WRITTEN FOR ATHLETICS WEEKLY MAGAZINE
Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners
Development Coach of the Year: Phil Sergeant
In a new series profiling the winners of the England Athletics national volunteer awards handed out last October, Nicola Bamford spoke to the nominated 2010 Development Coach of the Year – Phil Sergeant.
Having competed as a distance runner for his school, county and Durham University in his youth, Sergeant found the sport again to keep himself fit whilst travelling the world for work purposes by joining the jogging boom of the 1980’s and 90’s – participating in the London marathon three times.
As his professional life calmed down, he became more involved with athletics upon his retirement, joining Chelmsford AC and Sergeant currently coaches at the club’s track twice a week, schools athletics in after-school hours on another two evenings and his highest-achieving group on another two occasions – each session accompanied by his wife, Sylvia – a level three sprint hurdles coach.
A current level three long and high-jump coach himself, Sergeant admits to feeling surprised at his recent win at the Birmingham ceremony:
“My wife and I attended the England Athletics Awards ceremony in Birmingham and when my name was announced I was overawed,” Sergeant explained.
“We were surrounded by people who have written the recent history of track and field athletics. It was awesome, and took some time for me to realise the magnitude of it all. People who I respect came up to congratulate me - that touched me greatly.”
Having become immersed in his local club through his children’s involvement over twenty-five years ago, Sergeant’s roles have developed as impressively as his skills – from team manager to field judge, from starter/marksmen to club secretary and from county secretary to trusted and admired coach.
In his favoured role as a coach and mentor to many children and teenagers, Sergeant has spent the past eleven years providing running master-classes to seven to ten year-olds on behalf of Chelmsford Borough Council and in a number of schools in his local area.
Chelmsford County High School for Girls for instance – where Sylvia previously worked as Head of PE – has benefitted from over a decade of his services, as Sergeant helped them to win the Schools Cup final on two occasions in recent years.
Further emphasising his love for encouraging people to get into his beloved sport, Sergeant also aided the development of the recent England Athletics Essex Athletics Network to enable the local clubs to work together to improve their services.
“It is very exciting and I hope that we will see benefits which we can pass on to attract other organisations into the network,” Sergeant revealed.
In his fifteen years with Chelmsford AC, Sergeant has evidently had a major impact in the club’s prosperity since originally being heavily involved in the construction of the in and outdoor facilities many years ago:
“As the club has developed, we began to coach combined events and have coached many county-standard multi-event athletes over that time, starting with our own son David who represented Essex at Pentathlon, Octathlon and Decathlon. He is now a PE teacher and so is passing on his knowledge,” Sergeant explained.
Other athletes to benefit from his expertise and care include Alex O’Brien, the third-ranked British under-15 pentathlete and fourth-ranked long-jumper of 2010, Alex Woolnough and Max Paulin, two under-15 top-ten ranked high-jumpers from last season and Ben Clark, the under-17 seventh-best Octathlete of the year and number eight of the 2010 long-jump list.
“When I first coached Sam Bailey (the top-ranked under-20 high-jumper in the UK last year), seeing him win the English Schools was the most incredible feeling I have ever had,” Sergeant explained.
“Equally, seeing Poppy Lake (fourth in the under-15 high-jump rankings last year) win the English Schools made me feel proud as I felt it justified asking Carol Jackson to coach her as I felt she has done such incredible work with Sam Bailey she should be able to do the same, it is about chemistry.”
Stating the club’s achievement in having seventeen athletes in the Essex Schools’ team of sixty, eight of which won gold as his proudest moment as a coach to date, Sergeant credits Jackson as a source of inspiration as well as other peers such as Beth Harris, Bruce Longden, Dennis Costello and 1999 World decathlon silver-medallist Dean Macey from nearby Harrow.
Eager to pass on his own muse to upcoming coaches, Sergeant even finds the time to mentor and support Sarah Stark, a current level one coach, Sacha Sewell, a parent of one of his athletes and a level two coach and Jeff Reed, a recently qualified level one addition to the group.
“We believe that the team approach we use enables us to coach combined events athletes while still balancing their programme and avoiding overload,” Sergeant revealed.
“It also enables me to divide my club coaching time most efficiently.”
Although clearly a man with vast amounts of talent, dedication and experience, Sergeant is still committed to improving his skills:
“My wife and I agree that the year we have spent involved in the Local Coach Development Programme, which is run by Rob Thickpenny, the England Athletics Club and Coach Support Officer for Essex and East London, has been one of the most inspirational of our careers as coaches,” Sergeant explained.
“I believe that work has transformed my approach to coaching, and made me more self-critical and analytical. When asked a question which I can't answer, I know someone who may know the answer through the programme, that is a fantastic resource and I am looking forward to this winter’s programme.”
Indeed, having encompassed so many duties and enjoyed so many successes over the past three decades, it is certainly clear why Sergeant was nominated for such a highly-acclaimed national accolade yet the Essex man is not finished with his own development just yet.