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"It's child's play" coaching the Juniors and Teens groups

It’s only just over two years ago that I took over coaching the Teens and a year for the Juniors, but it seems much longer! Knowing what I do now, I realise that many club members have little or no knowledge about the Juniors and Teens groups, so I thought it was time to put that right and to publicise and give credit to all those who have made it happen.

The Juniors and Teens Groups

We have two groups and have done so from before I got involved. This enables to have activities that align more easily with England Athletics Athletes Development Pathway (ADP), so called “Fundamentals” and “Foundation” levels. We use most of the Athletics 365 Challenges and Curriculum activities with them supplemented by our competencies (more on that later). The age groups align with the schooling system, i.e. Juniors are mainly primary school children, whereas the Teens are at secondary school . We do manage the transition between the groups, not just on age but on the individual child’s physical and mental ability to participate in the older group.

Following an initial Tuesday evening Juniors’ session in summer 2021, both groups meet on Wednesday evenings, one after the other now, following a period with a 15-minute overlap! I don’t know if it was due to Covid but numbers were not very high, but since the beginning of this calendar year, the groups have grown significantly, without any marketing. There were 33 Juniors and Teens group members at the Junior Summer Sizzler (see previous blog).

What do they do?

Juniors Group

For the Juniors, the emphasis is sport through games, although we do activities, such as intervals, that most club members will recognise, but most of those will probably be a relay with a baton. The kids love a bit of competition. Each week there’s a different session designed and shared on our “coaches”’ WhatsApp group. All sessions start with game-based warm-ups, and followed by two activities: typically, some form of running and one of jumping or throwing. During the summer we have access to the long jump pit at Kingshill and the “Cotswold School Sport Network Schools Games Organiser“, Helen Pauling, very kindly lent us some junior Howlers (form of javelin) to throw.

The Juniors are coached and supervised by three helpers and me :

  • Karen Ryland, who used to help with the Juniors in previous years and I know from the gym – she’s really good with ensuring the kids do the basic movements required

  • Aaron Willis, one of the club’s stronger runners, especially over the XC, who obviously has had much experience in endurance running

  • Lyra Elliott-Jones, one of our Teen Group members, helping out as part of her Duke of Edinburgh gold award.

We also have parents helping out with activities, such as safeguarding, recording measurements, etc.

The Teens Group

For the Teens, the programme is still not event focused, building in the fundamentals and developing technique, fitness and strength related to Running, Throws and Jumps (RTJ). This is in accordance with the EA’s ADP.

The Teens are also coached and supervised by three helpers and me:

  • Tim Stickney, a good endurance runner and parent of three of the children. Tim likes to lead the runs and so that helps keep the older faster kids “honest”.

  • Lara Tompson, who does a bit of running, as we all know, and is a parent of children in both groups.

She recently took over from our “Leader in Running Fitness” coach, Natasha Pauck, who’s now coaching on a Tuesday evening, so she can go to her ante-natal classes on a Wednesday.

  • Mike Whelan, a parent of our oldest lad, and again another parent who likes to join in the running.

Again, we involve parents in helping out and safeguarding.

Juniors and Teens Organisational Issues

In organising the Juniors and Teens, there are some additional requirements to that for adult members’ sessions:

  • permissions in application form for use of photos, reporting etc.

  • parent “safeguarders”

  • child welfare officer

  • ensuring kids don’t overdo it

  • key to the loo!

  • ·managing a Waitlist

  • Admin support

  • DoE award activities

It’s a team effort

There’s been much help from parents, from supporting the sessions as mentioned above, including especially the informal Club Championships (see previous blogs on that), to providing some help with admin, their daughter Segen Majak (left), and to providing help throughout the “Activius Day” (see other blogs).

The latter was our first and only marketing activity, the rest of the increase in members coming from personal references by parents and indeed the kids themselves.

All kids get a “try before you buy” session to see if it’s for them. It always is.

Congratulations are due!

Our longest “serving” member in the groups is Lucy Barlow, who has just racked up two years training with the Teens group.

Ethos for the groups

In the past, the Club had required that the children do a fitness test activity to join the groups. I brought a different approach, influenced by my concerns over child obesity and lack of children participating in sport. We would allow all applicants to join, as long as they followed the coaches’ instructions and put some effort in. We may not create many future Olympic champions this way, but we would help all the children to be better runners / athletes / sports people. We still wanted the kids to participate in club events, such as the Prediction Run and evening BBQ and to represent the Club in the Sizzler, XC races and in open track meetings, which they did (see previous blogs).

Child welfare is a key aspect of how we do, what we do, and there’s a need for a more proactive approach to safeguarding and I am pleased that Lorna Harris has come on-board as the new Club Welfare Officer to help us do that.

We have had a few children leave the groups, especially in the early days. This was a combination of clashes of our training sessions with other sporting activities, e.g. school rugby matches, through injury, or to join other clubs. The latter, you may be surprised to hear, I encouraged. We had one very good young (13) lady runner, who not only had talent but also dedication, and supportive parents, and I recognised that she could get more coached training sessions at a club such as Cheltenham, Swindon or Gloucester who will provide three coached training sessions a week for the kids. Her development would be better managed with such a situation, than the one hour a week we could offer. She’s doing well at Cheltenham harriers and will be seen occasionally at Cirencester Parkrun.

It should be noted that whilst some of the groups’ members are children of Club members, most are not.

