How did Team GB double Olympian, Ben Simons, create a successful online coaching business alongside his commitments as a full-time athlete? The Brake investigates...
Credit: Rekords IBSF
TBM: Benjamin you handsome man. Welcome to The Brake. Let's dive in... Tell us about your route into the crazy world of bobsleigh.
BS: So my sporting background pretty much included everything you can think of, I was a pretty hyperactive kid!
This got whittled down to rugby and athletics until finally I settled on athletics. I did the 60m and 100m, more recreationally than anything else.
Then I saw the posters in my university training centre for the BBSA talent ID day. The picture just had 4 massive blokes asking, “could you push your country at the next Olympic Games?”
Well I thought I’d be too small but I wanted to have a crack at the tests which, from recollection, I think were: 30m sprint, standing long jump, squat and bench. I smashed them and the rest is history really!
Credit: Rekords IBSF
TBM: What was your first experience of bobsleigh?
BS: My earliest experiences of bobsleigh were definitely the movie Cool Runnings (which our sport probably owes a debt of gratitude to!) and watching the Winter Olympics. But I never dreamt I’d be there doing it.
TBM: Soz I meant what was your first experience of bobsleigh as an athlete?
Ah I see, well with bobsleigh, you sort of get cotton-wooled in Bath, training at the university.
Lots of pushing, lots of athletics training, it’s really cool. Then my first experience of ice was the push house in Sigulda which is a great facility. So at this point, all pushing and no full tracks and still no idea what was to come.
Then I drove in a van with Deeno (Lamin Deen GB pilot) and a former GB pilot Will Golder to Koniggsee in Germany. When we were at the track they asked who wanted to go first. Being all bravado and thinking I was going to love it, I put my hand up.
"I then proceeded to feel like I’d been thrown off Niagara Falls in a wheely bin"
I think I screwed up the braking at the bottom too, I was dizzy and trying to get my helmet off! I did not have a clue what was going on, I just needed a breather and had Lamin shouting at me to move the sled!
TBM: So Deeno was your first pilot? I didn’t know that!
Yep. First run, first medal a few weeks later, both Olympic Games. It’s been quite a journey. Without trying to sound too profound it definitely changes you, this sport. It certainly changed me. For the better I hope!
Credit: Rekords IBSF
TBM: You're a double Olympian, a massive achievement, tell us about your Olympic experiences. I know Sochi was a rollercoaster for you!
BS: Making Sochi was a huge goal. That first Olympics is always special and there was no guarantee we were going to qualify at all. As you say, that whole qualification journey was such a rollercoaster, we actually qualified on the last possible day to qualify!
We needed to be inside the top 20 in the world. There were two qualifying races left, and they were both on the same weekend - Igls, Innsbruck for World Cup and St Moritz for Europa Cup.
We opted for St Moritz. We ended up not doing brilliantly there but we went to bed thinking we’d done enough to qualify. As it turned out, we had calculated wrong and an overnight race on North America Cup meant that the Japanese were actually now ahead of us.
"We had one option"
Trek to Innsbruck through a blizzard and compete at the World Cup in Igls. It actually took John Jackson’s crew going behind Lamin to help us qualify.
It was a real nail biter. I remember being at the bottom of the track looking at my old teammate Craig Pickering. If you knew Craig you’d know he doesn’t really get emotional, so to see him overcome was quite a thing. Lamin finished 11th and we were going to the Games.
The drama didn’t stop there though, once we were in Sochi at the holding camp, Craig blew his back out. That meant our ‘P’ accredited athlete had to come in. There were issues with that too with appeals and whatnot, but eventually Andy Matthews was confirmed in the squad and we were finally good to go.
Sochi was a great Olympics in itself anyway, but our appearance there was against all odds, and that made it all the more special.
"Pyeongchang was a little different"
The work I’d done to become a top brakeman since Sochi meant I was a little more certain of my appearance there.
