When you turn up to a training session and the hurdles are set up, the starting line is laid out, and the cones are ready to go. The warm-up begins, and the pitch drills start.

But all you’ve done is turn up.

So who are the people behind all of it?

We sat down with one of the most accomplished coaches in Scottish Athletics to discuss her 17-year career.

The story of Ruth Watson is one we are all familiar with, when her daughters joined an athletics team back in Haddington, East Lothian she wanted to help out, but little did she know that she would help mould the club into a huge success.

When work took her and her family up to Aberdeen, she saw an opportunity to join another club and bring them into a new age.

Aberdeen Amateur Athletics Club (AAAC) welcomed Ruth in 2015, since joining she has made a real difference with The Club, which her daughter also now coaches at.

Cast your minds back to November last year, and if you’re in Aberdeen like Ruth and me, you’ll remember that somewhat terrible weather we had. So unfortunately Ruth was unable to accept her SW/S Volunteer of the Year award. 

Sponsoring the award was Scotland ClubSport (CSS). As a governing body, they provide a network of resources for local sports clubs to thrive. So it made perfect sense to speak to Gary Grieve, National Development Manager at CSS about the integral part that volunteers make to local sports and why Ruth deserved the SW/S volunteering award amongst the many others she received last year.

Ruth (on my request) showed off her ‘shelf’ of awards that she had received recently. Along with her SW/S award, she was voted Scottish ClubSport- SALSC Volunteer of the Year in 2022. These came after the Scottish Disability Sport Russell Hogg Trophy Development Coach of the Year 2022 for being ‘a frontrunner in ensuring the effective inclusion of athletes with disabilities in the club’.

For Ruth it was never about being in the spotlight, she never was an athlete in her youth and worked her way up the ranks to become a coach, she did however have an interest in running after watching Paula Radcliffe at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002. And after having her two children she got into it more seriously. 

It was at this point Ruth took up her first official coaching qualifications – which got her a job as a coach for Team East Lothian. With a particular focus on strength and conditioning as well as helping with the sprints group.

With the set-up in place, it was then time to figure out their long-term plan and how they wanted the club to develop.         

“In 2015, I joined AAAC as an athlete, not really considering going into the coaching side of things. But then started working as a community development officer and began to volunteer as a coach,

“I was initially only helping because the senior coach was on his own, so because I had my qualifications it meant I could step in.”

Now when it comes to me writing about volunteers week, we’re never short of a family duo. Ruth often works with her daughter: “It’s great to see her getting into it, we work together quite a lot and it’s really great because we don’t even need to communicate. Most of the time we just know what the other is thinking or what to add in.”

During lockdown, they made training videos together to ensure the whole team kept the hard work up: “My daughter was good at the technical stuff, she’s also won Aberdeen’s coach of the year last year, so it’s really great to see that she’s being rewarded as well.” 

 Alongside all these achievements, Ruth didn’t want to just stop there. She’s training up a new generation of young coaches, to hopefully take over when she finally decides she’s ready for a break. The work that the young coaches are doing with para-athletes stands out amongst the other athletics clubs in Scotland. Working with children, teenagers and those well into adulthood to give them the same opportunities to compete and advance in the field saw The Club win Scottish Athletics Para-Development Club of the Year. 

“It was to give them the same chance that everyone else has, just to have a go. I was conscious to get them properly involved in the club. Because there are clubs out there that are dedicated to just athletes with disabilities but we’re a bit more unique because we train together. It makes a more rounded club with everyone contributing in their own way.” 

With ages from five to over 60 training with the club, there really is a space for everybody: “It all seems to be coming together at the moment, we’ve all been putting in quite a lot of work over the years. The club paid for a couple of posts to sort out the admin so that the coaches were free to actually coach, 

“When you see six of your athletes competing at international competitions it really puts into perspective that all the hard work was worth it.” 

Gary Grieve has a long history when it comes to volunteering. He began as a youth legacy ambassador with Young Scot. With a degree in Sports Development from the University of the West of Scotland he then began working with the Youth Sports Trust, he was focused on their disability inclusion project which allowed young people whether they had a disability or not to progress into leadership roles in sports. In 2020 Gary found himself back in community sport – and working for Clubsport Scotland. 

Seeing people go above and beyond in their volunteering is the reason that CSS has such an important role in the lives of local sporting communities: “The volunteer support and especially the recognition and celebration is a massive part of what we do as an organisation. For all the athletes that we see going on to do great things like winning medals and competing whether that be local, national or internationally, we want the people behind the scenes to be recognised as well,

“Sponsoring the Scottish Women in Sport award allowed us to open up our network a bit, and gave us an opportunity to celebrate someone for making a difference in their local community”. 

Operating in 65 local authorities across Scotland, with 32 sports councils, over 2000 sports clubs across 65 different sports, and 280,000 individuals interacting with CSS on access to facilities and equipment, encouraging more people into a sports club – making it easier to do so, and most importantly allowing an avenue for all of these people to connect and learn from one another. 

“We at Clubsport Scotland provide a wealth of information to help these clubs run better, but without individuals like Ruth up and down the country, there would be no need for us. In every single sport, there are people able to and willing to give up their own time – they don’t see it as a chore, it’s simply deep-rooted in their DNA, they’re able to build up their own self-esteem, own confidence and get joy out of what they do. But at the end of the day, they are there to service others and that’s why it’s crucial to celebrate Ruth and people like her”. 

Here at Scottish Women in Sport, we want to thank all the volunteers across Scotland who make such a difference in their communities, so take some time this week to thank people that your local team couldn’t do without. 

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