The Future for the Juniors and Teens

We have been using the Kingshill school grass track during the summer months for both the Juniors and Teens. Now the light has gone we are going to use the school’s sports hall. We are starting the Juniors earlier (5:40) as we cannot have the overlap in the sports hall. The sessions will have a similar structure but we’ll split the Juniors into two parallel sessions as there’s too many to do the circuits in the hall.

For the Teens we cannot do that as we only have the hall for half an hour (the Archery club have it from 7pm), so we’ll set up 4 activities in a circuit for them to do, each requiring supervision.

Increasing Numbers

We have looked at how we can increase numbers as the Waitlist was getting long and we wanted to give as many children as possible, the opportunity to participate in sport, so we are clearing the waitlist, 2 children per week and have determined that we can probably go to 40 Juniors and 34 Teens, recognising we do need to leave some space for the under-age siblings on the Waitlist for when they get to 8 years old, our minimum age for Juniors group membership. Currently, we are still just under 30 for each group.

We are endeavouring within the constraints (facilities space and time, number of helpers and qualified coaches) to provide opportunities for all children who want to train with us, in a structured session that will build their capability not only to run, but to play any sport in the future.

If you have found this interesting and would be interested in getting involved in some way, please DM me for a chat.

Last ten minutes of a David Attenborough documentary

The last 10 minutes of the excellent David Attenborough documentaries is the Directors chance to tell you the story of how the episode was made, “the story behind the story”, so to speak. Well here’s mine:

Unlike many previous leaders of Juniors and Teens, I do not have any children of the right age to participate. So how come I got involved? Seriously, like many of us who find us doing such voluntary roles, I kind of fell into it. My granddaughter, Lola (below), has always been quite quick at running and I felt that if she could run with the club, she would continue to do so.

So, I made some enquiries of Adrian and Sophie who were leading the two groups at the time. I had helped Adrian a couple of times in the past, almost by accident; and then I got involved with Sophie, when we realised we had a compliance issue with the EAs coach qualification requirements for leading children under 11, and so we had to shutdown the Junior groups’ activities. And then, of course, Sophie emigrated.

In early 2020, I had some meetings with Bob, our only suitably qualified coach, and other interested parties and we developed a plan for the restoration and future sustainability of the Juniors. Part of that plan would be that I would train to become a Level 2 Athletics coach so we had a means for EA compliance if Bob could not take the sessions. Then Covid struck.

The Teens were still being led by Adrian and Neil, but both stopped coaching the Teens by the end of August 2020. As I had taken on the role of coordinating the coaches, I ended up taking on the Teen group. To enable me to continue training on a Tuesday evening, we moved the Teens group to a Wednesday, initially using the Waterloo and the Hospital car parks as training venues, which was entirely running based, although did involve drills for sprinters as well as endurance runners. The sessions ran through the winter, Covid lockdowns permitting, with about half a dozen regulars and a couple of parents joining in.

In the spring of 2021, Bob and I developed a new plan where we could have a Juniors session on the Deer Park track half an hour before the adults’ Tuesday evening session. Bob would lead this with some help from other coaches. We had just over a dozen under 11- year-old children sign up for the “summer sessions”.

After we finished the Juniors summer sessions, and we could not train outside with them, as it was too dark, we started sessions in October in the half hour before the Teens session. To do this required us to move the sessions indoors, and so we hired Kingshill school sports hall on Wednesdays from 6 to 7pm. So, we had a dozen or so Juniors in the hall for a 30-minute session followed by the Teens for an hour, first 30 minutes in the hall, the second outside. At this stage, I was a one-man band and it was proving a little too much, so I sought out some help from Karen. It still was quite challenging going from one group to the next without any break and trying to pack a good session in 30 minutes and organise a dozen or so primary school children.

When the spring arrived, we moved our activities outside and Aaron joined the Juniors coaching team. We extended the Juniors session to 45 minutes, creating a 15-minute overlap with the Teens group. Thankfully, Tim and later Natasha were able to take the Teens for a 15-minute warm-up whilst we finished up with the Juniors.

Also, I was approached by two Teens members to help with their Duke of Edinburgh awards:

Caitlin Musgrove doing her bronze, and Lyra Elliott-Jones doing her gold.

Caitlin at Club championships.

Lyra had also volunteered to be my "Support Athlete" for my Athletics Coach course.

Lyra doing some balance stability exercises for her Athlete Profile.

NB Bob is my "Support Coach".

As the group has grown in size, the administrative workload has also grown and so I sought out help from the parents and one, Edmund Page volunteered his daughter Segen to help. I have also invited other parents to get more involved, including Lara Tompson and Mike Whelan. We’ll need to involve more to enable us to achieve our goals.

Lastly, when I took over the role, I spoke to our then Club Welfare Officer, who needed to stand down due to health reasons. So, we needed to find someone suitable, who was not a parent to avoid any conflict of interest issues. I produced a Role Charter for the role and following some good advice from the Pam, approached Lorna, and thankfully, she has agreed to take it on, and will come to a session soon to meet the parents and children.

Dr Lorna Harris, the Club Welfare Officer

It’s taken some work to get us where we are and where we want to be, but due to the amazing help and advice I have received, from within the club, from the helpers and even England Athletics' Club Support and child development coaches, I am confident we are heading in the right direction and doing the right things the right way.

It has been challenging but equally rewarding over the last couple of years to see young people develop not just physically but mentally and socially, and if you too would like to be part of this story, please contact me for a chat – I’ll even buy the coffee!

PS Lola never did come to a session!

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The annual prediction run and BBQ will be held on Tuesday 18th June 2024. The run will take place in the Abbey Grounds commencing at 6.30 pm. The BBQ will take place at Cirencester Open Air Pool comme


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