When an athlete’s career comes to an end, taking the next step can be difficult. We spoke to two former Olympic athletes who have recently embarked on a new career in coaching to find out about their journey.
Sarah Stevenson was the first British athlete to win an Olympic medal in taekwondo at Beijing 2008 and made the decision to stay within the sport when she retired. Having initially worked with the senior squad, Stevenson now coaches the junior athletes at GB Taekwondo’s Academy in Manchester.
Penny Clark made her international sailing debut in 1990, aged 15, and raced for Great Britain in the Laser Radial class at the Beijing Olympics. Clark is now a coach for the British Sailing Team’s Podium Potential Programme.
What is the biggest change you’ve had to deal with moving from athlete to coach?
SS: At first you think it will be easy because you know the people you’re working with and you know the sport, but I’d never appreciated how much work was involved in it. As an athlete your life is very regimented and that changed, now I have to think about others a lot more than myself.
PC: As an athlete it’s all about you as an individual, everyone had to revolve around me, but now I’m a coach I have to juggle my own work/life balance and use my time to flex around others. The challenges are very different, but that’s what I enjoy about coaching. Becoming a coach has made me appreciate the sacrifices my own coaches made that I was oblivious to at the time.
Why did you take the decision to become a coach?
SS: I first went into coaching the seniors, which I found really exciting, working with those same athletes I used to have to compete against. Now I coach the juniors, which fits in with my values to inspire and support and they really need it at that age, they want to be inspired.
PC: I didn’t think I’d become a coach but as I came towards the end of my career, I got involved with helping some of the other athletes and really enjoyed it, moving into a new boat just before I retired I realised I was becoming more of a mentor than an athlete and found that very rewarding, coaching was the logical next step for me. The best thing is seeing your athletes pick up a new skill or get a performance result and seeing the pleasure and enjoyment they take from that.
Do you draw on your own experiences to help your athletes?
SS: For me it’s about using all those experiences and thinking of ways they can have a positive influence on what I do, because they weren’t all positive experiences at the time, but by pushing through and not giving up, that’s given me the best life lessons. I tell my athletes it won’t always be easy, but if you can get through this, it will make you a better athlete and a better person, and that’s the role of a coach in my eyes, to help them become not just a better athlete, but a better person as well.
PC: I try to shy away from my own experiences when I’m coaching, obviously they shape me as an individual, but I’m very aware that because the way I did it, that won’t necessarily be the best way for my sailors, or the route they have to take. I very much try and get them to come up with their own solutions, and in the same way I need to make my own mistakes as a coach, they need to make their own mistakes too.
Sarah and Penny are both part of UK Sport’s 'Athlete to Coach' programme, which was designed to meet a demand from sports for help at the foundation level of the coaching pathway and to support former world class athletes, who have been identified and nominated by their sports, to accelerate their careers in world class coaching.
Full list of UK Sport Athlete to Coach (Coach, Sport):
Amanda Coulson, Boxing
Charlotte Burgess, Archery
Darran Langley, Boxing
Louise Donington, Canoeing
Marcus Bloomfield, Cycling - BMX
Matthew Lawrence, Para Canoeing
Penny Clark, Sailing
Ruslan Panteleymonov, Diving
Sam Hunter, Gymnastics
Sarah Stevenson, Taekwondo
BBC Get Inspired attended a recent Athlete to Coach workshop to film a feature on women in coaching, tune into BBC One at 12.50pm on Saturday 25 October to watch it.