Neil Featherby: Why Mike Utting is one of Norfolk's finest coaches

Mike Utting CoNAC

Mike Utting has overseen the development of many fine young athletes. - Credit: CoNAC

Here in Norfolk, we really are so very lucky to be blessed with so many hard-working coaches, but I think it is fair to say none more dedicated than Mike Utting.  

This of course is demonstrated by the Coach of the Year Awards he received for his efforts in 2020. 

However, let’s go back to where it all started for him. 

“I had played many sports, but football was my first love,” he said. 

Running was of course a part of his game and after doing a few solo runs and races aged 36, he was invited to join what was then the Wymondham Joggers, by his friend Graham Mitson. Whilst Mike achieved PBs of 37mins 48secs for 10k, 1hour 31 for a half marathon and a 3 hours 48 mins marathon (London), he says it was changing the name from Wymondham Joggers to Wymondham Athletics Club which is his greatest claim to fame. 

It was at the club where he also met Richard Jackson who at the time was the development officer for Norfolk Athletics, who asked him to help coach some youngsters at the Wymondham High School. This was just the beginning and the lead into a more serious role of coaching. 

It was after the amalgamation of the Norfolk Olympiads and the Duke Street Runners though to form the City of Norwich Athletics Club, when Mike decided to move on with Ron Graham, Lynne Browne and several young athletes who were all looking for a new and exciting challenge. Hastening to add of course that this was also with the blessing of WAC. 

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All these years later, Mike’s journey still continues for which he says that he owes so much gratitude to his understanding wife Judith whilst also pointing out: “I learned from the best here in Norfolk such as Tim & Pauline Ash, Glyn Long, Tim Newenham, Denis Costello and Nathan Rogers who I coached at 15 years of age and is now a coach himself. However, my biggest thanks has to go to my dear friend Keith Yallop having had so many wonderful moments and successes together at County and National level, especially Sportshall Athletics.” 

Funnily enough, the first time I saw Mike coaching was back in the 1990s. This was not with athletes though. I had arrived with one of my sons at a venue just outside of Norwich for a youth team football match where in the distance I could see some young footballers all going through what was a very regimented and impressive drills session. Upon closer inspection there was Mike overseeing it all.  He even had a spell working with some of the youngsters at Norwich City FC albeit for running and as a sprint coach. 

It was then after guiding Clieo Stephenson to the English Schools Under 15, 100 metres title in 2009, which gave him the opportunity to apply for the England Athletics Speed Development Coach Programme where he spent six years learning from some of the very best which in turn also led to a meeting with Paula Dunn who was Head Coach for the British Paralympic Team. 

“I was nervous meeting her, but so very surprised when she popped the question of asking me if I would go to Lyon in France with the Paralympic GB Team for the European Champs in 2013.” 

Whilst this took Mike by total surprise, the likelihood is that it was also based upon a seminar on Disability Sport and Inclusion which he had earlier done on behalf of England Athletics in Birmingham. “I have always been an inclusive coach and whilst I had four years with the GB Paralympic Team, the highlight had to be when in Rio for the 2016 Olympics,” although he did also point out that there really have been so many other special moments during his coaching career such as when looking after Sophie Hahn in Lyon in her very first GB outing when winning the 100 metres Gold Medal in a new World Record time and is now looking forward to the Paralympics in Tokyo, Japan. 

Nevertheless, and what really stands out for me about Mike, is how he constantly wants to make reference to all the people (other than those already mentioned) who he feels have helped him get to where he is today for which I dare not miss any of them out. 

In my opinion, this also further adds to the quality of a man who is truly humble despite all what he has achieved. Tony Hadley (not the pop star), Clarence Callender, Dave Rowland, Iain Milroy, Liam Odell, Becky Watkins, Iain Burgess, Nicky & Andy Walker and all the volunteers along the way and those who have helped make it all possible for him during the last 30 years. 

To be able to really do Mike justice, I would need space for at least 5,000 words as he really has dedicated so much of his life to sport and helping in particular young athletes and sports people.   

“Knowledge is very important, but for young athletes, they are not interested in how much you know. They just want to know you care.” – Mike Utting – Level 3 Performance Coach / Level 3 Development Coach. 

One final note - young Eva Barton has done it again, beating her own U13 mile record last Saturday by an amazing nine seconds, recording a time of 5:21.1.

Eva Barton mile record holder

Eva Barton has broken the UK record for the Under-13 mile again. - Credit: Scott Barton