Nicole Lincoln is one very busy track and field coach! Based in Illinois, USA, Nicole set up her own track & field club after wanting to coach her own children nearer to home. ?An athlete herself, Nicole prides her club on developing athletes in every area of T&F and is working hard at expanding the programme.
The FCN has a great chat with Nicole about her coaching and her ambitions in being the only black female coach running an orgainsation like hers…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, what was life like growing up and how much was sport a part of your life?
I grew up in the inner city of Chicago, Illinois here in the United States and for the most part my days were spent racing. I would race barefoot against some of the boys in the neighbourhood. I was pretty quick so I would woop a lot of the boys! I was racing them down the street and I earned the name of Quick feet. So track and field and running has always been a part of my life since I can remember. I had an opportunity to participate in the inner city club at the time called the Zephyrs Running Club and I was introduced the track and field through that youth organisation. I had an opportunity to run in some of the sanctioned track meets and I had a positive experience with track and field because of them.
Did you race in short sprints- 100 / 200m?
Definitely short sprints, 100 and 200, but I enjoyed jumping in the sand too so I did Long Jump. From there I went into High School and Middle School track and field. I excelled at High School track as I was also introduced to hurdles, I did that as well as long jump the 100 and 200 and the 4 x 100 and 4 x 200 relay team.
So you were multi-talented then?!
Yeah, it’s because people gave me the opportunity to experience those different types of events. I did go off to college, but I didn’t get a scholarship because I don’t think the coaches were well equipped for helping the young find track scholarships. It was more recreational for us to run and not really peruse in college. I didn?t have anyone in my quarter to advocate for me so I walked onto a D-1 track and field programme and I ran there for about 2 years. I went to Illonios University and ran there. There I was introduced to Javelin and oh my goodness, I loved that sport. I had an opportunity in my childhood to experience some positives in track and field.
Was it that positive experience that what inspired you to become a Coach yourself?
I actually had an opportunity in my Freshman year at UC, at our track team you had to volunteer for the Middle School. We were Assistant Coaches, we would go to the middle school track practices and assist in our area of expertise. I was an assistant coach at the middle school for long jump, hurdles and relay team and that’s when I found my love for coaching track and field, in my Freshman year in college volunteering as the assistant coach. I just never stopped from there, never stopped helping kids from reaching their potential in track and field.
Did it help you as coach to help those children because you had experienced the joy in track and field as an athlete yourself?
I would say yes and no. I actually love track and field and I think that the love for the sport is the reason why I coach. I didn’t have a negative experience with track and field until my children encountered it from their coaches and that’s when I became driven to really be an advocate for developing a strong youth athlete track and field programme. I can say that many coaches that I encountered only collected a cheque because they were babysitting. They were well equipped and educated in the disciplines in track and field and taught some pretty wild skills and techniques that then takes years to get rid of and try and form the correct techniques. So I think as I got more and more into youth track and field in the middle school with my children, I started to see the deficiencies in coaching those youths.
Was this the inspiration into forming your track club, so you had control over exactly what was coached to the children that would be in the club?
In a nut shell..almost. It was a real factor, but Illinois Track Club wasn’t originally Illinois, it was actually Team Velocity. About 10 years ago I used to coach in a local team in and my children were a part of that team. Since I knew track and field I volunteered to coach for the team in long jump, sprints and a little bit of relay. I assisted with the younger group (12 and under), so that was pretty much my assignment. After my third year coaching I decided I was going to (for economic reasons) coach my kids closer to home. It was a travel for me to get to that team, it was about a 40 / 50 minute drive and I had committed not to continue after 3 years. I told the Head Coach that I call my Track Dad, he and I talked and I shared my vision in what I wanted to do. I wanted to go ahead and train my children, but I wanted to do it on my own terms and turf. He gave me his blessings and that’s how Team Velocity started.
The following year, a few of my children’s friends from the Middle School came along. I was able to at that point volunteer my time too some of the middle schools, and then also volunteer at the High School. They all decided they wanted to run for the summer with us. Another organisation had a group that left them, so we banded together and started another team called the Illinois Run it Out Track Club. For about 3 years, a young man (who will have to remain nameless!) offered to do the books and the administration whilst I was able to use my coaching expertise to develop the coaching programme for the organisation. Some petty things started to happen financially and I started questioning.
