By Steve Jackson
It takes a special personality to put one set of dreams aside when they have hung so tantalisingly close, and focus on new goals; it takes one out of the box.
Drew Box was an elite level triathlete, an Australian champion and World Cup podium finisher, yet such was the nature of his personality and his passion for triathlon, he began to dabble in coaching along the way, sharing his learned knowledge and experiences with his charges. Box had his own dreams of course, and came close to realising them, but when an opportunity came along to turn his passion for coaching from a side-line act into a full-blown passion, Box seized the opportunity.
Box took an offer from Joel Filliol to become an assistant coach to his squad. This was no ordinary group; Filliol has the top three male finishers in the 2018 World Triathlon Series of Vincent Luis, Aussie Jake Birtwhistle and three-time World Champion Mario Mola as well as WTS Women’s World Champion Katie Zaferes in his stable. Box’s duties are largely driven by what the athlete and/or squad needs. For instance, the day before our chat, Box had been poolside for five different athletes for five individual sessions throughout the day and he professed to loving every minute!
Not a ‘ra-ra’ coach, Box believes his strength lies in his ‘feel’ for the sport; his own experiences make him relatable and providing him with an ability to translate the ‘why’ of the sessions purpose into a language that the athletes can not only understand but also buy into.
Whilst Box is present for planning of programs and sessions, he believes much of his learning comes in the informal chats, often cycling home with Filliol following a squad workout, picking his brain and soaking up the shared knowledge as they debrief the session.
When pressed on his own philosophy, Box was quick to point out that it was early days in his coaching career, but that understanding of the individual athlete underpinned his beliefs. Whilst data and its analysis were important, it wasn’t the be all and end all; the ability to observe, monitor and adapt were still the skills that defined coaching. Taking that new knowledge alongside the understanding of the individual and communicating with them to initiate change were skills Box was striving to develop.
A further sign of his determination to be the best is not restricting his learning opportunities to Filliol. Box is also mentored by Shaun Stephens, a former Traithlon Australia Head Coach, Team Sky coach and current High Performance Director for Canoeing Australia and David Lush, the current Australian Swim Coach of the Year. Both have provided great insight into not only technical aspects, but also athlete management, sharing their wealth of expertise and experience with the eager-to-learn apprentice in Box.
In terms of changes in the sport, Box was supportive of SuperLeague and Major League Triathlon, having some involvement with both, coaching Filliol’s athletes and leading the Gold Coast Tritons. He saw both organisations as making positive impacts on the profile of the sport as well as providing positive opportunities for the athletes. He also considered the opportunities becoming frequently available through US College programs as a great way for athletes to secure good educational, life and triathlon experiences and an alternative development pathway, especially for fringe athletes.
As to whether Box still dabbled himself, he laughed it off. Between his duties on deck for the JFT squad, Box conducts online coaching for a small group of athletes (self-capped so that he can maintain a high level of service), but he was also conscious of developing a separation between Drew Box the athlete and Drew Box the coach. He is now a coach and whilst still keeping physically and mentally fit with the odd ride or run, he was fully committed to his ‘new’ profession.
Enjoying the camaraderie, the high work ethic (something he displayed as an athlete) and an openness to learning, Box is thriving in his new environment. Committed to the JFT squad until Tokyo 2020, upon which there’ll be a more definitive assessment of what’s next, but right now, Box is happy to be working with great athletes under encouraging mentors and developing his craft.
Things are going well away from coaching too; Drew married Emma Jackson in a beautiful wedding in Maleny on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland in mid-November, honeymooning in Bali before heading back to work in Spain in preparation for the 2019 WTS season.
After speaking with Drew for over an hour, I came away humbled by his passion, his maturity and quietly confident that his own Olympic dream, albeit slightly altered from dreams of racing to trackside, were still very much a possibility.