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women's coaching conference

Katharine Merry

19 October 2013

Olympic bronze medallist Katharine Merry and Jenni Banks, a wheelchair coach to 42 Olympic and Paralympic medallists were among some of the speakers at the fifth annual British Athletics Women’s Coaching Conference in Birmingham.  

British Athletics Head of Coaching Peter Stanley, who coached Jonathan Edwards to a world record in the triple jump, got proceedings underway with the focus of the event on success, share and celebrate.

“Success can mean different things. My idea of success is an athlete bettering themselves.  My idea sharing is all about mentoring. I’ve heard a lot of high profile athletes saying I wouldn’t share my programme, but I don’t agree with that because I’m happy sharing whatever they do if that betters them as a coach. Coaches will hopefully last longer than a career of an athlete maybe 15 even 20 years. What is success? To me success is being up skilled and being the best that they can be.”

Merry, whose biggest taste of success came in the year 2000 when she won 400m Olympic bronze, just a year after switching from the 100m and 200m. In her 20 year athletics career, Merry spoke about how individual talent isn’t enough to success, but the basis of achieving goals is having a good support network behind you.

“Even though I wasn’t even 10 years old, I set myself a goal and a vision – always set yourself a specific goal. I knew where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there and that was to win a medal at Sydney 2000.

“Athletics is perceived as an individual sport, but that’s not the case and no sport is. The skills are equally important but teamwork would probably be on the top of the podium. Nobody knows everything and a team needs to be in place. I knew I was fast, but who was going to direct that talent? Nutritionist, doctor, physio, masseur, coach agent, doctor – you need a team to be the best you can be. You have to be team orientated and the left hand always had to know how the right hand was working, so communication is vital. If you have an injury the doctor has to tell the coach you can’t train.”

From her route to playing international hockey for Australia, Jenni Banks has since become one of the most successful wheelchair coaches in the world. Banks has been crucial to the success of some of the most successful Paralympic athletes ever including Louise Sauvage, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Hannah Cockroft who have won an astonishing 22 Paralympic Games gold medals between them.

Banks spoke about her early career where knowledge on disability sport was limited to going on to being a vital cog of the success of the Australian Paralympic Team, who topped the medal table at her home Games in Sydney 2000. One piece of advice that has stayed with Banks during her time in Australia and now Great Britain came from renowned poet Robert Frost.

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference.”

Banks finished addressing the group in Birmingham with some profound advice, which has helped shape her into one of the most influential figures in the world of disability sport.                    

“Ric Charlesworth, a leading figure in Australian sport once told me that throughout your career a lot of different people will tell you a lot of different things. The most important thing you can do is listen to everything with an open mind, take out the elements that make sense to you and create your own recipe for success.

“Never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because it’s not until you do that until you realise what you can do and it’s important to be passionate and dream big because if you don’t do that you won’t get to where you want to go.”

Elaine Grant, the Chair of the Women in Coaching Advisory Group is delighted with the progress being made in getting more women involved in coaching.  

“The group has been going for four years, and we’re starting to see progress across the board. It was great this year to get Marina Armstrong, one of the coaches from the Female Legacy Programme to come and present, which shows that we’re creating role models in the sport.

“There’s a development plan in place and a specific pathway for coaches to follow and there are opportunities to get them to where they want to go in their career. We’re really keen to get people to come in and work their way up the ladder to reach the very top in their coaching. Our focus has shifted – while we’re focused on numbers, we’re also committed to getting coaches to the elite level.

There were also presentations from Jo Jennings, Mhairi Keil, Marina Armstrong, Julie Hollman and Leah Dunthorne and video footage from the conference will be uploaded to www.ucoach.org.uk soon.  

To find out about the 2014 British Athletics Women’s Coaching Conference, please register your interest coaching-events@britishathletics.org.uk