Making a splash

Thursday, 04 May 2017

Medico-Chirurgical Hall

Making a splash

Patrick Miley, father and coach of Commonwealth gold-medallist Hannah will give an insight into the highs and lows of sport and the secret of being a successful coach.,



In April 2016, in a partnership between University of Aberdeen, Scottish Swimming and Aberdeen Sports Village, Patrick Miley was been appointed High Performance Swim Coach with the University of Aberdeen. As part of the University’s Sport & Exercise Team, Miley - father and coach of Commonwealth Gold Medallist, Hannah Miley - leads the development of performance swimming within the University, and looks to establish Aberdeen as one of Scottish Swimming’s four Performance Centres. 

Based at the Aberdeen Sports Village Aquatics Centre, he provides leadership and direction to support the pathway for talented swimmers within the City of Aberdeen and the North East Region.

Patrick Miley is a former soldier, triathlete and North Sea helicopter pilot, who has worked with Ian Thorpe and three-times US Olympic gold medallist Brooke Bennett, and coached Miley from day one.



  • In a novel variation, the President, who was examining in Cork, joined the meeting via a video-link to welcome the company. The Honorary Secretary read the following notices and intimations to the company in the Hall.
  • The next regular meeting of the Society will be the Annual General Meeting and Presidential Address on 1st June, when the previously circulated note of the Special meeting of 30th march will also be considered.
  • The Famous for Five Minutes charity concert was all set to go ahead on 6th May with room for only a few more in the audience.
  • The Heritage Event on the teaching of Medical Humanities will take place 7-9.30 on Thu 18th in the Suttie Centre. Refreshments will be available for purchase for the Tiki café which will remain open until 7pm
  • The Electives evening and competition for the Adam Quaich will take place from 7.00 in the Suttie Lecture Theatre (ground floor) on Thu 25th May. Caering arrangements as per the Heritage event.

The President then introduced the evening’s lecture inviting Patrick Miley, recently appointed High Performance Swim Coach at the University of Aberdeen to give his talk entitled ‘Making a Splash’, suggesting that there would inevitably be some parallels between training medical students and elite athletes and therefore some lessons to share.

Mr Miley gave a brief overview of his background in Birmingham of Irish stock, a graduate in Design Engineering, a competitive swimmer and triathlete – but with limited coaching and little money available to support participation in (let alone training for) competition. He then went to Sandhurst and spent some time in the Army where he trained as a helicopter pilot and that included tours of duty in Germany, Kenya and Italy. He left the Army in 1989 and took his helicopter skills to the busy market place of the North Sea oil industry ‘for a couple of years’- which turned into 17!

During that time, as well as ongoing flght service provision, he progressed as a trainer through Crew Resource Management Instructor to Senior Line Training Captain. He explained that the training work involved responsibilities focussed rather more on safety and protection of the workforce than simply training individuals to get the job done. He commented favourably on the value of checklists to ensure completion of repetitive activities. He also described the impact of, and learning from, some major adverse incidents giving a detailed account of a very lucky escape in 1997 when a lightning strike caused a loud explosion in the cockpit and damaged the rotor blades of the helicopter that he was co-piloting. He also described other frightening incidents while flying including another helicopter explosion during his Army days and the emotional impact of the Brent Spar and Cormorant Alpha incidents in the North Sea in which one of his best friends had been among the fatalities.

He explained that until his University appointment last September, he had never been a professional swimming coach. He had taught swimming since his teens and in due course became involved in top level performance in International coaching including at 2 Olympic Games. He showed a picture of a book which he had been given as a boy, around the time of the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which he had diligently noted the winners, and winning times, of the swimming medal winners. Little did he know then how his relationship with top level swimming would evolve – and that he would meet many of the stars whose names he had written into his book.

Mr Miley then turned to describe in more detail the evolution of his engagement in high performance swimming coaching with particular reference to being the coach of his daughter Hannah who has already achieved considerable international success as a competitive swimmer. He described his involvement in the invention and development of the Aquapacer device, a precisely programmable bleeper that can sit inside a swimmer’s cap and emit an audible sound that can enable precise matching of the wearer’s stroke rate. This has been of considerable benefit to competitive swimmers and their coaches around the world, facilitating a more refined approach to developing enhanced performance.

