I’m now an official England athletics coach. Yes, I can now teach you how to run! The last 6 months of learning to become a coach has been very rewarding and quite stressful at times. The stressful times were mainly in the car driving home after 8 hours in a classroom at Bolton Arena learning all about running science. England Athletics overload you with information for three days sat in classroom, but the main learning is out in the field, coaching runners.
As a runner I’ve never been coached. Club nights at my running club involved meeting up at the clubhouse and asking “Where we running tonight Mick?”. We didn’t really do warm ups or cool downs. Well we did start the first mile steady and end with a walk round the track. We didn’t do drills, hill reps, intervals, fartleks or anything like that. If I’m being honest despite all my new found coaching knowledge, these are still my favourite running club nights.
I sort of got interested in coaching by accident. I spent a year on my running club’s committee, one committee meeting we were all sat there discussing the need for a beginners group at the club. The club hadn’t ran a beginners group for the previous 2 or 3 years. We needed to start running a beginners group. We also needed a few extra run leaders to run the sessions. Me been me, I stuck my hand to do the course with a couple of others and became a run leader.
During my year on the running club committee I stuck my hand up a lot. I stuck my hand up even when a committee suggestion wasn’t even my idea but I thought it was a good idea. I got wind up when there was a good idea suggested but no one else put their hand up. I’m not much of a diplomat coming from Yorkshire. Hence I only lasted a year on the committee. Committees do lots of great unseen work for their clubs, but I’m probably not suited to committees.
Anyway, the Run Leader course. It involved a day in Telford learning all about warming up, cooling down, stretching, organising sessions and safety. It was all very interesting stuff but it was only day of learning. There wasn’t time to teach you about technique and all the science behind running but what they did teach you was great introduction to coaching.
Now I was a qualified run leader, I started helping out with the club’s new Couch to 5k program. We got around 50 runners for our first ten week program, taking them from no running at all to a parkrun in 10 weeks. To see the fast improvement in these runners was inspiring. But the runners did start asking lots of questions and I was thinking “hang on they never covered this on the Run Leaders course!” I knew to do this properly rather just blag it, I needed to make the massive leap and become a coach.
At beginning of this year, I started the first of two training days to become a coach. Now I’ve felt out of my depth a handful of times at work, but I don’t think anything compares to my first two days of the England Athletics Coach in Running Fitness course! I spent the following weeks wondering what I’d got into. But I managed to put the coaching pieces together with a combination of attending a few track sessions at the club, finding a fantastic support coach and having to lead a very large couch to 5k group after nearly 200 runners turned up with New Years resolutions.
The penny dropped some time on day three on my coaching course. There’s plenty of science to running but when you finish the course you’ll not be coaching fellow coaches, you’ll be coaching runners. Just like me. Yes, you need to know the science, but the course for me was all about developing a coaching style. Engage your runners and get them to do the basics well. Teach them a tiny bit of running science at a time, if can do that without them realising you’ve cracked it.
I love the coaching, I only qualified last week but as part my coursework I’ve been coaching an improvers group at the club on a Wednesday night. They aren’t really improvers now, they just runners, but they haven’t half improved and I couldn’t be prouder. I just wish I could get down the club more Wednesdays!
But my toughest challenge is coaching myself. I know exactly where my arms, feet and knees should be going when I run. But the biggest problem is getting them in those places. More drills and less runs with Mick then!