Athletics: Lack of GB coaches damaging 2012, says Cram

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fabio Capello takes charge of his first England team on Wednesday surrounded by his Italian lieutenants as part of a foreign legion who have undertaken the most successful invasion of these shores since the Romans.

British sport is now being run by imported coaches, most of them recruited in the frantic quest for Olympic glory. Some two-thirds of the 28 sports in which Team GB will compete in Beijing and London will have performance directors and senior coaches expensively head-hunted from Australia to Ukraine. They range from the East German emigré Jürgen Grobler, who has long been behind the phenomenal success of British rowing, to newcomer Biz Price, the Canadian synchronised swimming Svengali.

As Sebastian Coe says: "It is very simple. If quality coaches aren't available here, you go for the best available elsewhere." But why aren't more quality coaches available here? Why are there no British successors to men such as Coe's own father, Peter, who coached him to two Olympic gold medals?

Coe's contemporary Steve Cram, who had a homegrown coach in Jimmy Hedley, says: "Jimmy was the sort of bloke who'd be there every night. He gave up 50 years of his life and never received a penny. These people are not being replaced and there is a massive shortfall of professional coaches that is threatening to undermine the legacy of 2012. We need a career path for British coaches because we are not keeping pace with other countries."

It is 12 years since Frank Dick quit as the national coaching guru after the most illustrious spell British athletics has known. He overlorded an inspired era when all that glittered on the track really did turn to gold, from Coe to Sally Gunnell.

Dick, now 66 and one of sport's top motivational speakers, believes Britain does not take coaching seriously enough as a profession and that his own sport, which suffered a steep decline, failed to prepare enough for the future. "I was very lucky, because I had some exceptional coaches around me, but they were not young, and that's the nub of the problem. There is a dearth of good young coaches. It seems to me we have lost a generation somewhere, and if you want to fill in that gap by bringing in foreign coaches you must be able to ensure that they are able to influence and develop home coaching talent. You need coaching apprentices, like the American system."

But are British coaches willing to learn? As the European Athletics Coaches Association's president, Dick says few turn up to seminars. "As a young coach I remember travelling from Edinburgh, crossing the Channel, then taking a train all the way to Budapest, simply to stand outside the warm-up areas to watch what was happening.

"We also seem to have a growing confusion about who is running the show these days. We have people out there called performance directors and managers, we have coaches and all sorts of specialists, and it does seem that they disconnect. We must join up the dots, not just be looking for short-term success."

Yet three of Britain's most successful sports, cycling, sailing and amateur boxing, are overseen by Brits, and Ian Turner, the head coach of British Swimming, is quitting to take a job in New Zealand, a rare example of a British coach lured abroad.

However, his former boss Bill Sweetenham, who has returned to Australia, was replaced as performance director by another Aussie, Michael Scott, but the sport's chief executive, David Sparkes, is more sanguine about the future. "In swimming we have some potentially world-class young coaches coming through who are being helped by our foreign coaches.

"We train around 12,000 instructors and coaches a year and need 20,000 to meet the demand. But Britain does need more coherent financial investment in coaching at all levels."

According to Dick, this is vital. Coaching must be made a much more attractive career. He says: "The biggest single legacy we can pass on to the world through the London Olympics is how we lead, how we coach and how we can change the sporting world to make it a better place.

"We have this influx of foreign expertise, so for goodness' sake make sure that when that flame goes down in 2012 we have a very serious legacy to pass on to the future of sport."

Comments