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Virtual Coach of the Year

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Keeping the Community Smiling with Virtual Coach of the Year, Kate Offord

Kate Offord of Smiling Tri Coach was awarded Virtual Coach of the Year at the North West 2020 Regional Awards.  The coach held a number of virtual triathlon challenges throughout the year that not only united the people that she coaches, but brought together hundreds of club members from across the country.

Offord joined Manchester Triathlon Club after she finished university and became a coach for the club in 2012. After five years of being head coach at the club, she left the club to focus on her own one-to-one coaching at Smiling Tri Coach.

In 2018, Long Distance Duathlon World Age-Group Champion (50-54), Mel Hayes, joined Offord at Smiling Tri Coach, and Offord emphasised how the award is shared between the pair saying: “We both did it. This was very much, everything that we did, we did it together. We diversified really quickly and engaged both the people that we coach and the wider triathlon community.

“When Covid-19 hit, we asked ourselves, how do you take a group of athletes who are desperate to race and have got really high expectations and keep them going?”

Offord and Hayes began with Zoom calls almost immediately after the lockdown began in March and quickly realised the impact that Covid-19 was having on some of the people that they coached, with some even losing their businesses as a result of the pandemic.

“They were all worried that they didn’t have goals and didn’t know how they were going to train when they were feeling the way that they did,” Offord said. “So, we first of all just started really low-key by doing a Land’s End to John O’ Groats challenge, splitting us into Team Kate and Team Mel and completing the distances as teams.

“What we learned from this is that we were one team, and it didn’t really work to compete against each other, so we sent an email out to other groups to see if anyone wanted to challenge us in virtually running and cycling from Manchester to Kona, which is 15,311km.”

This email then ballooned into a larger challenge that saw around 30 teams of around 25 people each, all joining together across the country to complete the distance. From Derby Tri Club to online club New2tri, the challenge gained huge popularity and once it was concluded Offord was asked to develop more.

“We created ‘Challenge-19’ which was basically a six-week training plan that encouraged teams to compete against each other over the little events in the plan, and that had around 250 participants,” said Offord.

“We also just finished ‘Kona to Christmas’ where we’ve completed 15,312km back, with 32 teams taking part which was 540 people in total.”

Offord was keen to highlight the emphasis of community throughout these challenges, creating a Facebook group that rewarded participants for showing team spirit.

“It’s not just about who can physically travel the distance. We also had a Facebook group that had a different theme every week, people would bake and do fancy dress and we celebrated key workers in there too. In the first challenge, we raised £3,500 for two local Manchester charities and in the last challenge we raised £1,400 for Mind,” said Offord.

Offord’s year has ended on a high as she was awarded the Virtual Coach of the Year Award at the North West 2020 Regional Awards.

“It’s amazing. I really wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I love the people that I coach and love the fact that they would take the time out to nominate me. It was a little bittersweet though because I knew that I didn’t do it on my own, it was me and Mel together.

“I love being a coach and engaging with people. There’s a real relationship that builds between you and the group or person that you coach, and you see them grow in confidence and skill,” Offord concluded.

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