16 March 2017
Wesfields Sports High’s Coach Mathison
Former endurance athlete Brett Mathison transitioned into coaching about 10 years ago, and in the last few years started teaching and coaching at the very successful youth development program at Westfields Sports High. Mathison now coaches over 20 athletes, primarily middle-distance, but also in walks and even 400m hurdles. In this interview, he talks about different commitment levels between athletes; and notes the different reasons athletes do athletics.
ANSW: How did you become involved in coaching? Age? When you started coaching, were you still competing?
Brett Mathison: In 2008 I started coaching a small group of athletes that I targeted at the Sydney South West Regional Athletics Championships. They didn’t have any coaches or any formal coaching but they placed in their middle-distance events to go on to the CHS State championships. I was 33 years of age, had just got engaged and had competed in the ‘World Triathlon Long Course Championships in Canberra the season before and placed 10th. I had 4-5 hard years training which included some blocks on the Gold Coast under coach Col Stewart. In those years, I competed in the World Duathlon Championships for 10th and the World Olympic Distance Triathlon Championships in Hawaii for 8th place. With a few Ironman races in this time for good measure. I thought it was time to have a break and do some life planning with my partner who I married in 2009.
One of the first athletes I coached was a young man named Sean Nagle. He had a great few seasons working with me winning multiple medals including gold in the 800 & 1500m at the CHS championships 2008 beating Vincent Donnadieu and Jordan Gusman in some quick times.
I took some time off coaching that I really enjoyed, and began seeking out a new school and look for a permanent position. By chance I landed at Westfields Sports High School and became a permanent teacher here. Not long after this James Fitzgerald left the middle-distance coaching position and after some lengthy discussions, I’ve been coaching the middle/long distance and race walking squad since late 2014.
This season I am also coaching middle and long distance at the Cronulla Sharks Little Athletics Club, which is part of the Port Hacking Centre. I now have a squad of 8-12 athletes who train in the Shire with me regularly.
ANSW: What events do you coach?
Brett Mathison: I coach the events I did as a young athlete. All the middle-distance events, steeplechase and the race walks. Cross Country through the winter. Now I have also a 400m Hurdler who has just qualified for nationals in Sydney.
ANSW: Tell us about some of the athletes in your squad? Number you coach?
Brett Mathison: I began at Westfields Sports High (Athletics Club) with five athletes. Now I have 17 attending the school and Westfields Athletics club with five more walkers and middle distance athletes in the shire.
This season/year 2016-2017 has been awesome so far. Every athlete I coach has achieved multiple personal best times over varying distances. Some of the most notable.
Annelise Isaacs: NSW All Schools Athletics - Steeplechase Silver medal, Australian All Schools Athletics Canberra Steeplechase 10th, NSW Juniors & Youth Championships 400m Hurdles National Qualifier.
Sophia Dagher: NSW All Schools Athletics – Race-walk Bronze medal, NSW Juniors & Youth 4th & National Qualifier
Brittany Robertson: NSW All Schools Athletics – Race-walk Silver medal, NSW CCC Race-walk Silver medal, NSW Juniors & Youth Championships Gold medal and National Qualifier.
Amy Henry: NSW All Schools Athletics – Race-walk Silver medal. National Qualifier
Paige Merriman: NSW Juniors & Youth steeplechase Silver medal and National Qualifier. 800m National Qualifier
Kaitlin Woodward: NSW Juniors & Youth Steeplechase Silver medal.
Praneesh Chand: NSW Juniors & Youth 800m Bronze medal and 3000m national qualifier.
The NSW Juniors & Youth Championships was an excellent competition for my squad with all the athletes I coach either, medalling, achieving a personal best performance, qualifying for the National Championships in Sydney, or all of the above.
ANSW: In your career as a coach so far, can you tell us about some highlights or special moments?
Brett Mathison: If my athlete walks off the track and is happy with their performance, then I am happy. Of course, when they win medals its awesome but when they achieve a personal best time, that’s always the highlight for me! Weighing this up and discussing it with my athletes is a must. I had a number of athletes who ran PB’s at the NSW Juniors and had top five places and were so happy. Then I had two athletes who got medals (one being a gold) but missed their PB’s. I asked would you trade that for a PB? ‘Not a chance’. They are now working it out and adjusting how they perform to win medals at major meets and when they are racing for times and performing at their best. This can be largely influenced by the competition and weather, which are two things that can’t be controlled. When they race with a positive attitude & effort and stick to the plan/s, the race goes well and that’s the highlight!
Recently one of my athletes was disqualified in a little athletics race walk event. Then recently at the NSW Juniors & Youth championships she won the gold medal! I worked hard getting into her head all week making sure she was positive, confident and ready to execute the plan. That was a special moment!
As an athlete, what was your best performances/highlights?
National Steeplechase medal.
Running in Melbourne in an event called the ‘Olympic Dream’ against Michael Power, Paul Byrne and Paul Cleary.
42 state medals they were all pretty special.
Three World Triathlon/duathlon Championships top 10 finishes.
A 9hrs 30min Australian Ironman - that’s been a painful highlight!
ANSW: Why coach?
Brett Mathison: I love helping the young athletes get the best out of them selves. They start to see they can apply parts of these training principals to all areas of their lives. They start becoming strong, disciplined young people with great time management skills, and have positive self-esteem and confidence. They soon learn how to deal with setbacks and become resilient.
ANSW: Enjoyable aspects of coaching?
Brett Mathison: Consistency. When young athletes become consistent in training or anything that they do it will improve results. No real secrets. I enjoy everything about the sport and the events.
ANSW: Do you have any advice to other coaches?
- Be prepared to become an adaptable coach, no two athletes are the same.
- Sometimes young athletes are just not as passionate or as engaged in the sport as you are. They may do it for many reasons including, ‘I’m good at it, my parents want me to do it or my friends are doing it’.
ANSW: Coaching philosophy?
Brett Mathison: Communication, commitment, attitude, effort, consistency = results
ANSW: Who have been your coaching mentors…?
Brett Mathison: Cheryl Webb for walking and she has been invaluable! Our entire junior career was together out in Penrith training, racing and travelling to NSW and Australian meets together. Fun times.
I also speak to Youcef Abdi a lot as we trained together for a number of years and some of my old coaches.
ANSW: Background? (age, work/study, family)
Brett Mathison: I’m 41 years old now, married with twins (boy & girl) who are in year one. My daughter shows a clean set of heels in little athletics and my son is ‘football mad’ (Wanderers & Liverpool) and is just starting to play some games.
I try to complete various sessions with my squad particularly the warm ups and downs and all the steady runs at school so I know exactly how they are going and how they feel. I guess the last personal goals for me are to compete in Kona at the World Ironman Championships and The World 70.3 Champs. When the kids are a little older I’ll try ticking those off.
I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years and now I am the Head Teacher, Teaching & Learning at Westfields Sports High School & coach of the Middle Distance, Walks and Cross Country. I love every aspect of the school and athletics club where athletes have access to some of the best facilities and coaches with a synthetic track, multiple XC courses, ‘state of art’ gym for strength and conditioning, medical centre with onsite physiotherapist, doctor and sports psychologist a purpose-built ice bath and an athletic program built into the students school timetables. It really is a place and club where athletes have so many opportunities to be the very best they can be. I love trying to help them achieve that.
David Tarbotton for Athletics NSW
Image: Coach Brett Mathison and his Westfields Athletics Club squad (image courtesy of David Tarbotton)