Laura Wake has many roles within the world of sport. As well as being a 400m runner for Great Britain, she is also a qualified Strength and Conditioning Coach and a qualified Sports Massage therapist.
Having competed for Team England at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, Laura’s training has taken a bit of a side line as she starts a new?S&C role in the lead up to the 2020 Olympics. Working with athlete from sports such as athletics and cycling, Laura will be ensuring that her coaching helps these athletes reach the Tokyo Games.
We asked Laura a few questions about her various roles in sport, how she manages her time and what her aims are for the future of her career…
You have so many roles within sport – which one of being an athlete, a strength and conditioning coach and a sports therapist do you focus on the most and how do you juggle all three?
My primary focus at the moment is my S&C coaching. I am moving into a new position in a few weeks working with young athletes from individual sports (such as athletics, swimming, badminton and cycling to name a few) looking to train towards Olympic selection in 2020. Since finishing University and entering the working world as a coach, my own training has had to fit in around the coaching work I have been doing. This has meant a lot of early starts or fitting gym sessions into lunch breaks which isn’t too difficult when the gym is my place of work. I gained my Sports Massage Therapy qualification to help further my knowledge of muscle anatomy and to learn some practical methods to release tight muscles and aid muscle recovery after injury or strain. I occasionally use sports massage with the athletes I coach if they are struggling with tight muscles or injury.
Am I right in saying you are your own coach at the moment? How is that working out? And how do you manage to keep an eye on any technical issues you need to work on?
Yes, I write all my own S&C programs as well as my technical running and hurdling sessions. Having priortised my coaching over the past few years, it has been difficult to find a training group/ coach that I can train with at times to fit into my schedule. It has given me a great insight and depths of understanding into how technical development sessions and S&C sessions can influence one another both positively and negatively. I enjoy being my own coach as I know myself better than anyone else so I can completely individualise my programme and monitor the specific training loads required to get the outcomes I am striving for. One of the negatives of coaching myself is not being able to see technical errors and often working off internal feedback and how the exercise feels as opposed to an objective view. I have got around this with help of training partners in occasional sessions, lots of discussion with coaches I work with and using simple video analysis to view technical errors.
What are your aims for the 2017 track and field season?
Currently my own training and competition goals are quite long term to get back to my peak performance level. My fastest race times were all in 2014 where I managed to compete for England at the Commonwealth Games; at the end of the season I was suffering with back pain and found out I had fractures on my lower spine. I then had to have a long time off from training on the track to let them start to heal whilst doing a lot of rehab and strengthening. I learnt a lot about the rehab and injury prevention side of S&C training during this time, which I implement into all my athletes programs to make sure they are robust enough to handle the demands of their sport. Once I was pain free and able to build back into some training I have been gradually increasing training volume and intensity over the past couple of years to enable me to compete back at a national level with my club. I would love to qualify for the final at the British Championships again this year which will be a big achievement. I suppose my main aim this season is to continue competing at a national level and start to contend for the higher finishing positions.
Can you tell us a little more about your UKSCA Accreditation?what is the process of applying for the course and can you explain a little of what is involved in qualifying?
The UK Strength and Conditioning Association (UKSCA) are the governing body for all S&C coaches within the UK. To become an accredited member you have to pass an exam in 4 different areas. There is a written knowledge exam, a case study presentation of coaching work you have done with one specific athlete or team over a minimum of 3 months including analysis, testing and monitoring as well as specific session content. There are also 2 practical exams one on Olympic weightlifting technique and one into speed agility and plyometric coaching.
Anyone can apply to take the exams but a lot of work needs to go into passing them. You ideally need to already be coaching athletes so that you have the practical coaching skills and the experience of writing programs and analyzing the results.
As a sports therapist – do you work with male athletes as well as female athletes? If so, have you come up against any difficulties or awkward situations in working with male athletes as a female therapist? If so, how have you dealt with them?
A lot of the athletes I have massages I have also been coaching so I have built a good rapport with them beforehand. I haven?t come across any awkward situations but it can be challenging as a (resasonably light) female therapist to be able to apply the correct pressure onto larger males who have a larger than average muscle bulk. I think this just needed additional practice and slight modification of massage technique so I can be adaptable depending on the size of the athlete I am working with.
Within track and field, whilst the athlete ration is roughly 50:50, there is a huge drop off of women at the higher ends of coaching with only 1 female coach above level 2 compared to 11 male coaches. Why do you think that is and how can the sport improve this ratio?
This is a tough question to answer as I haven?t personally ever really been deterred from a career in coaching. I have seen a lot of female coaches at local club level athletics, my mum is even a volunteer coach at my old local club so I don?t think it?s an issue of females not wanting to coach. I do think there is a lack of female coaching role models in elite level sport so this might influence the thought process that there isn?t a place for elite female coaches at the elite level. I have come across several female coaches in other sports elite programmes through my own time as a coach so I do believe the statistics are gradually changing.
What advice would you give to other women / girls who are interested in becoming a sports therapist or S&C? What lessons have you learned along the way that you like to pass on to others?
You will need to have confidence in your own knowledge, but an understanding that you can always learn from the other coaches, athletes and support staff you may be working with. Building relationships are a daily priority, make sure your athletes believe in you and you believe in them. Make sure you can always be accountable for all the work that you do, if something has/ hasn’t worked the way you predicted then you need to know why. Take time for self reflection to assess your own performance as a coach.
What are your future aims in your sports career? And what is needed to achieve them?
As a coach some of my short term aims are to assist my athletes to national and international successes. Longer term aims I would like to be known as a high level S&C performance coach providing a clear pathway to elite level international competition. In my own athletics career I would like to continue improving my performances up to be able to contend for medals at the National Championships and a chance to represent GB/ England at another international competition.
To achieve both of these I will need a lot of discipline to dedicate both my time and effort to continually developing my knowledge and network of support. Any career in sport needs a huge amount of passion and enjoyment to be able to put in that required work and I believe that is something I definitely have to be able to succeed in the sports world.