Our next coaches spotlight highlights coach Tabia Charles-Collins. Tabia is the new head coach and owner of The Gazelles Track and Field Club.
Tabia has an extensive list of accomplishments from her time as an athlete, which include being an OFSAA Record Holder, NCAA Champion, 2010 Commonwealth Games Bronze Medalist, Canadian Record Holder, Ontario Record Holder, University of Miami Hall of Fame Inductee, and a 2008 Olympic Finalist. She is a currently going through the certification process to upgrade her coaching status.
Sport has always been very important to Charles-Collins, but off the track, Tabia places a high importance on academics and continuous education. Tabia has two degrees including a master’s degree, and is currently working towards her accreditation to become a certified health and life coach.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Tabia and discuss some of her accomplishments, some challenges she’s faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, and her experience as a female person of colour, holding an authority figure in the sport of athletics. The following Q&A gives insight into some of the amazing things Tabia has done and continues to do in our sport.
Q: What have the past few months looked like for you while coaching and operating a club throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic?
“Even through the pandemic, our training sessions have been going strong. Although initially there was fear from parents and athletes about coming out, we ensured that we had multiple options for training sessions throughout the pandemic. Starting back in May, we were outside grinding it out, having amazing workouts with our kids, and even had some parents join in.”
The clubs training sessions were used for more than just physical benefit. Tabia explains,
“One of the most important things is addressing the impact that the pandemic can have on our mental health. Being isolated, stuck inside your house, not being able to do most things, it was important for us to provide an outlet for our athletes and their families. To come together safely and get that sense of community and competition going again, and most importantly improving their overall mental and well-being. Everyone needs an outlet and yes, we made sure we were safe and following protocol, but we just wanted to offer a sense of normalcy again that allowed people to enjoy the outdoors while getting a great workout in. We were knocked down a few times when it came to facilities and permitting, but we were willing to do anything to keep kids active, engaged and having fun.”
Q: What is the most rewarding part of being involved with the sport of athletics?
“The most rewarding part, for me, is helping young people achieve their fitness goals. Not everyone can be an Olympian or a World Champion, but anyone can set a goal that is meaningful to them. To me, helping someone achieve their goals could simply be helping a child become more confident, or helping them to see their potential and talent while teaching them to have fun with sport and the process.
I know what sport did for me, on and off the track. It taught me discipline, determination, and competitive mentality among so many other great qualities. Whether it’s applied to track or a different sport, or maybe one day in their career life, I believe participating in sport from a young age can lay the fundamental ground work for building champions in all aspects of life.
It’s more than just coaching track and field, we’re trying to be mentors. The sport of track and field has meant everything to me but it is a catalyst for so many other amazing things in life.”
Q: Please share what it means to you to be a female, person of colour, holding an authority figure in our sport. What are some of the impacts you hope to make on today’s young athletes?
“It is so import for me because more than anything, I want young women, young black women, and marginalized people, to know that whatever we put our minds to, we can do and we can have influence. I want to use my influence and my success on and off the track to show people that whatever it is you set out to do, you can accomplish.
After retiring from sport due to injury, I was able to navigate from sport, to going back to school, to starting my own businesses, to doing many different things. So, I just want people to know that there can be multiple journeys for you, and I want to be an example of that for young women, especially young black women. Things may not go one way, or how you want it to in sport but there is a whole world of opportunity out there for you to do phenomenal things.
I want to make an impact. Not just to show up to practice, coach, and go home, but I want to be demonstrate that what I’ve done and continue to do in my life is always intentional. When things didn’t go well, I re-framed, I re-strategized, went a different route, and any of the routes I wanted to take, I was successful, and they can be too.”
Q: As a former Canadian Olympian and Canadian record holder, how do you see your role and ability to be able to make an impact for younger athletes in our sport? How do you guide these athletes?
“When I think about guiding people, I don’t just want to talk about it, I want to set action steps and ‘be about it’ as the saying goes. For me, it’s a lot of one on one mentoring. The best way that I can show people the point I want to get across is through living by example, and sharing with them my own actual experiences.
For example, I often have athletes reach out to me and ask how to navigate from sport, to the outside world, and I love to talk about my actual experience with the process, and using what I learned throughout my own life, to best help them in the same situation.”
Q: Based on your experiences, what would you recommend to younger coaches, and particularly younger female coaches of colour?
I would put emphasis on the fact that it is extremely important to have a great support system and people that you can reach out to for advice.
“When it comes to creating and understanding workouts, make sure that you tailor workouts for different athletes, because every athlete is different. Having a variety of training options that athletes can choose from, which incorporate the ‘small things’ like plyometrics, is so important to developing a strong program.
Aside from being a great coach athletically, it’s important to work alongside other coaches that are great examples, encouragers and mentors. Just as I try to be an example for young black women, it’s also great to have strong male figures within my club’s administration.
It’s not just about how fast you can run, or how far you can jump. It’s our job as coaches to ask the question; ‘how can we also build these young people to be the best human being that they can be’.
Overall, it’s all about balance. Having a great mentorship aspect, and a having a great program that allow you to connect with your athletes on all different levels.”
We are grateful for coaches like Tabia who strive to create the best athlete experience, promote diversity, produce champions on and off the track, and who work so hard to continuously enhance our sport as a whole.