2004 Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton embraced the role of a professional athlete for almost a decade, and having retired from the sport in 2012, has since gone on to establish a career as a successful coach, whilst making it her mission to inspire and encourage other women to do the same.
In light of Women’s History Month in the UK this March, the 41-year-old is keen to voice her aspirations for more females to train as athletics coaches.
“There’s a need for more coaches full stop,” she said. “The current crop of coaches should be encouraging anyone who wants to coach by being mentors, advisors, being supportive and giving guidance.”
“It’s about utilising the already abundant wealth of knowledge we have in our sport, like the athletes. We are lucky the field of play is a 50/50 split so encouraging anyone would be great – it’s about making sure there is no glass ceiling in the performance end of our sport so progression is the same for everyone.”
A track and field coach since September 2014, the 2008 IAAF world indoor pentathlon silver medallist is relishing her role on the IAAF Gender Taskforce to further implement her vision.
“The aim is to equate a gender equity balance throughout our sport worldwide. I was honoured to have been asked (to join the Taskforce) – the passion I have for our sport and wanting to see progression probably won that for me,” she said.
“It’s about making things happen, not just talking about it. The Taskforce have some plans that we hope to see in place over the next year. Encouraging and engaging everyone in athletics is critical to the gender equity balance and is key to our success.”
From Competing to Coaching
An elected member of the IAAF Women’s Committee, Sotherton has guided IAAF World indoor high jump fourth placer Morgan Lake and European long jump silver medalist Jazmin Sawyers in recent months – and is now working with Katie Stainton who will compete for England in the heptathlon at next months’ Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
“I didn’t want to coach – track life is unforgiving in every area,” she revealed.
“One of my old coaches, Trev (Marsay) was very ill and he made me promise to look after his girls if he dies. Sadly, he died a week later so I did – since then, I’ve been coaching seriously.”
A former women’s team manager at her Birchfield Harriers club, the 2007 IAAF world heptathlon bronze medallist has also taken on the role at international multi-events competitions and at under-23 international championships.
Having founded the British Athletics Athlete commission a year ago, Sotherton admits she finds life off the track and in-field trickier to handle.
“I prefer to be an athlete – the control is in the athletes’ hands, they ultimately make it happen. A coach can only just look on and hope it all comes together,” she said.
“In my experience, coaching is harder than being an athlete. All the work you do as a coach and you place trust in the athlete to perform when it’s critical.
“It’s sometimes more nerve wracking, I get more butterflies now than I did.”
With Namibian Anna Botha taking the IAAF Coaching Achievement award in 2017, women’s coaching was thrust into the spotlight and Sotherton is determined to use the lessons learned from her own athletics days to herself excel on the global stage.
Under the coaching of the Dutch-born former British Athletics Head Coach Charles Van Commenee and prominent British jumps coach, Aston Moore, Sotherton learned two very different coaching styles amongst other factors.
“They taught me how to be professional, how to plan and how to use different styles of coaching – sometimes I’m a CVC, sometimes an Aston – both ends of the spectrum,” she explained.
“I learned how to have fun but not be emotional, literally everything. I was fortunate that I think I was one of the only athletes in the UK who had some of the best coaches in the world guiding me, in all events.”
The 2004 Olympic 4x400m bronze medallist –with 4927 (pentathlon) and 6547 (heptathlon) lifetime best scores to her name– is currently on UK Sport’s ‘Athlete to Coach’ programme, an initiative she is keen for others to follow.
With a former chair-person role on the British Athletics’ Anti-doping committee together with her current regular stints as a broadcaster for the likes of BBC Radio 5-Live, Eurosport, Talksport and Channel 4, Sotherton is as busy as she was in her competitive days.
Her key focus however, is on coaching and giving back to the sport she loves so dearly.
“My aim as a coach is to simply be best I can be for the athletes and to be able to draw out all their ability to perform.”
Continuing to fulfill the reluctant promise she made to her late mentor is turning into quite an enjoyable journey after all.
Nicola Sutton for the IAAF