England Athletics chief executive Chris Jones recently visited City of Norwich AC as its activities took place at three venues on a Thursday night.
A track session was underway at the Sportspark of the University of East Anglia but after meeting up with Coaching Coordinator Clive Poyner at the track Chris headed over to the nearby City Academy school where a group of the younger athletes were meeting.
The Club’s Academy takes athletes from the age of eight upwards and makes use of both Sportshall and Athletics 365 activities and resources in their sessions.
During the winter the Thursday night session takes place in the sports hall of the school which is a short distance from the track.
The club’s secretary Rob Kinge is one of those who leads on the Academy. He explained that from 5.30pm-6.30pm the session is for the 8-11 year olds with the older members of the Academy meeting 6.30pm-8pm.
Although that second group often gets others involved in the club making the most of the activities on offer. Rob said, “In the winter with the second group we do circuits and conditioning.
"In December to March we do stage training and we get right up to adults joining in. The parents and adults are coming in to do their conditioning work. We get up to 50 people.”
The Academy has made good use of parents and encouraged many of them to take Coaching Assistant qualifications and then get involved in the sessions.
Younger athletes from the club get involved as Junior Leaders and the club also benefits from students from the University of East Anglia who become involved, some of whom stay on longer. Rob said, “We have got quite a few who have come in from the UEA – some come in and move on. Amy [Webb] has stayed with us as she is teaching locally. We have junior leaders who are 15-17 who work with the coaches.”
The first session sees 20-30 young athletes involved with different people getting involved in leading different aspects, particularly as the session breaks out into smaller groups doing different activities.
The Academy also meets on Saturdays at the school with the junior section there first followed by the older ones who do sessions more based on what events they are most interested in.
Two parents who have become involved in the Academy are Julie Edwards and Sally Hart. Julie explained her sons, Joe, 9, and Jett, eight, have been members of the Academy for around two years and her daughter Jazmin had been involved before that. She said, “Got involved in it on the back of that. I help in the Academy and also on the track helping Denis Costello with the jumps.”
She has already qualified as a Coaching Assistant and is now working towards her Athletics Coach qualification.
Sally said she too became involved as her son, Jake, 11, has been involved for a similar length of time. She said, “I got involved with their group and have been involved on Saturday mornings. It is good to do the track and the sessions inside as well.”
Both felt that there were real benefits to the young athletes experiencing a range of events and that the approach of involving young athletes from the club as leaders also worked well. Julie said, “It is nice when they are a young age to try something different. There is always something they are good at which is why the academy is great. The young leaders are great with them. There are a range of ages involved with the group coaching and leading.”
After visiting the Academy Chris headed across to see David Pring and his junior endurance squad in action as they got their session underway at Eaton Park. This is another venue close to where the track is and on the way over a group of road runners could be seen heading out on the roads for their session from the Sportspark. Among the success of the club’s young endurance athletes in this winter have been the Under 13 girls team winning both the Southern and National Cross Country team titles.
Then it was back to the track to catch up with a number of the coaches and young leaders involved in training there. These included endurance coaches Tim and Pauline Ash, and sprints coach Mike Utting who have all been heavily involved in supporting England Athletics’ National Coach Development Programme.
Chris commented, “It is always good to see an athletics club in action and the different elements that go into making a large club work smoothly. It was impressive to see the different activities taking place across the three venues, including the road running group we saw heading out from the Sportspark. The range of volunteers the club has managed to engage from different parts of the community including parents, young athletes, and students was a great demonstration of how and why they manage to cater for the range of athletes they have.
“I would like to thank everyone from the club who took the time to talk to me about their experiences and perspectives on the sport on what was clearly a busy evening of club activities. It is always important to hear and understand more about the challenges that clubs face, but also very encouraging to see how clubs are coming up with effective ways of developing themselves and addressing those challenges. It was also interesting to hear how the club operates in partnership with others as part of the Athletics Norfolk network and their experiences with this. Our sport is all about people and seeing how a club operates its initiatives effectively to have volunteers and athletes all enjoying their involvement in the sport is great to see.”