relationships and how well people are eating, drinking and sleeping.

In other words, a 24-hour a day, around the clock role.

Coaching has to some extend moved on from the simplicity of the Sebastian and Peter Coe relationship of the past ©Getty ImagesCoaching has to some extend moved on from the simplicity of the Sebastian and Peter Coe relationship of the past ©Getty Images

Given the professional revolution and other changes which have ravaged sport in recent years it is interesting to see whether this approach still rings true. Although there are instances still today, Michael Phelps and Bob Bowman being one example, athlete-coach relationships where an athlete is coached by the same single person for their whole career, like with Peter and Sebastian Coe, have become less common.

Athletes may move to a new coach, like Mo Farah did with Alberto Salazar midway through his career to make the next step, or they might hire a coach with a different remit than for the reasons they hired one earlier in their career. An example being when tennis player Andy Murray hired former champion Ivan Lendl specifically to make that final step up to the pantheon of Grand Slam winner.

As highlighted already, there are also many more figures affecting an athlete than a single coach and in some cases a coach certainly does not impact all aspects of an athletes career. Irish priest Colm O'Connell has trained around 25 Kenyan world champions, including 800m world record holder David Rudisha, but rarely leaves Kenya and does not attend his races so presumably wields less influence over the competition-behaviour of his athletes than some. 

But at the same time a lead coach will still have overall control. In David Walsh's book Inside Team Sky we learn that, although a multitude of other figures are heavily involved in the team during the Tour de France, Principal Sir Dave Brailsford still knows what is going on in virtually every facet of the operation. 

There are many figures involved at Team Sky but Principal Sir Dave Brailsford still has overall control ©Getty ImagesThere are many figures involved at Team Sky but Principal Sir Dave Brailsford still has overall control ©Getty Images

A similar thing can be said about a football manager, another sporting knight in Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United for example, or most probably with the likes of O'Connell in the preparation of Rudisha.

So while not all will be as involved as someone like Ukrainian sprint coach Remi Korchemny was when many of the sprinters he coaches were caught up in the BALCO scandal of the early 2000s, it is not enough for a coach to protest innocence when an athlete fails a test. 

When Russian biathlete Ekaterina Iourieva tested positive for the second time in her career shortly before the Sochi 2014 Games in January, a German coach working for the Russian team, Wolfgang Pichler, admitted that he "was sure something was wrong," and that he "did not trust Ekaterina Iourieva" after some unexpectedly strong World Cup results.

But for me this is not really good enough and he should have acted upon his suspicions. As the Scottish report argues, it is the responsibility of a coach to know what is going on and yes, on a round-the-clock basis.

Although the culture of sport, doping and coaching has changed, coaches are therefore still an significant and in many ways crucial part of the fight against doping.

The full report can be found here.

Nick Butler is a reporter for insidethegames. To follow him on Twitter click here.