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The ‘Rocky’ Road to Success for BMX Coach

By combining unbridled passion with a pioneering spirit, Jay Plimmer has created life-affirming and life-altering opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds in one of the five most deprived areas for children in the country. Jay says none of this would have been possible without access to funding that helped him further his coaching career and create a thriving community sports facility. By sharing his story with UK Coaching’s Blake Richardson, Jay hopes to encourage coaches negatively impacted by Covid to take advantage of the support available through the ReTrain to ReTain programme – which aims to refresh the skills and the motivation of coaches so that they can continue to bring the benefits of great coaching to the lives of millions

The movie Rocky is widely regarded as being the greatest underdog story ever told.

A boxer from the wrong side of the tracks in Philadelphia defies the odds to become champion of the world.

In the coaching arena, the ascension of Jay Plimmer and his Ozzy Wheels BMX club is a real-life underdog story.

Like Rocky Balboa, Jay has made a name for himself in his disadvantaged community through the application of steely determination, enterprise and endurance in trying times, combined with a capacity to roll with the punches when setbacks arise and an instinct to capitalise on moments of unexpected good luck.

Jay may not have enjoyed an astronomical rise to become heavyweight champion of the world – although he is a former amateur boxer and a Level 1 boxing coach – but in Osmaston, Derby, he is the undisputed community champion.

Stimulus package to boost coaching and communities

This is the uplifting story of how Jay acquired £50,000 in funding to build a new BMX track at Osmaston Park and launch a popular cycling club that has helped to improve community cohesion, supported people to adopt healthier lifestyles and acted as a balm for pandemic-weary residents.

His tale is testimony to the sustainable impact that funding from public sector grants, businesses, social enterprises, charitable trusts, and foundations can have on transforming individuals and communities, by harnessing the power of sport and physical activity as a force for positive change.

As someone who seized and maximised the opportunity that financial support afforded him, Jay was thrilled to hear about our own ReTrain to ReTain initiative – a £5 million Sport England-funded recovery package created in collaboration with UK Coaching, CIMSPA and EMD UK that offers targeted support to paid and volunteer coaches who have been negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme aims to empower and motivate people to either return to coaching or reinvigorate their passion for coaching, by providing a comprehensive online package that includes access to training courses, products, and valuable coaching resources.

Jay says such initiatives are pivotal to helping coaches, clubs and participants revive and thrive following the last two years of disruption.

“I have seen the negative impact of Covid close up. It stalled my progress as a coach, hampered my efforts to put those riders who expressed an interest in becoming a coach through their qualifications, and participation levels fell away.

In the spring of 2020 we had a good 30 or 40 people riding. There was a feel-good factor and excitement levels were growing. The track was being built; the new club was being formed. Then Covid struck.

“Some riders naturally ebbed away and the momentum we had disappeared overnight. Fortunately, post-lockdowns, we’ve gained quite a few new faces. They’ve started to get the buzz again after going around the new track. But recovering from the impact of the pandemic is a long process.”

Jay agreed “one hundred per cent” that incentive programmes like ReTrain to ReTain can be a remedy to the multiple challenges of the Covid era by helping to revitalise the workforce and give coaches their ‘mojo’ back.

If we are to get the country back on its feet, we must first help coaches do the same. Because as critical change agents, a healthy and happy coaching workforce is instrumental to the long-term recovery of the nation.

Jay’s story is proof of what can be achieved when coaches are given access to creative models of support and investment.

From small acorns do large oak trees grow

I agreed to meet Jay in the Holiday Inn reception, just a few hours before the start of the UK Coaching Awards 2021. Jay was attending as a special guest to discuss the importance of embracing diversity in coaching, having featured in our Coaching For All video series.

Unbeknown to me, he was directly ahead of me in the check-in queue. Face masks have reduced our ability to recognise people, but Jay’s broad Derbyshire accent, not to mention the BMX bike in the corner of reception, quickly gave him away.

I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to speak to people who ooze passion and purpose. Jay emitted an energy when he talked about the monumental influence of Sporting Communities and Derby City Council in changing the trajectory of his life.

“The BMX track was falling apart. So, a few of us went down with some hand tools, defining the jumps and making the road,” begins Jay, as he explains how Ozzy Wheels came into existence – the club deriving its name from Osmaston Park, or Ozzy Park as everybody in the area calls it.

A mate of mine works for a Community Centre in Derby and he suggested we make some videos of us getting stuck in with our shovels and spades and send them to the Council, which he did.”

The videos were passed on to Move More Derby – a partnership involving the University of Derby, Derby City Council and Active Derbyshire that aims to increase participation in physical activity across the city.

“We got a meeting together between ourselves, Move More and representatives of the Council. What we wanted and what could be feasibly done to Osmaston Park were two different things. So, we had to compromise on the designs, but it all came together really well. We’ve ended up with a track that is part dirt, part clay, and part tarmac.”

Derby City Council allocated nearly £25,000 for the project through its Housing Revenue Account (Estates Pride Budget), managed by Derby Homes, which was then match-funded by British Cycling – through their Places to Ride capital grants programme.

But that’s only half the story.

