29th April 2022



Swansea Harriers – Pole Vault coach

What is your athletics background?

I did athletics at school – in fact, I don’t remember a time when I was not passionate about athletics. I tried all events, settling on 1500m and I ran to county level. As I was dyslexic I struggled with some school work but at athletics I could fly. But I was too short.

One day I came across a pole vault lying in the sandpit on the school playing field. One of my teachers was a pole vaulter. So, I sneaked a little go but, sadly as this was in the 1970s, as a girl I was told it was not a discipline that was open for me to do.

I, therefore, gave up athletics and took judo up. At 15 I started competing as a judo player and at 17 I got selected for the national squad. Unfortunately, I wrecked my knee so I started coaching judo and also took up Aikido (They Way of Harmony). Aikido is a Japanese martial art that relies on a combination of excellent technical skills combined with perfect energy transference through an athlete’s body, or a weapon, to achieve a ‘flow’ of power from an attacker, that combined with the athletes, and gives greater power against the attack than strength alone.

Oddly, there is a lot in common with pole vault, where the ability to not interfere with the energy that has been created in the pole at take-off is crucial, by perfecting technical skill and allowing the energy to flow and transfer back to the athlete is very similar.

How long have you been coaching and in what field?

When I came across pole vault again at Swansea Harriers when my son started training there. I was instantly drawn towards it and fascinated by it. I have been coaching there now for 12 years.

Twelve years into the coaching journey I find it even more fascinating and challenging than when I began. I set up the Swansea Harriers pole vault group. And it has developed into a group with four pole vault coaches and 30+ kids of all ages. The first year athletes have developed and are now under 20 and we have all had fun doing it. We have athletes at all levels. My son is still jumping and, also, coaching now.

It is a sport that the kids love if they get a chance to try it young enough, and although difficult to master it develops confidence and self-understanding. Most athletes only start to try pole vault at U15 when they are allowed to compete in it, but by then most have decided they are better at the events they are allowed to compete in at U11 and 13. Fear also begins to happen. Pole vault is technically complex and exciting.

What is your coaching philosophy?

I believe in a creative dynamic approach. There are three essential parts to my coaching philosophy. Teamwork, inclusivity, and ‘wayfinding’ within a dynamic framework. Athletes and coaches all learn from each other, the coach may be the guide, but the athlete enables the coach to keep learning and developing.

If you can create a collaborative and inspirational environment, it develops a positive group dynamic where individuals share, reflect, encourage, enjoy, and trust each other. It is not always easy, but what can be achieved becomes greater than an individual alone and sharing the journey with all the achievements and disappointments is a wonderful experience for all.

My individual coaching style within the team I refer to as ‘wayfinding’. In simple terms this involves working within a context sensitive framework, encouraging individual athletes to explore and problem solve enabling them to discover and develop the pole vault skills they need. The coach by understanding an individual athlete’s perspective, their body, emotions, mindset and ability is able to guide the athlete forwards. There is a place for all learning types, it just takes understanding athletes as a whole.

What keeps you motivated?

A passion for sport, and pole vault in particular, and the belief that sport can positively enhance and change lives, and of course the enjoyment of the shared journey. We have a lot of characters in our groups who may have a tough time in life but can really achieve in the pole vault.

I coach three nights a week with four sessions. I have also coached athletics and martial arts for the council but I am doing less paid work. It began when my son took up athletics and I was unable to sit and just watch. From the minute I saw pole vault I was addicted.

The group motivate one another – we enjoy working together and have a great vibe.

What do you consider your biggest achievement from a coach perspective?

Developing the pole vault group dynamic within Swansea Harriers, which enables the team of pole vault coaches with their different skills to work dynamically together with the athletes to achieve their full potential. Athletes from the group have competed and won championships at Welsh and UK level.

We have a lot of athletes on the ASD spectrum so, for them, just to be able to go to a competition and jump is a huge triumph. So, it is not all about the higher end where the athletes are winning the UK champs.

What are your ambitions for 2022/23?

For me to keep learning, improving my skill base and moving forward. I have some athletes knocking on the door of a UK vest so it would be lovely to enable them to do that. To take the next part of their journey with them and for the others to see that happen would be a huge motivation to them to continue.