Andrew Grenfell – giving back to the sport

Andrew Grenfell only recently turned to coaching at his local club, Rossendale Harriers, but he, and his coaching partner Jon Cleaver, have already made a big impact. In just under a year, he has set up a new group at the club, encouraged more teenagers to get involved in the sport and created an environment where youngsters want to keep coming back for more. It is great to see the huge and positive impact that Andrew has had on the sport in his new volunteering role. We caught up with him to find out more.

Getting started

Like many athletics coaches, Andrew’s desire to become a coach came from his own positive experiences in the sport.  He competed at school cross country races, the British Universities and Colleges Sports (BUCS) Championships and, more recently, for his club Rossendale Harriers on the road, track and cross country.

Andrew is now a masters athlete but still competes for his club on a regular basis at the road relays and in other league events. Despite the fact that he still plays a major role in team competitions, Andrew felt he could be more useful at Rossendale Harriers if he turned his attention to coaching:

“There was a need at the club for a ‘transition’ group,” he said. “We had a senior group that was really thriving and a good group for our youngest athletes, but nothing was really available for the U15, U17 and U20 age groups. Both myself and Jon Cleaver, my coaching partner, thought we could really help the club by setting up a new group for teenagers.”

Becoming qualified

When Andrew first decided to take the Coaching Assistant and Athletics Coach courses, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. He was really surprised by the courses and found them both very valuable and interesting:

“Being a teacher, I probably had a fairly high standard of what to expect but I really enjoyed both of the courses.  I thought they had a good balance between practical and theory and thought the tutors were charismatic and really knowledgeable.”

Andrew explained how he actually took some of the learnings from the course and applied them to his role as a science teacher:

“I have now introduced silent demos in the science lab so that the students can completely focus on what I’m doing and not just what I’m saying. I’ve found these to be really effective.”

Having gone on both courses, we asked Andrew what advice he would give to others looking to progress along the coaching pathway:

“My advice would be not to worry about whether or not you will be any good at coaching. The course tutors will give you lots of advice and different ideas to help. So I would say, not to worry about whether you will fit in or not. It takes a range of people to make a great coaching team and you will always be able to offer something, regardless of how good you are as an athlete.”

Enjoying the journey

In just under a year, Andrew and his coaching partner Jon, have set up a new group, which is now thriving.  We asked Andrew why he was so keen to get involved in coaching at his club:

“I wanted to give something back to the sport and to make sure that I’d still be involved with athletics and running when I stop competing myself.”

Whilst Andrew is a qualified Athletics Coach, his partner Jon is a qualified Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF). Andrew explained how this gives them a lot of flexibility in terms of the sessions they deliver.  Whilst the focus is on endurance as they are an endurance-based club, the pair also make sure that jumping and throwing are included in sessions:

“As a youngster, you don’t always know what you’re going to be good at and what you’ll enjoy. We try to give our athletes the opportunity to try everything so they can make an informed decision about where they’d like to focus as a senior.”

The group compete at a range of events including the Road Relays, National Cross Country Championships and local league events. Despite attending competitions on a regular basis, Andrew and Jon try to make sure that the group has fun and don’t take themselves too seriously all the time.  While the pair want their athletes to do well as juniors, they are also mindful that the ultimate aim is for the athletes to still be involved and enjoying it when they are seniors:

“We try and promote the social side of the sport, making sure that athletes feel involved in the team element and want to support and encourage those around them.”

Balancing it all

As a teacher, athlete and coach, not to mention the fact that Andrew is also a real family man, life is certainly busy.  Andrew spoke to us about what a typical day looks like for him:

“I get up at 5:30am to go for a run. I then go to school and try to do a lot of my work in lunch breaks etc so that I can sneak a run in between 5:00-6:00pm before heading off to coaching. I also try to make sure I have enough time with my family.”

Andrew went on to say that he has a really supportive wife and family, stating that none of this would be possible without their encouragement and backing.  Despite being busy, Andrew feels that the reward of coaching and being involved in the sport far outweigh any stresses:

“It can be busy at times but when the athletes all say thank you at the end of the session, or when they run a PB in a race, that just makes it all worthwhile.”

Looking to the future

We asked Andrew, what his plans are for the future in terms of coaching. He explained how he hopes to take the Event Group Lead – Endurance course in the future and also hopes to do more coaching:

“When I start to train and compete less myself, the plan is definitely to get more involved with the coaching and that side of the sport.”

We also asked Andrew where he hopes the group will be in the future:

“It’s going to be a long journey, but Jon and I really want to see how far the group can go, not just in terms of numbers but also in terms of success on a local, regional and national level. It would be amazing to be competitive at the National Road Relays and be battling it out for that first-place finish one day. We’re thinking big!”

Articles in this series

The Role of a Welfare Officer