You could say that people watching pole vault fall into three categories. The expert athletes who know the event, those who would have a go, and the rest of us who dare not even attempt it. Trevor Fox has spent his career encouraging people that they can.
He has taken immense pride out of years spent turning Barnsley school children into high level vaulters. “It was seen as an exciting event, there is something risky about it, but not too dangerous. Everyone wanted to have a go.”
Ironically, being a pole vault coach wasn’t always the chosen path, but Trevor used his expertise and initiative to plug a gap that needed filling. “At the school I worked at, we got really involved in athletics. There were loads of quality middle and long distance runners, but at league meetings I discovered we were losing points in the field events. I qualified as a long jump coach and had success at that, but then I discovered we were losing points in the pole vault!
“I’d done gymnastics and I knew what it was about, so in 1999 I got trained up. It took at least three years to become a Level 4 performance coach. It involved lots of observations, examinations and coaching.”
Adam Hague’s World Youth Indoor record-breaking vault at SportCity, Manchester in 2014. Photo: Jon Tipping
Since then, Trevor hasn’t really looked back. Fuelled by his own determination and the enthusiasm of local pupils, athletics soon took over his time. “We were then getting so good in Barnsley, so we decided to set our own club up called Dearnside for the pupils at the school. It meant young athletes developing their skills could get competition and express their talents.”
What followed was an amazing turn of success, given the comparative resources of nearby towns and cities. “The catchment of the club was 1,100, but we progressed to the premier league of athletics, challenging Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle with catchments of 20 schools the size of our one. We matched any team across the north of England.”
The delight in Trevor’s voice is obvious as he fondly reminisces. But unrivalled joy comes from what happened next – something he considers to be his finest achievement. “Then, one of the boys, Luke Cutts, got called up to major championships. That’s all my enthusiasm right there. Once that’s happened to you as a coach, there is no way anyone can stop you.”
Luke Cutts vaulting at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. Photo: Trevor Fox
29-year-old Cutts, from Barnsley, has been to the Olympic Games, Commonwealth Games, World and European Championships and has a British record best of 5.83m indoors. Following in similar footsteps is the young talent Adam Hague. The former European under-20 champion has shown promise, winning the northern indoor (senior) title in his first year as an under-23 athlete in 2017. Abigail Roberts achieved the same feat on what has pretty much become their home turf; the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield.
“I’m most proud of the way local school children see it, want to do it, and progress to near Olympic standard”, says Trevor. “I’d like to get Luke and the younger ones to the Olympics in 2020. It is definitely attainable. Abigail is enthusiastic, Adam has always been hard working and Luke’s been there and is going strong.”
Being a driven problem-solver has also led Trevor to introduce some “quirky improvisations” to instil the process of pole vaulting in young athletes’ minds, whilst making sure they have fun along the way. Near the school where he taught there was a cottage surrounded by woodland.
A throwback to Trevor’s improvisations using scaffolding. Photo: Trevor Fox
“There we put half a dozen ropes in tress and high bars. We were able to do a lot of the exercises specific to pole vault. So simple, but so good for development. There were some steel bars that couldn’t be used for scaffolding given to us by contractors, so we built our own assault course.
“Inside the cottage there was an aga oven. In winter, we put steel bars on top of it. We used to warm them up on the hot plate and when the kids did all the activity in the dead of winter, we pushed the bars up inside the scaffolding and thereby had heated apparatus!
“There was one headteacher who wasn’t so supportive of the cottage, but one day he heard about what we were doing and he brought us disused cargo nets, which we added to the course.
Kids also came to play on the beams at school early in the morning before school started. With a bit of initiative and improvisation, anything is possible.”