Mel’s move into coaching

It is fascinating to learn how coaches started their careers. In this article with South Coast coach, Mel Mustapic we learn how she always had a passion for the sport and assisting and encouraging others. After a few years it became more formal when she started a squad. As a country coach she highlights the need to be able to coach across events. Mel’s coaching is a legacy and tribute to great NSW John Atterton, who passed away in 2016.


How did you become involved in coaching?

I initially started athletics coaching six years ago after having my fourth child. Prior to that I had organised social half marathon training for anyone that I could talk into running half marathons. I was 40 when I started coaching athletics.



I’m 46 years young and mum to four girls. My youngest started kindergarten this year which has allowed me to do some casual teaching support work and events management.


Were you previously a runner? Can you tell me about your career? Highlights? The move into coach?

I wouldn’t call myself an athlete as such but a passionate runner having completed over 20 half marathons and 3 marathons. My goal was to run a marathon for each child, so I still have one more on my bucket list! The highlights for me were the accomplishment of completing the race and seeing my husband and kids at the finish line. My coaching commenced when my eldest daughter (Jade) shared my passion for training and racing and due to travel restraints, I had to move her training closer to home, friends and local school children started running with her, and it snowballed from there!


What events do you coach? Where do you coach? I coach a diverse squad, middle distance, hurdlers, sprinters and multi eventers.

Living in the country I have to be a jack of all trades to meet the requirements of my squad and I love challenges. I coach on a grass track at a local high school (Shoalhaven High). We have been working hard with our local council who have recently approved a new sports facility at Bomaderry with a synthetic athletics track, this will make a significant contribution to the development of athletes in our area.


Tell us about some of the athletes in your squad?
I have junior and senior squads. I have just started coaching my first masters athlete and most of my high school athletes have been with me since primary school. I’ve recently returned from the AIS for my first Athletics Australia under-17 Development Camp with decathlete Cooper Thomson. Coop and I have been on a steep learning curve and after just two years he placed second at Nationals this year. I’ve got some talented middle distance and steeplechase athletes coming through, Hugh Dobson, Alex O’Brien and Victoria Kennedy all medalled at state meets this year. Hannah Stone recently won her first state multi event medal and has a bright future. My daughter Jade was a very talented junior and was on the state podiums in 200m, 400m and 800m and after two years of injury (labral tear and trampoline foot injury) she is slowly making her return to the track. I have a lot of faith in all the athletes in my squad and I’m committed to supporting all their journeys.


Can you tell us about some highlights or special moments?

When I first started my goal was to coach another athlete (besides Jade) to a national qualifier as I didn’t want parents to think it was all about my own child!! Jade’s first national medal in the 800m was special as she was boxed in and had to fight hard to earn her place. Six years later I have coached 12 athletes to a national level so I’m moving my goal posts out further. National juniors was a highlight for me this year as I had just lost my mentor (John Atterton) and I felt an even bigger responsibility of getting my squad ready. Cooper won our squads second national medal and our athletes ran all out with huge PB’s – I was totally exhausted by the end of it!


Why coach?

It wasn’t something I planned on doing when I was younger but I’m very thankful I have the opportunity to do it now. The longer I do it the more I realise the significant and positive impact I have on people, that not only helps them with their running but flows through to other areas in their lives. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband (Glen) who assists in the gym and coaches on the track one day a week. Jade is also an accredited coach and at 16 does a fantastic job coaching and supporting me. Our squad (MNG “Mel N Glen”) is a real team effort and I’m just the bus driver.


Enjoyable aspects of coaching?

I coach five track sessions and two gym sessions per week. The day to day work with the squads is the definitely the most enjoyable for me, I love getting amongst the athletes in the afternoons at the track and encouraging them to keep pushing their own personal boundaries, we are quite a relaxed squad so there is plenty of laughs. The race performances are just icing on the cake for our hard work.


Coaching philosophy? 

I have plenty but I will condense it with one of my favourites from John. The 4 “P’s” Passion, Persistence, Patience & Planning, great advice for athletes and coaches. Another simple favourite of mine is “Never Give Up” when things don’t work out I just find another way.


Who have been your coaching mentors…?

The late John Atterton has had a huge impact on my coaching and spent a considerable amount of time and energy developing my coaching journey. It’s a year since he has passed and we all still miss him soo much. He would be proud of how far I have come and he had a huge belief in my ability. Since John has passed I have found great support in our coaching community and I enjoy the many conversations I have with fellow coaches. More recently I have appreciated the knowledge and experience from our local physio and middle distance athlete Lachlan Chisholm.  


Written by David Tarbotton for Athletics NSW

Image: Mel Mustapic with (left) Jesse Buckham and (right) Hugh Dobson