‘Over time it has turned more into coaching’

Seeing the dreams of himself and his fellow riders reach fruition was “the proudest moment of my life”, says Jay.

It was an unbeatable feeling seeing their faces when they succeeded.”

Jay has grown up with generations of Osmaston and Allenton residents who use the BMX track and can vouch for the critical role that sport and physical activity plays in reducing anti-social behaviour in disadvantaged areas where opportunities are restricted, and boredom abounds.

“In my family when I was growing up, my mum and dad always made sure that there was at least one hobby that we had. For me it was either skateboarding, BMX or racing radio-controlled cars.

“Some of the people I've grown up with didn’t have any hobbies or interests. And that's why they found themselves hanging around on street corners.

When I was younger and riding, there was always the older person on the skatepark who would lend a hand if you broke your bike. Over the years, I've turned into the older one, and now I’m there for others – not just to help them fix their bikes, but to offer some advice and support if they need it.

“I guess over time it has turned more into coaching.”

Jay adds: “I am a firm believer in the power of sport to help build community cohesion and if people can relate to me, then I will use that to make sure, if they're not boxing [Jay has been a volunteer coach at Allenton Boxing Club for eight years] then they are at the BMX track, so that most evenings a week, they have got something to do.”

The snowball effect

Impressed by his resourceful approach to the BMX project, Jay was asked to become an Ambassador for Move More Derby. Whilst attending a function, Sporting Communities CIC Development Officer Ed Chrayah handed him a leaflet promoting opportunities for coaches to get into full-time paid work, as part of the social enterprise’s Coaching for All programme.

“They accepted me for it. I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time.”

Jay says he will forever be indebted to Sporting Communities, whose raison d’etre is to support people on their journey to becoming a better, more employable version of themselves.

“They paid for all my coaching qualifications: my Level 2 BMX qualification, Level 2 Award in Coaching Cycling, and my safeguarding and health and safety certificates.”

Jay was also offered a place on Life Cycle UK’s Level 2 Bike Maintenance course.

Jay plans to use his qualifications as a springboard to launch a full-time career in coaching.

“I've only ever volunteered but I started to realise that there were opportunities for me to make a paid career out of it.

“I'm now organising contracts with schools in Derby to put on Learn to Ride sessions. I’ve got 10 bikes coming my way so I can coach ten children at a time. I can now run private coaching sessions too and have just applied for a job at Sporting Communities, who were advertising for coaches, youth workers, play workers and mentors.

This has all snowballed into something a lot bigger than what I ever thought it would be.

It started out we just wanted to make a few jumps for ourselves. Now I’m a qualified BMX coach, a bike mechanic, and looking at starting a full-time job in coaching.”

Creating a climate of possibilities

I offered an alternative viewpoint when Jay said he had been in the right place at the right time and had benefited from a stroke of luck.

I submit he had, in fact, benefited from creating a climate of possibilities for himself, by being proactive and curious, channelling his passion into positive energy and creating valuable local connections.

For example, through collaborating with local schools and youth projects on a spray-painting design competition – which saw the winning designs replicated onto equipment at the BMX park – the connections he established directly led to him securing contracts with schools to lead their Learn to Ride sessions.

There is a quote that perfectly sums up the climate of possibilities concept: “Find your strengths and act on them and the world will beat a path to you.”

So, what does the immediate future hold, I ask Jay?

“Some of my riders want to take their coaching badges. I want to help them with that. One is a 46-year-old woman. I am going to see if I can get them enrolled on the ReTrain to ReTain programme too, because that would mean getting a year’s funded subscription to UK Coaching Club, and all the great resources that come with it. I've done a lot of the UK Coaching courses myself, and I would highly recommend them.

“Covid meant we were unable to officially open the track and the club at the same time in the summer. Everything was postponed, as there were higher priorities around Derby at the time. We finally opened officially on April 16, which was a very special day.”

The pandemic has had a detrimental impact on both physical activity levels in our communities and on many of the coaches who lead these activities.

Furthermore, the barriers to specific population groups getting active – including disabled people, the elderly, ethnically diverse communities, and those living in marginalised and disadvantaged communities – have only been reinforced by the pandemic, disproportionately impacting on the most vulnerable sections of our population.

Using the vehicle of sport and physical activity, Jay is helping to break down social differences by helping people form friendships, which in turn fosters a sense of community belonging.

Members of Derby City Council saw a great example of this the other day when they came down to the track. They looked around the park and the surrounding area and they said they’ve never seen it so clean.

That's because the kids are taking ownership of their own area.

“I don’t have to go round and pick up after them anymore. If they see somebody dropping litter, they will tell them where the nearest bin is.”

Jay is many things to many people: sports coach and life coach; clubmate and confidant; mentor and role model.

The country desperately needs to retain coaches like Jay, and train others like him so that they can follow in his footsteps.

Through ReTrain to ReTain, UK Coaching aims to galvanise coaches to commit to creating diverse and inclusive environments so that people from across all communities can thrive – creating a level playing field by removing the barriers to accessing great coaching.

If you have been inspired by Jay’s accomplishments, apply today to see what level of funding you can access as part of the programme.

Be the hero of your own underdog story. The lead role in Rocky II is waiting to be filled!

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