Jon Bigg outlines his reasons for loving what can be a very difficult job
Who’d be a coach? As UK Coaching Week has highlighted, there are plenty of great coaches out there doing amazing work – but it’s undoubtedly a tough gig.
Picture this scenario, for example, and consider how you would deal with it.
Two athletes from your training group are involved in a big race, both looking to make their mark in a crucial part of the season.
One crosses the line absolutely delighted, having smashed their target and realised their ambition while the other finds themselves in a pit of despair after falling short.
Who do you speak to first? Do you console the dejected figure or share in the celebrations of the other? It’s a very tricky and fine line for a coach to tread and just one facet of the multi-tasking which the job entails.
Just such a scenario may well in fact confront Jon Bigg (pictured, inset) at the upcoming British Championships, where there will be national titles and European Championships places at stake.
“This game is very, very hard and there’s nowhere to hide, is there? When it goes wrong, it’s just there, right in your face”
Yet dealing with that emotional investment and the pursuit of an athlete’s continuing personal development, is one of the reasons which keeps him coming back for more.
“You’ve got two people walking towards you – one that’s just smashed it and made the team and another where the world has just ended in their own head,” says Bigg, who coaches a wide range of athletes which includes the likes of Kyle Langford, Elliot Giles and Shelayna Oskan-Clarke.
“Inside you are exhilarated and happy for the ones who have just done well but your focus and attention probably has to go to the ones who have struggled and they are standing in the warm-up area going ‘what went wrong?’, wanting answers and reasons for what they’ve just experienced.
“Although it’s only running, it’s only one foot in front of the other and all of those things you can say, it means a huge amount to these guys and they put in a huge amount of work.
“This game is very, very hard and there’s nowhere to hide, is there? When it goes wrong, it’s just there, right in your face.
“It’s difficult to manage and difficult to handle for them and that’s the bit that makes the job difficult but, at the same time, when they get it right it’s just beautiful to watch someone deliver what you’ve seen they’d be capable of and then see how excited they are about that.”
As a former international 800m athlete, and the husband of hurdling great Sally Gunnell, Bigg knows all too well the heightened emotions which are at play when the pressure is on. Some of that, of course, is also felt by the coach.
“We probably all would say ‘this is hard work and we’re all a bit on edge’ but it’s that bit… that’s why I do it,” he adds. “I quite like that feeling.
“You can feel the adrenalin going round the system and it’s because you just so badly want them to achieve what you know they can do, to see them happy and to see them move on as people to that next level”
“I remember that feeling of adrenalin when I used to race and I think this is probably as close as I can get to it.
“I know it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but I do quite like that feeling of having put somebody in the call room and you’re wandering out to the track thinking ‘this is it!’.
“The heart starts to elevate a little bit, the adrenalin starts to pump around the system – and it’s all just because you want your athlete to achieve what you think they can.
“Having seen Sally go through everything she did – it’s never going to be as nerve-wracking as seeing your partner compete at an Olympics – but you can feel the adrenalin going round the system and it’s because you just so badly want them to achieve what you know they can do, to see them happy and to see them move on as people to that next level. That’s what you are looking for and hoping for.”
» In our 32-page British Championships Guide, out with the latest issue of AW, Jon Bigg explains why the event is so important for an athlete’s development