Running coach, consultant and speaker, Lindsey Parry, has been using the past few months under Covid-19 lockdown to focus on helping sportswomen succeed in their respective fields.

With a passion for High Performance, Parry is one of South Africa’s most widely recognised coaches and is aiming to use his vast experience to leave a legacy that will positively impact women’s sport in the country.

Having led a team to both the London and Rio Olympic Games as well as the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh and the Gold Coast, coached both triathletes and runners onto podiums of some of the world’s most illustrious races, he has a unique ability to understand what it takes to succeed at any level.

Parry thrives on coaching, motivating and inspiring others to do the same – whether it’s on the track, on stage or behind a mic.

His individual coaching services are massively in demand, having played a vital role in the successes of Caroline Wostman and Charne Bosman to name a few.

Speaking with Celine Abrahams, Parry chats vastly about his journey into sports and why he decided to work in sport instead of being a professional athlete.

Lindsey, thank you for chatting to us! How are things going for you as sport gradually makes its way back?

It has been an interesting experience and year, particularly with a business that essentially prepares athletes to do sport and to participate across a wide variety of sports from a professional point of view and all the way to amateur. So, it’s been really interesting getting creative and figuring out ways to keep people motivated.

What we have done was to create really exciting products both in the 50+ age group where I feel like the older athletes have been neglected in terms of the science and in terms of attention. So, we created these products for older athletes who are slowing down a lot and struggling with injuries to help get the going and motivated. To get them back on track and essentially allow them to enjoy the benefits exercise later into their lives.

More exciting for me, we also started looking at females and essentially doing the exact same. Female athletes have always been treated as “little men” in terms of their training and now we have created these programmes that take women’s bodies and their unique physiological differences into account. We have created these specialised strength programmes which focus on when they should push harder, when they should be pulling back and that has been an exciting process.

“We have created a whole lot of webinars to draw attention to things like relative energy deficit syndrome, going into menopause, exercising during menopause and it’s just been really cool to be part of this and putting the spotlight on female exercise.” – Running coach, consultant and speaker, Lindsey Parry

And around that, through Shona Hendricks who is part of our team, we have created a whole lot of webinars to draw attention to things like relative energy deficit syndrome, going into menopause, exercising during menopause and it’s just been really cool to be part of this and putting the spotlight on female exercise. Those are some of the exciting things that we have done and obviously now that we are moving back into some races, we hope to create a lot more excitement, noise around these topics and help as many athletes as we can.

What has been the most difficult for you during this year?

I would say keeping myself and the people that I work with motivated. To do exercises is the easy part for me and has always been, it is part of my life and I love to go out and do a run but to do specific exercises, geared towards a specific outcome, personally I have struggled a little with the virtual races. They have not really done much for me and I have clients who have enjoyed these virtual races and it has been enough for them and on the other hand, I have clients who feel the exact same way as I do.

Already the hardest part over the past few months was the uncertainty of knowing how hard to push and for how long because athletes couldn’t just keep going indefinitely, hoping that races and events were going to pop up on the horizon. So the uncertainty really was really the hardest and it is something that we are still going through. We are not through it because some events are coming up. The formats have changed a little but we are still waiting for some kind of certainty from Athletics South Africa in terms of saying that these are the races that are going to be on the calendar next year, these are the rules that are going to be governing those events and that would make it much easier for us to set goals, schedule when we should be training harder.

How have you been able to tackle these challenges?

In terms of tackling the uncertainty that has been harder and of course, what I have found is that there have been times of high motivation and times of where the uncertainty has gotten to myself and to the clients. To a degree, we tackled that by accepting that we need to be a little bit kind to ourselves during this time, we need to take a step back and understand that everybody is going to go through down time every now and then. We have taken the attitude that we are going to be there for people when that happens. Funny enough, some of my clients have also been there for me when I have hit one of those lower moments with uncertainty.

In essence, I think we have been pretty lucky. Obviously having a great family around me has helped considerably, the children really enjoyed having me home, so that has been a positive spin.

What other positives have you drawn from the situation?

Well, the initial stages of Covid actually provided quite a few positives. I alluded to one previously where after many years of lots of travelling – international and local events – it allowed me to decompress at home, spend more time with my kids, doing more things as a family, so that has been an enormous personal positive.

In a professional sense, just getting more creative with products and programmes, pushing the limits of what the online platform allows us to do and the people it allows us to reach not only in South Africa but internationally.

“It has allowed us to explore different forms of training, seeing how different athletes respond to slightly different stimulus.” – Parry on coaching athletes during Covid-19 times.

On a case by case situation, dealing with the athletes that I work with, it has actually given us a chance to step off the treadmill, away from preparing for the same race, at the same time of year. It has allowed us to explore different forms of training, seeing how different athletes respond to slightly different stimulus and it has created an opportunity for South Africans in particular to really stretch themselves over shorter distances like 5 and 10km’s rather than always been obsessed with the marathon. So, there are quite a lot of positives that have come out from the year, many of which will continue to be rewarding as we return to our new normal and races begin.

Where does your passion for sport come from? 

