In part one of our series focusing on the important role Athletics NZ plays on the Kiwi athletics community, Steve Landells spoke to three coaches to talk about the help and assistance Athletics NZ have given them at various stages of their development.
Joe Hunter – The Elite Coach
Since starring in his youth as a pacey left-winger on the soccer field Joe Hunter had long held a fascination for “speed and power” and the science behind human movement.
Today as Athletics NZ High Performance Coach for Hurdles he is in the fortunate position of being able to pursue that passion in a full-time capacity – a dream that has been allowed to blossom thanks to the support and faith shown in the Aucklander by the sport’s national governing body.
Starting out in a general sports coaching realm at a YMCA in South Auckland he was presented an opportunity to try his hand at athletics coaching purely by chance.
“My sister was working as a primary school teacher when she asked me if I would help a ten-year-old sprinter in her class how to do block starts,” explains Joe, who also has a PhD in sports science. “I had done some 100m and 200m sprinting at school and with my interest and passion for speed and power I was more than happy to help.”
That boy was Josh Hawkins – an athlete whom Joe successfully guided to 110m hurdles silver at the 2011 World Youth Championships in France - and so set in motion his athletics coaching career ten years ago.
Joe later started a strength and power-based coaching business incorporating both track and field athletes and Olympic weightlifters.
Yet after starting to make his mark on the athletics coaching scene, Athletics NZ took him on in a voluntary role as a sprint-hurdles co-ordinator in 2010. The position has slowly evolved and Joe’s role with Athletics NZ grew over the next couple of years. In 2012 Joe became a carded coach and he has been working with HPSNZ coach consultant Lyn Gunson ever since.
Additionally, Athletics NZ and Lyn Gunson also encouraged Joe to apply for a place on HPSNZ’s highly valued Coach Accelerator Programme run by Alex McKenzie. Last year he was accepted alongside five other coaches from other sports on the three-year programme. Joe has fully embraced the programme and is very grateful for the support of Alex McKenzie.
“There is so much more to coaching than the technical side, a huge part of coaching are the relationships you have with people,” he says. “The Coach Accelerator Programme has been brilliant in this area. We have discussed a wide range of topics from how to help an athlete if they have a problem to how to inspire a high performance atmosphere within a group of athletes.
“Lyn Gunson backs up the programme brilliantly. She encourages us to put forward a professional development plan, which we have some autonomy over, where we write down our weaknesses and areas we can work on. It is a continued education.”
The IAAF Level 4 coach is clearly making an impact. Among his other coaching successes are guiding Zoe Ballantyne to a place on the 4x400m team at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and Dalton Coppins to Commonwealth Youth Games 200m silver in 2011.
“Hungry” to learn all aspects of coaching he is determined to improve his knowledge base but accepts a big part of his coaching development would not have been possible without Athletics NZs significant support.
“The key for me was becoming a carded coach and being accepted on the Coach Accelerator Programme,” he admits,” and I only got both of those because of Athletics NZ.”
Joan Merrilees – The Developmental Coach
When Joan Merrilees first set off to take her kids from the family farm to athletics training almost a quarter of a century ago little did she realise it would set the wheels in motion for a noteworthy track and field coaching career in her very special corner of New Zealand.
Based out of a coastal farm 60km from Dunedin, Joan came from a strong netball background as a former Otago representative player, coach and national level umpire.
However, shortly after her children took up athletics rather than sit on the sidelines she decided to help out and enrolled for the Athletics NZ coach education programme.
Today she and her daughter, Megan Gibbons, coach a group of around 30 athletes aged 13-25 principally at the Caledonian Ground in Dunedin, where Joan has guided a number of athletes to national junior titles in her speciality – the jumps.
“Athletics is a very different beast to netball because it is an individual sport,” explains Joan, a Level 2 coach who now lives in Mosgiel. “The squad system we have works really well because the athletes we work with are social beings and the squad system allows for social interaction while developing their athletic ability.”
Developing as a coach through a number of different Athletics New Zealand programmes she has also sought academic improvement in her craft. She has completed a bachelor in sport and exercise science and a graduate diploma in advanced physical conditioning.
The 63-year-old is also on the verge of completing her masters’ degree in ‘women’s experiences of becoming elite track and field coaches in New Zealand.’
Lorne Singer – The All-Rounder
Athletics NZ have also continued to support her development by nominating her to attend HPSNZ’s Performance Coach Advancement course –introduced to improve the quality of coaching to pre-elite emerging athletes competing across a range of sports aged 15-21.
Attending regular workshops she says: “It is a great way to network and share coaching ideas from athletics as well as other sports.
Describing the opportunity to coach and better young kids as a “really privilege” she accepts the debt of gratitude she owes Athletics NZ.
“They have been very supportive and have in place a visible pathway which embraces professionalism while continuing to look after the volunteer coaches,” she adds. “Coach education used to be very linear, but coaching is far more complex and now there are more options for a coach to style coach education as they would wish.”
As one of Southland’s most respected coaches, Lorne Singer has helped introduce and inspire hundreds of budding athletes to the joys of the track and field.
Yet the Athletics Southland Development Officer – who delivers the Run Jump Throw programme to primary schools as well as successfully guiding athletes to more than 20 national age group medals - believes none of this would be possible without the unstinting support of Athletics NZ and Athletics Southland.
First introduced to athletics aged six, Lorne enjoyed a successful track career, dipping below 11-seconds for the 100m, representing New Zealand at Under-23 level and winning three New Mexico State medals one gold and two bronze) including in the US.
Receiving input with a number of “great coaches” and learning some great life skills during his athletics career eight years ago he decided to take the plunge into the world of coaching and “has not looked back.”
“I’d moved from a law career into primary school teaching, but what I found (at primary school) was athletics teaching had little structure and PE in general was treated as a bit of a token gesture reflecting that very little or no time is set aside for it teacher training. When I saw the position as Athletics Southland Development Officer advertised I was really keen. As a starting point, I needed my Run Jump Throw qualifications and both Athletics Southland and Athletics New Zealand were very hands on with that process and have been every since.”
He later was invited by Athletics NZ to a Run Jump Throw lecturers’ course in Dunedin led by George McConachy a very experienced coach in which the Invercargill-based coach's knowledge base was further enhanced.
Lorne also coaches club athletes and insists Athletics NZ have given him every support in helping the 38-year-old attain his status as a Level 3 Sprints Coach and Level 2 for Jumps, Distance and Throws.
“It is a year long process in which you need to submit annual plans,” he says of the Level 3 coaching qualification. “I learned a huge amount and it definitely helps my training model and periodisation plans.”
Lorne has also been endorsed by Athletics NZ to take additional training courses, which has allowed him to further expand his coach education.
Thanks to his national governing body’s support he underwent a week-long IAAF Level 5 course in Australia and was also recommended by Athletics NZ to attend a Sport NZ programme to teach fundamental athletics to Samoan teachers.
For Lorne being given Athletics NZ support at every stage of his development has proved invaluable in helping him increase his skill set in a career he regards as a “true privilege.”
“I enjoy seeing young people set lofty goals and then put the work in to meet those goals,” he explains. “My role is to help them try and achieve those goals and I get immense satisfaction from that.”