Athletics: Building on the legacy of pair of heavyweights: The leading coach Tom McNab looks at opportunities to be grasped in evolving a coherent strategy after the departure of influential figures

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The Independent Online
SUCCESS has a thousand fathers, failure is an orphan. Two of the fathers of Britain's recent athletics success, Frank Dick and Andy Norman, are now leaving the scene, both having left indelible marks on the sport.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Norman transformed international competitive opportunities for aspiring British athletes. In contrast to the genteel blazerati of previous years, Norman moved into the marketplace; indeed it could be said that he helped create a new market.

His contribution cannot be underestimated, for competition is the oxygen of athletics. He brought into being a new world, one in which British athletics could thrive. His fall is at least as much the result of a lack of leadership and vision in the sport as to any personal flaws.

Dick, who last month announced his resignation as Britain's director of coaching, brought a cohesion, a clarity and a formality to the training of coaches which had been totally lacking in my period as a national coach. His strength did not lie in the practicalities of coaching, but in a systematic preparation of national teams for major championships. Here he brought a professionalism and a vision which had been totally lacking.

Both Dick and Norman developed in a period when the leading officials of the 1970s were moving into non-executive roles as chefs de mission with national teams or rising without trace to international committees. The new world of professional athletes was not one in which they breathed easily.

They were therefore happy to leave Norman and Dick to rule their respective fiefdoms, though these fiefdoms were not part of any coherent strategy. Dick needed performance and Norman needed performers and the two needs were often in conflict.

The ethical waters of athletics were at their muddiest in the 1980s. Peter Radford's appointment could not have come at a better time, for the departure of Norman and Dick allows the BAF's executive chairman to start with a clean sheet.

Paradoxically, the sport is both at its best and worst point in recent years. On the one hand we have Gunnell, Christie, Jackson, Regis and Smith and a high position in world athletics. On the other, we have the loss of television and sponsorship revenue.

Radford's aim must be to use the next two years to build a professional infrastructure to take athletics successfully to the end of the century. The sport's assets are enormous: nearly 2,000 clubs, 40,000 coaches and officials, the best club competitive structure on earth and a county schools system topped by the All England Championships.

What the sport has never had is a comprehensive and coherent strategy. Its promotions department has no relationship with coaching and development and the sport has no programme to provide constant training for its professional employees. Its development staff have no leadership and its national coaches are still jacks of all trades, covering every event and every level of performance.

First, the training of coaches must be separated from performance. A director of coach-education should be appointed, dedicated only to the provision of high-quality coach-education. Here, a link with the National Coaching Federation would be valuable, so that the more general child-related developmental elements of the NCF could be incorporated.

The appointment of a performance director would have the aim of meeting the needs of top performers from junior international level upwards, in terms of sports medicine, sports science, coaching and financial support. Supporting the performance director would be a network of part-time specialists.

The performance director would work closely with the director of promotions to minimise inevitable conflicts of interest. There must be a marriage of the sport's commercial needs and the performance- needs of athletes.

With a diminishing volume of school physical education and after- school sport, with compulsory competitive tendering and cutbacks at local authority level, the director of development must be someone of energy and vision.

Rugby union has 42 full-time local development officials, all serviced, advised and trained by the Rugby Football Union. Athletics has 13, all working in isolation, while its five BAF regional development officers all work to different priorities, with no control of budgets and no central control. This must be rationalised, as the national lottery offers massive opportunities, particularly in the provision of indoor training facilities, which can be the hub of regional performance development.

In Radford, the sport now has an executive director of vision and reality. With its yearly elections, it does not, alas, yet possess (although its processes are more democratic than most sports) an electoral system which permits continuity of policy. This must be changed, with longer terms of office. And coaching must come to the top of the agenda, for it is ludicrous that the new director of marketing is paid more than the director of coaching.

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