Sharing athletics enthusiasm

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Rod Jones is a relatively new face on the North Otago athletics scene but the veteran coach has plenty of experience to offer. Hayden Meikle talks to him.

Q: How have you ended up in Oamaru, Rod?
Retirement. We’ve been living in Wanaka. My partner has actually been there since about 1965, but it was her idea to come to Oamaru. It ticked a few boxes for us. It’s quite small, and it’s almost a bit like towns you remember when you were younger – no massive queues at the supermarket, no traffic jams. And for me, I wanted a place with a decent pool and good spots to ride a bike.

Q: Are you enjoying it?
Yeah, it’s interesting. Nobody asks you how you like being in Wanaka but everyone asks you how you like being in Oamaru. I don’t know why. You don’t have to apologise for it – it’s a great place.

Q: You were a teacher, I understand?
For about 40 years. I trained in primary and taught that for two years. Then my cousin was running Nightcaps District High School, and asked me if I wanted to head out there. They’d had 60-odd teachers in five years.
It suited us. My wife, at the time, got a job as a dental nurse, and we had a young baby. We lived in pretty rugged conditions, in a house that had been condemned. for five years before I went to Dunedin, to finish some study, and then Invercargill. I started coaching down there.

Q: How long have you been an athletics coach?
Probably since 1961, 1962. I went to a coaching school in 1964.
It was a two-week thing up in Trentham. They had a lot of great people up there like Arthur Lydiard, Jim Bellwood – really big names. It was a great experience.

Q: Were you an athlete yourself?
When I was a little guy, I ran a lot. I was pretty quick. But I got polio just before I turned 13, and that put the kibosh on things for a few years. I spent my third form year in hospital, just sleeping and eating and doing exercise and physio. By about the end of fifth form, I started looking at sport again. I’d lost a lot of strength, being crook. But I got back into sprinting, and I made the Canterbury relay team.

Q: How long did you keep doing athletics competitively?
I did a bit at teachers’ college. Mostly I did cross-country, for social reasons, but it started to become quite infrequent through my 20s. When we shifted to Invercargill, I focused on the coaching. We had a big group of kids. Then I got sick with chronic fatigue, so I could only run intermittently for a few weeks a year. But I did the odd road race.
When we shifted to Queenstown, I ended up coaching all sorts of things – basketball, softball, the works.

Q: And in Wanaka?
I went along to the club one night, and they seemed to have a lot of coaches.
Then I met a guy called Oska Inkster-Baynes, who’s just won the New Zealand marathon.
He was coaching kids as well as working and training, so I asked if he wanted any help.
The club seemed to think I knew what I was doing, so they asked me to look after the kids for Colgate Games.

Q: Do you have any key beliefs as an athletics coach?
Mostly just making sure they have fun, and learn to run well. Get what they want out of it.

Q: Running well?
Just the technique side of things. Some kids just need a few little things worked out, biomechanically.

Q: Is it getting harder to attract kids into athletics these days?
There are a lot less kids doing athletics than there used to be – a lot less people in general. In the old days, if you went to athletics in a place like Dunedin, there were truckloads of people around. Now they’re few and far between. There are so many other things for kids to do. Even now, with the kids I’m coaching, a lot of them can’t make it to every session because they’ve got other things on.

Q: Have we got some talented kids here?
Oh yeah. Great kids. I hadn’t planned to keep coaching in my retirement, and I umm-ed and aah-ed when they gave me a call. But when those kids walk through the door, your enthusiasm gets going.