Trials on track

Freya Murray-Ross
Freya Murray-Ross
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IT was chucking it down. Not just the kind of persistent drizzle which can dampen clothes and spirits, but the kind of downpour that most waterproofs struggle to keep out, the kind that can douse enthusiasm and ambition.

On Thursday night, despite the miserable conditions, that wasn’t the issue, though, as around 50 athletes turned up at a running track in Dalkeith, Midlothian, to go through training drills, repeating sprints, splashing through puddles as they completed laps. A few hardy parents in wellies cowered under umbrellas, some watched through steamed-up car windows, others merely pulled up long enough to drop off their kids, happy to leave others to keep their darlings motivated. And that is easier said than done at the moment.

Like so many sports clubs, Lasswade AAC has enjoyed a swell in interest post-Olympics. But like so many others they weren’t totally prepared for the deluge. “The influx has been huge – probably an extra 70-80 youngsters – which is fantastic but it is a lot for the existing coaches to cope with,” says Club Together officer Caroline Wylie. “But it’s hard to turn anyone away because they are all so keen.”

She took on the part-time role, which is jointly funded by Lasswade AC, scottishathletics and Midlothian Council, earlier this year as part of Scotland’s National Club Development programme for athletics, Club Legacy 2014, which focuses on supporting the development of athletics clubs in Scotland. Lasswade is one of 17 clubs linked to such an officer. But despite the upsurge in interest, the issue of athletes’ development is still tricky.

Liz McColgan addressed the subject when invited to share her thoughts with the Health and Sport Committee at the Scottish Parliament a couple of weeks ago. “We got all this great big emotion about the legacy of the Games and how we were all going to go back to our little corners of the world, and have all these lovely children all well catered for in fantastic facilities and it has just not happened,” said the former Olympic silver medallist.

Her biggest gripe was the lack of qualified coaches and volunteers. While some parents will lend a hand, she was adamant that was no long-term solution, fearing that kids could grow bored, lose their motivation or pick up bad habits without proper coaching. It was a gloomy analysis of where the sport is at the moment: in the doldrums and lacking sufficient coaches to capitalise on the currently burgeoning interest.

But while sharing the concerns, Lasswade have been quick out the blocks. The alma mater of Team GB, marathon runner Freya Murray Ross, and whose sister Keira is currently in charge of the induction group, have already enrolled 12 people in the Coach Education courses run by scottishathletics. “It will make a big difference because at the moment the groups are so big that it sometimes feels more like crowd control than coaching,” says Keira, “and, as much as I’d like to, it is impossible to work with the kids on an individual level.

“For now we have to just try to keep them engaged and enjoying it, but it’s not the things we would normally do and it’s getting harder to cope because we don’t want to turn anyone away. But if we keep them interested until we can get more coaches through these courses then we can start working in smaller groups and that will help the development and we can let them try different sports.”

Murray, who competes at triathlon and cross country, combines coaching with a full-time job and her own training commitments. The intention is that she will move on to moulding the multi-sports group, offering them samples of several track and field events before they opt to hone their talents in specific disciplines. But for that to happen, she needs at least one other coach to relieve her of the induction group. “Although it would be better if we could get two or three because it is a big group.”

Even in the pouring rain, they are full of enthusiasm, though. Given the weather it’s hardly surprising that a few have chosen not to turn up. Clubs expect a drop-off in numbers over the winter months but Murray is impressed that the number is not even greater.

With the extra dozen volunteers hopefully gaining the required knowledge and confidence to step into the breach, Wylie is confident that while they, like so many others, were caught cold after London 2012, they will get into their stride quickly and make the most of that enthusiasm and develop the young athletes they have already attracted. She insists they will also be better prepared to absorb those who turn up after Glasgow 2014.

“To be honest, I don’t think anyone expected quite as big a response after the Olympics. I think we were caught a bit by surprise but we want to make sure we get these extra coaches in so we are much better prepared for any extra interest we get after the Commonwealth Games. Like all clubs, we are always looking for more volunteers, whether it is parents who want to get involved instead of treating it like a glorified babysitting service or past athletes who want to share their knowledge and experience.

“But it has been a bit frustrating. I was at the P4/P5 school cross country competition and there were a few kids there I would have loved to invite to the club but we are at capacity. Maybe once we get these extra coaches…”

There is a goal. But there are also hurdles. McColgan knows what they are and so do the local athletics clubs. As the demand sets the pace, some are trailing well behind. Others, like Lasswade, are trying desperately to keep up. The stopwatch is running.