As anyone who has any sort of involvement with grassroots athletics will know, running an athletics club is tough work, but once you start, it’s difficult to stop. That’s certainly been the case for Switzerland’s Jessica Barbey.
Recognised for her contributions to the sport with the European Athletics Women’s Leadership Award in 2013, Jessica first became involved with her club, Stade Genève, at the age of seven and more than 30 years later she is still working hard to ensure that the sport thrives in the city of Geneva.
Starting out as a sprinter, Jessica has undertaken just about every role imaginable, from athlete to youth coach; from head of a local training centre to club president – twice!
Her first leadership role came as a teenager. “At around 13-14 years, it was natural for me to start helping the coaches with the children in the younger age groups,” Jessica says. “Then, while I was still competing, two of the girls asked for me to train them in the sprints. I did, and the coaching bug had struck,”
After she retired as an athlete, the position of head of the Canton of Geneva’s training centre became vacant and Jessica was hired by the Geneva Athletics Association for the job.
On top of that commitment, she was elected to be president of Stade Genève at the relatively young age of 27, serving for seven years and helping the club to host three Swiss national championships. As if that was not enough, she still found time to coach the club’s elite sprinters five times per week.
“The number of hours was very high,” Jessica comments, “but I love what I do.”
Stepping down from her presidential role following the birth of her second child, she switched to coaching the young athletes alongside her ,roles at the training centre and as the club’s Secretary General, tasks that she continues to carry out.
But her presidential “retirement” was only temporary and Jessica has since resumed the presidency.
David Grolimund, the former Director of Swiss Athletics, acknowledges the valuable contributions to the sport that Jessica has made: “for her whole life she has been active in athletics in different functions.”
As a former athlete she knows perfectly what is needed to reach a national or higher level. As a president of her club she has proved for many years that she is a competent leader. And when the club really needed her, Jessica was there. She has really been a role model.”
It is a glowing tribute and Jessica is rightly proud of the recognition.
“For Swiss Athletics to nominate me for the Women's Leadership Award touched me,” she says. “This makes me think that my job is not ignored and forgotten. Recognition at European level is just amazing. This is an additional motivation to continue what I'm doing.”
While Jessica has already achieved a lot, she still has ambitions for both herself and for her beloved Stade Genève, however.
“My aspirations are mostly for my club,” she reveals. “I’ve started to renew the coaching team. For many years the active coaches were those who coached me, now 32 years later . . . it was necessary to motivate some young people so they have an interest to work with younger generations.
“My role is not to create international athletes at all costs but have young athletes who are healthy in body and mind, and who know sporting values: transcendence, competitiveness, solidarity, respect and fun.”
Given her track record, expect those aspirations to be achieved.
The European Athletics Women's Leadership Awards
The aim of the European Athletics Women's Leadership Awards is to recognise the behind the scenes work and accomplishments that have helped to make the winners role models for other women in athletics. Coaching young athletes, officiating, setting up and managing clubs . . . their achievements are as varied as the individuals themselves.
In 2013, 26 women including Jessica were selected for the award by their national athletics federations.