Coach’s Corner: Andy Henderson on one final move that changed his life

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Almost from the moment he was born, endurance running coach Andy Henderson didn’t take the simplest or routes into the coaching world.

His early life saw him born in Scotland before emigrating to South Africa, the country which would become the setting for his long love affair with coaching.

However, it was years later at Leeds Beckett University when his lifelong coaching ambition was finally realised. But it took a lot of time and one big chance, with his initial move over to England seeing him trapped in the concrete jungle of London.

“I’m always so grateful for what I have here in Leeds,” says Andy, “in London I was just doing all sorts of jobs that I didn’t really enjoy.

“But then my wife went to do a Masters degree at Leeds Beckett where there was also a separate Sport and Leisure Management course. So my wife showed me it and basically said to me ‘look, here’s a prospectus, get back into what you love’.

“So I’ve got a lot to be thankful for to my wife because she was the one who pushed me that way and got me into what I’m doing now. But I think sometimes she regrets it now because it also means I’m not around as much!”

Andy at the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs. Picture: Andy Henderson

Since moving to Leeds, Henderson has risen up the ranks to become the head of athletics at Leeds Beckett University, as well as working with a number of different athletes from the mountains, cross country and the track.

The move therefore “couldn’t have gone better” for Andy when he considers what his life is like now, but while it was at the time quite a big change for him there was never a guarantee that it would work out the way it did.

“I still didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time,” says Andy, “I felt sport and leisure management would be the best option to get me into a sporting role and maybe to do coaching qualifications on the side.

“But then at the time I saw that there was only one athletics coach at the university who would literally go to the track and watch the endurance runners before going off to work with a shot putter and then some sprinters.

“So I just said to him ‘is it alright if I take the endurance group?’ and from there I sort of eased myself back into a coaching role and since then I’ve never left.”

The location of Leeds, in general, has also made a hugely significant impact on Andy’s coaching career, with the vast hills, trails, moors and canal giving an abundance of different resources for runners. And while Andy certainly knows a lot about the city’s facilities now, he initially came into it all completely blind.

“I honestly didn’t have any idea about it,” says Andy, “back in 1997 when I was running for North London I actually came to Leeds to do the National Cross Country in Roundhay Park. But all I can remember is that I got into a car with someone on a Friday night, drove up here, ran the race, finished about 120th, got in the car and then went back.

“So then when I actually moved to Leeds a few years later I went for a walk Roundhay and then said ‘I recognise this place’, so coming to Leeds was almost completely new and I only discovered how great a place it was to run in as I went along.”

Despite his early life often seeing him on the move, going from Scotland to South Africa and London, Leeds now seems to be place where he will stay.

The job is certainly a demanding one, offering very little respite for the father of two, meaning there are never truly any full days off work.

“Even if I’m on holiday I’ll still get messages from athletes,” says Andy, “it’s what I expect in a way because I want to know how the athletes are getting on and sometimes I’ll also try and sneak off to watch a race because it’s on Vinco, but sometimes it drives my wife nuts!

“To be fair though sometimes she’s alright with it sometimes because when Alex Bell ran her sub 2 800m time in Watford I was away in the Isle of Wight. But me and my wife still both watched the race and we were shouting at the screen so when the time came up it was just massive.”

The constant hard work involved with the job definitely seems more than worthwhile for Andy, with the decision to follow his wife’s advice and move to Leeds proving to be the best that he ever made.

“I’m so lucky for one to come here and never leave,” says Andy, “being an athletics coach and getting paid for it is something that doesn’t come around often so I’m very lucky that I do something that I love and I wake up every morning with a huge desire to go to work.”

There have been plenty of ups and downs for Andy both in his own life and in his coaching career. But whatever challenges he may face, the motivation, the joy and the praise will always be there for the career that gave him a whole new lease of life.