#CoachingCan make a difference – Sarah’s story

My journey into coaching came quite by surprise to me. Having never really been very sporty and plagued by severe anxiety I had always hidden myself away from the spotlight feeling like I had very little to offer anyone outside of my own family. My son, aged 6 at the time had asked to do Martial Arts. I already knew Dirk Van Der Merwe from Disability Karate Federation (DKF) as he had been coaching at the school where I work so I signed him up to his classes at Stoke Mandeville Stadium. Dirk encouraged me to take part also and after my initial reluctance I soon started to enjoy it. I started to lose weight and gain confidence but the thing that took me most by surprise was the feelings of anxiety that had previously crippled me were starting to have less control over me. This was a revelation to me and I want other women to experience this great feeling of empowerment.

Dirk is an amazing mentor. He has encouraged me to push myself to do things I’d never thought I’d be able to do. Eventually with his support I decided to take the DKF Activator course run by Ray Sweeney to give me the qualification to coach basic karate. I then went on to take my Level 2 coaching qualification. The practical part of the assessment was terrifying and old feelings of anxiety came flooding back. However both Ray and Dirk were a massive support and taught me to turn the feelings of anxiety into feelings of excitement. I’m pleased I say I passed.

While Dirk has been away for the last few months working on other projects for DKF I have been looking after the session he runs at Stoke Mandeville stadium. I remember my first time coaching without him, 3 students came. That night I cried, I felt like I had failed, but I didn’t let it deter me. As the weeks went by my confidence grew and so did the the number of people attending. I also coach sessions at the school where I work . I found myself having so much fun and trying to put my own stamp on how I coach. I knew there was no way I could be the same as Dirk or Ray I had to find my own way. I think I’ve managed that somehow.

Each session is based very much on having fun. We play games, have themed days, and have social get togethers to build up our community. I make a point of getting to know everyone, my nosiness finally paying off. When I say everyone I don’t just mean the athletes, I mean their families too. The ones who sit on the side to watch their child or friend take part. Each person is a vital part of what makes our team so strong, the athletes feel valued and important because I’ve tried to find out what is important to them. The parents feel valued because I ask them about their day, I find out how they are. I listen to them. They open up to me and I think they trust me. Trust is so important. I have their child’s well being in my hands and not just for an hour a week. Coaching doesn’t end at 6pm, the responsibility is 24/7. I’m available for them any time they need me.

For me the joy of coaching is seeing the difference it makes to the people I coach. A disabled teenager who independently throws 10 punches and the smile it’s brings to his face. The confidence it gives to a girl to stand unaided where before due to disability was too afraid to let go of your hand. The mum and her children taking part together and seeing first hand the closeness they have as they have fun together. It’s the community we have built. Diverse in its essence, where our differences are forgotten. The friendships we make, people brought together by the one thing we have in common and that is the sport that we love.

Thanks for reading, until next time.


Level 2 Karate Coach for Disability Karate Federation & Project 500 member.

Find out more about Project 500 by clicking here.