Not many athletics coaches can boast UK Champions, European World bronze medallists, the World and European Masters champion and Masters World Record holders in their training groups. But one man who can lay claim to this impressive collection is little known outside of the sport, and is one of the nation’s vast army of unsung heroes of coaching.
Steve Ball of Trafford AC is not on British Athletics’ pay roll or part of its coaching set up despite his impressive CV, and coaches simply for the love of it. Since 1995 when he started coaching, he has seen perhaps his most famous athlete, Andrew Steele, make the 2008 Olympic semi-final in Beijing which saw his reputation as a coach rocket.
Concentrating mainly on the 400m, Ball currently coaches Kelly Massey, Seren Bundy-Davies, Rick Beardsell and Tom Bolan-Ashworth, as well as several up-and-coming athletes at the Longford Park stadium in Stretford, Manchester.
Ball’s association with his club goes back to 1968 when he joined as a junior athlete and ran to a good standard in the 200m, 400m and 400mh. He left in 1974 after his father, who was president of Trafford AC, passed away at the age of 49 and the club represented only painful memories. He moved away from athletics altogether before coming back in 1994:
“I was going through an old Tupperware box at home full of old athletics medals and my son mentioned he wanted to try track and field,” Ball said. “He joined Trafford AC and I went with him. Within two years I was coaching youngsters and then escorting them through the age groups.”
His success is based on the spirit of the squad, which is called ‘No White Flags’, and the dedication of athletes like Steele and Rick Yates, who Ball previously coached, and the professionalism which has rubbed off on today’s crop:
“The work ethic of people like Kelly Massey and Seren Bundy-Davies has continued the momentum and attitude of the squad,” Ball added. “It’s really important to know your athletes too. Being a coach is like being a good fitted bra – keep your back straight, give them all round support and if you get a couple of good ‘uns, lift and separate!”
Ball’s coaching methods are similar to those employed by Clyde Hart, who masterminded current 400m world record holder Michael Johnson’s stellar career, and given the chance, he would love the chance to train athletes in America:
“I would like to coach any group of USA college students as they have so much talent. Clyde Hart is someone I’ve always admired and our group follows the same basic ideas on training methods.”
Coaches in the USA are professional and paid for what they do. Ball admits he would love there to be more money available in the UK for athletics, especially for athletes and coaches who are performing at a higher level without funding:
“It would be nice to receive some type of funding but athletics will never be on a par with soccer in financial terms. Whilst I was in Berlin for the World Championships a few years ago, I met a few Canadian coaches who earn wages by diversifying into other sports.”
Whatever the future holds for Ball and athletics coaching in the UK, success keeps on rolling for the Trafford AC man.
You can see Ball’s Power of 10 profile here.