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UKA Coach Building A Better Coaching Environment

Focus on Futures: Kate Avery

It’s refreshing to see the face of teenage internationalist light up at the mention of representing her country.

Not that selection is ever a given; in fact, for the majority, earning a GB & NI vest is only a distant dream, but for this athlete in particular - a double European individual medallist in 2009 – you’d be forgiven for thinking that the novelty had worn off. It definitely hasn’t.

Kate Avery grins; “I still think it’s massive to earn a GB vest! Even though I’d made my debut in the World Cross in Jordan, I still can’t believe I went to the European Juniors and the European Cross. When people mention my European medals I still think it’s mad, it’s unbelievable; I was so excited just to be selected!”

Avery (Shildon) linked up with her current coach Bob Ashwood in 2008. Within a few months, having opened her domestic cross country season with back to back victories in the McCain UK Cross Challenge Series, the partnership was showing early signs of success.

“I definitely came on a lot when I started to work with Bob,” says Avery. “I think my previous coach had taken me as far as he could, we weren’t really sure what to do next. When the 2008/09 cross season started I had no expectations; I hadn’t even contemplated making the team for the World Cross. Even two weeks before the trial I wasn’t really thinking about it. I knew Bob wanted me to race the under-20 trial, but it wasn’t until I finished second in the English National that I started to believe I could do it.”

“Being selected for the World Cross in Jordan and getting all my GB kit for the first time was definitely one of my biggest moments in 2009 – it was such a big deal!”

Ashwood’s influence was clearly positive, but more importantly, the coach-athlete relationship was evidently working. “My training changed quite a lot,” says Avery, who went on to finish 25th on her Aviva GB & NI team debut, “we re-assessed everything I was doing.”

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the partnership is the geography. Avery currently lives in the north east of England while Ashwood is based in the Midlands, but it’s no cause for concern, he says. “Kate doesn’t feel like she’s on her own and I’ve been in the sport long enough to know there are people I can rely on to keep an eye on what’s happening. It doesn’t worry me that I can’t always see her.”

“Perhaps at first, while I didn’t doubt my own coaching ability, I did have doubts about how well we could build a good coach-athlete relationship based on that distance, but it’s not an issue. I trust Kate implicitly. If a session goes w ell she’ll tell me, if it doesn’t, she’s honest about that. It actually matters very little what you know as a coach if the athlete cannot relate to you, and vice versa. Trust must become absolute.”

The UKA Futures Programme, which focuses on more targeted support for athletes and their coaches, is beneficial in aiding their success.

Avery, who’s at Sixth Form College in Darlington, finishes her school education this summer and plans to take a year out. While her intention is to remain at home in the north east, her ongoing UKA support gives her the option to travel to south more often to link up with Ashwood. Not only that, but medical support can be arranged at short notice which is also re-assuring, with the knowledge, as Ashwood says “that there are people to fall back on”.

She may opt to study at Birmingham University in 2011 - a decision which could further improve her current training situation - but it’s not a decision she’s in a hurry to make. “I actually enjoy training on my own,” she says, and it’s no surprise really, because she’s quietly focused, very hard working, and motivated.

As Avery moved into the 2009 summer season following her World Cross debut in March, the pair began to work on a more specific, focused training schedule ahead of the European Junior Championships in Serbia. She raced to a 1500m PB (4:23.50) in her first track race of the year in mid-May, then, seven days later, smashed her 3000m best in the Loughborough International, clocking an impressive 9:15.42 in an experienced senior field.

While she may have been disappointed with a third place finish in the Aviva England Under-20 Championships and European Trials 3000m in June, she had achieved the required standard on two occasions and was selected as the leading European junior for the event in Serbia, quite a feat, but also a burden?

“No, definitely not,” says Avery who finished a brilliant second in a new lifetime best (9:13.68). “It really didn’t matter to me that I was top ranked. As far as I was concerned it was still the Europeans and I really respected that. I was expecting people to come past me on the last lap - even in the home straight I thought I was going to be passed.”

“Looking back at that event I actually still can’t believe I ran that time. I thought I could do well, but it was so quick!”

Avery is so unassuming that it’s no surprise that she felt she had to prove herself all over again when she was selected to represent GB & NI in the 2009 European Cross Country Championships. Her reasoning is simple and honest; “I know I ran well on the track but cross country is different, I felt I had to show what I could do all over again.”

She did that in style, winning her second and third European medals in a year with individual bronze and team silver.

Already in 2010 Avery has shown her class. She was the first GB & NI junior home in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Poland in 20th, in spite of a disappointing trial affecting her confidence going into the race, not least due the ridiculous negativity - albeit minimal and primarily on controversial forums -surrounding her selection. “I’d probably set myself a top 20 target but my confidence really suffered after the trial, I’m not sure what went wrong, I was really delighted to finish ahead of all the GB girls in the race,” she laughs!

So what does summer 2010 hold for the 18-year-old?

“My focus throughout 2009 was the 3000m and that’s the plan again this year,” she confirms. “My main aim is the World Juniors and I really hope to get the qualifying time before I head into the trials.” Ashwood agrees. He also has an interesting and very valid outlook on her future development.

“It’s funny, some people think Kate’s at a disadvantage because of her age,” he says. “She misses out on another European Junior Championships because she steps up to under-23 next year, but the way I look at is that she’s got an extra year to learn to be a senior; I think that’s an advantage, not a disadvantage.”

Avery says she’s inspired by Paula Radcliffe and looks up to her, but of her recent team mates, she admires Mo Farah which is fitting given her eventual aspirations to move up to 5000m on the track. Ashwood however, while admitting he’s been in the sport long enough to know what he’s doing, still continues to learn. “While it goes without saying that I respect and admire many of our endurance coaches and regard them as friends, I also think it’s important to look beyond our own event groups; I particularly admire Malcolm Arnold (UKA National Event Coach – Hurdles) as he’s consistently produced top quality athletes and he’s definitely at the top of his craft.”

“The financial assistance through Futures is clearly important,” he adds, “but I think it’s also about learning from one another and the opportunities we have to develop. I’ve got a great network of contacts which benefits me and I’m now encouraging Kate to do the same.”

Between them, they clearly have the attributes to succeed. They also share a sense of humour which is vital in the cut throat world of elite sport. “When Bob started coaching me he promised me he wouldn’t get as excited about things as I do,” says Avery when her coach steps out of the room, “but when I’m racing and I see him running around the course, and I know he definitely does!”

She definitely silenced any doubters with her 20th place finish in this year’s World Cross, but for any who raise their ugly heads down the line, it’s likely Avery will have the last laugh.

The UKA Futures Programme underpins the World Class Performance Programme (WCPP) and was borne out of the restructure of UKA’s WCPP and the drive towards more targeted support for athletes and their coaches.

The Programme targets young athletes with the potential to deliver global medals for Britain in the future, typically in the 17 to 20 age range but with flexibility towards athletes who have come late to the sport, are in late developing events of are deemed an exceptional case for support.

Athletes and their coaches will be supported in their individual development plans allowing for more flexibility and individual discretion around distribution of resources. 42 coach-athlete pairs have been included in the 2010 Futures Programme.

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