14th April 2022
COACH PROFILE - MARK KIRK
Ballymena & Antrim
What is your athletics background?
I started athletics at school joining a club with a couple of friends and having a go at most events – sprints, throws, jumps. I progressed through the 3A* awards. Once at secondary school I started to specialise in cross country and middle-distance events. I was basically a track athlete with 800m and 1500m my disciplines and progressed through the ranks with Ballymena and Antrim AC where Shaun Kyle was my coach. He and his wife, Maeve Kyle were very influential at the club. I progressed to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1986 and New Zealand in 1990.
Around 1993 my daughter, Katie, was born. I was also busy with work, and I had a number of achilles injuries so I stopped running competitively. But there were a couple of good club runners who I helped out with their coaching for 10k events so that kept me involved.
Both my children then took up athletics competitively. My daughter (Katie Kirk) has got the Commonwealth Games standard for 800m for Northern Ireland and, if selected, it will be her third Commonwealth Games having competed in Delhi (2010) and Glasgow (2014).
My son (Conall Kirk) has been suffering from a few injuries recently. He did compete for Ireland at the European indoors in 2019 at 800m and is on his way back now and is chasing the standard for Birmingham.
What brought you into coaching? How long have you been coaching and in what field?
When the kids started going down to the track I started helping out and one thing led to another, and I found myself with a group of 12 and 13 year olds in a coaching role!
I now have quite a big group a little older, ranging from 17 up to 50+ looking after cross country, track and road development for the group. The athletes come from around 12 different clubs in Northern Ireland.
When I first started coaching, I did my level two coaching qualification and have always specialised in middle-distance and endurance events. I am a dentist and at the beginning was working five days a week, was a partner in a dental practice, and coached so it was all very hectic. I now work just two days a week, so I have a bit more time to devote to the coaching and a bit more energy!
What is your coaching philosophy?
I like group situations especially with the younger ones. I expect them to work hard and be dedicated but I like to make it as much fun as possible and I think the social side of running is very important especially as an endurance athlete. It is very tough out there so you need all the help you can get. To find people you get along with and have similar interests in and so on makes it much easier to put the work in.
In the winter it is relatively easy with the group staying together and I can be creative on reps running them on times rather than distance. So an 800m runner won’t do as many or they’ll do a shorter time than a longer distance athlete.
After Christmas when we start going onto the track it is a bit more complicated as I divide the group up more. The groups will specialise on their different events but there is generally always someone for company for each session. I think that is very important.
What keeps you motivated?
I often ask myself this as most coaches do sometimes! But if you go to a BMC meet and everyone runs well, gets PBs, it is so great to see and makes it all worthwhile. It is as good as when I ran myself, if not better, to see your athletes performing well.
For every up, there is a down, but there is very rarely a meet where no athlete performs well so I always try to take some positives from every event. It is the advantage of a group situation.
What do you consider your biggest achievement from a coach perspective?
I have had a few highlights with my own children. Katie (Kirk) won a gold medal at the European Junior Champs in 2011 in Tallinn in the 4 x 400m and my son, Conall has won Irish titles and competed at the European Indoors for Ireland.
Then Nick Griggs who I coach ran the fastest mile indoors for a 17-year old recently in 3:56. It was one of those unbelievable moments – I expected him to break four minutes but to do 3:56 was something else. He is targeting the 3000m in the World Juniors in August this year. Now my role is important to keep him going, keep healthy and keep his feet on the ground. There has been a lot of attention on him but it is settling down now so we need to get him back to normality and back to the hard graft ready for the summer.
What are your ambitions for 2022/23?
I’d like to get as many qualified as possible for Northern Ireland for the Commonwealth Games. There are a couple of athletes on the fringe for the 1500m.
I think Nick (Griggs) has a good chance to medal at the World Juniors although it will be tough with the Africans but if he works hard between now and then there’s a chance. There is a couple in the group who have a chance of getting to Paris (Olympic Games 2024). The Europeans this year is also a possibility for some of the group.