Ashling O'Connor: Behind every great athlete is a great coach, but these unsung heroes seldom get the recognition – or the cash support – they deserve

Volunteer coaches provide time worth £7.9bn a year, based on the minimum wage

Christine Ohuruogu and Lloyd Cowan are part of a team but, unless you are an athletics nut, you will not have heard of the latter.

Ohuruogu is a household name since winning 400m Olympic gold in Beijing in 2008 and, after retaining her world title in Moscow this year and in so doing breaking the long-standing national record held by Kathy Cook, was this week named on the 10-strong shortlist for BBC Sports Personality of the Year.

For his part as her coach, Cowan – appointed this year by UK Athletics as its lead sprints coach – is also up for a gong. Next week he is nominated for the title of High Performance Coach of the Year at the UK Coaching Awards against Warren Gatland, who led the British & Irish Lions to a historic series victory in Australia, and Anna Mayes, the England netball coach who steered her players to a (comparatively under-mentioned) 3-0 series drubbing of the old sporting enemy.

But that is where the similarities end. Ohuruogu will take to the red carpet for a live TV extravaganza watched by 12,000 people at the First Direct Arena in Leeds and millions of others at home. Cowan will take the Tube to the Montcalm Hotel in London’s Marble Arch and a crowd of 300.

Coaches are an integral part of Britain’s unprecedented sporting success but they are still largely anonymous. They deserve much higher appreciation – recognition that without them we would not know the names of the sports stars we take delight in watching.

It is a slowly changing culture. During the London Olympics, it was hard to interview a victorious British athlete – and there were many, if you remember – without them gushing with praise for the man or woman who drove them on to win their medal.

Read Katherine Grainger’s sincere autobiography and the characters that emerge as the most influential in a rowing career which happily included a gold medal in London after three silvers are her coaches, most notably Paul Thompson.

Sir Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s performance director and the head of Team Sky, has done more than most to raise the public profile. In a straw poll, most people would know who he was – helped by the fact that he is instantly recognisable and media-savvy. The same could be said of Sir Clive Woodward, the 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning coach, although his two immediate predecessors, Geoff Cooke and Jack Rowell, had higher win-loss ratios.

Few people would know the name of Peter Keen, the man who set cycling on its path to success before Brailsford and oversaw the delivery of Britain’s record medal haul in London in his role at UK Sport.

I would challenge all of you to pick just one of these out of a line-up: Sonya Ellis (athletics), Matt Price (karate), Nick Walshe (rugby union), Steve Hillman (multi-sports), Claire Morrison (boccia), Stuart Wilkinson (wheelchair and deaf tennis), Brett Ince (women’s artistic gymnastics), Tim Lord-Hopkins (tennis), Melissa Reid (swimming, triathlon and surfing), Lynne Booth (netball), Carol Jackson (athletics), Gareth Jones (cricket), Peter Ball (golf), John Gunn (cycling), Helen Smith (netball). They are nominees at the UK Coaching Awards.

And then there are the ranks of amateurs, who account for 75 per cent of the estimated one million coaches in the UK. These volunteers are the bedrock of community sport, providing time worth £7.9bn a year, based on the minimum wage of £6.31 an hour, according to a survey published last month by Pitchero, a company that helps amateur clubs build websites. But, given the financial and time pressures of modern life, they are in increasingly short supply and only growing older.

Ask any federation chief what is among their biggest worries and they will say the lack of support that is forcing sports clubs to turn people away in droves just at the moment when they should be reaping the London 2012 dividend. Inspired by Jessica Ennis? Well, go to her home track at the Don Valley Stadium in Sheffield and you will find diggers pulling it down under a cost-saving scheme by the council.

A survey this year of nearly 3,000 clubs  by the Sport & Recreation Alliance found that a third expect not to have enough coaches to meet rising demand over the next two years.

If we are to rely on the goodwill of parents, former athletes and retired professional coaches to keep clubs open, there are things the Government could do to help. A small incentive would be to make volunteers’ expenses tax deductible. I understand the idea was mooted but didn’t make it past ministers. Why not? The cost to the Treasury would be minimal; the impact on volunteers significant. It would make them feel more valued.

Coaching is now a serious career, which is progress. This week Brailsford and Jürgen Gröbler, the Great Britain rowing coach, became honorary members of UK Sport’s new Coaching Fellowship, which aims to champion the profession.

There is also commercial interest: Gillette has invested £350,000, specifically funding more than 100 amateurs to get coaching qualifications.

But much more should be done to help coaches become as celebrated as the athletes they train.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
people
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

IT Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

Graduate Sales Executive

17.5k + Commission (£18.5k after probation period): ESI Media: You will be res...

History Teacher

£110 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor