Coach Wilf Paish dead

The passionate little giant of British coaching, Wilf Paish, has died. It is a tragic loss for the sport. Even if you disagreed with some of his ideas, he was always in it for the athletes and his enthusiasm was contagious… kk

From The Times February 16, 2010

Wilf Paish: sports coach

It is not necessary to be fit and well to be an inspirational sports coach. Wilf Paish, one of the most respected figures in international sport, proved that by continuing to coach youngsters voluntarily in the last decade of his life despite his own poor health.

Nor does coaching necessarily help the trainer’s wellbeing. Paish acknowledged that the arthritic state of his wrists was testimony to the many thousands of times he had caught weighted medicine balls thrown by his protégés, the javelin throwers Tessa Sanderson and Mick Hill, “to name just two”.

He trained more than 200 international athletes in a wide variety of track and field events, but also helped professional football, rugby and cricket teams with his expertise on physiology, biomechanics and nutrition.

In more than five decades of coaching Paish went to nine Olympic Games, eight as part of the Great Britain squad from 1964 to 1992, and as coach to the South Africa Olympic team in Atlanta in 1996. His most spectacular coaching success was guiding Tessa Sanderson to her unexpected gold medal at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, where her team-mate and rival Fatima Whitbread took bronze. He also coached the 1,500m runner Peter Elliott, who won silver at the Seoul Games in 1988. That said, Paish derived as much pleasure from helping youngsters in schools and clubs at far more modest levels of achievement.

Wilfred Henry Charles (“Wilf”) Paish was born in Gloucestershire in 1932, raised in Stow-on-the-Wold and attended a local grammar school. Though an adopted Yorkshireman since moving to Leeds in 1964, he never lost his Cotswold burr or his enthusiasm for Gloucestershire’s cricket team (even while engaged as fitness adviser to Yorkshire). As a boy his ambitions were to play cricket for Gloucestershire and to become a vet. Neither was fulfilled, although he was a decent cricketer and useful middle-distance runner.

He trained as a teacher at Borough Road College in London and to be a physical education specialist at Carnegie College of Physical Education in Leeds, then took a teaching post in Essex, where, coincidentally, he succeded Ron Pickering, who also went on to coach UK Olympic athletes.

In 1964 he became the British Athletics Federation’s national coach for the North of England, responsible for coaching at all levels and for training new generations of club coaches. Paish was happy with this all-encompassing formula, and particularly enjoyed going into schools, where his innovative techniques — sometimes involving mnemonics and nursery rhymes or carefully structured fitness and aptitude tests — engendered a great deal of youthful enthusiasm.

When he left the federation to become a lecturer at his own former college, Carnegie (later Leeds Polytechnic and then Leeds Metropolitan University) his direct coaching of athletes increased and aspiring competitors travelled to Carnegie from all over Britain to seek his help.

Ater a disappointing Olympics in 1980 Tessa Sanderson moved to Leeds so that she could train with Paish, while Peter Elliott commuted from Rotherham for coaching from the age of 16 until winning his medal in Seoul. Mick Hill, now director of athletics at Leeds Metropolitan University, was a young Leeds athlete who joined a training session with Paish’s Yorkshire and Humberside Athletics Squad at Carnegie in 1979. He was picked out as a promising javelin thrower, and went on to win a World Championship bronze medal.

Paish retired from international coaching at 1996, but used his state pension to continue teaching young athletes, unpaid, for 40 hours a week at the Carnegie Sports Centre until the end of his life.

He was appointed MBE for services to sport in 2005. He received a standing ovation when given a lifetime services honour by England Athletics in 2008, though he insisted: “I do this just for love — not for anything else.”

He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and their two daughters.

Wilf Paish, MBE, sports coach, was born on July 29, 1932. He died of pancreatitis and kidney failure on January 29, 2010, aged 77

Having seen him personally coaching day in and day out athletes of all levels, I agree completely with your comment, KK!

Wilf Paish obituaryPassionate athletics coach who inspired performers of all levels
by Peter Nichols, Tuesday 2 March 2010 18.52

Wilf Paish, who has died aged 77, was an original thinker and passionate athletics coach. In a career that spanned five decades, more than 100 of the athletes who came under his guidance became Olympians; the most famous, Tessa Sanderson, won the javelin title in 1984. But Paish’s reputation was not founded solely on the achievements of the elite athletes he worked with, but his capacity to inspire even the most modest of performers.

Paish, who was born in Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucestershire, trained as a PE teacher at Borough Road College, in west London, taking a further qualification at Carnegie College, in Leeds. At his first job, in Slough, he met his wife Margaret; he taught the boys PE, she taught the girls. The important career change for Paish came in 1964 when he was appointed northern area coach for the Amateur Athletic Association and returned to Leeds. For the next 45 years, the Carnegie Sports College would be his base, initially as the area coach, latterly as a lecturer at the college.

At the elite level, Paish’s finest hour came at the Los Angeles Olympics, in 1984. He had started working with Sanderson a few years earlier. She had been based in Wolverhampton, but Paish moved her into his family home in Leeds. Paish paid his own way to be with Sanderson at Los Angeles. He was not part of the British team and would not have been allowed on the warm-up track before the javelin final, had not a Spanish coach lent him accreditation.

“He was there, as always, with a little bag on his left shoulder,” said Sanderson. “We sat down for a minute beforehand and he said, ‘There’s nowhere to run now, girl, so just hit the shit out of it and don’t worry about anyone else,’ and after I won, all I wanted to do was find Wilf. When I did he kept saying, ‘I told you, girl, I told you, girl.’” - TESSA SANDERSON

Four years later, in Seoul, Peter Elliott almost made it two gold medals in two Games, the Rotherham carpenter beaten only by two strides in the 1500m by the little-known Kenyan Peter Rono. Sanderson, Elliott and Mick Hill, who won five major championship medals in the javelin, were the most successful of Paish’s athletes, but that cut no ice when it came to coaching time. “He coached all the events in athletics and everyone who came to the track had the same treatment as us and it made them feel special,” said Hill. “Myself, Tessa and Peter actually asked him once how much it would cost to get some of his time, but he wouldn’t take any money. In a sense he was a victim of his own success.”

Though he worked for many years as a national coach, Paish was always something of an anti-establishment figure. He recognised, before many others in the sport, how complex the problem with drugs was and played devil’s advocate, arguing that if British Athletics started random testing before any other country, it would simply put British athletes at a disadvantage. It was the same argument that a group of athletes (not from Paish’s camp) was contemporaneously putting to the management of British athletes.

Above all, athletes believed in Paish. Hill, who is now the athletics director at the same college where Paish taught, described him thus: “Though he was often the smallest person in the room [Paish was just 5ft 3in] he was the biggest character. He had absolute confidence in his own ability and a huge breadth of knowledge. He was the total package.”

Paish is survived by Margaret, their two daughters, Alison and Joanne, and two grandchildren, Samantha and Kayleigh.

• Wilf Paish, athletics coach, born 29 July 1932; died 29 January 2010