Monday, 17 September 2012

Centralisation: guest post by Gary Anderson...

A couple of days ago, I wrote a short blog about 'Centralisation' - basically, why I think it is a necessary part of building a long-term, successful, and sustainable program.  The blog has prompted quite a bit of interest, and additional insight from colleagues and professionals throughout the UK and North America.  
Gary Anderson is the Performance Director for British Bobsleigh, and he has been kind enough to offer up his thoughts on centralisation for today's post.  This brief post really gets at what is truly important for the development of sport...I look forward to your comments...

This is a topic very close to my heart, the subject of my postgraduate research and in my working life the search for the “holy grail”.
Centralization to people of a certain age, myself included, conjures up images of eastern bloc institutions, state run, where children who demonstrated any sporting prowess were herded off to be schooled and “coached”. Eastern bloc countries saw sporting events as an opportunity to demonstrate the superiority of the communist way of life. These programs were funded and closely monitored by the central government.
Today it is somewhat different.
I was fortunate to be working for UK Sport in 2002, or to be correct the United Kingdom Sports Institute (UKSI) a much heralded breakthrough in sport in the UK, a result of the new funding mechanisms that were allowing British Sports to develop their World Class Programmes, many of whom were electing to go down the route of centralized programmes. Much of this was to do with the influx of Australian personnel who after Sydney were in much demand (will London see the drain of UK Coaches to foreign parts ?) the “Aussies” had their own centralization called the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
Australian Institute of Sport
The AIS was born out of failure: At the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, Australians won just one silver and four bronze medals. When Australia’s prime minister at the time toured the Olympic Village, he was booed by the athletes, who felt they hadn’t been given the necessary support.
AIS hoped to capture the intensity and success of the Soviet academies, without going to the same excesses. The idea was simple: Get the best coaches and the best athletes together on a year-round basis, without any distractions, and hope that athletic magic would result. It worked well. Australia won 14 medals in 1988 and 27 in 1992. Then, in 1993, it was announced that the 2000 Summer Olympic Games would be held in Sydney. Like many host nations, Australia decided that a standout performance was crucial, and athletic funding was radically increased.
When you look at “dynasty winning” sports in recent Olympic cycles the vast majority have a “centralized” theme – some have several “hubs” but it is a well resourced programme of central support. 

The mistakes some have made are they adopted the “build it – and they will come” mentality, great infrastructure and facilities but missing the key ingredient that make it work …..PEOPLE or more accurately COACHES. The coach is the key – get “buy-in” from the coach and the athletes will follow. Let the coach lead the process.
If the coaching is of the required standard the support services can be built around that creating the high performance environment – an environment that creates winners. It does not work for everyone, all sports have examples of athletes “outside” of the system who have become successful. 
Are my thoughts and beliefs correct – that’s a matter of opinion. I have worked in sports where we have had strict centralization, we had great successes but at times it was very difficult. 
I have worked in sports where there was no central system of support – “herding bloody cats” comes to mind…….


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