I've worked in high-performance sport now for almost 20 years; and I've been involved with National Teams that have been centralised, and others that haven't. Some are not well enough funded, so it's very difficult. Others just don't lend themselves to it for one reason or the other. In larger countries - such as Canada and the US - that don't funnel a lot of money towards amateur sport, it is often quite challenging to centralise. In smaller countries - such as the UK - especially in sports that are well-funded - it makes little sense to not be centralised.
So to centralize or not to centralize? My point is - it depends on the situation. A couple of my friends and colleagues express similar feelings.
Matt Price is a strength and conditioning consultant with the Canadian Sports Centre, Calgary, and is the Head S&C and Physiologist for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team. Dr Peter Davis has been involved in high-level sport for 30 years, and has had leadership roles at the AIS, the USOC, and was the Director of Sport Sciences, Sports Medicine and Technology for 'Own The Podium', an Olympic preparation program for Canadian athletes for both the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, as well as future Canadian Summer Olympic Teams. He now consults with a variety of international sports Federations in all areas of high performance sport planning and development.
I certainly recognize there are a multitude of methods of which to develop athletes, but when it comes to "playing odds", the centralized model provides the greatest chances for long term and sustainable success on the international stage. As well, many of the arguments against the centralized model come from the "one off" talents and/or shallow talent pool sports and can be directed straight back to point #2 about compromise. I personally enjoy hearing about sports, teams, and federations that want to reinvent the sport development wheel and roll the dice on low percentage systems. It is this environment that provides disparity amongst the competition and provides an opponent, against which those who prepare relentlessly and WITHOUT compromise, to kick ass...
People/programs often miss the best model by being totally black or white...looking for one vs the other... i.e. fully centralised vs decentralized... full time residency or part time residency. I think you have to build whatever works based on things like the sophistication of the sport and coaches, age and maturity of athletes, sophistication of the sport science-sport medicine network, need for facilities and a host of other things.
I have always believed that one of the biggest advantages - and 'intangibles' - is that having a group of athletes all around each other builds the culture of hard work and excellence. A lot of athletes in Calgary, for instance, probably benefited from seeing how hard some of the top level speed-skaters worked on the ice, off the ice etc, or Jessica Zelinka etc. - same thing happened at the AIS... same thing happened at USOC in Colorado Springs... you can't get that working alone in Moose Jaw or Timbuktu.