Neil Featherby: What makes a great running coach?

Running expert Neil Featherby explains what makes a great coach and why it’s so important to have a wealth of experience to call upon.

When working with runners, I always try to find out what motivates them and what is the real driving force behind any aspirations they have.

However, it is also obvious that whatever the level and ability of the athlete, most of them need support by way of a coach or advisor to give assurance and guidance.

Over the years I have met some absolutely fantastic people who have given up their time to advise and help others to achieve their goals.

I was lucky enough to have half a dozen great guys throughout my running career who were there for me. Whilst I was always fairly limited by way of ability, I was totally dedicated and was prepared to train as hard as I had to. Nevertheless, I also know that without their help I would have fallen short of reaching the half reasonable standards which I managed to attain.

So what makes for a great coach/advisor? Well, most certainly knowledge and understanding of how to apply and structure a training programme to meet the demands of the given event which the athlete might be training for.

Therefore he or she (the coach) will need to have a good understanding of the energy systems and the physiological stresses which are applied to the body whilst planning training sessions and schedules for their athletes, be it for an individual or indeed for group workouts.

Just as importantly they will also need to have a pretty good understanding of people’s personalities and what makes them tick.

Some coaches will be highly educated whilst others may also have a vast background in athletics and are highly experienced. What is sure is that they are every bit as dedicated as the athletes themselves what with being there beside the track or standing at the top of a hill overseeing a session week in and week out. Needless to say in all weathers too.

I have some great coaching and training manuals with all the latest scientific research.

However, I also have several books which date back more than half a century going back to the days of the then top coaches such as the Austrian coach Franz Stampfl who pioneered his own scientific training methods from as far back as the 1940s whilst also helping to guide Sir Roger Bannister to the first sub four-minute mile in 1954.

I’ve also got books from Percy Cerutty, the very eccentric Australian who guided Herb Elliot to Olympic 1500 metres gold and the New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard who really did introduce athletes to his very well thought out training plans which consisted of high mileage even for middle distance athletes like the double gold medal winning champion Peter Snell who triumphed at 800 and 1500 metres.

They, along with many others, certainly laid down the foundations for many a good coach today and whilst we are so lucky to now have all the science and testing facilities which goes with it, there is still many a club coach out there who has nothing more than just their stop watche and sound personal knowledge to guide their athletes by.

Here in Norfolk we are so lucky to have so many excellent coaches who really are dedicated to the sport whilst helping to get the best out of all our athletes, be it at senior or junior level. This week I most certainly salute all of them.