No.8: 60 Seconds with Harrier John Shields

We are thrilled this morning to shine a light into the world of the Harrier Coach with the first coach into the “60 Seconds Series” sprints/jumps coach John Shields.

Bio: I’m a Level 3 AAI coach and Tutor. I have coached Athletics at St David’s CBS, Raheny Shamrocks and Clonliffe Harriers since 1972. I’m lucky to have coached some outstanding athletes in that time. Athletes who have competed at World, European and National level and many of them have won medals on these stages. I have been awarded Coach of the Year by the NCTC in 2000, European Coach of the Year in 2013 and AAI Coaching Award in 2015.

What age did you take up the sport of athletics and why? I come from Limerick where I started athletics as a young schoolboy in Crescent College. As I was a sprinter/jumper there were very few opportunities for me in that area and so I turned to rugby which I played until well into my 30’s. I returned to athletics in the early 1970’s when I started to teach in St David’s, Artane. I saw this as a challenge and was lucky to come across some outstanding young athletes. Many of them joined Clonliffe like Noel Harvey, Mat Porter, Sean McGuirk and the Wyse brothers to name but a few.

When and why did you join Clonliffe Harriers? I joined Clonliffe in 2000 after spending 27 years in Raheny Shamrocks. I saw this move as a challenge that I have quite enjoyed. Winning the National Track & Field League 10 times in the last 12 years has been particularly enjoyable.

What is your favourite training workout? I like to see the athletes progress at Speed Endurance and therefore my favourite workout is 2 x 2 x 150m at 95% with 8 and 15 mins. This would be done in our SPP just before competing. For the men I want them in the low 15’s.

And your least favourite? It’s not pleasant to see athletes recovering from a specific endurance session, although some say I’m a sadist, I really don’t like to see it. The main thing for a coach is not to go near them for a while after this session. 350 at 95% with 15 mins and 250 at 95%. Or 2 x 300m at 95% with 10-15 mins between. For the men the men I’m looking for 35-38” range. Again, this would be done before racing in the SPP.

What’s your favourite race / athletics meet? Of course, it is the Morton Games – the premier athletics meet in Ireland! I won’t forget the 2017 edition and seeing Brian Gregan run the perfect race. Start fast for 50m and then fast and relaxed to 200m. He was in 4th place at the 200m mark and then the race began. Working his way through the field to enter the home straight in 1st place and then the “Morton Roar” to bring him home in less than 12” for the last 100m. Perfect!!

What is your most cherished or proudest moment in athletics? My proudest moments have always been athlete centered – to see them perform to their best ability is where I get my satisfaction from. It’s always about performance and the rest, the time/distance and the placing, is the bonus. Coaching is not easy, but it is rewarding. A coach does not need awards or kudos. You just take satisfaction from seeing people perform the way you want them to perform. They’re all different and they all have different personalities, their own little idiosyncrasies. It’s a question of knowing your athletes and what helps them.

What piece of advice would you give an aspiring athlete? Never look at outcomes, always look at the process. The key is for you as an athlete to be still competing into your 20s. If you cannot do that, the coaching philosophy is not working. The process is the important thing. The outcome is the bonus. Truth is, it’s never really been about the destination, great as it may be. My mind is fixed on the athlete’s journey, keeping them in the sport, progressing, enjoying it every bit as much as I do.

What’s your favourite meal? Veau a la Crème avec frites with a nice glass of Rose in the sun.

Who is your sporting ‘hero’? A. Irish: Ronnie Delany B. International: Usain Bolt

What’s your favourite…? A. Film The Godfather B. Song or Album JS Bach: The Goldberg Variations C. Book To Kill a Mocking Bird

What’s your favourite holiday destination? I like to go to the South of France and chill out with a nice glass of Rose.

What’s your favourite hobby / activity outside athletics? I like to listen to music and just get immersed in it and forget about everything that’s going on around me.

If you were Seb Coe what changes would you implement to improve our sport? I would make it more spectator friendly. There is too much time between races/field events – tighten up the timetables like the Penn Relays where one race starts as the other finishes. There is, also, a need to improve communication at all meets – spectators should be kept informed of what is going on. World Athletics need to tackle the doping problem. They should not be depending on NGB’s to police their own jurisdictions as many countries do not have an Anti-Doping agency which is fit for purpose. They should target the top athletes in all events and make sure that there is a level playing field. I would tackle the issue of juvenile competition. There should not be World, European, etc championships for juveniles. The most successful countries often do not encourage major juvenile competition like Norway. There are many more issues that I would tackle but I don’t want to bore you all!

What is your next running / athletics goal? It’s literally getting back to competition as soon as possible. The key here is to be ready for when that happens.

How are you motivating yourself to continue coaching at these difficult times? These are not normal times. In 48 years coaching I have never experienced anything like this. But one of the most important things in any sport is being positive. This will end and we will return to competition – the sooner the better. It is those athletes who have remained positive and kept up their training who will benefit most. It’s not easy training within 2 kms of your house but it can be done. It is not easy training for S&C without a gym but once again it can be done. Stay motivated and positive – things will go back to normal.

2017 Athletics Ireland awards: John Shields with Brian Gregan