Five questions to… Shaun Pickering

Welcome to the last episode of the “Five questions to…” column dedicated to IFAC 2019 speakers, while approching the event.

The same five questions has benn asked to each speaker and it will be interesting to see how they will answer differently.

We hope you enjoyed this series!


Five questions to…Shaun Pickering

Shaun Pickering is the former Head of Heavy Throws for UK Athletics through the London 2012 Olympic Games and is an IAAF Coaching Academy Member.

As an athlete, Shaun competed at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and was a Commonwealth Games medallist in 1998 in Shot Put.
As a Sports Marketing executive working for companies such as Canon and T-Mobile, Shaun has a wealth of experience in Technology, and particularly its value to Coaches and Athletes.

At IFAC 2019 he will present on “Using Technology to Inform your Decision Making” stream: come and listen to him in Loughborough!

1) Let’s go back to your early years: how did you become passionate about sport and what was your path to becoming an expert coach?

I literally grew up in an athletics family!  My mother (Jean Desforges) was an Olympic Medallist and European Champion in Long Jump in 1954 and my father, Ron Pickering, was a Coach (to Olympic Long Jump Gold Medallist in Tokyo 1964, Lynn Davies) and later became the “Voice of Athletics” in the UK as BBC Commentator from 1968, until his untimely death in 1991.  We always had athletes living with us when I was growing up, and as an example, when I went to the USA on an Athletic Scholarship to Stanford University, Daley Thompson (1980 and 1984 Olympic Decathlon Champion) moved into my room at home!

I have been lucky enough to spend a great deal of my time around some of the greatest coaches in the world, from my father’s mentor: Geoffrey Dyson, and his colleagues: to some of the legends of the sport like Jim Bush, Brooks Johnson, Art Venegas, Vern Gambetta and indeed EACA President: Frank Dick, through to some of the modern day Coaching Greats, such as Dan Pfaff, John Smith, Henk Kraijenhof, Jean-Pierre Egger, Charles van Commenee, Peter Eriksson and Vesteinn Hafsteinsson.

My real interest is in communicating and passing on some of what I have been able to learn from them, and encouraging others to share their knowledge in an effective manner.  Sometimes this is aimed at making complicated technical knowledge more easily understandable to coaches and athletes and being a facilitator of better knowledge and information.


2) How do you develop your continuous learning?

I continue to spend as much time around and talking to great coaches and experts in their fields, that can help athletes and coaches to develop their knowledge and performance levels.  I also enjoy spending time with great athletes and trying to extract their knowledge and understanding from an athletes perspective, and to translate that for coaches and other athletes to better understand.

It is also important for me to use my contacts to help young, talented, developing coaches and indeed athletes, gain better knowledge from those with great experience and understanding, and accelerate their own learning pathway.

3) What technology do you use and how important is the use of technological equipment in your training?

I am a bit of a technology geek and early adopter of technology, but I try to look at it from a coaches and athletes perspective to really try and see what is valuable, and importantly, accessible technology from a cost and effectiveness point of view.  I am also very interested in helping that technology become even better and more effective for coaches and athletes and have been lucky enough to been involved in developing some interesting technology over the years.

My business background is in Sports Marketing and Sponsorship, having worked for some major companies such as Canon and T-Mobile, and with some of the worlds biggest sporting events, including Formula 1, Football World Cup, Golf and Tennis, and come into contact with some interesting technology.  As an athlete, I utilised some very interesting technology, being one of the first athletes to work with Power measurement and feedback through a device called the BioRobot/MuscleLab back in the 1990’s, which continues to be one of the most useful measuring and feedback systems for coaches and athletes.  I am currently also involved with developing a technology company that is very well known in Golf, namely Flightscope, who are developing a launch monitor for Throws events, giving instant feedback such as speed, angle and height of release, but developing the technology to track the implement through the throw itself, which will be a game-changer to coaches and the ability to measure and improve technique.

4) Injuries are often part of the game but some are avoidable: how do you challenge your athletes but still keep them safe?
The big question to me always is if these injuries are avoidable, and perhaps a result of poor programming or technique, which ultimately is the coach’s responsibility, where you must challenge yourself gain better knowledge to improve and be better, or ask for help in these areas from those who have better expertise than yourself.   This is also where technology, when used effectively, can help to avoid unnecessary risks for an athlete, by better understand the stresses and risks involved.  One example of this is to always ask yourself, what can you leave out of a Training Programme, what is just filling time, and what is actually necessary and valuable.  Technology can help track performance and particularly recovery, measuring things such as Power Output (rather than 1 RM) as a key metric, or contact time for a jump and even simple things such as heart rate variability and sleep tracking.
5) What do you do in your downtime? Do you ever relax and how?

My enjoyment is spending time with good coaches and athletes, both young and old, and talking about the sport that I love.  The best part about Conferences such as IFAC, is not necessarily the presentations, but the discussions over dinner or in the bar with the presenters and delegates and finding out about the really important things.  The great Italian Scientist, Carmello Bosco one said to me: “Knowledge is like wine…..the best stuff you only share with your friends!”

Following the death of my father in 1991, my family set up a Charity in his name: The Ron Pickering Memorial Fund, to keep his values alive and to support young athletes in the UK to progress in the sport that we have all gained so much from.  In the past 25+ years we have been able to raise and award grants to thousands of young athletes, aged 15-23, totalling more than £2 million so far.  We have been lucky enough to have supported most of Britain’s great athletes since then, at some point in their early development, including great champions such as: Denise Lewis, Christine Ohuruogu, Philips Idowu, Jason Gardener, Iwan Thomas, Greg Rutherford, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Mo Farah, Laura Muir, Matt Hudson Smith and Dina Asher-Smith, and continues to support Champions of the Future such as recent World Junior Champions Niamh Emerson, Jake Norris and Jona Efoloko.


Thanks to Shaun Pickering!