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Junior Fell Coaching

One of the problems that young ‘fell running’ juniors have in developing their skills is a lack of qualified coaches.  We take it for granted that every elite and international athlete has a coach which is ironic in so much that elite athletes are possibly much more able to coach themselves - to a degree - than a junior runner who wouldn’t know the difference between aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.

It would seem obvious that the less experience one has, the more an athlete would benefit from having a coach, especially the youngster whose aim is to run internationally.  So what can a junior athlete do to find a coach, and what is it you look for in a coach?

In the first instance juniors do not need a fell running coach, there are only a dozen or so qualified in the country and as juniors they should not be thinking of specialization too early in their running careers.  Running coaches mainly fall into three categories, sprints, middle distance and endurance / long distance.  Any of these would be able to offer sound advice on a youngster’s early development.  The only problem that can arise with this arrangement is the fact that the coach has to be receptive to a junior running the fells.  Some track based coaches can have a tendency to frown on their young charges venturing on the fells for competition.

In some cases juniors have developed very well on advice given by older experienced runners – who have many years of training behind them, including their running Mums and Dads.

However, the real problem of coaching juniors is that the training has to be specific to that one person, and if the youngster is to gain progression in an environment of good coaching practice there are many facets that need developing for juniors to progress safely as they climb the age group ladder.

It is this comprehensiveness of all-round coaching knowledge that is essential for youngsters to develop maximally.  Hence the requirement of a qualified coach, who ideally has been police screened and has been on the special coaching children courses - this is doubly important if the junior has expectations of international honours.

A misconception that I would like to clear initially is the fact that it does not take the innate gene ancestry of athletic parents to become an international athlete.  Any junior, bio-mechanically able and of good health, could, with the right attitude and determination – plus good parental support – attain international standard if they followed a progressive training programme helped by a qualified coach.  I hope the following advice will help when evaluating the services of a coach:

  • A good coach must have the time available to give you a personal training schedule and to be readily available – weekly – for advice and support.

  • It helps that a coach has had the experience of being a runner himself/herself.  It is not imperative but in my experience it helps considerably if the coach truly appreciates what the athlete is going through in their training.

  • The coach should have experience in coaching juniors; training loads have to be adjusted according to age and ability, with little room for error re. over-training.

  • A good working relationship has to be developed with the coach; both have to agree on future goals and ambitions, with a great deal of trust on both sides.  The athlete has to believe – and have the confidence – that the agreed development program/plan is right for them.

  • The coach should be able to understand and motivate the athlete through all the many stages of their development, including the exam years and appreciate the major changes in mood and physical development as they go through puberty and adolescence.

  • A good coach will have experience in dealing with injuries and will be able to advise on preventative exercises and how to deal with injuries as they occur and will also know when and where to direct an athlete if the injury requires professional treatment.

  • It is helpful and encouraging if at all times the coach can lead by example, certainly in the area of commitment and standards of behaviour.  Youngsters are easily influenced and a good coach is well aware of the influence his behaviour can have on impressionable youngsters.

  • A quality not often recognised in a good coach is the ability to educate the athlete in the ways of best coaching practice.  Coaching is not a secret society, and good coaches should be developing the athlete’s ability to know and think for themselves.  Harry Wilson,  Steve Ovett’s long-standing coach, said “that as time went by the instruction grew less and the friendship grew stronger”.

  • A coach should always be there when an athlete needs him/her.  Those who do not compete seldom appreciate the passions that intensive training and competition brings.  There are times of joy when winning and of disappointment when losing.  Coaches are there on all these occasions to give their support and understanding.

  • You do not have to be coached by someone from your own club.  If you are fortunate and have a coaching structure – as we have at Horwich – great, but don’t let the lack of coaching support stop you from approaching other coaches.  You do not have to change clubs!!

  • Finally do not be put off at the prospect of approaching a coach, and certainly don’t fall into the trap of thinking you are not good enough to be coached.  But do think long and hard about what you are prepared to put into the relationship, a good coach will always match you for enthusiasm but you must be prepared to work hard, the old saying of “you only get out as much as you are prepared to put in” is very true.

So what does a coach get from all this?

The truth is that a good coach is there simply to help athletes achieve their ambition and reach their goals by maximizing their talent, and in so doing share together with the athlete the satisfaction and pleasure of their achievement.

It’s my belief that the true value of an achievement can never be fully recognised unless you can share it with someone who fully appreciates what it means to you.

Norman Matthews © 2001-2004
Head Senior Coach
Horwich RMI Harriers