You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Sports Top Stories

Sprinting is a mental game. My coach John is excellent at that. I’m fortunate for his experience and emotional intelligence

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 20/09/2019 Dina Asher-Smith
REUTERS/Francois Lenoir © Getty REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

When I was thinking about a subject for this column, I wanted to make it a little more personal. When I thought about it I realised that in all my “personal highlights”, everything I picked out had the pronoun “we” attached to it. The “we” I refer to is my coach John and I. So, this column will be about my coach John Blackie and our journey together, which started at Blackheath & Bromley Athletics Club, when I was eight years old.

Before I talk about my coach, I want to first mention my parents. This year I have competed in places such as Qatar, California, Sweden, Switzerland and Belgium. One thing I know for certain is that when I look up as I cross the finish line, my parents will be there cheering. My mum will make her way to the front of the stand. My dad is always more chilled, chatting to the people around him, but I know that if I can spot my mum, I need to look just a little behind her and to the right to see my dad. I’m very fortunate to have parents who are able to come and support me wherever I compete, and for that I am truly grateful. 

Their love is unconditional and I know they just want me to be happy. I do not think they realise how great they are at being parents, and especially parents of an elite athlete.

Having a strong and unwavering support system helps you as a person, but it can also make you a stronger athlete. My family forms the foundation, but my friends, my team and my coach have all shaped the woman I am today and are an equally crucial part of this.

My coach John is like family to me. Lots of people wonder about him, as he is not the sort of person to seek out the limelight and want extra attention. He is happy within himself and finds joy in supporting others and helping them to fulfil their potential. He is a humble and kind person, and I love him to bits.

a person jumping in the air: Dina Asher-Smith says having a strong and unwavering support system helps you as a person Credit: AFP © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Dina Asher-Smith says having a strong and unwavering support system helps you as a person Credit: AFP

I trust John because he would never let me do something that I was not ready to do. He would never put me in a situation that would compromise my happiness, or would not be good for me. That might sound very boring – and it should, of course, be a given – but being in this industry for so long I am aware it is somewhat unique.

No matter the situation, if John says I can do it, I can do it. He would not set me a session that I could not tackle and conquer. He knows me inside out, and what the environment around me needs to be like if I want to perform well. 

In my opinion being able to trust and believe in your coach – and not just their ability, but trusting them emotionally and understanding their motivations and character – is essential in track and field. 

If, for whatever reason, trusting the people around you becomes hard, or you do not wholeheartedly believe that they will always make the best choices available and prioritise your well-being, then the partnership is less likely to be successful.

Dina Asher-Smith et al. posing for the camera: Dina Asher-Smith says her coach John Blackie is like family to her © Sportsbeat Dina Asher-Smith says her coach John Blackie is like family to her

On race day he does not say or do more than is necessary. He gives me my own space to warm up and get into my zone, which may include dancing to music or touching up my make-up, which is welcomed with a smile, tut and roll of the eyes from him. Before the race he is the last person to have any input as I go into the call room and make my way to the start line.

Last year at the European Championships in Berlin, in the 100 metres semi-final, I was slow out of my blocks. It was not a “bad” start, but it certainly was not what we were looking for. I was not particularly happy with it, but crucially he was very calm. He just said, “I just want you to do your normal start.” I was like, “My normal start?” he said, “Yep. Your normal start.” Something clicked after that. In my head I had one thought: “John just wants me to do my normal start.” He was so chilled.

Now I reflect on that conversation and I know when he used the word “normal”, that word told me I had it within myself. He could have said, “Go out there and have a good start”, “a better start” or “a fast start”. But he just said “normal”. I credit everything I do to John anyway, but I fully credit running 10.85sec in that final to John telling me to do my normal start. I did, and funnily enough it was the best 100m start I had ever done at that point.

Sprinting is a mental game. And John is excellent at that. I am fortunate for his experience and emotional intelligence. It is an important, but sometimes undervalued trait in coaching.

a person holding a sign in front of a crowd: Dina Asher-Smith is gearing up for the World Championships in Doha which start next weekend Credit: Getty Images © Provided by Telegraph Media Group Limited Dina Asher-Smith is gearing up for the World Championships in Doha which start next weekend Credit: Getty Images

I am hard pressed to choose my favourite moment in our partnership, but the most recent one was being able to lift the Diamond League trophy with John watching in the front row, right in front of the podium. I was happy to have won, but it meant so much more to me to have done it with my coach who has known me since I was eight and believed, and continues to believe in me, even when I am sometimes unsure myself.

My support system is unconditional. In addition to John, the people who help me run fast and keep my body healthy include two osteopaths and a strength and conditioning coach. If I was to stop being any good as a sprinter, these people would not fade away. That makes it better for me as a person, but also – ironically – for me as an athlete. It means I do not need to be running for any other reason than to run as fast as I can and not to maintain my friends, or to keep people around me. I think that is really important for self-esteem and self-worth, and in some ways makes it easier to run, as you are aware that whatever the outcome, everything is always going to be OK.

MSN UK is committed to Empowering the Planet and taking urgent action to protect our environment. We’re supporting Friends of the Earth to help solve the climate crisis, please give generously here or find out more about our campaign here.

Related: Best sporting moments of the summer [Read Sport]

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from The Telegraph

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon