I moved to Adelaide in 1997. Up until then I'd been around and involved the Victorian athletic scene for about 17 years. I saw many athletes move from one coach to another in the desire to improve themselves and hopefully achieve faster times that would enable them to realise their goals. That might be just a PB, run well at the nationals, represent Australia or simply win a race they were previously not capable of winning.
During those 17 years I had never heard of an athlete failing because of "transition" (adapting from one coach to another) . If an athlete failed to improve it was invariably because they had taken a risk greater than they or the new coach could handle.
The term - Transition phase is of course not a new phenomenon itself. It's a common term that is used when an athlete is undertaking a period of rest and regeneration before entering the next stage of their training. It's not an excuse for going backwards but a genuine part of a training cycle.
It was in Adelaide, in 1999, I heard the transition excuse used for the first time. It was accompanied by the follow up line: "go backwards before going forwards". As I have learned over the last 15 years these lines go hand in hand.
In 1998 a promising junior athlete 'T' had run 10.82 as a 17 year old whilst training with coach 'D'. Within 12 months 'T' left 'D' and moved to coach 'N'. 'T' immediately had a few problems under 'N' and failed to improve. In fact he couldn't break 11 secs. When 'T' was queried about what was happening he trotted out the following: "I'm going through a transition phase. I have to go backwards before I go forwards." Apparently coach 'N' felt that 'T' was such a mess that he need to "reconstruct him". The upshot of this was that "T" retired about two years later, never having broken 11secs again and not getting back to the 10.82 shape he was with coach 'D'.
In the last few years I've heard the "transition phase" excuse used more and more. It seems to become the fallback position when an athlete leaves a coach & squad where he has been going well, only to go backwards with the new coach.
I've found that is used by those in the sport who generally lack the knowledge, expertise and experience to understand why the athlete has failed with the new coach. It becomes a convenient excuse.
A good coach or trainer doesn't need to resort to such nonsense.
There are obviously cases where an athlete after a season or two of stagnation or mediocrity definitely need a change and they will take time (where the stagnation will continue) with the new coach before they return to the level they were before the period of stagnation/mediocrity. But that's common sense and has nothing to do with the transition from one coach to another. The athlete wasn't running well before the move, so to continue to run ordinary before demonstrating improvement is a natural part of the athlete's return to form.
What I'm talking about is when athlete comes off a strong period of high performance (quality wins, PB's etc) and then wanting to go better again they seek out a new coach. It stands to reason the purpose for the move was to continue to get better….go forward. An athlete doesn't go to a new coach to go backwards, that would be illogical. An athlete's career may span 10 years at best. Most athletes will suffer injuries and setbacks that reduces the actual "true potential" period to maybe 6 to 8 years. So it's imperative an athlete doesn't waste too many years under performing.
Recently the highly successful Irish horse trainer Aidan O'Brien admitted he had got it wrong with former Australian champion racehorse, So You Think. Before it moved to Ireland after the 2010 spring carnival, under master trainer Bart Cummings, So You Think was on top of its game, having won the second of two Cox Plates, won the McKinnon Stakes and ran 3rd in the Melbourne Cup. While it had some good wins in Europe it wasn't as good as it was in Australia. O'Brien conceded this and said it took 18 months for him to work out that he had been training the horse incorrectly. The horse went backwards because he trained it wrong, not because he inherited a messed up horse.
If an athlete churns out mediocrity with a new coach, he/she hasn't gone backwards because of the previous coach. If the athlete goes backwards, it's generally because the new coach has failed to implement a training program that has enabled the athlete to realise their potential.
Once you take on a new athlete, from day one, he/she becomes your responsibility. It is not the previous coach's problem if the athlete fails to reach the standard they did under that previous coach.
Treat with caution anyone who uses the "transition excuse" (from coach to coach) and " had to go backwards before going forwards". It's a tell tale sign they are unwilling to take responsibility.