‘Keeping young athletes in the sport motivates me’ – Natalie Sharp

Saturday 5th August 2023

Photo by Bobby Gavin

Natalie Sharp, 21, is an athletics enthusiast who made an early commitment to coaching and now guides eager U11s at Kilmarnock Harriers.

Natalie is also a strong voice on our Young People’s Forum. She spoke to Katy Barden.

Natalie Sharp describes her coaching style as ‘strict but fair’.

It’s a mature assessment from the 21-year-old Kilmarnock Harriers U11s coach.

‘Sometimes I like to play the bad cop,’ she says. ‘But I also like to have time in the session where I feel like I can be a kid with them, because there’s not that much of an age difference.

‘We play games, we have laughs – and they’ve got the biggest smiles on their faces – but they’ve got to get their session done first and they all understand that.’

Sharp’s introduction to coaching came during her third year at secondary school when she was working towards her Duke of Edinburgh bronze award.

Through East Ayrshire Leisure, she started volunteering at children’s Run, Jump, Throw sessions where she supported paid coaches:

‘I was mainly doing the toilet run (acting as a chaperone),’ she laughs, but it didn’t put her off.

‘I just got hooked. When I finished my bronze Duke of Edinburgh an opportunity came up for a paid role as a coach within the leisure trust, so I went for it.’

After two years of delivering Run, Jump, Throw, Sharp began coaching with Kilmarnock Harriers in her late-teens and was put through her coaching assistant qualification.

Since January 2023, and with the assistance of more experienced Level 2 coaches, she is now head coach for the club’s U11s and will soon complete her own Level 2 qualification.

Her transition from Run, Jump, Throw to athletics club coaching, and to a lesser extent from athlete to coach, has resulted in a complete shift in her emotions.

‘At the Harriers (compared to RJT), there are kids who want to compete, they want to PB, and they want to win medals,’ she says.

‘They also want to run on a track where elite athletes have run. When we’re at the Emirates, they’re like, ‘Who’s run here?’.

‘Seeing the kids happy makes me happy. It can be stressful, I won’t lie, but just seeing them compete in an arena that’s hosted global indoor events . . . then they’ll come off the track and say, ‘I’ve just run on the same track as Mo Farah – I can go to school and tell all my friends that!’

Sharp is competitive. She has taken part in a range of events since first competing for Kilmarnock Harriers as an U11, but this year has proven to be a period of reflection.

 ‘I was at Grangemouth . . . and I hadn’t been at Grangemouth since I last competed there, and it felt like quite a shift,’ she admits.

‘You realise you can come so far within the sport but still have an impact.’

That impact extends beyond track and field. Having joined the committee at Kilmarnock Harriers as their youngest member in the summer of 2022, Natalie is already experiencing positive change including greater awareness and recognition from the club’s older members.

Additionally, having approached scottishathletics Head of Development David Fallon to explore placement opportunities while at university, she is now active on the Young People’s Forum, a group set up to focus on mental health and clubs’ retention of young athletes, working in partnership with stakeholders such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and sportscotland.

‘I feel like it’s a motivation to stay in the club for a younger person,’ she says.

‘If they are an U13 athlete and they know someone like me on the committee – and I’ve got a good relationship with the majority of the athletes that go to competitions and compete regularly – and if they see me as a person they can go and talk to as a friend, I think that helps.

‘I hope it gives them the motivation to stay in the sport, because they know they’re going to get constant support no matter what.

‘I feel that’s really important for athletes, especially for their mental health aspect as they get older.’

The Young People’s Forum meets quarterly. Amongst other things, it discusses how it can impact clubs.

‘One of our members set up a buddy system within their club for younger people coming in, and those sorts of initiatives have gone down really well,’ says Sharp, with other YPF members having taken up courses to train as an Official.

‘It is giving the young people within the sport a voice to speak to those at the top of the sport.’

There is no textbook route into coaching, but Sharp has been proactive with every move. A sports coaching and development graduate, she has most recently been selected to be part of Scottish Club Sport’s Young Persons’ Working Group.

Make it happen,’ is her advice to those who are considering a move into coaching.

‘Speak to someone that you know who can get you involved as quickly as possible and find something you enjoy doing. This sport runs on volunteers. So the more volunteers we have, the better the sport is going to be as a whole.’


Tags: coaching, Kilmarnock Harriers, Natalie Sharp, Young People's Forum

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