After the third year, the status of our organisation being not-for- profit had some parents coming back and saying they were being over charged and things of that nature, so we definitely parted on not so good terms! This was because I felt as a coach that reputation and transparency is the number one thing that is key for the success of an organisation. Accountability and transparency. With that said and done I let my parents know I was leaving the organisation and I was forming Illinois Rush Track Club under my leadership. I would say because of what was going on, 90% of parents followed. They liked the coaching philosophy that we had and knew that the finances and administration part was going to be nothing less than excellent. I formed the organisation that?s an all woman led club, with me as the President. My daughters have stepped up as they are now at legal age and they are my Vice President and Secretary. We have just seen the organisation flourish because of the philosophy that we have had. We started with just 15 kids in the first year, to 110 now in 2 locations, with 15 coaching staff and the recognition of the kids receiving All-American to Junior Olympics, and making it onto the podium. So just phenomenal!
You said the organisation is woman led, have you come up against any discrimination or negativity because of that?
Absolutely! It has been ongoing negativity because I am female.? The negativity can stem from not being recognised as being a Head Coach by male coaches, to me coaching male athletes. I coach males and females, so it?s not a female organisation regarding the athletes, we have both genders.
I do meet opposition and male coaches don’t take me serious. They don’t take me as a serious coach, I think it’s just their thinking. As far as levels of education, I have the Level 1 USA T&F and I am working on my Level 2, so I am very knowledgeable. I just think that it?s a stereotype that I don’t know will ever be broken. Male coaches look down on a lot of female coaches because they are female.
Have you got any ideas as to how women can fix that? What would need to happen for female coaches to get more respect from male coaches?
I’ll put it to you like this…a champion coach gets respect. And when a female starts having athletes or teams that are doing Championship type things, they get a little bit of recognition. If we are of the mindset that we are women, I don’t know and consider ourselves as less superior than our male counterparts, I don’t think that will ever be fixed. Men think a certain way and women think a certain way. I think that we should think the same way but it doesn’t happen. We go out there and do the best that we can. When I am out coaching it’s me and my athletes, I am concerned about if they are at their optimal performance and providing a safe environment for them to thrive and flourish.
Being a track and field coach takes up a huge amount of time, not just delivering the sessions, but planning, reviewing etc…so how do you juggle family, a job, social life and what does a typical week look like for you?
A typical week is a long week!! I am a mother of 8 children, 6 girls and 2 boys and right now I am on the second batch! The first batch are 19 and older; 5 kids are 19 and older, my eldest is 24. And then I have the new batch I call them, Miles is 13 this year, Kai is going to be 9 and Sky is going to be 7 this year. So with that said and done, I?m a Mommy all over again!? It?s a challenge! I’ve been married to my husband for 25 years this year. He always says he is married to track and it’s true! He is married to track and field because I’m married to track and field. I decide that I was not going to be the soccer mom, that our kids were not going to do all the different sports and that track and field was enough to provide my family with a variety of different things. You want to jump like in basketball? You can high jump, long jump, triple jump and pole-vault. You want to run like in soccer? You can do some sprints, 800m runs. You can do cross country.
I decided that I wanted to be able to do something that I loved and that my children would love, so we became a track family. I was able to continue to coach, helping out the kids at the middle school, and then the high school and be able to attend their meets to root them on.? And then, the benefits of going to the different places, with club track and field, we travel all over the country! We have travelled a far as west coast Nevada for the West Coast Games, to as far as Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Virginia. The kids have had such a phenomenal experience with track and field.
