This week Bill Carne talked to Ian Smith, formerly a goalkeeper at Johnston AFC but now a qualified assistant trainer in boxing after initially taking his daughter Nia to train at Merlin's Bridge ABC . . .

For much of his sporting career Ian Smith played football as a goalkeeper with Johnston, but is now a qualified assistant coach in amateur boxing and helps Graham Brockway at Merlins Bridge ABC.

That he is totally immersed there is down to the fact that daughter Nia wanted to try boxing and so Ian began to take her there – and sat and watched her and other youngsters being put through their paces.

Nia showed such potential that before long she had extended her twice-weekly sessions to attending most weeknights, was enjoying sparring and eventually made her debut in the ring, which meant dad spending a lot of time at the club.

In a chance conversation with Graham the possibility of helping out was discussed and Ian did basic jobs like timing exercises or encouraging work on the bags - and before he knew it was registered on an Assistant Coach course at the National Sports Centre at Sophia Gardens.

“I went with Wayne O’Sullivan, who is not only regarded as one of the best footballers in Pembrokeshire over the last decade but has been a Welsh boxing champion and is held in high regard all over South Wales.

“In comparison I was a raw novice on the course,” admitted Ian, “alongside a lady from up the line, but I was treated with total respect by all the coaches and 29 others seeking the Assistant Coaches’ qualification as we travelled up for a whole Saturday and worked hard from 8am to 4.30pm.

“The following weekend was two days of putting into practice what we learned with regular assessment in small groups of four or five, and then there was a final Saturday after that to complete our four full days – and to say I felt drained afterwards is an understatement.”

On that first Saturday Ian and Wayne were taught by some of the most experienced coaches in Wales and in their follow-up work they had to write programmes for fitness, work with dieticians to look at what youngsters needed to do regarding proper eating, and make sure they understood child protection issues.

“We also had to discuss our own general fitness, show we could understand the technique of punching heavy bags, so important for novices, and had to try one of their own training circuits and ‘enjoy’ a run of our own!

“I was nicely tired by the time we set off for home, armed with a file for our homework, which was to devise our own whole session of training across the age and experience ranges.”

The following weekend saw Ian and Wayne stay overnight in Pencoed in readiness for another early start where each candidate had to demonstrate their programme in their small groups, and Ian’s included showing how a ‘ton-up’ board worked at Merlins Bridge.

“I was nervous but pleased with the way it went but afterwards I think the adrenalin kicked in; I didn’t sleep well and although I had a fine breakfast I was suffering with a stiff neck!”

The next day covered items like working on different punches, the correct stance and counter punches and again after a full day it was a tired Mr Smith who trekked home, again with homework that included measuring physical and mental fitness.

That left the final day, where they knew that a decision would be made about their qualification and they had to write individual plans for young boxers and complete a booklet with a ‘tick-off’ list of things they had learned – and also write a detailed account of their time on the course.

“It was nerve-wracking waiting with a coffee to find out if we had passed, and I must say I was thrilled when I was given the green light – but equally pleased that Wayne had also been granted his qualification.”

Ask Ian about boxing training as compared to his days as a footballer at Johnston and he would say there is no comparison because in football it is usually once a week whereas aspiring boxers like daughter Nia train at least four or five times a week.

“We are lucky that my wife Kate and son Kenny (5) are very supportive, and he already wants to go to watch at the gym.

“Kate has always been brilliant although I have to admit that she was less than impressed as a Hakin girl when I asked her to come and watch me play in goal for Johnston against The Vikings. She arrived just in time to see Paul Turner smash a goal past me – and we eventually lost 10-0!

“I began as a striker and scored a few goals but then switched to midfield, then to right back – and ended up as a goalkeeper, and there was no way back from there!

“I did join brother Dazzy for two seasons at Haverfordwest County but returned to Glebelands, where I played for about 20 years.

“But by then I was really feeling the aches and pains so I retired and coached a good junior team right through from under 10 (where we had girls of the calibre of Naomi James, Emma Summons and Naomi Jones playing) to under 16s, which included Luke Hayward, Scott Murray, Lee Summons and Andrew Arnold as we played against the likes of Joe Allen and a strong Hakin team coached by Jimmy Harding.”

Now Ian’s focus is on boxing, however, and is in the gym nearly every evening. Indeed, as a key holder he opened the gym on a regular basis when Graham had a recent holiday in the USA.

“With Graham’s terrific help I’m gaining experience and he lets me take large groups for specific skills and also the whole classes for fitness routines.

“It hasn’t done me any harm because I enjoy a run and have lost a lot of weight being involved.”

It seems the respect is mutual because Graham told us: “Ian is a great asset for Merlins Bridge ABC, a good assistant coach who is as enthusiastic as anyone I know at the club, which rubs off on our youngsters.”

Visit the club, as we did, and Ian Smith’s contribution is evident – and we wish him many more years there doing what he does so well!