A Day in the Life: Hintsa Performance Coach John Noonan
Performance Coach, John Noonan, has had an interesting journey following his passion for sport to end up at Hintsa, a prestigious world-leading organisation in the provision of high-quality performance coaching.
He currently works with Danish driver Frederik Vesti, who drives for ART, in Formula 2. In this article, John has shared valuable insights into what goes into the preparation for a race weekend.
We hope this can inspire anyone who may be interesting in following their passion for sport into a career in the industry. If you are interested in sports courses, visit our department here.
Hintsa gave John his first taste of working in the exciting world of motorsport.
“I work currently in Formula 2, and Formula 3 and I also have some young Mercedes junior drivers in Formula 4. I also work with Mercedes Formula E drivers. I’ve got a stable of Mercedes drivers that I support remotely and in person.
Mercedes Formula E drivers Nyck DeVries and Stoffel Vandoorne. Credit: Planet F1
“The goal is to help them meet their potential by looking at where they are as individuals, what their requirements are from a performance setting, and utilise my experience and other experts from Hintsa to facilitate change and to support them in reaching their goals,” he said.
John currently works with Danish driver Frederik Vesti, who drives for ART, in Formula 2.
ART Grand Prix driver, Frederik Vesti. Credit: Frederik Besti
“In Formula 2, we have 14 events. A singular event is two races on a weekend, leading into that on a Friday, we have two sessions, which is quite unique in itself. We have a practice session in the morning of 45 minutes, followed by a qualifying session of 30 minutes. Usually, the gap between those two sessions is three to five hours.
“The day before that is literally a set-up day. We arrive on-site on Thursdays, sometimes Wednesdays. For example, Silverstone next week in the UK. My driver is in the UK. We’ll arrive on track. We’ll have meetings to discuss strategies for the car this weekend. We’ll talk about information that we’ve gathered from previous events.
“That will be utilised and fed into our approach for the weekend. We’ll pay reference to what happened at the same track last year, how the car performed, the impact of the weather and such. Then we’ll have a track walk. Drivers can get their references in real-time.
“Again, we’ll look at historical information, be that from images or video, and gain that perception through their own eyes and their own feel for the road, where they’re going to put the car, any changes that might have been made from events the year before, and how they’re going to approach their driving strategy.
“For someone like me, it’s about making sure an individual arrives fresh, unburdened, in a positive mental state. Before we arrive, we usually debrief from the previous event. That looks at did our outcomes align with our objectives, if not why not, and what can we do to find better solutions going forward.
“On a Thursday, there are lots of meetings and discussions. Some physical therapy. All making sure that we are ready to take on the demand of the weekend.
“The closer we get to the driving, the more everything intensifies. Discussions get more specific. Our physical preparation gets more specific. Our decision makings are more directed at what we are about to do.
“For an individual like me, it’s about supporting them as much as possible mentally, physically, from a nutrition point of view, hydration, heat management. Any pre- or post-race physical therapy, warming up and cooling down, for instance, we need to consider. We make a schedule to make sure these guys are in an optimal position.
“I work with Fredrik Vesti. I really enjoy working with him. It’s about the court of characters you spend your time with.
“To spend roughly 150 days with this guy is a real pleasure. He’s incredibly hard work. Dedicated to his craft. He’s hungry to get better. Generally a nice guy as well. When you spend that much time with someone it helps to have commonalities, shared interests, and expressions about what you’re doing there. A lot of fun,” he said.
For John, one of the single most important things to him when it comes to his work is having the skills and qualifications necessary to be able to deliver a programme of service that allows his clients to be in the optimal position to succeed. This desire stretched beyond what would be considered his core disciplines of sports science and strength and conditioning.
“If we think about the primary role and competencies of a coach, generally speaking, you have to be a bit of a specialist in a number of areas.
“From physical preparation to biomechanics to nutrition to performance psychology. You don’t tend to develop those qualities in one or two disciplines of sport.
“Coming from a background of sports science and strength and conditioning myself, I knew that longer-term, if I wanted to offer more value to clients, not just in motorsport, I’d need to broaden my competencies and range of skills. Therefore, physical therapy became a big interest of mine in the last decade.
“I’ve now been coaching for over 20 years, and I’d say over the last five years, I’ve moved deeper into performance psychology and that's with the benefit of working with some world-class experts that we have in that space.
“You’re constantly evolving and refining your practice and what you can offer an organisation or client. Where the sports industry requires an ever-evolving standard of practice, you need to always be adding to the standard of your credentials.
