England Athletics chief executive Chris Jones and chair of the East Midlands regional council David Lodwick headed to the Derbyshire club to find out more about their activities.
The club trains at Rutland Sports Park, Ilkeston, and on arrival Chris and David were met by the club Chair Melanie Naylor who outlined the set-up of the club and the different training groups who would be in action that evening.Also visiting the club were the England Athletics Head of Club Support Chris Mallender and the local Club Support Manager Emma Hurst. As the young athletes were arriving at the membership desk to sign in with the membership officer Andrea Collings and and helpers Jacqui Dickenson and Gill Berwick, Chris was able to speak to one of the coaches, Julie Feeney, who has been instrumental in bringing through a number of the young athletes who have gone on to success, and who continues to coach a number of the successful senior athletes.
The club has seen a number of athletes progress to international level and more are currently making good progression through the age groups. Current England and British internationals include European U23 400m hurdles silver medallist Jess Turner (Nick Dakin) who started out under guidance of Jim and Julie Feeney, Niamh Emerson (David Feeney) who is European Youth Heptathlon bronze medallist as well as having won the Commonwealth Youth Games high jump and 400m hurdles bronze. Other successful hurdlers include English Schools 400m hurdles champion Alex Knibbs (Julie Feeney) and Scottish international sprint hurdler David Feeney (Jerzy Maciukiewicz). Sprinter Jacob Smalley (Anita Walker) took gold at 100m and 200m in the Great Britain Special Olympics this year. Jacob is the first athlete from the club to compete in this event and has been a part of Anita’s squad for the last two years.
The sense of identity that the athletes all have with the wider club and each other was clear on the visit. Jethro McGraw (Alasdair Donaldson) who represented England at Under 20 level indoors last winter was one of the athletes in action during the visit. He was assisting the other endurance athletes with their session on the grass.
Also coming through are three of the clubs Under 20 athletes who made the most of the opportunity England Athletics provides working with the area associations and Welsh Athletics at the Welsh International. Emily Coope (David Hourd) took second place in the women's 100m and was part of the winning 4 x 100m relay team for England (North). Tamsin McGraw claimed third for England (North) in the women's 800m. Ed Barbour (Joe McColgan) claimed fourth place in the men's triple jump for the England (Midlands) team.
But it is not just this type of success that the club is seeing. It currently has around 280 members and has succeeded in having more than 50 people signed up as volunteers.
The coaching and systematic group structure of the club was clear to see during the visit. Sarah McGraw and Jayesh Dave have worked together to co-ordinate the main sessions.
After seeing people coming in Chris and the group started by heading to see the throws coaches including Scott Knighton, Tim Bennett and Bob Boyd working with their athletes. Due to there being a series of all-weather football pitches in the middle of the track the throws coaches operate on an area adjacent to the back straight of the track. Scott, Tim and Bob explained some of the work they had been doing with the athletes. Bob has been involved in the club in a number of roles since its creation 18 years ago and Scott was also able to talk to Chris about how he has accessed and benefited from the coach development work done by England Athletics, referencing some of the work he had done with javelin mentor Mike McNeill and also Dave Parker at Loughborough University.
Nearby, the jumps coaches including Jayesh Dave were working with a group of athletes on the long jump runway. And on the D at the other end of the track the Recreation Group of Primary School aged children were in action using an innovative set of flashing cones to play a number of enjoyable games. For these athletes there are a number of regular coaches who provide the activities including Rachael Gillott, Jane Coope, Richard Woodward, Finn Broderick, Lydia Naylor, Trevor Jolly and Sarah McGraw. Melanie explained there can be as many as 70 young athletes involved in these sessions. At the time of the visit it was one of the last outdoor sessions of the year taking place before the group moves to training indoors at the tennis centre which is part of the complex.
Another of the coaches Chris spoke to about their activities before heading out of the track to see the endurance athletes training on the grass was Karl Ponty who was coaching sprints, and who has also been heavily involved with the club since its inception.
Chris commented, “Having seen the successes that Amber Valley & Erewash AC have had in bringing athletes through to competing at a high level it was good to see the club in operation on a normal training night.
“It was very clear that the club have a great team of volunteers working as coaches and in the many other roles that are essential to providing the opportunities and support that the club has available. It was encouraging to hear about how the club works to make provision for the wide range of people in the different communities within its catchment area.
“As is the case on a number of club visits, facilities was a key subject that we talked about during the evening. It was good to hear about the positive way in which the club are approaching their discussions with the council to work to ensure the facilities remain suitable for the needs of the club.
“This visit reinforced the tremendous work that our sports volunteers do. For us as England Athletics it again underlined how support of volunteers in their roles, such as coaching, and with regards to helping them secure or safeguard club facilities have to remain fundamental parts of our work.”
Melanie added, “The visit by Chris Jones and his colleagues was welcomed by our volunteers, whose hard work contributes over 12,500 hours every year to manage, coach and officiate for our club.
“Our priorities in the coming months are to work alongside our local council to retain and improve our facilities, as well as further develop the club offer to our athletes, coaches and volunteers.
“This year we have had a big contribution from our Club Support Manager Emma Hurst, who is also shortly helping us to host our first club coach workshop. Building stronger relationships with our governing body will help our club to access the support and advice we will need to achieve our goals. Thank you to everybody at the club and all the helpful staff at Rutland Sports Park for a very positive evening!”