The general experience was a lot different though. We toed and froed from the village to the holding camp which wasn’t ideal. The facilities were pretty poor and the food and living arrangements not ideal. I ended up coming down really ill and wasn’t sure if I’d even compete.
The stress was made worse by miscommunications between staff about whether or not I’d need to undertake a push test to show fitness. Thankfully I recovered and managed to compete.
Our results weren’t great, annoyingly, but I was still proud of the achievement.
Credit: Benjamin showing how to get out of a pool when the steps are broken
TBM: You've started an online coaching business, tell us about it.
BS: So my business is called Semtex Systems.
TBM: Awesome name.
BS: Thanks! Yeah I think I was always going to call it that. I started out just offering online programmes and it sort of turned into doing lots of face to face stuff too as my reputation grew.
The start was pretty organic. People saw that I was really into my sports science and physical preparation, and had a solid educational background in it, having undergrad and master’s degrees.
I’m a pretty springy guy, so I just put out a lot of content of myself having fun in training and jumping onto things really!
"People want to jump high"
I think it’s because basketball is huge in America, more people play volleyball than you might realise and lots of people want to post videos to their social media of them jumping on boxes in the gym!
Basically, people saw my content and started asking for programming. As I was UK Sport funded at the time I was happy to deliver this programming for free, but with success came more requests until I decided that this was now a viable business.
My brother and I are on the same wavelength artistically, (TBM note: Ben is an excellent artist), and he produced the visual graphics I wanted.
We were successful pretty quickly and I branched into a few different sports - rugby, football, other ice sports etc, and became a little more selective over who I’d see out of necessity more than anything else.
"What I offer is time-consuming to produce as programmes are totally custom"
There’s no cookie cutter generic programming.
The practical, face to face side came out after I’d expanded as an online trainer so it was kind of the other way round to most online businesses interestingly.
TBM: What challenges did you face in setting up the business?
BS: My challenges were more about condensing what I had to be honest. I offered something relatively rare.
"I had experience in performance sport, an educational background in the science behind it, plus the ability to demonstrate the skills at hand"
Lots of people wanted my help which is great.
There was a fair bit of interest at first. Generic programmes are popular among the online ‘coach’ community because they're quick. As I said, what I produce is time-consuming but high quality.
I found myself picking up a lot of work from disappointed people who had been using these crap, generic programmes. There’s a lot of Delboys out there on social media!
They use huge platforms, are generally unqualified, and put - basically - shite out there and charge huge sums of money for it.
"One of my challenges was to know my worth and charge at that rate"
What I was seeing from the prices of these Delboy programmes was ridiculous. Plus, at the end of the day, someone could end up getting hurt. It’s a shame.
I also have the challenge of still combining work with my training. I’m reluctant to expand as I can’t handle the volume right now, especially with Beijing 2022 coming up.
Credit: Rekords IBSF
TBM: What advice would you give a young coach or PT looking to set up online?
BS: I think first and foremost, it has to be your passion and you need to totally embody it. That makes it a lot easier.
Offer a valuable product, don’t stretch yourself too thin and know your worth.
"Client retention is important, and you only get that if they know you’re passionately invested in their journey"
I look after my clients first and fully customise all their programming - and they know it. I think that’s probably why my retention is really good.
TBM: That's awesome Ben, thank you for your time talking to us today. Now to round off: would you rather: shower in rotten milk every day for the rest of your life, or bathe in someone else's urine for the rest of your life?
BS: (Without hesitation) Whose wee is it?
TBM: Deeno’s (Lamin Deen)
Lammo’s oh right ok. Hmm.
Just trying to think of his diet and drinking habits, he seems well hydrated.
TBM: Bear in mind, Deeno will not be humble about you having to do this.
Yeah I was about to pick it then thought about all the lads just ripping into me, and for that reason only, I will go for rotten milk for the rest of my life.
At least then I can hold my stinky, milky head high.
TBM: Well said. Now you lot, follow plyometric guru Ben across his social media:
Facebook: Semtex Systems