Coaching in the UK

Frankie’s coaching chain – or should that be a ribbon?

Wed, 19 Nov 2014


By John Driscoll, sports coach UK Executive Director

The Coaching Chain has become one of the highlights of the UK Coaching Awards, recognising the contribution made by a group of individuals throughout an elite athlete’s life in helping them achieve full potential.  It recognises the key figures in each stage of an athlete’s progression, from an introduction to sport and spotting potential, to nurturing talent and working with the athlete at international level.

Why does the chain capture our imagination? Perhaps it’s the recognition that an elite athlete’s success is rarely due to one coach alone. Perhaps it’s because if a gifted child did not have the right encouragement from an early age, they’d never make it to the top. Perhaps it’s about the awareness that all good coaches must have when it’s time for their athlete to move on.

Past winners of the Chain have included the groups of coaches behind Becky Adlington, Sir Ben Ainslie and the Brownlee brothers and this year we celebrated a chain consisting entirely of women coaches.

Frankie Jones retired this summer as the most successful Welsh athlete in any single Commonwealth Games, her career culminating at Glasgow with one gold and five silver medals. As well as being the team’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, Frankie received the David Dixon Award at the closing ceremony for the athlete who has competed with particular distinction and honour. Athletes are nominated by their Commonwealth Games Association at the end of the final day of competition and the winner is selected by a panel consisting of the CGF President and representatives from each of the Commonwealth regions.

Her coaching chain consists of Del Walker, Vicky Hawkins, Nadya Aleksandrova, Lisa Higgins, Nia Thomas and Jo Coombs.

Frankie started in artistic gymnastics at the age of six, and it wasn’t long before Del moved from being a parent on the sidelines to a gymnastics coach. From those early days, she has continued to provide coaching support wherever there was the need. She gave Frankie additional sessions, ensured she had access to appropriate training facilities, made sure Frankie retained a committed training programme whilst at home/holidays or when there was any gap in the training period.

After her early start in artistic gymnastics, the closure of her gym three years later gave Frankie the chance to try the rhythmic discipline at Nene Valley RGC. She found she enjoyed it more than artistic and progressed well. Vicki coached her for approximately six years to reach a level where she was selected for the national squad and continued to support her whilst she was in the squad. Vicki also took on a large amount of judging responsibilities and provided technical guidance to Frankie throughout her career.

As GB National Rhythmic Coach, Nadya coached Frankie from the age of 13 as part of the National Squad training programme, and then from the ages 15 – 19 when the programme became centralised at Lilleshall National Sport Centre. Nadya had a big impact on Frankie’s exposure and experience of international competitions, and during this time Frankie achieved her first British Championship title. Nadya prepared Frankie for the transition from national to international competition, and describes her as very determined, focused and disciplined – a real pleasure to work with.

In the build up to her first Commonwealth Games appearance for Wales in Melbourne, Frankie was still living in the Midlands, so a great deal of co-operation – and travel – was required of her coaches. Four years later, Frankie achieved her first Commonwealth Games medal, with silver in the Hoop in Delhi.

The centralised programme closed in 2010 after funding was cut, so Frankie headed to Birmingham where she could train with Lisa Higgins on a full-time basis at the City of Birmingham Gymnastics Club. Lisa coached Frankie from early 2011 and prepared her for the 2012 Olympics. Her performance in London came at a cost and a hip injury almost caused her to quit the sport. Following an operation immediately after the Games, she was faced with the agonising decision of retiring or continuing until Glasgow 2014.

Having worked with Frankie in the two previous Commonwealth Games, Jo and Nia encouraged her to return to Wales in November 2012, ensuring she had the right support in terms of a full time coaching programme, high quality training facilities, and sport science and medicine provision through the Sport Wales Institute Team. In view of her previous injury, a new regime was started, consisting of 90% rehabilitation and 10% training. Jo had no concern over her technical ability but was anxious to avoid over-training.

Nia and Jo both worked with Frankie for about three days a week in the lead-up to Glasgow 2014. As head coach, Jo tended to plan the training sessions and decide which competitions were appropriate, while Nia also coached other members of the team.

Both had come into coaching after competition.  Jo has competed, coached and judged for Wales and Great Britain. She worked as a PE teacher and school sport co-ordinator, before joining Welsh Gymnastics. Nia’s own gymnastics career started in Llanelli, where her mother ran the gymnastics club. She went on to compete for Wales before turning her attention to coaching. Between them they managed Frankie’s programme until Glasgow 2014, where she returned the six medal haul – five silvers and one gold.
This coaching chain has a final link in that Frankie Jones is now training as a coach herself. She’s already gained her Level 1 Award, has completed the course elements of Level 2 with Jo and is hoping to achieve the full award by the end of the year.


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