It comes from a couple of different areas to be honest. One, and I guess the most important thing is that the moment I was aware of my surroundings, my father was a runner and a very good one at that. So, we were dragged along to races which I really enjoyed from an early age and of course, my dad doing well. It sparked an interest because knowing that my father was good at something and as I got older, I found out that my mother was a national level hockey player and in her youth a Victor Ludorum in athletics – good sprinter, long-jumper. My folks were always active and although my mom was no longer able to be competitive because she had all her toes on her one foot amputated after a motor-vehicle accident in Zambia, she always played tennis and squash. So they had set an example for me and I had an infinity for balls and sports. I played a lot of team sports growing up. I did get some of my dad’s ability, not all of it, I was pretty good at athletics and I loved it. It was literally a no brainer, I wanted to play every single sport both in primary and high school. I swam, I ran, played cricket, rugby…At interhouse sports I would do absolutely everything.

I grew up knowing I was either going to do sport professionally or work in sport. I had a very short flirtation with going into Law and doing LLB, but even that was with the intention of specialising in Sports Law and becoming a Sports Agent, so I have never deviated from wanting to be in sport. 

Please tell us how you got into the industry.

“Once I personally realised that I wasn’t going to be good enough to make it as a professional sportsman, I found interest in how the human body works and the rehabilitation process.” – Parry speaks on his journey in the sport industry.

So, knowing that I wanted to be in sports, I essentially targeted on being in the industry and once I personally realised that I wasn’t going to be good enough to make it as a professional sportsman, I found interest in how the human body works and the rehabilitation process. Once I finished university and did my internship, I started working in the Biokinetics environment. Pretty much taking any opportunity that anyone would give me to work with a sports team. I was very lucky to work with Hellenic Football Club and I would do sessions with the players and eventually allowed to work with their u19 side all on my own.

I worked with the Villagers Rugby Football Club both as the strength and conditioning coach for the U20’s as well as head coach for the U20 B side, which obviously gave me a good understanding of managing teams and how coaches operate.

Through the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, I got involved in a very cool project with Western Province rugby. They had these massive gym containers and they would drop them off at rugby clubs in and around the townships in the Western Cape and I was assigned to a club called Lagunya Rugby Football Club. It was really awesome to work with them for two years. They had been playing in the third division and in my second year, the team went on to break every record held in terms of number of points scored, number of tries and were promoted to the second division.

I then sadly moved away from Cape Town to take up a position at Pretoria University. But, ja, all of these things kind of gave me this grounding that I always knew I was going to be involved in sports. I also got involved in triathlon and the development of the sport in the Western Cape and that quickly bloomed into me becoming triathlon coach and being involved in the triathlon High Performance programme, then opening my own coaching business and becoming the official coach of the Comrades Marathon Association via columns that I was writing for Runners World.

What have been some of your biggest highlights so far in your career?

There have been a lot! Helping Richard Murray win the WTS race which is the highest in triathlon, to helping him qualify for the London Olympics in 2012, being involved with the SA triathlon team when we won bronze through Richard Murray again in the individual race and the real highlight of those Commonwealth Games in Glasgow was bringing home the silver medal in the team relay.

Being part of the SA management team that went to Croatia and won three medals at 100km World Champs. One that I would say that I am most proud of from that race is one of our females – Salome Cooper – winning a medal when no one gave us chance of winning anything.

Also, being part of the journeys of Caroline Wostman with wins at Two Oceans Marathon and Comrades. Helping Charne Bosman back from a near fatal experience on the side of Comrades, to getting her to second and then first. So, those are some of the elite highlights that I have been fortunate enough to be involved with.

And, on the amateur side, getting runners across the line at Comrades after having tried for years to finish the race. Those experiences bring almost as much pleasure to me as going to the Olympics and wins at huge international races.

Looking at the state of women’s sport, what are your thoughts and how can we improve the state of the women’s side of the game? 

I think the keywords here are opportunity and belief. Having being involved in sport now for two decades, there is just no way that women are given the same opportunities that men are given to have the space to achieve. Again, I feel like the achievements of females like Caroline, Charne, Gerda Steyn – I think the achievements of women like that and other women getting to see what is possible is key but we are not doing enough to create opportunities for a mass lifting up.

I am encouraged by what I am seeing in the swimming pool with swimmers like Tatjana Schoenmaker and what recently transpired at the National Short Course Championships with a good wave of female swimmers coming up, on the side of football, netball as well cricket are really great examples of what can be achieved if we do provide the right opportunities for female athletes.

At the same time, we see a plan being made for SA male cricket team to get an opportunity to play in an international series, while there has been nothing for the Momentum Proteas, again not level playing field…Opportunities are not the same!

There are organisations that are really doing a good job investing in women’s sport like SPAR. But there still isn’t enough being done to provide equal opportunities and what I am trying to say is that with a few successes that we have seen from our female athletes, if the opportunities were provided it is clear that women can achieve just as well as men can for South Africa. We have to work harder to create these opportunities!

What legacy are you hoping to leave in sport?

That is a tough question to answer…I would like to think that I would leave a legacy of honesty, of honest competition, of always believing as South Africans we can achieve great things and when I look back, I feel very privileged to have been involved in so many good things already.

I would like to look back one day and hope that I have done more, especially in the development space of sport and creating more opportunities for females and people of colour to achieve. It’s not about how good I or anyone else is as a coach, it’s about working with other people to provide the opportunities that will help them prosper and succeed.