An interest to help people was all the spark RICHARD SARKIES needed to graduate from regular runner into coaching. A small group of runners grew into a squad and club called ‘Hooked on Running’. Read about Richard’s development, motivation and philosophies as a coach and some practical advice to coaching colleagues.


How did you become involved in coaching?

I guess it was just my interest in helping people achieve their goals and aspirations and some kids seemed to find me! Combined with my interest in running the two came together. For some reason I feel I have the ability to get some messages across that translate.


During your own early running career were you thinking about coaching?

Not the very early days, although I did some tutoring at university within my faculty that was running related so I guess it started there and I felt I had a knack for it.


Now you are coaching, do you see your own running career differently?

Yes, for sure. I’m liking the shorter distances that the kids run – doesn’t hurt for as long! Apart from that, I’m actually dropping down in distance to help the kids by running with them sometimes, and I need to be able to keep them on their toes! I still have my own goals but I’m not so self-absorbed so I can help them as well. I think continuing to compete sets an example they can follow so that you’re ‘walking the talk’ rather than just ‘talking the talk’.


Has being a runner helped you in your coaching?

Absolutely. You know exactly what they’re going through both physically and mentally which helps in setting programs and helping them in the mind. It’s also helped in being familiar with lots of different venues and areas to train for variety in training, and all the things to consider when preparing for important races.


You formed a club Hooked on Running. Can you tell us how this occurred?

A few of the kids I’ve trained for a few years got to the age where they were showing interest in competing a bit more so it was a natural extension to my coaching services. We also have many adults as well so this if available for them too. Athletics NSW and Athletics Australia are doing a great job encouraging the adult community to get involved by offering track ‘fun runs’, community fun runs via the RunNSW membership, and the upcoming Nitro style event at Homebush.


What events do you coach? Where do you coach?

I tend to specialise in middle/long distance but can accommodate sprint events as well. In fact, having the ability to sprint is vital even in long distance so I include this aspect in all my training anyway.

We’re located in the Frenchs Forest area of Sydney and use grass and bush venues around the area plus Narrabeen Track. I prefer to use soft surfaces predominantly to aid development and reduce injury risk.


Tell us about some of the individuals in your squad?

I have a broad range of enthusiastic kids training with us. From those that do it purely for the fun of it and to be with their friends, or as an addition to improve technique and fitness for other sports,  to the really keen ones who wish to compete and strive for achievement.


In your career as a coach can you tell us about some highlights or special moments?

Wow so many to try and recall. I find just about every session when I turn up and see the kids faces are always special moments, and of course their brutal honesty and ‘stuff that kids just do and say’. I just love the smile on their faces when I bring out the flavoured ice cubes after my cross country races followed by the lucky prize draw. From a personal point of view there was my son’s first Zone XCountry win out of the blue, and of course the high achievers reaching state and national level, but also the achievements at all levels such as making their first Zone or Area carnival, improving 10 or 15 places at their school carnival, or their excitement at achieving their own PB no matter what place they came.


As a runner, how do you schedule in coaching and your own training?

I’m fortunate enough to have flexibility in my time as a Coach/Fitness Trainer so I can fit in my own training during breaks in my day, and conduct my coaching sessions mainly in the afternoons/evenings. I occasionally run with some of the faster kids to help them with pacing and other aspects of the session, making sure I keep ahead of them to show them I’ve still got it! (but not always…..)


Why coach? Enjoyable aspects of coaching?

I’ve probably mentioned this earlier, and there’s just so many aspects of coaching that keep you coming back. The raw enthusiasm of the kids, seeing their enjoyment and growth as not just a runner but as a whole person, connections made with others involved in the sport, plus so many more I think I’d be here all day.


Coaching philosophy?  Who have been your coaching mentors?

I like to teach athletes more than what’s required in competition. That is, impart knowledge or skills that will help them in other aspects of their life. With regard to the specifics of athletics I endeavour to facilitate individuals to achieve their own personal goals, and try to help them work these out themselves so it means something to them and not me.

I’ve had lots of influences over the years from direct contact with coaches, readings, attendance to seminars and the like.


Do you have any advice for other coaches?

Yes for sure. Stay well educated, read widely, observe, think creatively, believe in yourself and your ideas but be open to others, keep it interesting, try not to feel hurt if a runner leaves you, always put your athlete’s interests first, give it away if you don’t feel like your 100% committed.


Your own running career highlight/s?

Hah, where do I start? J Aside from specific results, which I guess you’re referring to, just being able to compete and train on a regular basis and the friendships you build along the way is what’s is all about and anything else is a bonus. Specifically, though, all the various PB’s, including cracking 34min for 10k, City to Surf PB @ 39 years, almost cracking 2 min for 800, doing a sub 3 hr marathon in London, and the odd win in a small fun run is always a boost to the ego.


Contact Richard Sarkies via the Hooked on Running website: and facebook site.


David Tarbotton for Athletics NSW