Franz Stampfl

(1913—1995) athletics coach

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(1913–95) An Austrian athletics coach whose systematic, all-round approach to training was one of the modernizing influences upon the sport. Stampfl claimed to have introduced ‘scientific’ methods of coaching in Britain in 1938; though this has been disputed, there is no doubt that Stampfl was an important influence upon coaching and training. Leaving Germany after experiencing the military politicization of the Olympics in Berlin in 1936, Stampfl went to England and was given coaching opportunities by Harold Abrahams. As a German citizen, he endured the war years as an intern in Canada and Australia, surviving the torpedoing of a ship in the Atlantic. Returning to England after the war, with no formal coaching qualifications, Stampfl nevertheless achieved influence over English runners such as Chris Brasher, Chris Chataway, and Roger Bannister. Chataway recalls how Stampfl, an ‘ebullient mid-European’, could invest athletic ambitions and the mundanities of training with ‘glamour and magic’. His focus on interval training reshaped the coaching manuals, and he ran open-access training sessions at an army barracks in Chelsea, London. Stampfl also coached at the University of Oxford in the early 1950s. His approach to athletes was based on the mind as well as the body, including getting to know the personality of each athlete in a confidential coach–client relationship.

Raised in Vienna, Stampfl was a javelin thrower, trained as an artist, and mixed in poetry and philosophy circles. For him, coaching was a vocation, not a mere job. The coach has ‘the same sort of compulsion as drives some to write, some to paint, some to build bridges’; emerging from the city of Sigmund Freud, Stampfl stressed psychological and mental preparation as much as physical training, and was the lynchpin in the backroom planning (with a strong emphasis on pacemaking) for Bannister's successful campaign to break the four-minute mile barrier. Bannister acknowledged Stampfl as ‘an adviser, not a coach’. It was the holistic approach to the coaching role that marked Stampfl's distinctive impact: ‘Guide, philosopher and friend, counsellor and confessor, a prop at times of mental tension’ were the key components of the role as envisaged and lived by this Austrian pioneer.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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