After a fourth-place finish at the Olympic Games last August, American Sarah Groff started approaching her career with a new outlook. Rather than spending eight months out of the year training on coach Darren Smith's team in Australia and Switzerland, Groff is looking for more life balance, so she made the switch to coach Joel Filliol. We caught up with Groff to hear about the change, about her new perspective on racing and about her focus for the season.
Triathlete.com: When did you make the decision to change coaches?
Groff: I think I knew that after the Olympics I was going to make a change, be based in the U.S. a little bit more. I was living out of my suitcase for eight months out of the year for the previous couple of years. It just takes its toll on you. Where you see the athletes who successfully do—like Hunter Kemper. He’s done four Olympics, he’s learned how to balance personal life with high performance. We were actually talking about it yesterday, but you have to think of it in terms of a four-year quad, where your first year is calm, it’s fun, you kind of regroup from the Olympic push. Then the next year you kind of get back into it a little bit more. But you really don’t start to put the pressure on until year three and four. And that’s when you just go all out. But in order to set yourself up well for a good Olympic experience, you have to really balance it out the first couple years. I got so much out of working with Darren [Smith], but it’s one of those programs where either you’re 100 percent committed to it and committed to being gone as much as I was, or it’s just not going to work. And I needed to find something that allowed for a couple years where I could regroup and work on some weaknesses and find balance. And it just so happens that there’s a coach who has a group that does ITU, and I get along really well with him. It’s very low-key. We do our thing, we work hard, but it’s not a high-pressure group. The attitude is a bit more relaxed, which is definitely what I need right now.
Who else is in the group?
From the U.S., Tommy Zafares, Jarrod Shoemaker, Alicia Kaye. Internationally, Helle Fredericksen, Caroline Routier, Mario Mola, Richard Murray, Vendula Frintova, Paula Findlay, and he’s also coaching Rinny [Mirinda Carfrae]—Rinny hasn’t quite met up with us at camps yet, but she will sometime.
How did you leave things with Darren?
Great, totally amicable. We had the kind of relationship where if we want to revisit it at some point, the door’s open, I think. He realized that for me to be able to have the foundation I need outside of triathlon, I need to be with [boyfriend] Ben [True], and I need to feel like I have some sort of balance, some sort of home life. At some point, when I feel like it’s an Olympic push—if I need to, I feel like I could call him up, even though I am one of his more difficult athletes that he’s worked with.
I'm just a smart aleck. He's used to athletes who do whatever he says. I just question—I like a healthy debate. I like, as the Aussies say, taking the piss out of people. I don’t take myself too seriously; I don’t take too much too seriously. I think he secretly enjoys the fact that I give him a hard time.
How's it going so far with Joel Filliol?
Great. He’s helping me figure out what I need, and it’s really pretty open dialogue, which is great because there’s a point in an athlete’s career where you almost need to be empowered by your coach to be able to make decisions with them. … We openly discuss what’s working, what’s not working. He has a pretty clear view of where he wants things to go, but he likes to get my input. I really like that. He’s a very quiet, kind of a silent observer kind of coach. He doesn’t talk a lot, but when he does, it makes an impact.
What do you think you’ll gain out of your relationship with Joel?
I think a lot of it is just being empowered as an athlete—starting to trust myself and my decision-making skills a bit more as a mature athlete.
What's your focus this season?
So my focus is basically setting up for a four-year quad, where, you know, just getting a good foundation, and learning how to race a bit more, having fun with racing, not feeling like there’s any pressure at this point. For training, get experience, work hard, but balanced. … This year I was actually in New Hampshire till February. … We have a house we rent—we have a little setup, we have a dog—just trying to settle into a pseudo-normal domestic life for a little bit. Then we went down to Clermont in early February—we were able to pack up the pickup and bring the dog and drive down. … I can’t do that if I go to Australia.