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Neil Featherby: The key to being a good coach is evolving around your runner’s needs

Running columnist Neil Featherby on a canicross run. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Running columnist Neil Featherby on a canicross run. Picture: Mark Hewlett

© 2013 Mark Hewlett

Following on from my comments in last week’s On The Run and keeping with the theme of coaching, earlier this week I had a long chat with a very good friend of mine, Matt Yates, who frequently discusses training ideas with me after reading my weekly columns.

Matt not only competed at the highest level during the 1990s whilst regularly making the world’s top 10 in middle distance events, but also won a bronze medal in the Commonwealth games (1990), a gold in a European Indoor Championships (1992) and represented GB at two World Championships and an Olympic Games. Just as impressively, after hanging up his spikes he also had PB’s of 3:52 for the mile, 3:35 for the 1500 metres and 1:45 for 800. However, and after his retirement it was only by chance that he came back into the sport and has now been coaching and creating elite athletes for the last three years.

MORE: Every runner has to master the mind as well as their training

Therefore and after another one of our long conversations, I asked him how he achieved success so quickly and what is his secret to coaching?

In Matt’s own honest and straight to the point way, he said the answer is simple and in one respect no different to being an athlete.

You can have all the credentials and badges, but if you can’t apply yourself and ideas consistently and be 100pc dedicated, then you will fall short. However, and whereas an athlete requires a certain amount of talent which doesn’t last forever, in a coaching role you can always keep learning and developing. Never be complacent thinking you know it all.

A good coach will know his or her limitations and whilst it is important to have a full understanding of the physiology and training principles for any given event, be it the 800 metres or the marathon, a good working knowledge of nutrition, sports injuries and of course psychology is also required. Therefore always look to learn from those who have expertise in these fields.

In fact it is not a bad idea to also study business management which is exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson said were the driving principles to his success.

Whilst coaching qualifications are one thing, just as importantly, having experience and an understanding of the pressures of daily life and how to plan and manage accordingly around each person’s individual lifestyle is also a must.

In a nutshell, the coach ultimately acts as the CEO and the athlete is the sole product of the business. There are no magic wands!

It is about having a good honest relationship with excellent communication. Know exactly what you want to achieve and plan ahead with all the components in place to achieve peak performances when required. Nevertheless, also be prepared to be flexible and adaptable and of course never lose the motivation to succeed.

This Saturday, is the first get together with athletes and coaches for the recently appointed Norfolk Cross Country team managers, Chris Merrylees and Dom Blake. They will most certainly be applying all of Matt’s points whilst having a very good working relationship with Norfolk’s top coaches.

I wish them both the very best and here’s looking forward to a successful cross country season for Norfolk Athletics.

MORE: It’s time to put the pride back in the Norfolk vest

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