Ashley and Joe Kovacs at the World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 (© Getty Images)
The first in a series of gender leadership podcasts stars Ashley Kovacs, as she shares insight into coaching her husband, two-time world shot put champion Joe Kovacs, while also being the USATF women's throws coach.
The gender leadership podcasts are presented by athlete and Athletics Ireland Women in Sport manager Lilly-Ann O'Hora and Vicky Huyton, coach and founder of the Female Coaching Network, as they interview a number of coaches involved with the World Athletics Championships Oregon22, either as a team coach or a personal coach.
In an interview conducted before the World Championships, Ashley described her vital role at the event as an honour but also something that she takes in her stride, as she previously served as the USATF men’s throws coach back in 2019, when Joe won the most competitive men’s shot put competition of all time.
"My role with USATF is more as a facilitator, whereas my role as a personal coach is to do the same thing that I have been doing all year: calling the shots to make sure that they are prepared to compete at the highest level,” she said.
Ashley explained that she never envisioned coaching Joe, but when they found themselves having to decide between retirement in 2018 or continuing into the new year, they knew they had to fix something. Taking that leap of faith and throwing themselves into the unknown turned out to be very rewarding.
"I was a young coach, I wasn’t sure if I even deserved that responsibility in some ways. I don’t want to say I wasn’t excited to do it, but the only reason I wanted to do it was so I could to something to get him out of the situation he was in.”
Empowering women in athletics
The Empowering Women in Athletics group on Facebook is an extension of the work of the Gender Leadership Taskforce, offering a community for women in athletics and a place where they can share stories and experiences as well as ideas and projects.
On Joe’s winning moment in Doha, where he threw 22.91m to beat Ryan Crouser and Tom Walsh by just a single centimetre, she said: "It proved to me that I could trust myself and my judgement. The fact he trusted me really gave me more faith in myself, and if he trusts me, I really need to trust myself with my instincts and that’s what we did.”
The past few years have been the best of Joe’s career, as he as consistently thrown beyond 22 metres, and after Ashley’s podcast interview, Joe threw a PB of 23.23m at the Wanda Diamond League final in Zurich to move to second on the world all-time list behind Crouser.
Ashley is also the associate head coach and throws coach for the Vanderbilt women’s track and field programme, which she believes enhances her coaching and also Joe’s throwing.
"We are really in sync with everything that needs to happen, we’re on the same page,” she said. “Another thing that has really helped us gel our thought process is my role as a college coach.
“Joe’s there as my volunteer. He trains with the athletes, which has been a huge help to us. Being able to discuss other people’s techniques and training, it gives me perspective on where his head is at. It has helped us get on the same page and build on our system together.”
On her advice to any aspiring coaches, she said: “You have to have the courage to trust your own instincts. You need to know enough so you can have the confidence, so people around you can believe what you are going to tell them. My main job with Joe, is to keep Joe out of Joe’s way. I think that coaches need to understand, you are important, and you have a big job to do, but the more you can empower your athlete to teach them to trust themselves, that’s when they are really going to be at their best. Confidence in what you are doing leads to your athletes having confidence in what they are doing.”