“You have to be able to adapt to the individual you are working with and their needs. Your ability to assess that and create a profile of needs for the individual in front of you is based on your previous experience in other sports with other athletes in a range of situations.
“For instance, in Formula 2, 3, and 4, you are working with younger, developing athletes. Having had an experience in academy football and academy rugby, I am more equipped to manage individuals at that level.
“When you are working with an older or more mature athlete, you recognise that they need some fairly specific things as well. In coaching, it’s always the broader the experiencer you have the better the service you can offer,” he said.
From when he started, to where he is now, John has seen first-hand that requirements for coaches at the top level have grown exponentially, due to the supply and demand for coaches and for the continuing professionalisation of sport.
“Generally speaking, now, in the 2000s, particularly this decade, most practitioners looking to get a job are going to need a master’s or greater to get their foot in the door. At the very least to get their CVs on the yes pile rather than the no pile.
“In the early 2000s when I came into the industry, at most you did a degree level, and you did a certified accreditation within a recognised body. The standard is now much higher because of supply and demand and organisations require a much higher standard. It’s only going up.
“What I see in the motorsport world is that when a coach is assigned to a driver, that coach has a number of skills and a breadth of experiences that enable them to provide a range of valuable tools rather than just one skillset that can only solve one particular problem. It’s always about a number of ways of getting to the outcome we’re looking for,” he said.
Therefore, the importance of finding the right course for the career you want is paramount to the career success of a coach in elite sport John believes.
“Finding the right qualifications is the fundamental requirement of performance practitioners in the modern-day and age.
“We’re highly aware that the standard of entry is at minimum degree level and higher degree level if possible. You don’t tend to see practitioners at this level, working with valuable athletes, who don’t have those qualifications.
“You are making decisions that are on the knife-edge of putting a car in the wall and putting a car on the podium. Therefore, the depth of qualification, mixed with experience, mixed with a level of self-development as a practitioner is important.
“That can only be acquired by going down a pathway that has forced you to do some introspective work on what you want as an individual, how you’re constantly improving, how you’re communicating your value to your athletes. It’s about providing a need and solving people’s problems in a way that they can perform better.
“My journey might be a bit different. I didn’t see motorsport as the goal initially. I saw performance sport and I went towards football first, then rugby, then Olympic sport. As my needs have changed over time and wanting a life by design, I wanted to create a business whereby I could offer my competencies to people whose interests aligned with my own at Hintsa.
“If you’re coming from a background of sports science, physical therapy, or a performance psychologist, you have a place as a performance coach. There are many coaches who have come from those key disciplines, but they often have a key interest in another discipline so that their skillset is much stronger.
“You also need to be able to lead and direct other people around the athlete that you’re working with. Another thing that isn’t formally taught at universities is communication. You are a facilitator between a driver and an engineer if there’s a challenge there. Or if you need your driver to be a little bit more self-aware and a better communicator. There’s a lot at play,” he said.
Though a tough and high-pressure job, John enjoys every minute of his work. This is in no small part thanks to the innate passion he has for coaching. Following his passion allowed John to really enjoy and succeed in the work he does, and he encourages others to try and find theirs too.
“I think it’s incredibly important to follow your passion. Certainly, the concept of being passionate about what you do makes it so that it doesn’t feel like work. I’ve got many peers in the industry who has said to me ‘this isn’t really work is it?’, we’re out on the football pitch wearing shorts and a t-shirt or we’re in the pit lane. We’re very lucky we get to do what we do.
“What I’ve learned through my career is that a positive alignment between your passion and the work that you do enables you to be happier, more fulfilled, and you feel like you’re adding value to the environment that you work in. When there’s a misalignment, I think people are generally more unfulfilled. I’ve certainly worked in environments where that is the case.
“For the most part, absolutely try and develop skills and interests in an area that you are interested in and passionate about. Then understand the possibilities that are out there for you in that space. At that point start to understand people’s problems. And then figure out a solution to those problems.
“Then, you’ve created a funnel from your interest to understanding the people you are trying to support and help and then providing them with solutions that have real impact and return. In doing that, you’ve gone from someone of interest to someone of need. That is important in the longevity of a career in a highly competitive industry.”
If you would like to follow in John's footsteps, find your passion, and choose the course for the career you want, Portobello Institute offers a range of sports degrees that can set you on the way to a very successful coaching career. You can check them all out on our department page here.
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