Extrovert Athlete to Empathetic Coach - Matt Elias's Story

Matt Elias was one of Wales’ most successful sprinters and made sure he stood out on track with some colourful haircuts, but even before the time came to consider retiring from being an elite athlete, he knew pursuing a career in coaching was the way he wanted to go. For Coaching Week, he reflects on how his coaching career has progressed and gives his top tips for current athletes considering the transition in to coaching.

From the days when he was part of Linford Christie’s group training alongside the likes of Darran Campbell, Jamie Baulch, and Katherine Merry, he would take note of what sessions the other athletes were being given, as well as writing down all his own ones. He came from a household where both parents were PE teachers, and the instinct to want to help others learn was ingrained in him and so a natural progression in to coaching was always on the cards.

The decision to retire from competition was taken in 2008 prompted by the pain and frustration of ongoing injuries, and he began on a new path by taking up the post of Regional Development Officer with Welsh Athletics in 2009.

The role was ideal, it gave me a chance to learn all about working with groups of younger athletes, to build relationships with other coaches, and to up skill myself with the necessary qualifications to start my coaching career. I felt it was important to see how others approached coaching, and not just base my coaching style on how I had been coached myself. commented Matt.

In 2012, Welsh Athletics introduced new posts heading up the different event groups, and Matt secured a role leading the Sprints and Hurdles group. He’s relished this responsibility and chance to build up the Sprints coaching community in Wales.

I’m proud of where we’ve got to in Wales now, the foundations are there, events like #RunWithTheWind are seeing greater numbers of young athletes hitting good times. There’s more coaches and athletes coming through our development programmes, and this is starting to reflect in the performances on track.

I was lucky to spend some time in the USA with great coaches like Dan Pfaff and Stu Mcmillan, and we’ve been able to take out some Welsh personal coaches to America to see and feel what that high level elite environment is like. Now we’re bringing that experience back and translating to what we do here in Wales.

As well as his role supporting the development of sprints coaching in Wales, Matt is personal coach to a growing group of top British athletes based out of Cardiff Metropolitan University:

Being a Personal Coach can be 24/7, you get heavily invested in the athletes you’re working with and it can be hard to detach. I’ve tried to think back to when I was running at my best, and how training felt then, and bring that to the group I work with now. Its about finding the balance between enjoyment and professionalism, keeping them wanting to train everyday whilst still progressing towards their goals.

I want to give them the confidence to express themselves, to let their personality come out as I did. I can’t do it all for them, its their journey and they’ll need to figure some things out for themselves.”

Matt with Joe Brier, Niall Flannery, Dewi Hammond, Seren Bundy-Davies, Scott Gibson and Sam Gordon at Cardiff Met

Matt’s current group includes full time GB athlete Seren Bundy Davies, who moved to Cardiff to be coached by him last year. Talking to his group, it’s clear there’s respect and a strong bond already in place between the athletes and a coach they feel really understands them:

Moving to train with Matt’s group has been a great move, Matt is really personable and understands the physical and mental side of training from an elite athlete’s point of view. We really feel like he’s bought in to our success and wants the best for us, whether we do well or badly he feels it too” says Seren “I’ve had to overcome injury, and I know he gets what it’s like, he’s honest with me and I trust him, which is what you need in an athlete coach relationship.”

GB Junior 400m sprinter, Joe Brier said “He’s great on race day, he knows what to say when you need it, but also lets you have your own space and do your own routines – he’s not in your face.”

He’s created a really professional environment for us to train in, the group get on well and can have a laugh, but when its session time, Matt gets us focused, and we know we have to switch on and deliver.” added Dewi Hammond.

Matt’s top tips for athletes considering the transition in to coaching:

  •  Find an experienced coach, listen and ask the ‘stupid’ questions
  •  Be prepared to leave your ego at the door, it stops being about you, and becomes all about them
  •  Don’t overcomplicate it, read, learn and understand, then make it seem simple for the athletes

The hardest thing about moving from Athlete to Coach is the lack of control, stood watching one of my athletes perform, I’m more nervous than I ever was as an athlete.”

“My aspiration is that at the 2022 Commonwealth Games six or seven of the young athletes who are on the cusp right now, will be there competing and we’ll have both men’s and women’s sprint relays teams challenging for medals.”

More information about coach development and coach education courses is available from the Welsh Athletics website.

Matt’s group in full:

  • Seren Bundy-Davies 400m 
  • Owen Smith 400m
  • Sam Gordon 100m & 200m
  • Dewi Hammond 100m
  • Joe Brier 400m 
  • Iori Moore 200m & 400m
  • Melissa Roberts 100m & 200m
  • Paul Bennett 400m Hurdles
  • Niall Flannery 400m Hurdles

Welsh Athletics Ltd.
Cardiff International Sports Stadium
Leckwith Road
Cardiff. CF11 8AZ.

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