So I would say I spend all my time in track and field. Whether it’s putting together a practice plan, adjusting a plan, looking over stats, finding out who hit their personal record, adjusting those in the plan, travelling to meets, practices, talking to parents, things for the community (we volunteer for the Chicago half marathon, our team is out there passing water to the runners) , it’s all kinds of things. Life in track and field, I can’t put an hour on it.? I would say I spend 24 hours on track and field.? I eat, I sleep, I dream, about track and field. It has helped me be a better Mom for my children because by coaching other kids and giving them what they need has helped me to build those strong relationships with my children and making sure that they are getting what they need. I never neglect them at practice, I am always there to root them on at almost every single meet, encouraging them as a Mom and giving them feedback as a coach. So my relationship with my children has been phenomenal because of my relationship with track and field. I can’t put how much time I spend over the week, because I would have to say 24 /7 is track and field.
You have to be passionate about it to spend all that time on it!
Absolutely! I always say that you could be good at certain things, but you could be great at one thing. The only way that you can be great at something is if you let it flow from within and flowing from within means that you spend the time and energy necessary to show and to meet that level of excellence and greatest required. I think for me that’s what I want to be, I want to be a great Youth Coach. I don’t want to be a good youth coach, I don’t want to be a good coach; I want to be one of the greatest youth coaches within the United States.? That’s my goal. I guess being out there and advocating for the kids and making sure that the coaches understand how the mind of youths develop and how their bodies develop coinciding with how you put your practices together, are all important. Ive seen coaches doing Olympic training practices with the kids and I see the kids getting hurt!? That’s why I put in the countless hours because I am trying to figure out how to be the best not just as? Mom but as a Coach, as a Teacher, and as a Wife. There’s such a balance, am I tired some days? Absolutely!
How do I have friends…they are all in track and field! So we get together at meets, we have loads of dope conversations with them. If they are not in my track and field world…I.m sorry I don’t get to know who they are! If they are in the track and field world, it brings balance so you bring balance within the discipline that you?re in so that you don?t feel like your isolated and all alone.
You mentioned about wanting to be the best Youth Coach in America, but is there anything specific you?re aiming for in the future?
I would say one of my goals I actually hit this year. One of the top events in America is the New Balance Track and Field meet that is held in New York. You have to be a top athlete to qualify for this event and I hear some of the other top organisations ranting and raving about their kids going to the New Balance meet. I have achieved the goal of getting kids to the junior Olympics, I have achieved the goal helping those kids that want it, of winning a medal at the Junior Olympics, I have achieved the goal of helping kids get scholarships for college.? New Balance was a challenge for me and that was one I achieved this year. I actually have a 14 year old 8th grader who qualified for the mile who will be running at the New Balance meet in March, so I am excited I’ll be going to that meet, rooting him on. He is definitely practicing hard because I said to him do you want to qualify for the meet or do you want to go there and break records and he wanted to go and break records! So he is under strict training under me. We are training so he can not only break the record, but also keep the record for the next 10 or 15 years or so. So that’s our goal.
My ambition; I would love to be able to have an athlete that I coach go for the Olympics. At one point, I wanted to run at the Olympics and that didn’t happen, but I would love to be able to coach an athlete that makes it to the Olympics or even be a part of the Olympic coaching team. So that’s what I am inspiring to. I will get there, it’s a long term goal and I am taking shorter goals and strides. If someone asked me if I wanted to coach collegiately, I don’t. I don’t want to coach for a high school or college and I don’t put anyone down for that. I feel that it would limit my gift that I have. Everyone has different gifts and talents and I don’t want to be limited to coach a select group of kids. I feel that being able to coach any kid that comes to me is the greatest privilege and honour that a coach can be able to carry. When you coach for a high school, you are only able to coach those high school kids. As a youth coach, I have kids that come from an hour away, 3 hours away, to receive coaching from me and that?s an honour to be able to help those kids. I don’t want to be bound by limitations because of high school association rules or the middle school association rules. For me, being able to remain a coach outside of those barriers is a plus, but I do want to aspire to be an Olympian Coach, I really do. I think I have it within me and it would be interesting if there was a female Olympic Coach coaching males. You never know!
I know it will happen; if it’s me that would be great! In the near future I think that’s going to happen. Women are saying that they are levelling the playing field when it comes to coaching the opposite sex, that they have just as much knowledge and determination as any male coach.
I was going to say that one of my goals is to coach high school males. So that’s pretty exciting for me this year to be able to have my youth cross into the high school sector.