Chief Executive Chris Jones and Head of Finance & Governance, Michael Davis, headed to the Gloucestershire club to see a training night in full swing at the Prince of Wales Stadium and meet some of the club’s volunteers.
Club President, Carolyn Franks, and Chair, Andy Beadle met Chris and Michael who arrived as the young athletes were also arriving to start their ‘365’ session. While the youngsters were heading down to the track ready for their evening of athletics Carolyn and Andy gave Chris and Michael an overview of the club’s activities.
The club currently has around 500 members. With around 27 people involved in coaching and helping with the groups. Andy and Carolyn explained how the club works to try to engage the parents early on and has a range of ways to get them involved. They said the club has improved in this area and as Chris and Michael were shown around the activities that were now underway there were a number of visible examples of their approach to be seen.
The welcome desk was staffed by parents who take turns on a rota. Parents were also involved in helping the activities that the young athletes were involved in during their training time which, for them, runs from 6pm to 7pm. On the evening Chris and Michael visited the young athletes were being given the opportunity to record a performance at a range of events. The session saw youngsters moving from event to event swiftly with minimal standing around. The session included ways of minimising any delays to the activities. For example, by using markers for each throw the coaches and helpers were then able to measure the full round of throws in one go at the end of the series. The performances were then all fed through to the team managers to help them with making their selections for the early season matches.
The young athletes who are part of the 365 group have a multi-event approach and are given opportunities to cover a range of run, jump and throw activities and training. There are also three groups of ‘NuStarz’ activities for young athletes aged 9-12 on Saturdays and Sundays. In the winter Cheltenham also have Sportshall athletics available to the youngsters up to the age of 15-16 years old.
As well as bringing in young athletes these groups and the associated activities also help the club to encourage parents to become involved as volunteers. Carolyn explained how having a club event each April where the club gives parents the chance to try officiating in a low-key environment is a way of helping the parents feel involved, learn some of the fundamentals and gain confidence. Carolyn said that this then leads to a number of parents going on to take officiating courses and becoming involved in the club in that role more formally.
The talk about the work with young athletes quickly revealed the club’s strong connections with the county schools’ association. Andy explained the track hosts county and district schools’ events each year and how the events have operated effectively year after year for 25 years or more, “Each school comes down and their staff manage the same event every year. It works like clockwork.”
Andy is well versed in the workings of the county schools’ association as he is the chair of that, and he joked that the club has had good continuity on that front, “Carolyn was the chair of the schools before I was.”
From 7pm the older athletes started to arrive. Andy’s work at the club includes as an endurance coach to a group of middle and long distance athletes. He was formerly coach to 1:47/3:37 middle distance international James Brewer. Shortly after the visit Andy and a number of athletes were due to head off to Font Romeu for two weeks of altitude training.
As well as Andy’s group running their 300m efforts another big squad of distance runners were in action, with the session being led by Dave Newport and cross country/ road team manager Andy Prophett keeping an eye on how the group members were faring.
The club has a long history with distance running. Having been founded in 1880, Cheltenham & County Harriers were initially involved in the paperchase form of cross country running that was prevalent in that era. A women’s section of the club was created in 1928 before then breaking away and the two sections coming back together to create the club in its current form in 1990.
It’s appropriate that given its long heritage in distance running the club has been building on its record of successes with the endurance section more recently. The club claimed bronze medals in the Midlands 12 stage this year as well as the league silver medals in the top division of the Birmingham Cross Country league. Other successes have included seeing Graham Rush in action for England on the road and cross country in recent months. Cheltenham field teams in the Gloucestershire cross country league for all age groups from under 11 to veterans as well as in championships events.
But it is not just the endurance side of the club that has seen success. Immediately in front of the main stand the group of hurdlers started to gather and begin their session on the home straight. The club’s hurdlers include British indoor 60m hurdles champion Mollie Courtney (U23) and bronze medallist Sophie Yorke (U20) who are both coached by David Warner. The club has also seen Jane Horder take gold for the 60m hurdles at the World Masters’ championships in March.
Carolyn is also very involved in the coaching at the club. Her athletes include a number of disabled throwers and she showed Chris and Michael some of the equipment the club has available on site for seated throws. The club is also investing in a new High Jump bed with the cost being split with the facilities owners to help ensure good provision for the event at the facilities.
The senior men and senior women track and field teams compete in the Midland League with the U13, U15s, U17s and U20s involved in the Youth Development League.
While Chris and Michael watched more of the training taking place they were also able to meet Chris Foster from the trust which operates the track and found out more about how the club work with the trust to make the of the facility.
Chris commented, “Having heard of some of the results achieved by Cheltenham athletes it was great for Michael and I to be able to visit the club and meet some of the people involved in the wide range of activity offered. As with many clubs behind the more high-profile results there is a great deal of excellent work with a wide range of athletes and across a range of events.
“It was very encouraging to be able to walk around to see the coaches and various helpers involved in all that was on offer for the younger athletes and then to see the older athletes arrive and being involved in their sessions.
“While we saw a great deal of good work going on we were also able to hear much more about what the club is involved in. It once again reinforced the invaluable work of volunteers in the sport of athletics and running.”