Spotlight on - Tim Caldwell
At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Tim Caldwell, Head Running Coach of Tim’s Running World. We chatted about what it takes to start a business, the formula for success and advice to anyone starting out.
I’m a father of four children and am in a relationship with a wonderful and supportive partner. I’m sports-mad and love to spend as much time outside, being as active as possible! I’ve been a teacher for over 15 years but had wanted to make a career shift and move into running coaching, following my passion for the sport.
I’ve had numerous successes in coaching runners. The satisfaction gained from helping people discover newfound confidence in themselves, improved running style and speed and ultimately helping people be happier and healthier, convinced me I needed to take the plunge. I absolutely love the purity of running – there are no hiding places, it’s just you against the clock and the other runners. I also love the general concept – if you work hard and are sensible, the rewards will come! It hasn’t been an easy road though and has taken years to get to where I am now.
The biggest challenge has been trying to hold down a stressful full-time academic leadership position in teaching at a highly-regarded independent school, whilst trying to navigate a way of being able to start a running coaching business. Working out when to take the plunge has also been difficult, and I was so pleased that the timing has kind of worked in my favour to a certain extent with the Covid-19 situation. I handed in my teaching position resignation a matter of weeks prior to the Covid-19 pandemic really taking off in this country. If I’d left it any later, I don’t think I would have handed in my notice due to the uncertain nature of everything. By then though, it was too late and the deed had been done. Now, I need to make it work!
Due to the way you have to give a lot of notice in teaching, I knew the best time to leave a full-time position was handing in my notice prior to Easter, so that I would have the school summer holidays as a time to ramp up promotional activities, organise the behind the scenes business organisational preparation etc before my teaching salary stopped at the end of August. This would give me the best chance to build a salary that, whilst unlikely to equal my teaching salary initially, would at least go some way towards it, as we transitioned as a family to our ‘new normal’. I’m pleased to say that this wasn’t a decision we took lightly, nor one that is all about me. We’ve been talking for a long time about our quality of life and family time. With me taking a step back from the rigidity and demand of working hours as a full-time leader in education, I am more available at home for all my children and for my partner. Nursery fees will be reduced too, and I’ll get to spend more time with my youngest child, who won’t be going to school for a few years yet!
In my role as a running coach, I feel most passionate about helping people to establish healthier, more active lives. I do feel that as a coach, there is an onus to ensure you’re coaching the person in front of you, not just them as a runner. As such, and because of this philosophy, I like to develop honest relationships with my athletes and build a culture amongst us as a team. I work with a very wide range of ages, abilities, experiences and backgrounds. I think we can all learn from each other and be motivated and inspired by each other’s achievements and efforts. My job is as much about the human side of communication and interaction as it is about the technical side of running. I like to think that I help runners with their mindset, attitude and self-belief as much as with how to prepare for a running session, how to protect against injury, or how to stretch properly.
Drive and determination
I have always wanted to do things for myself, rely on myself, and be accountable for what I do. I think this became more of a focus for me when my parents split up when I was a teenager. I learned to become more self-sufficient and not to rely on others. It can be frustrating and difficult at times when you have to give up some of that control to others, but playing team sports of football and cricket helped me, over time, to deal better with that and to know and be assured that it wasn’t a damning indictment of me personally if my team lost, but a collective understanding that we didn’t perform well enough as a group. Fortunately, we always won more than we lost, but I would never rest on my laurels. I was, and still am, always looking to improve – both as a person and as a runner and coach.
I’ve learned that not everyone is as motivated, honest and willing to work as a team as I’d like to think. Now I feel like I’m in a position where I get to choose who I work with much more and if I don’t like how they operate, we can go our separate ways. I quite like this flexibility and freedom!
Advice to anyone starting their career:
Pursue something you enjoy – you’ll become brilliant at it in time and it will keep you much happier than just a big paycheck.
Keep looking for ways to try new things and put yourself in uncomfortable positions – it’s where you learn most about yourself.
Don’t compare yourself with others. You are so different from every other person, comparing just isn’t healthy or meaningful. It’s a waste of energy!
Do your research, chew it over, speak to people who have done it for themselves. Starting a business can sound like a romantic dream, but the reality is very different. It’s important to consider your ‘why’ and really dig deep into that and see if it’s a valid reason to take the plunge.
This is all advice I didn’t want to hear myself! But, it is absolutely true. You need to really consider it and perhaps even experience it in small doses, or for a short period of time before taking the plunge.
The best advice I have been given is ‘just do it!’ Apart from the brand association, this was the mantra a number of business owners told me about their journey into working for themselves. There is no ‘right’ time – you have to make it the right time through hard work, smart work, research and a bit of luck goes a long way too!
For leadership positions:
Get a mentor in a leadership position that you admire and respect. Watch how they work, question them, challenge them (appropriately!) and record whatever they tell you and think deeply on what they’ve said.
Also, be prepared to not be ‘part of the gang’ any more. In Leadership, necessarily in my view, there needs to be a bit of distance from the group you lead. Not a gaping canyon, but you need to understand you won’t necessarily be asked to the socials, included in the WhatsApp workgroup, or be allowed into that banter as you were before. You need to be more accountable, be seen to be calm, bite your tongue, think before you speak…there is a lot to consider, so it isn’t all about earning more money!
Be sensitive to the team’s needs and each individual’s needs. Each person might need something a bit different, a message delivered a different way or speaking to in a certain way. If you understand this and work to create and develop a team ethos, you won’t go far wrong.
Highs and lows
There are two highs that I can’t separate! The first one is witnessing an athlete’s reaction when they achieve something they didn’t think was even possible for them. The second is seeing athletes adopt new ways of doing things that lead to improvements. Absolute job satisfaction heaven!
In terms of lows, discovering an athlete is injured is definitely the worst. My heart goes out to them and it’s just the worst thing for an athlete, regardless of their ability or standard. This, and the admin side of things – it’s not something I enjoy at all, but it is absolutely necessary! So, for now, I pick up all of this, but I’m hopeful that in the future, I’ll reach a point when I can hire someone to do this part of the work for me!
Formula for success
The pattern or formula is to never sit on your laurels or stop learning. A great case in point was what Sir Alex Ferguson achieved at Manchester United. He never stopped trying to improve his team, the way they did things and he always managed to get the most from his players individually and collectively. That eagerness for re-invention within an accepted structure where people knew their roles, is inspiring. There are many other examples too, but this really stands out for me in the world of sport!
I’ve had to consider my initial business approach and shift how I’ve marketed my services already, mainly due to the sheer volume of cancelled events. The events are generally what people want a running coach to help them prepare for, so a shift in focus has been required. I am now working with not only runners but also footballers, triathletes and rugby players, helping them improve and get fit for when competition resumes!
What is essential is being prepared to pick up the phone and talk. Forget the email ping-pong and have those conversations. I really liked a tip I saw recently where teams would have small group coffee breaks at the same time over a Zoom call, to encourage that informal communication, which is so rich and really can help bring the team closer together.
As I mentioned above, I’ve had to adapt what and how I offer my services. I’m keeping financial outlay to a minimum and working hard to ensure that the athletes I work with have the best possible experience of coaching. My work is both face to face and online, so I’ve been able to adapt as has been appropriate in terms of what I focus on in different stages of the lockdown. I just can’t wait to see things return to a new version of normal which I hope will be more environmentally friendly, more healthy, more active and generally more positive. It’s certainly what I’m working towards in my business.