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Nick Willis: Hey sceptics, my wife is my coach, not a kind of glorified cheerleader (New Zealand)

My wife is my coach, and it baffles most people. It’s a critical component of my career that is consistently misunderstood. But why?

Initially, we assumed the incredulous response was simply due to skepticism of her experience, which was fair enough – for the first year or two. Yet now – even after 10 years trackside at every workout and race; 10 years of mentorship under world-renowned coach, Ron Warhurst; 10 years planning and managing my racing schedule; and 10 years analysing my training plans – Sierra is still asked to explain her part in my team.

Simply stating, “she’s my coach” isn’t enough. Mostly we let the comments slide. Other times we try to correct people lightheartedly, which is pretty easy. She usually laughs and explains that after all this time learning from Ron, she’d “have to be an idiot not to understand 1500 metre training by now”.

Later on, we thought the confusion was due to the fact that she is also my spouse. Yet, the relatively common husband-coach hybrid – man coaches woman – never seems to confuse.

Perhaps it’s because my coaching team is comprised of three members who collaborate: myself, Ron Warhurst, and Sierra. From day one, Ron welcomed another voice into our huddle, and over many coffees and even more donuts, took the time to educate Sierra (while I was out logging the lonely miles!).

Ron’s a genius, but he’s no dictator. Our arrangement certainly does not reflect the old-school coach-athlete dynamic. Yet, it’s hardly uncommon for runners in my position to have multiple members on their coaching team. And I know very few athletes who don’t collaborate with coaches on training.

So why do I find myself constantly correcting the assumption that she’s merely my “mental coach”, or that she’s simply “a very supportive wife,” or (her personal favourite) that’s she’s some sort of glorified WAG cheerleader. While I know that some of these assumptions are meant well, they are also incredibly dismissive of her value, and show a constant failure to recognise or acknowledge her role.

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