It’s all in the Preparation

Rowden August 2012

The GB cycling team has been enormously successful at the London Olympics, 2012. So successful in fact that there have been complaints from other teams claiming that GB cycles are in some way ‘fixed’ to provide superior performance! Or that perhaps our athletes have some super- energy drink which is not available to other countries!

The truth of the matter is that the cycling and the backup teams are totally professional and pay enormous attention to the smallest detail. This is the secret of their success and is something that many other sports could learn from, including ours.

For example all cycling athletes are treated as individuals and every machine is ‘tailored’ to its rider. Each bike and rider is tested in the wind tunnel, so that the bikes, helmets and clothes etc have the least possible drag coefficient and so that the rider too adopts the perfect stance for him or her to lessen resistance. Nothing is left to chance and just think how much confidence this gives to the athletes: they know that everything possible is being done behind the scenes to ensure that they are successful.

The athlete is in total focus all the time and the first aspect to research right from the initial stages is how to help the athlete achieve the absolute maximum at all times. All the members of the backup teams are totally committed to just this sole objective.

Just think what results we could achieve if we applied the same attention to detail to our sport of table tennis! Each player treated as an individual, exercises corresponding to the exact requirements of the player on each and every training camp, liaison on a regular basis with the player’s own coach, listening to the player and what he/she wants to do and how he/she wants to train!

National Coaches seem to forget that most of the player’s development is in his/her own club and not on a few training camps. Any National Coach who does not control the player’s development and does not have control over all the aspects that go into creating success cannot hope to produce world-class performers. Winning against other countries will therefore be, not because of the system, but in spite of the system.

In this environment if players are required to represent their country, it will be necessary for them to have some incentive to do so. It is also crucial that methods are in place, which allow players to reach full potential as seniors and which allow players to attain a high level of self-sufficiency: this is long-term the final objective of the whole developmental exercise. That players are given full responsibility for their own development is crucial to their long-term evolution.

In the final analysis it’s what we do in the areas of skills coaching and in the understanding and development of techniques, which will determine the world level of our top athletes: these aspects differ of course from one performer to another as each is an individual. If the right standards are not set early we will fall way behind the rest of the world. If we do not ‘tailor’ the training and development to the athlete then we will fail and he/she will under-perform. Only by focusing in on personal strengths and qualities and by allowing these to blossom to the full, will our players ever reach their maximum potential.

At National level many of the coaches just don’t have the input time with the player to play a large part in the evolution of style and in the tactical/technical areas. In many cases too they don’t have the right background; recent ex-players rarely have great experience in the development of a variety of styles. Equally due to lack of funding the back-up teams don’t exist to focus on the small details that matter. This means that in the long run our players will underperform and will fail to attain the levels they should if they try to stay within the system.

Logically this therefore leads to the conclusion that searching for perfection and endeavouring to be the best you can be, is often not unfortunately compatible with playing for your country.

If we are to get anywhere at all we must adhere to the fundamental concept, that at an elite level it is the coach’s duty to refuse to compromise, the player must be completely ‘in focus’, only he or she matters – nothing else!

It was more than a little interesting that during the 2012 Olympics UK Sport was asked for meetings by a number of other competing countries. What these Olympics have done is to establish GB as the market leader. Our system is working and other countries want to know what we are doing. From 4 Olympics ago in Atlanta, where GB left the Games with one gold and was regarded as a joke, there has been an amazing turnaround. There are even signs that Rio in 2016 could be way better! Is this possible you might ask? It is, because the GB system is young, raw and unrefined, the potential is huge but other nations haven’t yet seen the half of it. As Peter Keen, who did most of the strategic thinking at UK Sport has said: ‘These are no shock results, it is where we are. This is what we worked towards and planned for’.

So just why have many of our sports been so successful? At any home Games the sports and the medal hopefuls get more money and there is a direct relationship between money and medals: at least if the money is well spent by an effective organisation with top quality leadership. However the seeds of success were sown much earlier by UK Sport around 2006 when a youngster from Hampshire was selected for stardom by the Bolshoi Academy in Moscow and questions were asked: ‘How was he selected and why? How was he going to be trained?’

The Bolshoi selects tiny numbers in the expectation that almost all will make it. They are brilliant at finding the talent and equally brilliant at developing it. This is in direct contrast to the football academies in GB that take in thousands and throw most of them away! This elitist channel to success is the ‘pathway’ which UK Sport is continually trying to perfect.

This is the path which UK Sport is encouraging other sports to emulate and which all sports in the UK would do well to follow: find the talent, polish it and turn it into gold. Don’t waste time, energy and money on the mass participation and mass failure pathway!

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