Team New Balance Manchester is now just over 2 years old and established as one of only a few professional endurance running teams in Europe supported by a performance running brand. As the lead coach I have been predominantly influenced by the successful teams and groups across the USA on how the team was to develop and establish itself. I have also tried to quiz and question as many coaches, athlete managers and agents as I can to ensure Team New Balance Manchester develops into the best performance running environment it can be.
Some would say I am extremely lucky, fortunate and privileged to be in the position that I am doing what I love for a living. I would agree with them, but I also knew that being a professional coach is exactly what I wanted to do when I broke the finish tape at the 2014 English National Cross Country Championships. I was still at the top of my game as an athlete but had a growing stable of athletes that I coached and I felt I couldn’t do both to the best of my ability. I started to explore and figure out what opportunities there were to pursue my dream and to be honest there were very few in the UK! I had spent time in the NCAA and East Africa and understood the importance of group training and a performance environment that allowed athletes to reach their potential with the correct support system in place. Professional groups across the US were world leading and the USA men proved that it was working with their silver medal winning team in the World Cross Country in 2013. How could I create one of these?
New Balance is a brand with performance running and athletes at the forefront of their business. In 2015 they had also just started a professional team in Boston and with a growing European market were keen to invest further in performance running in the UK. Pete Riley, who is the European Sports Marketing Manager at New Balance had discussed the idea with me on numerous occasions to set up a professional group and during 2015 we put the wheels in motion to make it happen. Fast forward time and we now have an athlete house, a gym partner, medical team and a performance environment that allows athletes to focus and commit to being the best runner they can be.
So, here I am in 2017 pursuing my dream as a coach and enjoying it alongside a dual role within the EMEA marketing team at New Balance. We have had some great success so far with plenty of PB’s, British Champions, international vests on the road, track and cross country and a Rio Olympian. I love it along with all the challenges that a professional coach is faced with.
So what are those challenges? Well to start with you are holding the hopes and dreams of an athlete in your hands. Yes, it’s them that have to go out and do the hard work but the guidance, planning, influence, education and support of a coach is crucial to their development and performance. Injuries, illness, pressure, life circumstances and family issues can also come into a coach’s contact and there are times when you may also play the role of friend, confidante and social worker. How much you decide to take on and be involved with is tricky but I think that excellent coach athlete relationships are critical to performance and trust is a pivotal role within this.
Further challenges are when athletes decide to leave you as a coach or approach you to be their coach. What is the best way to go about this? An athlete moving on can be painful for both the athlete and the coach but ultimately doesn’t the decision lie with them on what they want to do? As a coach being regularly approached by athletes to join what is arguably a great set up and opportunity at Team New Balance Manchester I know that an athlete has to be clear and concise with their communication from the outset. All good coaches invest huge amounts of time and energy into their athletes and losing or gaining an athlete can take its toll mentally and emotionally if not done correctly.
I value my respect in the coaching community and I am proud to part of the England Athletics and British Athletics Coach mentor scheme from where I receive support. I also appreciate that I have a greater opportunity than most volunteer club coaches around the country. The backing of a world renowned company is fantastic but I have a job to do and that is to develop athletes and to create the best performance running environment I can at Team New Balance Manchester. Is there pressure, of course there is! I hate losing and love winning and as an athlete I only had me to worry and think about. Now I am partly accountable for 9 athletes and their performances and it’s happens to be my job, a job I love and enjoy thoroughly despite the inevitable ups and downs!
Steve Vernon – Team NB MCR Coach