Swim, bike, run has been constant in the life of Bex Milnes since her teenage years; first as a junior athlete and now as Lead Paratriathlon Coach at British Triathlon.
Starting her coaching journey volunteering at clubs, Milnes later became an apprentice coach at Triathlon Scotland after graduating from the University of Birmingham, before working her way up to Lead Performance Coach in Scotland and then joining the Paralympic programme at British Triathlon.
“It’s always been way bigger than just a job for me, being involved in swim, bike, run is my life,” Milnes said. “From a career perspective, I have really enjoyed immersing myself in different environments with different challenges and I feel like that’s made me a much more rounded coach as a result of not being afraid to try something new and I’m a huge advocate for the sport and for what it provides.”
Milnes’ coaching journey so far is a story of dedication, commitment and a passion for swim, bike, run which first started at her local swim club. From there, Milnes began to take triathlon more seriously in her teenage years including racing in the British Triathlon Super Series and representing Great Britain at junior level.
“I had aspirations of being an elite triathlete and I was very much shaping my decisions around education, where I lived, the environment I put myself in around that aspiration,” Milnes recalled. “But, from about the age of 21, I began to recognise that my physical ability didn’t necessarily match my aspirations in the sport, however, probably from the age of 15 I had always coached in one or another, whether that was swim teaching or coaching within a swim club or triathlon club, alongside my athletic career and it just seemed like an appropriate time to transition into coaching.”
By this time, Milnes had moved to Birmingham to further her triathlon career, deciding to stay in the city to study Sports Physical Education and Coaching Sciences at University of Birmingham having already started to coach PE in schools.
“I think the biggest thing that coaching has allowed is the ability to be able to support someone else with their dreams and aspirations for what they want to achieve felt a lot more comfortable and more aligned to who I wanted to be a as a person, so it felt like quite a natural progression to me to go into coaching.”
After graduating from the University of Birmingham, Milnes applied for roles all over the world to try and find opportunities to coach triathlon. During her time searching for a role, Milnes was alerted to a role through the sportscotland Coaching Futures programme and joined Triathlon Scotland as an apprentice coach.
“I really didn’t see it as a job and straight away I was like, yes, this is what I want to do and I just threw myself into it,” Milnes commented. “I was really fortunate that the people that I worked with within Triathlon Scotland shared a very similar passion for the sport and they were very open to me to coming in and learning and also providing me with opportunities to lead in certain areas and develop and experience all aspects of the pathway.
“It really laid the foundation for me in my future coaching career and I think it was a combination of my passion for what I was doing but also people recognising that passion and allowing me the opportunity. I think the strength of the Home Nations links that we have within the UK and British Triathlon really helped as well because although I worked in Scotland I was given multiple opportunities to work within a British team and experience race trips and championship events. It was really down to the structures that existed and the strength of the relationships across the various Home Nations that allowed that to happen.”
Milnes continued at Triathlon Scotland after completing her apprenticeship programme, becoming a Performance Coach in November 2015, before then being appointed Lead Performance Coach in 2017, a role which included being part of the Team Scotland coaching team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.
A few months later, Milnes joined British Triathlon’s Paralympic programme as Lead Paratriathlon Coach at the Loughborough Triathlon Performance Centre.
“I was really keen that I gathered as much breadth of experience as I could within the sport and seek out challenge and ways to develop myself and the paratriathlon role came up,” Milnes said. “About 12 months previously I started working with Alison Peasgood, who is a visually impaired athlete, and so I got a bit of an insight into the programme through her.
“I saw it as a really great opportunity to develop my knowledge and understanding of a different area of the sport but to still remain true to what my passion is which is developing athletes and working with them to enable them to reach their aspirations in sport and to also work on a world-class level, rather than a pathway level, so targeting at the time Tokyo, now working towards Paris.”
When Milnes was announced as a mentor on UK Sport’s female coach leadership programme in 2020, figures were released that showed only 10 per cent of high-performance coaching positions in the UK were held by women.
“If I think about my experiences just within triathlon, for a long period of time, I was the only female coach working on a full-time basis within the British Triathlon structure,” Milnes reflected. “Whilst it wasn’t something I necessarily minded because it was my passion, it was my love, it was something I was also aware of when you’re turning up to conferences or bigger programme meetings and you’re the only female coach there you definitely feel that.
“What the UK Sport programme really shed a light on was really understanding the reasons why and the evidence behind that. There’s some really interesting stuff around representation of females on boards and at Performance Director level, so I think there needs to be an active shift from all sports to try and diversify at a leadership and higher level so that then filters down.
“The other part which I hear a lot and I’ve been involved in the British Triathlon Female Coaching Mentoring programme and we had over 30 applicants of women expressing a want to get involved in performance coaching and some of the things I heard most was this sense of ‘I don’t feel I’m good enough’ or ‘I don’t have the knowledge’ or ‘I feel like a bit of an imposter in performance environments’.
“Having spent some time within the British Triathlon programme and giving opportunity to those women to experience what a performance environment is you suddenly just break down those barriers which have previously existed and enable them to realise that in many ways it’s no different to being in a club environment. I believe a lot of it is down to just breaking down barriers and pre-conceived ideas of what high-performance sport is and I think British Triathlon are currently doing a great job of providing that opportunity and I think we need to keep doing that.”