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“It’s always hard to have a really good day” – Joel Filliol shares the challenges of squad coaching

Joel Filliol, the coach of multiple world champions in short course triathlon, shares the challenges of squad coaching.

Staff Reporter
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Widely regarded as one of the best short course triathlon coaches in the world, Joel Filliol and his international triathlon squad, the JFT Crew, have enjoyed numerous successes since the group’s inception following the London Olympic Games in 2012.

Filliol, through a combination of his squad and federation work, has personally coached some of the biggest stars in the sport, including Olympic champion Simon Whitfield, multiple-time World Champion Mario Mola and Olympic medallists Vincent Luis and Katie Zaferes.

Heading into the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, Filliol and his group have their eyes on more silverware. Sharing his thoughts after the Paris Test Event a fortnight ago, the Canadian revealed the trials and tribulations associated with a private squad and how he as a coach keeps developing his athletes to reach their full potential.

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“It’s always mixed with a squad”

At the Test Event in Paris, the squads members had varying levels of success. Whilst the chance to experience the course was a positive for everyone, Filliol admits some athletes left the French capital with more questions than answers, something that he and his coaching staff will have to overcome along with each individual athlete.

Joel Filliol with athletes Katie Zaferes and Belle Geens.
Photo by Tommy Zaferes / ITU Media

“It’s always mixed with a squad and we have an expression, that it’s always hard to have a really good day, as you always focus on the ones who didn’t really have the race they wanted. It’s good to check the course here, as there won’t be another event before the Olympic Games and it’s very valuable to see the swim course and also see how the bike plays out on this circuit, but some of our races didn’t go to plan.

“The hardest part of coaching is dealing with what happened and what didn’t happen during the process of racing. It comes back to what did we learn and trying to apply it. Sometimes it’s something we are doing on the inside and sometimes it’s something that happened in the race that isn’t that obvious, but we always come back to the process to move forward to the next event.

“We are fortunate that there are a lot of goals, so we move on to the next one, but we do try to understand what went wrong in the performance, ask is there an explanation and then come back to their process and refocus on what needs to be done next.

“We normally look at what we expect from performances in training, was the result over or under what we thought would happen and if it’s under, then we look at the taper, were they overdone or underdone before the race and usually we can look at what we saw and breakdown what happened.” 

“It definitely helps when we have someone in form”

Whilst comparison is said to be the thief of joy, for Filliol, it is a useful tool to use when an athlete needs a morale boost following a poor performance, especially if someone they’re swimming, biking and running besides everyday had a strong race that came as a result of a similar training setup.

Vasco Vilaca Dorian Coninx Paris Test Event 2023 [Photo credit: World Triathlon / Wagner Araujo]
[Photo credit: World Triathlon / Wagner Araujo]

“It definitely helps when we have someone in form at the moment like Vasco [Vilaca], because the rest of the boys can see what he is doing in training and figure out where they are in relation to that. Perhaps there are no daily changes, but by taking a wider look they can take some confidence from observing what he is doing and make some tweaks and adjustments to progress.” 

With athletes working more closely with their federations in the build up to major games such as the Olympics, Filliol acknowledged that this can lead to some variations in preparedness and training, with the key point being that the athletes are independent enough to know what needs doing in any environment.

“It is a constant issue and we have to accept what we can control and what we can’t. We want our athletes to be independent, autonomous and robust, with good self-confidence about what they want to do and to be sticking to that regardless of the environment around them.” 

Whilst some of Filliol’s athletes will race in various competitions over the coming weeks, the big focus now turns to the WTCS Grand Final in Pontevedra, where a number of the squad’s members will be vying for a top place in the series rankings and in Vilaca’s case, a shot at the world title.

Tomos Land
Written by
Tomos Land
Tomos Land is a triathlon & running journalist whose expertise lies in the professional world of short course & long distance triathlon, though he also boasts an extensive knowledge of ultra-running.
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