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Mel Marshall

Mel Marshall
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Name: Mel Marshall
Sport: Swimming
Role: Coach to Adam Peaty
Organisation: Team GB
Nationality: British
Date: Nov 2014

Not only is Mel Marshall England’s most decorated female athlete ever at a Commonwealth Games, winning 6 medals in Melbourne 2006 and been a member of Team GB in two Olympic Games, she is also a pretty good Coach!  After coaching Adam Peaty to Commonwealth and European Gold and achieving a World Record with him, as of October 2014, she became the first ever female coach to win British Swimming Coach of the year.

 Mel is leading the way for female sports coaches in the UK and after retiring from competition in 2008, she has gone on to share her wealth of knowledge and experience through her coaching, swimming camps and charity work.  The lessons learnt as an athlete are ones she continues to share and is passionate about helping athletes realise their potential.

We were lucky enough to catch Mel for a chat in between her hectic coaching schedule…

No not really.  I think the pressure was before probably trying to pave your way for the first time, I suppose I almost felt relief when I got that award!  It’s been a rollercoaster 6 years and I worked really hard.  So no, no pressure, just relief.

Yeah probably that I have proven myself, but I don’t see that because of my identity as a female.  I see the pressure from being an elite athlete and then going into coaching.  I had to prove that I can deliver those results and my philosophies have allowed good performances to come through.  So not relief because I am a woman in a man’s world, that’s not the case.  It’s more of a starting out coach wanting to turn to the biggest arena.

Yeah I think that was the biggest pressure I felt.  A lot of people in the coaching world probably think that when you leave being an athlete, ‘what do they know’.  They think  you can’t make it as a coach, that’s how I felt.  So I was just wanting to prove that success is a formula, it’s made up of character traits that you build up over the years. It’s filled with determination, resilience, hard work, never giving in.  No matter what avenue or what vehicle you chose to put those traits into, you will get success in each arena you work in because of the fact that it’s about you and your skills and your skill set.

I don’t think it’s essential at all, I really don’t.  For me [my experience of being an elite athlete] certainly [has] been a useful tool.  To work from my experiences within big arenas such as the Commonwealth Games, I feel very experienced with what’s required of that environment.  And that’s been a big useful tool for me.  I always say that if you want to go into war, do you want to take a solider that’s been there or somebody who steers from the back lines?  Most people would prefer going into war with a solider.  But that’s not to say that’s for everybody.  You know look at Bill Furniss, he didn’t swim to a high level but yet he coached a double Olympic Gold Medallist [Becky Addlington].  So for me it’s valuable, but it’s not essential.

Yeah I think they do.  That’s certainly been one dynamic of my coaching that they have been able to tap into and I have been able to be a mentor as well as a coach. I gain instant respect from athletes because I have been there and done it.  But I hope to keep that respect by having the coaching skills necessary to deliver the performance, support and environment they need for them to achieve.

I’m not sure; I never really asked them about that sort of thing.  I guess in terms of athletes, I’ve coached Adam Peaty and he is has gone on to achieve miles more than I have ever done and he is only at the start of his career.  I’ve probably achieved more as a coach already than I ever did as a swimmer! Which is good!  I hope I’ve been an inspiration in the sense of I’ve been through most things in sport.  The good times, the bad times, the rollercoaster, the sunshine periods and the rain periods.  So hopefully I’ve got a wealth of experience that I can share with them and they look up to that as something they can draw upon and use.

I think for me, the fact that I had learned so much in my swimming years and I loved the sport, I just wanted to make sure that I gave back.  It seemed stupid to have learned all that I learned and not pass it on.  I always wanted to be a PE teacher when I was younger, so I combined the two and went into coaching.

I had a variety of coaches over the years.  I think I wanted to create my own kind of philosophy with a blend of all those coaches I had learnt from, the good things they did and the bad things they did.  I just wanted to create my own philosophy with a knowledge of other coaches I’ve seen and worked with.

I’d say no probably.  I actually think there needs to be something explored in terms of females coaching males and males coaching females.  I think that sometimes males approach to it is good and males quite enjoy being coached by female as well.

They are different creatures in terms of the motivation etc.  Females need a lot more encouragement where as guys tend to need a lot more direct feedback.  There is definitely something along there, however it is not just gender specific.  I have some males that require reassurance and I have some females that require direct feedback.  You can have the most complex male character who would fall to pieces if you were direct with them, and then you could have a complex female character that f you didn’t provide them with the right feedback.  I think it’s just dealing with them as individuals and taking their gender into consideration as well.

I was just really determined from a young age.  My Mum taught me when I was younger to make the best of what you’ve got and she gave me deep rooted fearlessness to go out and give the World a good go and that’s what I did.  I’ve always wanted to be the best.  Not in terms of beating everyone else, but I want to be the best I can be.  I think that started at a very young age.  I was very competitive and always wanted to win.  It just built and built and built.

You’ve got to have balls.  I think that’s it, in a metaphoric sense, but you’ve got to have balls.

No, I just think it’s about finding what your philosophy is and how that works, then just standing strong to that.  I think my strongest coaching element as a female coach is actually when I’m quite and having quite conversations with people.  I can lead from the front and be direct.  My best coaching comes over a conversation, listening to the athletes and how can we get the best out of the situation.  I don’t think you have to be brash and bold, I just think you have to have conviction in what you believe in, stand and fight your corner and just make sure that if you believe in it and think it’s right, put your name on it.

I just want to keep helping athletes and finding the answers that are needed to help them get the most out of their performance.  I’m not interested in big bucks or big jobs, I just want the opportunity to help athletes realise their potential.  I love working with people that you can really help and really change, really support and help them move on. And as long as the good athletes keep coming to me and I can help them move forward, that’s the best job in the World!

It’s twice as good!  As an athlete you feel true elation and happiness about what you achieved and proud of how hard you worked, but as a Coach you feel utter relief that you were doing it right and you were supporting them right.

I do two big projects outside of swim coaching.  I am also an Ambassador for a charity in Zambia and over the last 5 years I have raised £50,000 for charity.  I did a big bike ride for that.  The swim camps are for younger athletes to enjoy the fun factor of swimming along with the training.  I have the kids for the week and we have lots of fun and do lots of swimming.  A bit like camp America but in the UK.  The kids come on for a week and we make it like the Olympics, so they split into countries and we make the accommodation like the Olympic Village and they represent that country throughout the week.

I think sport is just a really good vehicle for human beings to get better and to learn, whether that’s here or in the middle of Africa.  I think it’s really important.  The performance element is one side of sport, but there’s also a community participation element as well.  If you’re smart about it, they can go hand in hand.

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