10 May 2017
Interview with Nicole Fagan – the coach
You would know of Nicole Fagan as one of NSW and Australia’s leading race walkers over the last decade. But did you know she coached…and has been since 2009. She guides nearly 30 athletes. In this interview, the humble and modest Fagan, explains her move into coaching, growth and development as a coach and her influences and highlights.
How did you become involved in coaching?
I started coaching athletics about nine years ago at Ku-ring-gai Little Athletics Centre. I was filling in for one of the other coaches and have coached there ever since. When I was filling in I had about a total of four athletes and today I have 27 permanent athletes in the squad.
What events do you coach? Where do you coach?
Of the 27 athletes I coach, 26 of them are walkers. Walks tend to be the main focus throughout the summer season however most of my athletes are successful in both middle and long distance and cross country. There is definitely a shift in focus from the summer to winter season with more priority placed on cross country and school events in Winter.
Many of my athletes also succeed in discus, shot put and javelin (which I can’t take credit for). I coach in the Ku-ring-gai area, mainly at Bannockburn Oval in Pymble.
Tell us about some of the athletes in your squad?
The athletes in my squad range from 8 to 17 years. As I coach in collaboration with Ku-ring-gai Little Athletics, every year I get about four new athletes who join the squad with the goal of qualifying for Zone. However, the squad also includes national junior medallists, state champions and athletes who have achieved Australian best performances. By the end of the summer season, the gap between the performances of the squad always narrows due to the encouraging nature of the squad and younger athletes having older, supportive role models. Most of my athletes participate in multiple sports including swimming, AFL, soccer, rugby and netball.
All of my athletes are also registered with Asics Wests Athletics Club who are very accommodating to dual athletes as well as Little Athletes in the U9-U11 age group.
In your career as a coach can you tell us about some highlights or special moments?
This is the fourth year that I have had 20 or more athletes qualify for the state Little Athletics Championships and I have also had athletes break state records and post Australian best performances at Little Athletics.
It is always really special when an athlete qualifies for their first Nationals and I really enjoy experiencing this with my athletes.
But I think the biggest highlights for me are when my athletes far exceed their own expectations and goals. Last year I had an athlete who wanted to qualify for Zone Little Athletics. She achieved this and placed last at zone and managed to scrape though into Regionals. This same athlete placed fifth at State in the same season and improved by 1 minute and 40 seconds over 700m from zone to state.
Other special moments are when my athletes are happier for their training partners than they are for their own achievements. The squad is incredibly supportive of each other and are such a great group and they continue to surprise me with their great team spirit.
As an elite athlete, how do you schedule in coaching and your own training?
I stopped competing after returning from the 2015 World Uni’s because I has a shift in goals from athletics to elsewhere. I started working full time in 2016 so I think this is more about scheduling coaching and work.
Deb Walsham coached me to the 2015 World Uni’s and I have continued training with her squad ever since, but have changed to running. Last year I played AFL which I loved and I am playing soccer this year.
I am very fortunate to live, work, coach and train in the same area and I coach before and after training myself.
When I was competing overseas I was fortunate to have two athletes that I had coached when I first started coaching nine years ago, Aidan Kerr and Lucy Francis, who both trained my athletes for me.
As a current athlete, now coaching, do you see your own athletics career and coaching differently?
When I was competing, I always contemplated what it was that I enjoyed most as an athlete and thought about why I trained and competed. I have tried to include these aspects of training and competing with my squad. I still continue to do this.
I never conduct a training session which I haven’t previously completed myself. As an athlete you are always learning and evolving in order to reach that next level and I think this also applies when coaching.
Why coach? Enjoyable aspects of coaching?
I find being able to support and help my athletes achieve their goals really rewarding. As an athlete I have learnt so much about teamwork, hard work, building character, confidence and a sense of accomplishment. I hope that I am able to teach my athletes the same lessons that I learnt as an athlete. For me, coaching is about empowering others and having a positive impact on my athletes.
Coaching philosophy? Who have been your coaching mentors?
I don’t think I have based my coaching philosophy on other coaches, but tend to base my squad on other squads. I have been fortunate in my career as an athlete to work with many coaches, squads and athletes from Australia and overseas and from my experience, I have had the most success and enjoyment as an athlete when I was in a squad which had a positive, encouraging and supportive environment. My coaching philosophy is to have an environment that encourages my athletes to develop on and off the track by creating a team culture, setting challenging goals, working hard and supporting and encouraging each other. I try to build up self-esteem in my athletes by accepting each athlete for who he or she is and working with each athlete to challenge them to achieve their highest potential.
When I began to train with Deb’s squad prior to World Uni’s, I think my training methods and my squad became much more positive. Deb’s squad has a very supportive environment where all athletes support and help each other and I have tried to foster a similar supportive environment with the athletes that I coach. Deb has also given me advice on transitioning athletes through their junior careers, particularly in regards to increasing distances and training volume.
Do you have any advice for other coaches?
I don’t really feel qualified to give advice because I think every athlete and every squad is so different. I am constantly learning and I am far from an expert so I think the only advice I can give is to always continue to learn and grow and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback from your athletes. I believe you can learn so much more from your athletes than they can learn from you. I think my greatest success as an athlete and coach has been in a team environment so I think this is important aspect that a coach should foster amongst his/her athletes.
I teach a wonderful Year 5 class at Turramurra North Public School.
Your own athletics career highlight/s?
My career highlights have definitely been training and competing in a team so I think my most memorable athlete experiences include winning the bronze medal at the 2015 World University Games, competing in my first Australian team as a junior at the 2008 World Race Walking Cup and also competing with the Little Athletics NSW state team. I also really enjoyed competing for Sydney Uni whilst I was studying.
David Tarbotton for Athletics NSW
Image: Nicole Fagan with members of her squad