Coaching Multi-Eventers During Lockdown…

Jess Taylor-Jemmett on her way to winning Bronze at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games in 2014

Jess Taylor-Jemmett is no stranger to hard work – and her ‘never give up’ attitude is one which she is now successfully instilling in to others through her coaching.

The 32-year-old GB international combined-eventer won a Bronze medal at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, putting together the performance of a lifetime to PB in the heptathlon. The lead up to the Games coincided with the final year of her Master of Architecture degree at the University of Sheffield. Alongside a Master’s degree and training for the biggest competition of her life, Jess was also at this point one year in to her coaching journey so had her own athletes’ training to juggle too.

Jess now works as part-time as an architect, and continues to balance her career, training and competition schedule alongside coaching 10 successful junior athletes. 

Under her tutorship are nine girls and one boy, aged 13 – 17. Jess leads two sessions a week with her group, although will always try and squeeze in another technical session in the run up to big competitions. Many of her athletes also complete one strength and conditioning session each week too, and Jess has recently drafted in the expertise of some specialist coaches and a strength and conditioning coach to ensure her athletes never miss out if she is away competing herself.

Coach Jess Taylor Jemmett

Over the last six months, there have been some arguments to suggest that school-age children will have felt the effects of the coronavirus pandemic more than older generations, with their schooling being turned upside down and future ramifications on their long-term education being a strong possibility.

In a bid to try and retain some stability in her young athletes’ lives Jess has kept training as normal as possible during lockdown, trying to replicate their regular weekly programmes and setting familiar sessions. “I remained hopeful that we would have some form of season so I kept the training as similar to a normal session as possible. I set 3 sessions a week during lockdown, which incorporated strength and conditioning; plyometrics; hill sprints and grass runs; general conditioning circuits; and technical work.

“A lot of the group have their own equipment or their schools were happy to lend them throwing implements. I sourced some cheap hurdles online and gave out some of my own weights and bars so they were able to do technical work as well as some weights at home”. To keep the group ethos as strong as possible and to allow the youngsters to keep in touch with one another, Jess also organised a weekly squad Zoom quiz.

Jess’s own hard-working ethos is clearly being adopted by her young protégés, who she says implemented their own innovative methods in order to continue their training, from making hurdles out of wood and bamboo to filling rucksacks with bricks to use for strength and conditioning exercises!

As with many coach-athlete partnerships, Jess’s interaction with her group went from being a face-to-face one to a digital one almost overnight, as she found herself having to adapt to overseeing her athletes’ makeshift sessions over the phone. “I mainly used video – everyone would video their sessions, send the videos to me and I would provide them feedback”, she says. “Occasionally we would all do a training session together on Zoom, but getting good enough connections proved difficult!”

Coach Jess coaching High Jump in Manchester

As well as ensuring the athletes were training safely at home, Jess of course was also doing her best to ensure the group of teenagers stayed as motivated as possible. In a way we were lucky that the English Schools combined events championships were scheduled for September, so during the initial phase of lockdown that remained our goal and gave the athletes some focus. 

“By the time it was cancelled we were managing to access tracks again so although the goal was gone, they were happy to be on a track once more and as we were allowed to train in small groups, the social interaction really motivated them”.

Of course Jess didn’t just face the challenge of keeping ten teenagers motivated to train in the most unlikely of circumstances; she had to continue to motivate herself to train too – which she feels actually helped her when it came to understanding the situation her group was in. “I was having to adapt my own training too – I was sending videos to my coaches for them to analyses as well”, she says. “I had days full of motivation, and others where I thought ‘what’s the point?’, so I could completely empathise with the athletes I coach”. 

Like her athletes, Jess also had to become accustomed to training at home and in public spaces. Whether it be hurdling in local car parks; shot putting in her own garden; or practicing javelin drills with a broom handle, Jess says she was extremely grateful for an unseasonably warm spring – which helped both her and her athletes motivate themselves to go outside and train on their own!

There have, however, been some benefits for Jess’s athletes – in particular when small group training was allowed once more. Having more time for 1:1 or 1:3 coaching gave Jess the chance to work on finer technical details with her athletes, allowing them to implement changes without the pressure of upcoming competitions. “As a multi-event coach I never have enough time on each event so lockdown has given me so much time to work on the specific drills of each event and improve their technique for the long-term”, Jess explains. Big technical adjustments like this would ordinarily have to wait until winter, when the athletes have longer to become accustomed to their new technique before they have to try them out in a competition setting.

But these changes are paying dividends, with Jess’s athletes recording PB’s galore in the few competitions that they have been able to enter since lockdown started to ease. They will also have the opportunity to put their new-found techniques to the test in a number of upcoming combined events competitions; Jess’s group will be competing in Hexham on 18th September and one of her athletes will be participating in the Italian Championships in Grosetto. 

In addition to the enhanced technical changes which have benefitted her athletes so much, Jess also feels she has taken her own positives out of lockdown from a coaching perspective. 

“Lockdown has taught me patience; to embrace the uncontrollable and turn it into a positive!” she explains. “It has provided me with extra time to better my knowledge of the sport by taking part in a lot of the England Athletics coaching webinars and online courses. I have also spent a lot of my time reading around the subject”.

It is clear that Jess applies the principle of leaving no stone unturned to her coaching practice as well as her athletics career, and is keen to carry on progressing and enhancing her knowledge in any way she can. Her coaching social media profiles are full of videos of her athletes practicing novel drills, with Jess being a fan of experimenting and trying new methods to help her budding athletes learn new techniques. “I take ideas from my own coaches; from videos on the internet; and from the many courses I have completed”, she says. “My latest personal development has been studying with Altis on a specific horizontal jumps course. I take lots of ideas from all over but I always apply them differently with individual athletes, as they all need to work on different elements of their techniques”.

Whilst at the moment Jess is focussing all of her attention on coaching her youngsters – some of which she says are talented enough in certain events to specialise in the future – her long term ambition is to go on to coach at an elite level. “Ultimately, I want to help facilitate the goals of any athletes I coach and to help them better themselves as people as well as athletes. In the long-run, I would love to be on the coaching team at major championships and I really hope I can take some of my current junior athletes right through to that level”, she says.

Whilst it is clear that the prospects for Jess’s combined events group are in excellent hands with her at the helm, she recognises that more needs to be done to inspire athletes like hers to become the coaches of the future. “Young athletes need more exposure to current female role coaches as role models, so that they have women to look up to and aspire to be like”, she explains. Jess feels that funded mentoring schemes, allowing young female athletes the opportunity to work directly alongside successful female coaches would be a great starting point.

Whilst the future landscape for female coaches is uncertain in many areas, one thing is for sure – the young girls under Jess’s tutorship have a wonderful role model in Jess and who knows, one of her current athletes may well be inspired by her to become a coaching star in the future!

Author: Becki Hall is a life-long sports fan and has competed in track and field since the age of 11. She qualified as a personal trainer in 2016 and an athletics coach in 2019 after developing a love of sports coaching through working as a multi-sports coach on school holiday camps during her teenage years. She is passionate about encouraging female participation in sport and exercise, both in athletics and beyond. Becki works full-time as a marketing communications manager in the defence and aerospace industry and in her very little spare time still trains 5 times a week. When she is not competing at the weekends she is often found stood in the cold watching her partner play football or bemoaning her failed fantasy football team.