British coach frees athletes of pressure

Christine Bowmaker warns of media echo-chamber and says developing the person is her top priority

Christine Bowmaker
"Athletes need to see themselves as multi-faceted," says Christine Bowmaker

Former British international sprinter Christine Bowmaker has made it her mission to coach Britain's top athletes to success in the cauldron of public pressure.

"I have been privileged to work with an Olympic, World and Commonwealth Champion and British number one sprinters over the 60m, 100m and 200m," says Christine, who formerly competed in the same distances and the 4x100m relay.

Great Britain's track performance has surged in the past year with nine new international senior and junior medallists. Christine coached one of them, Jodie Williams, to a silver-winning time in the 200m at the 2014 European Games.

This lift has occurred, Christine told the BBC, because "the coaching has improved".

"You're looking after young people's lives, and you have to appreciate that. You coach the event, but you develop the person.

"I do a lot of reading, listening and watching. There's a sharing of ideas now. Coaches are becoming more professional in everything they do."

What sets Christine apart is her awareness of the false identity that the media and the public pushes on athletes.

"If [athletes] are not being talked about or written about their self-worth and value diminishes," she explains in a Back Pages magazine interview.

"As long as the athlete is performing, everyone wants them in newspapers articles, on the television and in magazines, but they are quickly forgotten if injured or performances start waning."

Christine believes these athletes need a firm external foundation.

“My identity is not found in track and field”"Athletes need to see themselves as multi-faceted and not just as an athlete. That is the way God sees us and that is the way I have to see them."

As a devout Christian she says that her foundation is her relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

"I am the person I am today because I am a Christian," she shares in a YouTube video for Christians in Sport UK, referring to how she has surrendered control of her life to Jesus Christ.

"My identity is not found in track and field. This is just a facet of who I am. God's given me a gift to be a coach. I believe that God wants me to be here, to make a difference and I believe that athletes need to see a difference."

Regardless of whether an athlete gains a medal, Christine points out from her own experience that "a void remains that only God can fill".

"When athletes enter the world of sport they don't realise how cut throat it is, so as a Christian coach, I feel it is my duty to make sure they know that I value them, how Christ values them, not as the world values them."

Christine admits she feels pressure from media and the governing bodies in sport, but people notice her different approach.

She tells these enquirers, "I am different because Christ is in control of my life, not the media and not British Athletics. Is the path that I walk easy? Certainly not. Do I feel overwhelmed at times? Yes I do."

It did upset her when a high profile athlete recently decided to change coaches, a crushing blow for many coaches, but she responds differently.

She explains to Christians in Sport, "I am different because I've got Christ. I know Christ loves me and He wants the best of me. And even though [others] don't see it as the best for me, I know that God sees it as the best for me."

One of Christine's favourite verses is from Jeremiah 29, verse 11: "For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

When athletes leave, Christine says she chooses to respond as Jesus would have her do.

"I have lost high profile athletes and I still let them know that I love them, I care for them and that I'm still there for them.

"I thank God that He always affords us His good grace, and I try to do the same to others."

When Christine was a track and field competitor herself, she remembers that attending church and Bible study group leaders were essential to her spiritual growth, and she now does the same for others.

"At my second World Student Games, Jules Wilkinson (a Christians in Sport staff worker) and Ashley Nulls (sport chaplain) both helped me through those games."

For the last years, Christine and Jules have run Bible studies with athletes from many sports at Christine's training base at the Lee Valley Athletics Centre.

"It is comforting to see other people worshipping the same God. We can pray for one another and be a support each other," she says.

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