There is an irony that many of the coaches I’ve worked with over the years fail to apply their knowledge to themselves. I find it surprising and at times frustrating. I once expressed as much to Andy Flower (at the time of writing England Cricket’s most successful Head Coach), who gave me a pitying look and said something along the lines of, “They’re rubbish at looking after their own interests because they’re always thinking about their players”.

He was right of course – many of the best coaches put so much emphasis on their athletes that it is to their personal and professional detriment. It doesn’t make it right for the coach concerned though.  Dave Alred does not count amongst this number and he’s adamant that ‘self-care’ should be an absolute priority when I raise the topic with him on the phone driving from Bristol to Leicester,

“How am I going to give the best of me to an athlete if I’m not in the best shape I can be? I owe it to them and I owe it to me”

Dave, as usual, is only temporarily on UK soil. It’s a flying visit to attend to some personal matters as well as work with George Ford at Leicester Tigers and (as part of a new undertaking) Bristol Women’s Rugby.

Dave Alred with Bristol Rugby Women 3
Dave Alred with Bristol Rugby Women 2

For someone who seems to spend more time on long-haul flights than most of us spend on the motorway he retains a remarkable vim and vigor. I ask him how he does it,

“Do you still keep to your flying regime?”

“Always. Plenty of One Above and a compression suit”, he chuckles, “I’ve bumped into more than one professional sports coach who has taken the Mickey out of me for wearing the compression suit but who is the one feeling shit 24 hours later? Not me”.

Dave should know, given his air miles.

Note: allow me to elaborate. Dave always dons a full body compression suit on long haul flights to minimise the impact of altered air pressure on the body and takes a supply of hydration tablets, One Above, that he dissolves in water and drinks whenever he’s awake. Perko and I followed the advice on our trip to the Lions tour in New Zealand and it had a remarkable effect on reducing the impact of jet-lag.

Perko-Compression Suit

“And what about exercise?”.

“I use a varied weights routine and make sure I’m always hitting golf balls or kicking rugby balls. What about you?”.

“These days I work out every day, sometimes twice a day. It doesn’t always take long but I vary it between strength, flexibility and endurance”.

Dave his enthused by my revelation of a daily routine,

If you do the right thing enough it goes way beyond a habit and becomes a behaviour. A behaviour isn’t something you do, it’s who you are.

“Absolutely. Keep it constant but keep it varied. There’s too much talk about training programmes or eating habits. If you do the right thing enough it goes way beyond a habit and becomes a behaviour. A behaviour isn’t something you do, it’s who you are”.

I reflect on this. It’s sounds so obvious and yet it hadn’t occurred to me before. The very notion of a habit has a degree of artificiality about it. On the other hand, a behaviour sits at the very core of our character. I occasionally pick up habits, sometimes I work hard to acquire habits and often I bust my balls trying to lose a habit. But a behaviour? Once that’s embedded it’s probably easier to change the colour of your eyeballs. I interrupt my own reverie, promising to come back to the thought another time and turn the focus back on Dave,

“What about your habits or behaviours?”.

“I’m always exploring ways to maintain and improve myself.  In the last couple of months I’ve cut out dairy”.

A behaviour? Once that’s embedded it’s probably easier to change the colour of your eyeballs.

I silently wince. I have a suspicion that Dave is about to produce a compelling argument for me to reconsider one of my favourite food groups. I’m know I’m right before I ask the question, “How’s that working out?”

“Amazing. Better quality of sleep, more energy, a general sense of all round well-being. Also, Kate eats gluten free so I’m trying to do that out of sympathy. There is one problem though”

“What’s that?”

“It’s an absolute bastard trying to get healthy food on the road. Have you seen what they serve up in Service Stations? Since I’ve stopped dairy 25 % of aisles are out of bounds.  Then you look at the label on the so-called ‘healthy food’ and most of them are full of shit. Half of them have got so many preservatives that they have a sell-by of 2025. I’m exaggerating but you get the point”.

What I get is that Dave is probably getting ‘hangry’. It’s after 1900 and he hasn’t eaten since lunch. I’m running the risk of being the one that disrupts his healthy lifestyle,

“Shouldn’t you stop and eat?”

“I’m just pulling into a Services now to see if I can find a pasta salad that isn’t drenched in oil”.

“Maybe treat yourself?”

Dave’s mood audibly lightens as he shifts is focus from the paucity of quality food likely to be on offer, “I do like the occasional cookie”.

“A cookie it is then. Enjoy. And drive safe”.

I leave Dave to park and explore the delights that the Motorway Service station has to offer.