Terry Radchenko, one of U of T’s track and field coaches, had the opportunity to work with Canadian US Open Champion, Bianca Andreescu briefly before her historic title run. In an interview with The Varsity, Radchenko explained what it was like to work with Andreescu, as well as the duties of a coach and advice he would give to Varsity Blues athletes.
The Varsity: How long have you been a coach at U of T and what are some responsibilities of the position?
Terry Radchenko: About 15 years ago, I started working with the University of Toronto track club, which had a junior development program consisting of around 150–200 athletes from grade seven to grade 12. I was coaching in that program for a number of years, and quite a few of those athletes happened to go on and run at U of T.
About seven years ago, I started as a cross-country coach the University of Toronto on a full time basis. In this role we work with athletes who raced from 400 metres up to 10-kilometre cross country. The majority of our job is coaching and looking after the athletes; we’re in practices with them, we work on the mental side of sports, we conduct weight training sessions, and overall we run an athlete-centered program.
We try to look at every athlete as an individual and make certain tweaks and changes to their program so they can be as successful as possible.
The other part of the job is a lot of administration work, such as planning meets and trips as well as other events, like the 800-metre festival in the summer, plus our work on eligibility requirements and recruiting, which are both big parts of the job. There’s a nice balance between administrative work, coaching, and communicating with athletes.
TV: What would you say is your favourite part about being a coach?
TR: Definitely the coaching part. Just being out there with the athletes, communicating with them, helping them, figuring out how they can be as successful as possible and watching them succeed.
You could be having a horrible day, whether it be because of personal reasons or perhaps you’re not feeling well, and you could go out to a practice and forget about everything else and just focus on that workout. It’s a really enjoyable part of the job. Of course there’s ups and downs, but there’s nothing better than seeing an athlete run a personal best or accomplish something that they’ve never done before.
TV: Can you explain how you came into contact with Bianca, and if there were any previous connections?
TR: I’ve worked with a lot of different coaches over the years, whether it be sports performance coaches, sports psychologists, nutritionists, Athletics Canada coaches, or Athletics Ontario coaches. Over time, as you [get to] know more people, they also become more aware of you and your work, and we reach out to each other.
There was another coach that Bianca was working with, and she mentioned that she was looking for a consult on her running form. That coach mentioned my name, so her mom reached out to me, and we talked about a time that we could potentially get together to have a look at what Bianca does in her warmups, her running routines, and also her stride in general. It came together right after she won the Rogers cup.
The day before she was leaving for the US Open in New York, she was able to come by the Athletics Centre with her mom and dad, and their little dog, as well her Tennis Canada strength and conditioning coach and her physiotherapist. We all worked together for around an hour.
We looked at her activation routine, which is the way she warms up her body before she exercises, and we looked at the drills that she does in active mobility to prepare herself. When I saw her Tennis Canada coach going through that, I noticed that it was very similar to what I and the coaches here would do with our university athletes. It’s interesting to see that world-class athletes in a variety of sports are doing the same types of activation and warm-up routines.
TV: What advice would you give to Varsity Blues athletes, especially those considering a professional career in sports?
TR: You have to listen to your coaches, work with them, and communicate with them to make sure that you can put a plan together that will allow you to be as successful as you can possibly be. I definitely think communication is something that’s really key, and you have to be open with that. You have to not only be willing to train hard, but also train smart.
One thing that we say about injuries is that it’s not that you’re necessarily training too hard, but it might be that you’re not recovering enough. You have to focus on all the little things, and it’s not just about going out to workout; eating well, watching nutrition, getting enough sleep, focusing on communication, [and] staying positive and confident, are all important. Every time you go to the line at an event, you want to make sure that you’re physically and mentally prepared to be the best you can possibly be. If you can put yourself in that position, it’s going to allow you to be successful.
TV: What kind of differences are there when training someone of Bianca’s age versus someone who might be older and in the middle of their career?
TR: You have to be careful, but I think younger athletes can improve much quicker since they haven’t done as much. Bianca’s obviously on an ascent right now; she went from 150th in the world to one of the best in the world in a very, very short time. A lot of it with elite athletes is about staying healthy, which goes back to making smart training decisions.
Bianca was able to stay healthy despite a few little bumps in the road and nagging injuries — all elite athletes have that — showing how important it is to communicate with your staff to make sure you keep moving in the right direction and don’t need to take huge chunks of time off. I think you can push the envelope a little more with someone who is on ascent, as they will have those big training gains. On the flip side, you have to make sure to not be overaggressive with them, because you don’t want them to get injured.
Athletes who are already in the middle of their career already possess a lot of information, and because of that it’s best to make smaller changes — they already know what has made them successful and that doesn’t need to be rewritten. They probably know themselves a lot better and already know what they need to eat before a race, or how long it takes them to get ready.
The conversations might be a lot different with an older, more mature athlete. I would say that Bianca is an interesting case, because female tennis athletes especially can achieve success at a very young age and hopefully continue that success throughout their careers.
TV: Is there anything we should be looking forward to in terms of major athletes coming to U of T, and specifically for track and field?
TR: We’re always trying to recruit the best athletes that we can and bring them into our program. We believe that the University of Toronto track and field program is a world-class program.
Just over the last Olympics there were three Olympians developed from our program here: Sarah Wells, — who was just on the Amazing Race Canada — Alicia Brown, and Gabriela Stafford. These are all people who were developed here in our program at the University of Toronto. Gabriela’s sister, Lucia Stafford, was at the World Student Games and came fifth, and I think she has big goals for this summer and beyond.
Madeleine Kelly is an athlete who just graduated from U of T and won the 800-metre [race] in the Canadian women’s championships. She also has her sights set on some really big goals for next summer — an Olympic year. We have a lot of other young athletes who are showing promise in our program, so we’re definitely excited for the future.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.