“If my car broke down at McDonald’s, I definitely wouldn’t call him. I’d ring my husband first! But if he was playing golf, Scott would be the next I’d call, although he did forget to pick me up from the train station once!”
If you’re looking for one sentence to sum up the relationship between Britain’s top pole vaulter Holly Bradshaw and coach Scott Simpson, this is it. Brutal honesty. Respect. Devotion. Large dose of humour.
Injuries may have stifled her rise last year, but the 23-year-old Sky Academy Scholar from Preston is back and has produced pole vault fireworks this summer on her return to the arena – crowned British champion and an impressive seventh at the Beijing World Championships.
A year of travelling between the UK and USA after the 2012 London Olympics proved too much, so Holly opted to settle in Cardiff and began working with her new coach. It will have been three years in October. They haven’t looked back.
Do they ever argue? How do they work together? Do they actually like each other? What does Holly really think of Scott’s turkey and spinach lasagne? Holly on Scott. Scott on Holly. In their own words…..
HOLLY: “If it wasn’t for Scott, I wouldn’t have even been in Beijing. He’s worked so hard over the last two years to get me where I am now. For my injuries, he’s been alongside me for all my lows.
“Even when something happens that’s nobody’s fault, he blames himself. He even made me a sleeping strategy for China so I didn’t have jet lag. The result was for me and him.
“I know how much he devotes his life to the pole vault and gets the best out of me. In the final when I jumped 4.70m, I was so happy and I looked over to see the biggest smile on Scott’s face. It was great to do that performance for both of us. My friend sent me video of the TV shots zooming in on Scott and showed him punching the air. It was so nice to see.
“Ahead of the final, we had breakfast and lunch together and Scott was by my side all day. He gave me a hug and said good luck, as well as a few words of inspiration.
“He said I should go out there and smash it and do your best! After every jump he’d give me feedback like I was too close to the bar or too far away. Most of the time he was smiling and said I was jumping well so that was great!
“In between jumps, Scott would be emotional and factual. He told me if I was pushing the pole or putting my feet down – all the facts I needed to know. It was facts first and then the pep talk and words of inspiration – getting me pumped up!
“Even when I’m not doing well he never shows he’s angry or upset. He just helps me get over that bar! For the Worlds, he made me a laminated print-out of a Beijing scene and a photo of me with quotes. I looked at it before my jumps and it inspired me.”
SCOTT: “I made her a poster for Beijing. It was a few images of her vaulting and some motivational quotes. She liked to take that into the competitive environment. She stayed positive and had great training sessions.
“Ahead of qualifying and final our philosophy was ‘anything is a bonus’! We knew she had a great chance of making the final.
“After the 18 months she had it was about enjoying being back on the world stage. She had a lot of fun and that enjoyment came through. She excelled in qualifying and to jump a season’s best and get a top-eight finish was almost as good as we could have hoped for. Holly was chuffed to bits.”
HOLLY: “There’s not a day he doesn’t know what’s happened! Especially with my injury. I’d go for breakfast to talk through anything I was worried about. I’m not very logical and I like to get things sorted as soon as possible, whereas Scott’s so organised.
“We’re the perfect match! He always has a plan and he’s very professional and that rubs off on me. For the Worlds I had to deal with the travelling, preparation camp and organising myself for qualification.
“I felt like an actual professional athlete! We just had everything covered. He made sure I thought about everything, like having a stool to sit on during competition, having an umbrella for the sun and rain! I felt great and in control and normally I’m running around like a little kid. He’s just made me a much better athlete.
“He’s not just a coach. He coaches me and he’s a mentor, inside and out of pole vault. He’s made me understand all about the event, but he also helps in my actual life – media work and with confidence in speaking.”
SCOTT: “The art of coaching is chopping and changing with the athlete. I try to be firm and direct in telling them what to do. When I started with Holly it was all about getting to know each other. Holly was inexperienced so I was teaching, directing and giving information.
“She’s grown a lot in the last two years. I’m now stepping back and letting her lead and I step in when I have to. I’m trying to let her make her own decisions and we bounce ideas off each other. The relationship has really evolved.
“You can do a lot of things as a coach to make things worse and the last thing you want to do is put an athlete under stress when they are struggling in a competition.
“You do have to come in quite hard when things aren’t going well, but you have to remember that athletes aren’t trying to do poorly. People play that aggressive card too much – it’s all about nurturing.
“When things are going well, you motivate without drilling. I used that mentality earlier in the season. You beat them up and create a situation where they have to fight back. So come a championships like the Worlds they are equipped to deal with that. Under the stress of competition there is no point in adding more stress.”
HOLLY: “We don’t argue. Neither of us are confrontational. I put 100 per cent trust into him. He wants the best out of me like I do, so I tend to go with what he thinks. I am indecisive and so he tends to make the decisions for me!
“We’re also very good friends. He gives me loads of advice and it’s great to have someone there for me. If I’m upset or if I’m happy, I can talk to him about anything and it just makes it more fun having a coach and a friend. We have a very good relationship.
“It’s the perfect balance, although he does have some bad music taste! We were in the car the other day and he put on some gangster rap and I had to say ‘I’m not into that Scott’!”
SCOTT: Holly is incredibly gifted mentally. I’ve not met anyone like her before. It’s her perseverance with all the challenges put in her way. Plus, she’s very competitive. She will raise her game when it matters.
“Sometimes she needs more discipline in the heat of competition. She can get over-excited and fall apart. Technically though, she’s a great pole vaulter and has got an amazing feel for the event. She’s an incredible speed-power athlete. In full flight she is incredible. That’s what makes her great.
“Moving forward, we are working on Holly’s robustness and dealing with injuries and how her body can tolerate that. Pole vault is a very gymnastic and dynamic activity and we need to balance that with her agility – it’s an area we need to work on.”
HOLLY: “Scott is organised and has got a good sense of humour. He makes training fun. Some sessions can be flat but he’s got energy and we have a laugh and training never feels like a chore.
“There is one thing he does that annoys me, though! That’s being late for social events. He’s on time for anything professional but something like a BBQ – he’s always late!”
SCOTT: “We’ve learnt a lot in the last two years on what works and what doesn’t. Keeping healthy is top priority.
“We don’t need to bury Holly with physical activities at training camps. Getting away from home and having better weather will be useful. We go to South Africa before Christmas and then we’ll do an indoor competition, stay in the US for a few weeks before heading to Europe for the summer. Then the Rio preparation begins!”
HOLLY: “I don’t envisage ever leaving Scott. The only big change I want for the next 12 months is to be healthy. I’ve had four or five injury niggles this year but I’m in a good place now.
“We’ve got a good training programme to get me fit and strong. Scott is the perfect coach and he’s the guy to get the most out of me. There’s nobody else in the world who can do that. We are the perfect team.”