One day, my daughter came home from school with a flyer asking me if she could join Little Athletics. We were living in a small town south of Cairns, called Gordonvale. I took her down to the local oval where a guy called Warren Pitt (who later became the Mulgrave MP) was running the club.
or the first year I was given the job of pulling the measuring tape out for the discus, which was pretty boring! However, my interest was hooked. Then Warren decided that he wanted to move competition days from a Sunday morning to a weekday afternoon, as he was also getting heavily involved in the tennis community. As I wasn’t going to be able to get back to Gordonvale from work to take my daughter to athletics on a weekday and there were a few other families in the same situation, Queensland Little Athletics helped us set up a new club in Cairns.
I did my first coaching course in 1983 as well as a Little Athletics summer camp, where I learnt a great deal, as I’d never been an athletics competitor myself. It’s pretty rare for coaches not to have been heavily involved in sport prior to becoming a coach, but I do think there’s a lot of other aspects to coaching that have to be learnt.
In the first season of Cairns Little Athletics club, we had 80+ kids. Little Athletics gave us some assistance to buy equipment which was very helpful. A coach from Ipswich also helped the club by having the guys at the local military base make up hurdles for us at a very reasonable cost.
In 1991 I started the Marlin Coast Athletics Club up on the northern beaches at Smithfield State High, with the blessing of the Cairns club, and with the knowledge I would be moving away from North Queensland later that year. We ended up with about 130 kids, with perhaps 70 in the first year. I still run coaching courses there. I met my now husband, Peter, when he came up to Cairns for a coaching clinic in 1990, and ended up moving to the Gold Coast with him.
Peter has been involved with the Gold Coast club for 40-odd years with a few other coaches, so I just stood back and watched. Within 8 months, one lady retired and I dived in to help. For a few years I coached race walking as well as sprints and hurdles, but in the end just didn’t have the time to keep going with Walks. Back in the early 90s, the coaching culture on the Gold Coast was far more casual and less structured, which wasn’t my style. I’m a big detail person and watch kids like a hawk, even through the warm up.
Peter and I have been managing the athletics track at Griffith University since it was built in 1998. We often have busy days fitting around university schedules, particularly for the multi-eventers. We’ve got a female heptathlete who does 14-15 sessions a week between 4 coaches, of which I am the head coach and in 2014, she went to the World Junior Championships. This is also a critical age and sometimes it eats into work time because I’m so busy during the day with session after session, but if we don’t keep these kids in sport, we’re not going to have Australian teams.
THE MOST AMAZING JOURNEY
Sally Pearson was 12 and a half when she started training with me in 1999. It was an absolutely amazing journey. I had to stay 10 steps in front of where she was going, as I had to learn and be prepared for her every improvement. She qualified for the IAAF World Youth Championships in 2002, and I’d never even heard of it. Part of the Athletics Australia selection criteria was that you had to compete in U18, and Sally had been competing in U16 at nationals, although was faster than any of the U18s. She also medalled in long jump, in high jump, the 200m and the 4x100m relay. When she first qualified, they wouldn’t select her, which I think was a good thing in the long run because she was only 14 turning 15 later that year. I don’t think it harmed her career. But I had to become more aware of what was going on around me as well.
Sally won the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but there was never a stage where she could let herself feel confident, which created problems in our relationship. After she won the World Championships in 2011, I asked her if she could feel more confident moving forward to the London Olympics. She said yes, but ultimately it didn’t happen that way. I ceased coaching Sally in October 2013, a couple of months after the IAAF World Championships in Moscow, where she won the Silver medal.
TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION
We see a big drop out in athletics immediately post-Year 12 due to the kids either going into the workforce or to university. Even with parental support, they may have to work part-time, buy their books, study, pay coaching fees and more, which becomes an enormous burden and they can’t manage. For others, even with substantial parental support, the nightlife is too appealing. We’re pretty fortunate that we’ve had a lot of kids train with us right through high school and ultimately more of them could have made Australian teams had they kept going.
Sometimes I have more girls to train, sometimes more boys. Last year I had more boys, and the year before was fairly even. I get weary having to talk to them about patience – they’re very much a ‘now’ generation. You have to help them understand the plan and why they can’t have/do everything now. We’ve got a new young fellow at the moment who’s an absolute genius doing two degrees at university, and has now decided to become a decathlete. He wants to come out and do everything immediately, but he’s never been an athlete. So, first we need to build an athlete body so he can be even a single event athlete, let alone a 10 event athlete! That’s fairly typical of the athletes we’ve had the last 10 years, and applies to both boys and girls.
The newer generations do know a lot more about their events; they’re well researched, and know a lot more about their international peers and results across the country. Even the parents get heavily involved in trawling the internet and finding results to compare with, and bring them to me. I have a care factor of 0! I prefer the kids to focus on their own development. They can’t control what everyone else is doing, only what they do. All the time, you’re trying to paint a picture of timelines, of patience and controlling the controllables. Otherwise it’s just stress for the kids. Kids need structure and boundaries and with that, ultimately, they flourish.
VALUE THE COMPETITIVE SPIRIT
Some kids will take the advice and it will be meaningful to them, but others find it difficult to cope. Coaching a single gender group, such as a team, is different to coaching a single athlete. A group can be influenced greatly by a single leader. Single athletes have their own events and timelines, regardless of other people in the squad. There are those who really want to develop their skills and then worry about performances, and others who are more concerned about performance and beating everyone else in the squad. You’ve got to work with that – you don’t want to beat it out of them. It’s good to have some competitiveness.
To me, having some competitiveness is absolutely important. They’ve got to have some, otherwise they fall apart mentally at competitions. It’s integral to how far they go as an athlete.
There’s a great deal of competitiveness between boys and girls however. Age makes no difference. To me, having some competitiveness is absolutely important. They’ve got to have some, otherwise they fall apart mentally at competitions. It’s integral to how far they go as an athlete. Whatever level they get to or aspire to, you want them to be the best that they can be. If they’ve got doubts and are worried about racing against other kids, they’re not going to cope well. We work at getting the confidence level up, which then becomes contagious within the group and they’re very supportive. Then the attitude of being confident is accepted within the environment.
To stay ahead, I did courses and my husband, as a Level 5 coach, was and still is my mentor. I talked a lot with other coaches, I read a lot and I’m always asking questions. I’ve always had a good rapport for many years with coaching legend, Roy Boyd from Melbourne, as well as many of the athletes that I’ve been on Australian teams with since 2008. I didn’t just read books about coaching, but about coaches, such as Ric Charlesworth and Wayne Bennett.
Coaching has been a life-changer for me. I was a divorced, single mum, and I just got involved in anything my daughter wanted to do. I absolutely loved, and still love, working with kids and young people. Every day is a revelation, whether they are helping me with Instagram or I’m helping them sort out fights with their parents. A coach is an Influencer and it’s terribly important those influences are positive.
ONE KEY TIP
You will grow more if you coach lots of different athletes. Having new people in training all the time helps. You learn how they process information differently and how to communicate better. As a coach, you have to stay ahead of the game, especially these days where everything moves so fast!
Bio – Sharon Hannan
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