When track and field coach Kenzie McDonald travelled to the Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, Sask., this month, it was the culmination of months of training.
He arrived on August 13, and met with the athletes he and other coaching staff recruited in June following the NWT Track and Field Championships in Hay River.
From there, the kids received training plans from coaching staff and were left to meet their goals.
“And we took them down, and they did what they did,” McDonald said.
However, coaching over long distances can be a challenge.
“It’s difficult. Up here we got winter eight or nine months out of the year, so it’s really hard to get any kids outside to do anything,” he said. “We got lucky where it was nice in June and July, where kids could train outside here.”
That said, with athletes across the NWT, it’s hard to monitor progress. Many athletes are left to themselves for summer training.
To set some structure, coaches would set the athlete’s training plan goals based on prior performances. If an athlete ran 100 metres in 11.74 seconds in Hay River, for example, they would set the training plan to aim for 11.5 seconds.
To help assist his athletes, McDonald would communicate through text messages and emails. Visual aides helped as well. Coaching throwers – discus, javelin, and shot put – allowed him to review the athletes’ performances through eight-second videos.
“What am I doing wrong, where can I improve, what should I be looking at?” were the questions he hoped to answer using the short clips. As a result, the videos made his job somewhat easier than the experience of his counterpart training runners.
Mistakes vary for each athlete. Some are older, around 19 or 20 years old, and have fewer issues. McDonald watches for the same issues: where a hand is placed on the javelin; where are the athlete’s feet place; and when does the athlete release the throw in discus and shot put.
Training styles also depend on the coach. McDonald describes his style as slightly gentler, aiming to get athletes comfortable.
“When athletes are at a competitive level, they already have the skill set,” he said. After that, they need encouragement.
When the team arrived in Swift Current, it was a proud moment for McDonald, and he aimed to support the youth through the games. At competition, he tends to try to ease some of the athletes’ nerves.
“Some of them get really nervous when they get to these competitions,” he said. “They’re big fish up here, but they’re in a small pond. They’re in a larger pond when they get down there.”
His coaching helps prepare the kids through this difficult mental aspect of competing. It’s an approach that has deep roots for McDonald.
He’s been doing track and field for 18 years, since he was 12. When approaching a competition like the one in Swift Current, he emulates his old coaches, “because they were all pretty great,” he said. They had a similar style to McDonald, offering support and taking a gentle approach with athletes.
With all this work, it’s fulfilling to watch an athlete grow and reach new heights. McDonald has coached one youth, Grade 12 student Stryden Hult-Griffin, since Grade 7.
McDonald remembers training him as a young athlete, when he was deciding where his strengths lay. “To see him set a personal best in 400m was pretty awesome,” he said.
For all his athletes, it was an opportunity to push for personal bests and enjoy the competition with some support from coaching staff.
“It was great to see all the kids and how they performed, whether they did personal bests, territorial records, or poorer than they thought,” McDonald said. “They did the best that they could and that’s all we could ask of them.”