31 August 2014
The 6th annual British Athletics Women in Coaching Conference took place on Saturday 23rd August, attended by 70 delegates including female coaches from across the country, the British Athletics Women in Coaching Advisory Group and representatives from Sports Coach UK and Project 500.
The day provided a rare opportunity for delegates to listen to two female coaches who have progressed athletes from talented youngsters, through to Olympic and World success in 2 different sports.
The conference was opened with an honest and inspirational keynote speech by Sharon Hannan, outlining her journey from a single parent taking her child to get involved with “little athletics”, through to coaching a world and Olympic Champion. Sharon spoke about the importance of mentors, highlighting the special relationship with her mentor and husband Peter Hannon. She discussed her early exposure to the high performance environment as a facility manager at the Gold Coast track which was used as the holding camp for Team GB prior to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Sharon shared her coaching journey with Olympic Champion Sally Pearson who she began to coach aged 12 ½ and highlighted the importance she places on undertraining and late specialisation with young athletes, and an emphasis on planning for the long term. Key to Sharon’s success have been setting clear rules and boundaries within the group and not being afraid to rely on intuition to make coaching decisions. Sharon spoke of the need to be flexible and creative as a coach and shared with the audience footage of innovative pool session which she employs regularly with her athletes. Relating to the high performance environment she encouraged coaches to always “drive the bus” with respect to other support staff and to learn how to be “competition tough” as a coach to remain calm and consistent throughout the rounds.
Amanda Reddin, coach to Beth Tweddle throughout her highly successful gymnastics career and now Head Coach for British Gymnastics took part in a Q&A session sharing her progression from Olympic Gymnast to coach of Britain’s most successful gymnast on the world stage. She spoke passionately about her love for the sport and demonstrated a clear work ethic and commitment to continual improvement which has contributed to the success of both her as a coach and her athletes. Amanda discussed how she has continually observed and learnt from the practice of both coaches and athletes in other countries, in addition to reinforcing simple philosophies to her athletes in training and competitions to help them perform under pressure. Regardless of the competition her athletes are encouraged to simply “move from A to B” and understand that “somedays you just have to deliver, no matter what it looks like”. Like Sharon Hannan, Amanda emphasised the importance of having a strong support network in her family.
Other speakers during the day included Kate Goodger, who led an interactive session to outline the highly successful mind management model pioneered by Steve Peters, in particular focussing on the implications of this model for females. Delegates took a light hearted look at the “female chimp” to help understand why individuals experience emotions and thoughts that they don’t necessarily want to have, to help them better understand themselves and their athletes. Additionally Elaine Grant gave an update around the Female Coach Legacy Programme, sharing some success stories from the programme and giving a preview of the application process for this year.
The final session of the day gave delegates an opportunity to ask questions to a highly experienced panel of coaches working with athletes at different stages of the pathway, including Sharon Hannan, Amanda Reddin and coaches from the first cohort of the Female Coach Legacy Programme Sharon Morris and Alison Alee. This session, chaired by Kelly Sotherton looked at practical solutions to problems that female coaches face and covered diverse topics such as transitioning of athletes to other coaches, balancing coaching commitments with family life, dealing with growing pains in young athletes and working as a team coach in a high performance environment.
The conference is an initiative of the British Athletics Women in Coaching Advisory Group who seek to
- Inspire all female coaches to be the best they can be.
- Influence key stakeholders in decision making to create more opportunities for female coaches
- Inform female coaches, coach development and coach education at all levels
Leonie Lightfoot, Coach Development Manager for England Athletics who is the England Representative on the group commented:
“We are well aware of the lack of female coaches operating in the high performance environment, so the day gave attendees a real opportunity to learn from women who have excelled in this domain, as well as share and build some support networks with like-minded female coaches who may be facing some of the same coaching challenges on a weekly basis in their club environment."