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Joel Filliol on high-performance triathlon, coach-athlete relationships and dealing with change

Joel Filliol is widely regarded as one of the best ever short course coaches and in a recent interview with SLT, the Canadian shares some of his knowledge.

Staff Reporter
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Redefining triathlon

Having coached world class athletes such as Simon Whitfield, Vincent Luis and Katie Zaferes in a career spanning more than two decades, Canadian Joel Filliol is one of the foremost experts on high-performance triathlon.

Having previously worked with a number of national federations in various positions, Filliol is now back focusing solely on his Joel Filliol Training Crew heading into Paris 2024, with athletes such as Vasco Vilaca, Bence Bicsak and Zaferes all gunning for medals in the French capital.

In a recent interview with Super League Triathlon, the former Triathlon Australia Olympic programme head coach discussed high-performance training, coach-athlete relationships and dealing with change in a wide-ranging interview.

“You have to be emotionally invested in people”

Discussing coach-athlete relationships, Filliol covers an often overlooked aspect of professional sport, what happens when an athlete decides to change coach, revealing that it’s a practice that is often the norm and not the exception in elite triathlon.

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

“You have to be emotionally invested in people to get the best out of each other. It hurts when that [a coaching relationship] ends but the reality is that every athlete moves on. The rarity is an athlete and coach who stick together through their whole career. 

“You know that [a change] is coming. Even after Simon’s [Whitfield] success in Beijing, ultimately at the end of that year he knew he had to do something different and I wasn’t going to be part of that, which is fair enough and athletes have to do that.” 

For some, this process can be a tough adjustment, with coaches often believing that they can reinvent their methods or do something different, even when a relationship is just not working, according to FIlliol.

“You like to think that as a coach you can reinvent the process and if someone if stalled out or has plateaued you’ll be able to do something different, however those relationships run their course and have to end.” 

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“Part of high performance is change”

One major thing that Filliol says occurs far too often is that an athlete will wait too long to make a change, even when they know it is in their best interests to make a switch.

“Part of high performance is change. That’s often what I am, a change agent, either someone has come to me because they feel like they need to make a change or equally one of my athletes feel like that and moves on to do something different.

“Often athletes wait too long to make a change, they know they need to but it’s hard. Often for a squad like ours it can mean relocating, living in a different country, more complications in their resources as federations like to stay in control and moving away can mean an athlete loses that support.

“In my experience, athletes wait too long to realise they need to do something different but ultimately that’s part of the process too and we try and manage that on both sides.” 

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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