England Athletics Chief Executive Chris Jones went to Wodson Park in Ware to visit the club just over two years from when they were founded.
The club had celebrated its second ‘birthday’ on 1 October 2015 and now has around 90 athletes who train at its sessions at the track on a Monday, Wednesday and Saturday morning. Founder & coach Dave Rice explained that there are two more sessions in the week, “On Sunday mornings we do endurance training. On a Thursday night we use another location for speed conditioning work. So basically it is five times a week.”
The Sunday sessions are at Hartham Common where the terrain lends itself well to endurance training away from the track. The club caters for athletes aged 11 upwards and once the three people it currently has lined up to take a coaching qualification have done so it will be up to having 14 coaches.
Dave explained how club nights work, “The younger ones come down first – they are given a little bit of everything - whereas the older ones come half an hour later and are broken down into specific event groups to train. That’s from age 14 or 15.”
On the night Chris visited, after doing their warm up and being run through some drills, the younger athletes were involved in hurdles, long jump and javelin training.
Steve Wansell Chair explained the club has athletes from aged 11 through to the Masters Age Groups. He said, “Last year the big cluster was at Under 15 Girls, a number of these are going to be Under 17s next season. We could do with a few more boys coming through.”
Steve told us how the club has linked in with local schools and as a result has a good flow of athletes coming through into the club. He believes word of mouth plays a key role (including through broader channels such as Social Media) and that the club website then does its job in giving more details on what the club does, when and how.
“I think it is about educating parents that it is not just a summer sport. They are not necessarily aware it is going on in September, October, December, February – all months. It is all about awareness.
“It also becomes a quite social thing. The draw to it is training and competing, but also that they meet up with their friends on training nights.”
Steve said the local media have played a role in increasing the profile of the club. “The Herts Mercury do a good job of raising awareness.
“They have given us a good amount of coverage. You have got to get in there early. It is about getting information in to them on a Monday morning. If you can assist them in putting together something for an article that they can top and tail that certainly helps. It is good to have a picture that you can send.
“It has also helped for coverage that the athletes have performed well at the big championships – the English Schools, England Championships and Southerns. That gives the papers something to write about.
“We have been successful for a new club and the athletes have been competing well at these competitions.”
One of those enjoying success away from the junior ranks has been combined eventer Martin Procter. At the Masters’ championships he won gold at pentathlon but as well as competing also helps the club as a coach and official. He said, “I was at Hertford & Ware when I was 16 but then disappeared from athletics to do other things. Then my daughters started to come and I became involved again.”
He laughed, “Now I do more than they do. I’m at training four times a week with both my own training and coaching.
“There are a couple of sessions where I coach and then go off and do my own session. I tend to help with some of the more technical field events. When the youngsters start to do their running work on the track we will go and do our session.”
Another of the coaches in action when Chris was at the club was Sally Stevens. She explained another piece of work the club has been involved in, “We have raised funds for a seated throws frame. We are now going to put a programme together to go into the schools so we can get the children involved who will benefit from having it. We plan to start that at the beginning of next year.”
The Club works closely with a local Special Olympics Group, which is also based at Wodson Sports Park, that is run through Amwell View School. The school is a specialist sports college for children with disabilities. As well as buying the throwing frame the club, in conjunction with Wodson Park, had the throws facilities adapted so that throws chairs can be used there. The club soon hopes to get its first racing wheelchair as part of its ongoing commitment to helping athletes with disabilities.
School links are clearly an important part of the club’s activities. Also present at training was Tara Haddock who is Chair of the Lea Valley Schools Sports Association (LVSSA) as well as Head of PE at the John Warner School in Hoddesdon. The club is involved in running two Sportshall competitions. One of which is a league for pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 that is held over three matches, with the best four (boys and girls) in each age group going on to a Cup final. There is also a District Sportshall Combined Year Championship for Years 8 and 9. These competitions attract nine or ten schools.
In addition to this there are also outdoor and indoor competitions held including a district schools combined events championships. Across the competitions each school has events which it takes responsibility for providing officials for. This means that as well as involving teachers from a range of schools young leaders are also involved in delivery of the events. So while some roles, such as starter, are taken on by a more experienced UKA qualified official these young leaders develop their athletics officiating skills. The approach has seen many involved in taking courses. Dave said, “This year we put about 60 pupils through Young Officials Courses. These came from three of our local schools, including ones from our Satellite Club at the Simon Balle Secondary School, Hertford. Their course was partially subsidised by the HAWCS.
“In 2014 we put nearly 140 pupils through Young Officials Courses from 6 different schools.”
Chris commented on the visit. “It is very important for me to get out into our member clubs to see the work that is going on and speak to the volunteers about the workings of their club. Knowing about their experiences, hearing their ideas and listening to their feedback on the work of England Athletics is essential for us to continue to develop how we serve our member clubs and respond to their needs.
“The work I saw going on at the club and the range of volunteers involved in delivering the sessions was very impressive. It was also good to speak to people such as Dave Rice, Steve Wansell, Sally Stevens, Tara Haddock and others to hear of the wider work of the club including its work with local schools.
“The club clearly has a good number of dedicated volunteers who have some good ideas and strong initiatives in taking the club forward. Seeing how they bring athletes into the club but then also give them skills and experience in volunteering roles was very good.
“I would like to thank the club for their hospitality and each of the volunteers and athletes who took the time to speak to me about their experiences in the sport.”