Sophie and her three daughters celebrate involvement in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games Baton Relay (photo courtesy of the Press and Journal/DCT Media)
By Fraser Clyne
Sophie Dunnett, who has been coaching for more than 30 years, has been astounded by the number of messages she received after being awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Year’s Honours list.
The North Highland Harriers club member, who lives at Reay near Thurso, is to receive the distinction for her services to athletics.
‘When I got the email telling me about the award I had a feeling of disbelief,’ Sophie told the Press and Journal.
‘It’s not something that I’d ever thought about at any time. It was totally unexpected, but it’s lovely to get it.
‘What has really amazed me is the huge response there’s been to it. I’ve received wonderful messages from so many people I’ve met from throughout my involvement in the sport.
‘I’ve had messages from some people I’d coached when they were youngsters and now they are all grown up and married. Some I hadn’t heard from in years. It was so good.’
Dunnett became involved with coaching in 1987, soon after returning north after qualifying as an occupational therapist in Aberdeen.
She joined up with Caithness club-mate Moira Mcbeath who represented Scotland in the 400m hurdles at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
‘Moira and I studied for our coaching badges at the same time. We did our Level One and Two qualifications and had a lot of fun going away for weekends to get them.
‘I had been a junior athlete at the club before that, but the best I ever did in the National XC championships as a youngster was to finish seventh.
‘I was 21 when I started coaching and I loved working with the youngsters. It was a case of making sure they were having fun and picking up some skills along the way.
‘My interest grew from there. I had a couple of breaks when having my own children, but once they were old enough they’d come along to the club with me.
‘Our twins, Emma and Oonagh, were part of a large squad of young North District athletes that we took all around the country to races. We did a ridiculous amount of travelling. In Emma’s first season competing as an international I was on the road every weekend bar two, between October and March.
WMRA World Cup winner Andy Douglas has been coached by Sophie Dunnett since 2011 (photo via WMRA)
Dunnett now coaches 24 senior endurance athletes from the likes of Great Britain hill running international Andy Douglas to those at club level. They come from far and wide to seek her advice, her roster includes runners from Orkney and Surrey.
‘I absolutely love being part of the journey they all make with their running,’ she added.
‘It’s great to see people achieve their goals, but it’s also important to be able to help them when things don’t go so well. I get so much satisfaction from seeing how the confidence people get from running cascades into every aspect of their lives.’
Although she has been coaching successfully for more than 30 years, Sophie Dunnett is determined to keep learning.
‘If you are a coach who believes you have all the answers you’re not a proper coach. You need to learn as you go along with the athlete.
‘It’s so important to communicate and listen. Some of the guys I coach get in touch with me after every session. There’s no such thing as too much communication.
‘I think it is also very important to understand people as individuals and to acknowledge that there’s more in their life than just training.
‘As one person told me, it’s much more than just setting out training plans and achieving good performances. It’s also about giving the psychological and emotional support people sometimes need.
‘Runners don’t train in isolation from everything else that’s happening in their lives, and I try to understand that.’