So here I sit, Tampa International Airport in Florida, USA. It’s been a short stay of 10 days and as I type these words out, a journey of 30 hours awaits as I travel back home to Perth.

My stay here may have been short, but it’s felt like weeks…in a good way. As I wait for my flight I have the opportunity to reflect and think, not only about the past week, but about the past decade.

My coaching education journey has been an incredible experience and one for which I am truly grateful. This journey has taken me to New York, North Carolina, California and Florida. Through it I have been blessed to experience many areas, cities and towns within the US and this alone has had a big impact on my views and thoughts and understanding of people and other cultures.

Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

Of course, he is right, and this statement is very true. While changing the world is currently not within my grasp, through my education as a coach and my involvement in the lives of the athletes I work with, I would hope that in some small way their lives are changed, enriched and blessed because of my small influence in their lives.

After I had been coaching for some time I decided that it was impossible to be the best possible coach for an athlete without knowledge and sound education. There are just way too many coaches who think they are coaches simply because they were good runners or because they happened into it through teaching or because they had a child who ran. (Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying you cannot become a coach from this angle, I’m saying get yourself educated). My philosophy has always been, any coach can run, but not every runner can coach. I do my own banking, I make internet transfers, I deposit and withdraw funds…and I’m pretty good at it, but, that doesn’t make me a banker.

With this in mind, I approached my local athletics governing body back in South Africa and enquired about education. I wanted to begin a coaching education journey and get the best out of South African athletes. I was left stumped when I was told I was the wrong colour. While this was an initial set back, I tend to be rather stubborn and figured there had to be other ways.

There are always other ways. I happened upon NAASFP, a North American institute and completed an incredibly comprehensive coaching certification. Around that time, I also discovered USATF, the controlling body for Track and Field in USA. I signed up with them and that has led me to this week, the opportunity to attend the IAAF Elite Sprints and Hurdles Academy, an IAAF Level 5 certification and elite coaching diploma.

As I sit here my mind is abuzz with many new thoughts and information passed onto me through the highly esteemed and respected lecturers who lead us through this week; Günter Lange (IAAF), Dr. Ralph Mann, Prof. Dr. Ulrich Hartmann (Germany), Dr. Robert Chapman and others. Some of the information and new scientific findings are challenging to some of my approaches as a coach. But, that’s being one of the biggest benefits of education, challenging oneself, beliefs and practises. Being forced out of your comfort zone, being forced to look at things differently and to adopt new methods and approaches, as opposed to doing the same things the same way with the same results. To ask yourself, “why do I do it this way?”

Educating myself as a coach has been fully self-funded, it has cost me a small fortune over the years, but I wouldn’t exchange it for all the money in the world.

So, what now, have I arrived? (I ask that with a smile on my face) You never arrive as a coach! I know this sounds like a cliché, but the truth is that the more you learn and know and understand the more you realise how little you know and understand. And so, this is simply another step in my ongoing coaching education.

My advice to athletes and parents and anyone out there looking for a coach? Look for a coach who is educated and continues to strive for education. This is not a coach who knows it all, in fact, if you find a coach who knows it all, he /she is not educated. Education gives a coach the resources and the knowledge to approach each unique situation and to figure it out with the athlete’s best interests at heart.

My advice to aspiring coaches? Get yourself educated. Of course, experience is important, but you cannot be a great coach by blindly guessing your way through it, actually, I guess you can, but at what cost? Think about it this way. Would you see a doctor who was a doctor learning by experience alone? That doctor might one day be successful, but can you imagine the patient causalities required for that doctor to become great? It’s easy to look at a coach and see his/her top performers, but how many wrecked young talents lie behind that one top athlete? Yes, experience is important, but you can only build experience efficiently and effectively if you have a sound education on which to build and develop.

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