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