He spoke about the paramount importance of attitude and application in would-be elite athletes and how even the most naturally talented athletes cannot succeed at the highest levels without astonishing levels of dedication and work. He stressed how this had to be a ‘long game’ – for both coaches and athletes – and that the ever-increasing pressure for achieving rapid success was not a constructive development for either. He also described the need for a temperament that can cope with adversity and can still come back to try harder, citing the example of Hannah’s continued endeavour to succeed by her ongoing involvement of a new training programme at the age of 27 after coming 6th in the Beijing Olympics, 5th in London and 4th in Rio by the narrowest of margins.

Mr Miley went on to describe some of the details of his daughter’s work schedule in training, and the various different processes involved. He described 40 hours of training per week (with a single day off) and an average 87,000m swimming distance. This led on to the remarkable statistic that Hannah had covered the equivalent of the distance from Inverurie to Ankara in the water in the year prior to the last Olympics! In addition to ‘just swimming’, training includes working at altitude, boxing, cross-fit, spinning, rock climbing, weight lifting, running, pilates and has even involved a hyperbaric chamber. Scientific investigation of heart rate, measuring sympathetic and parasympathetic responsiveness, lactate levels after various types and intensities of exercise are also involved.

All of this requires an enormous calorie intake and great attention is paid to the quality and quantity of nutrition. A series of video clips were shown to illustrate several activities and one of particular interest showed the importance of core stability in the elite swimmer – a reflection of total control over rotational position in the water. An additional issue, in someone undertaking so many hours of strenuous physical activity is the relatively high risk of accident and injury. Several injuries, mostly related to training activities, were described. Such injuries, and incidental illness, have a very major effect if they interfere with ongoing pursuit of training goals; as a rough estimate it was suggested that one week off from a heavy training schedule will take 6 weeks to make up.

In returning to the coach’s side of the operation, the importance of the coach in making a difference to what an athlete can ultimately achieve was described. The difference in approaches was considered and the view promoted that sometimes it is facilitation and subliminal suggestion that can be more effective than a dogmatic or dictatorial approach. The intriguing illustrative example was given of how the very existence of the etching of a fly in the bowl of the urinals in the gents toilet at Schiphol Airport, by giving the user a target (albeit undeclared), nonetheless apparently results in less spillage there than in other venues! The narrow margins between success and lack of it were described and an interesting sound clip of two Aquapacer bleeps just one hundredth of a second apart showed how few stroke-times it takes for this divergence to become clearly apparent. A highly complex algorithm of Hannah’s performances, times and measurements in the different elements of medley swimming, showed how mathematically and logistically complex data can be generated for analysis – and how challenging it would be to perform this. The ever-increasing challenge of approaching record times – when these are improving relentlessly was also stressed – and illustrated by the observation that when Mark Spitz won seven gold medals in Munich (as recorded in the young Patrick Miley’s book), the winning times were such that Hannah reckons she would have won 10 medals swimming her own best times only 40 or so years later.

While the new role of elite swimming coach at the University has proven very demanding as there is much to be done and changed, there have already been some notable successes with swimmers on the new programme having qualified for European Junior, World University and Commonwealth Youth Games and Hannah, meantime, has once again qualified for the World Championships later this year. The talk concluded with the statement that ‘Leadership is what happens when you are not there’ and a viewing of Hannah Miley’s gold medal swim in the 400m Individual Medley at the  2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.

The President Elect led a lively question and answer session covering topics including the use of the Aquapacer in training but not competition, anatomical variations that favour performance, and funding sources (principally UK body for Olympics, Scottish Swimming for Commonwealth games). On being asked about the  earliest age that a future champion can be identified Mr Miley spoke of some simple assessments of how a child maintains and restores position in the water as being useful but returned to his earlier theme that attitude is of much greater importance than athletic talent in defining champions. Management of expectations was also recognised as a challenge in maintaining the commitment and dedication needed to achieve ultimate success. The potential application of the scientific approach to enhancing physical performance to military applications was raised by one member of the audience.

On being asked about meeting the demands and expectations of his current role, Mr Miley gave some pointers as to how he had been working towards concerted efforts of interested parties, mentoring coaches and encouraging more focussed and specific medium-term goals for aspiring competitive swimmers. Commenting on how the excellent local facilities at the Sports Village could be further improved by purchase of underwater camera equipment, he noted how the success of one or two athletes can change the attitudes of a nation towards a sport – and that was always a target for a coach to try to effect. The need for more coaches and a more business-like approach to coaching potential future champions were acknowledged and the real difficulties in enticing swimmers to come to Aberdeen’s relatively isolated location noted.

The President gave a vote of thanks via her video link and closed the meeting.

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