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Coaching Story: Derrick Stephenson and Multi-Sport Athletics Coaching

10/10/2019 00:00, In Blog /

About three years ago I was approached by Chris, a young man in his mid-twenties to ask if he could train with my group of sprinters. I was subsequently asked by Millie`s father about coaching his teenage daughter who, like Chris, wanted to improve her sprint speed.  Chris and Millie subsequently came to become an integral part of the sprint group and were later joined by Evie.  I later came to realise that all three athletes were keen, hardworking and talented lifesaving athletes 

I started coaching, like many other coaches in Wales, after several years of watching two of my three daughters being coached, by Tom Meyer, a long-standing, sprint coach with over 30 years of experience.  Athletics was always one of my passions but I delayed commencing the training required because I was aware of the level of commitment and demands required from athletic coaches.

After observing my daughters being trained from the side of the track for a few years I eventually applied to complete my Athletics Coaching Assistant qualification, assisting the Cardiff Athletics Club young Academy athletes.  This was followed by obtaining my Athletics Coach qualification. I subsequently attended an Athletics Coach Programme at Altis, Arizona, USA with a group of Welsh Athletics Coaches, which gave me an insight into the methodology used by some world-leading coaches and athletes.  I finally progressed to completing the UKA Event Group - Sprints and Hurdles Coach qualification.

Coaching athletes that participate in other disciplines such as lifesaving has been a privilege and provided me with great enjoyment and encouraged me to think carefully about whether there are common elements between the different sports; how the needs of the athletes are different and how I can best support them in their pursuit of success, at regional, national and international level, whilst they also undertake training in conjunction with other coaches.  There is also the need to consider how to help the athletes to peak at different times of the calendar year, compared to the athletics timetable. 

More fundamentally, I had to consider what elements of the sprint training programme could directly benefit or transfer to the actions and events undertaken on the beach or in the sea.  , as opposed to on the athletics track.

My coaching philosophy is based on athlete-centred, which means that the needs of the athlete take priority over the programme schedule. I aim to encourage, rather than criticise my athletes and if any of the athletes find it difficult to understand my instructions or requirements, then the fault lies with me and I try to find a different approach that allows them to understand the training message or physical requirement. 

Generally, at the beginning of each training year, the programme starts with training at Merthyr Mawr sand dunes for 6 to 8 weeks to underpin and develop general foundation training and endurance.  This is designed to build fitness, stamina and strength gradually, with a combination of endurance and speed sessions, with and increasing focus on technique and acceleration and speed development on the track. Some may consider this as long and short combined, throughout the year to build endurance, speed and speed endurance, always with the thread of good technique interwoven throughout the training and competition phases.

I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach athletes from different disciplines which has caused me to pause and reflect on what sprint or strength related training may help to build and develop speed, athleticism and speed endurance in order to improve their performance.  In particular, what elements of sprint training can contribute to sprinting on sand. 

This year, all three of the athletes were successful at the Welsh Life Saving Championships, as well as the British Lifesaving and Surfing Championships and have been selected to represent Great Britain at the forthcoming European Championships to take place mid-September in Italy. In addition, Evie won a silver medal in the W 80m Hurdles event at the Welsh Athletics Junior Championships, 2019, at Wrexham