The structure of high performance judo in the UK has been in turmoil for quite some time. We have only won one Olympic medal in the last four Olympic games – almost 20 years with only one medal. I think this lack of Olympic medals has in some ways caused the constant changes in the structure of high performance judo in the UK. I cannot remember the years exactly but we had a structure that included high performance centres at Sheffield, Walsall and Bath, this was then to be further developed to include high performance centres in Scotland, NI and Wales. My personal opinion is that this is actually an excellent structure and could have worked fantastically but was very poorly implemented and managed. You cannot just build a facility, put a coach there and expect players to just turn up ready to train. The Sheffield centre is now a snooker hall, Walsall is doing well and is an England Excell centre but it is far from what was intended at the original inception. Bath was the most successful of the three. This was because there was someone there who focussed on the development and not just coaching. Dr Mike Callan understood a more holistic approach to the development of a daily training environment and it can be argued that the only reason Bath was successful when the others were not (although as I said Walsall is doing well now) is because of Dr Mike Callan.
Inevitably with no Olympic medals staff were changed around, we had Bisham Abbey for a while under one performance director, this was closed. We went into a structure of each “performance club” doing their own thing – Camberley, Ratho, Bath mainly.
But now, under Margaret Hicks, we have a centralised programme with the BPJI at Dartford, or do we? I think the concept of a centralised programme is actually a very good idea, one centre of excellence with all the facilities and all the players. But, in my opinion, what we see with the creation of the BJPI is yet another good idea opposed to and destroyed because of exceptionally poor implementation and management. Let me explain why…
1) If you create a new system and you want players to buy into it then it has to be better than what they already have. It must have better coaches (by better I mean more suitable to the specific clientele), you must have better sports science support, it must be an environment where the athletes feel that they can work harder/more efficiently than they currently do and where they feel the staff actually care about them as players and people.
2) You cannot order people to move, athletes compete because they want to win an Olympic medal and they train in the place they feel gives them the best chance to do that. Getting a player to move is about negotiation. You have to convince them them the environment you want them in is better for them. If you don’t they might move but they will never fully commit and believe in the system.
3) You have to implement it gradually. If they had created the BPJI and had made is “all singing, all dancing” then they should have worked on convincing junior players (and their parents) that they should go to the BPJI and not one of the other centres. This would have taken two Olympic cycles and would have meant the BPJI would have been the number one centre of excellence for Rio 2016 but at least it would still be there in 2016, it probably won’t be now.
4) Our athletes need some sort of distraction. This might be some sort of part-time job, probably best is education,this could be higher education but could equally be some sort of apprenticeship or internship. This is part of athletes feeling you care about developing them as individuals but it is also about a longer term understanding of developing British judo. When we went to Beijing we took three coaches (arguably the best in the country) who didn’t even have a degree amongst them, they were all ex players. In Germany you’d be hard pushed to get a high performance coaching role without at least a Masters degree, in Russia you would probably need a PhD and this is the same in many countries around the world. Coaching is complex and coaching is a science, it is applied by an artist but it is a science.I am not suggesting our coaches need exceptionally detailed understanding of physiology, Biomechanics, nutrition, performance analysis, psychology etc but they need to be able to understand and discuss this intellectually with the experts in these fields. We are likely yo keep employing ex players as coaches so we need to educate them.
5) We must embed research into our high performance programme. Is it okay to spend our £7.5m budget the say so of a performance director or a head coach? £7.5m on spent on opinion! The opinion of 2-5 people! Could you imagine this in the NHS, social work, the military, government etc? No, spending on this level should be based upon research, our players should be prepared using the most up to date research we can generate.
So going back to my original question, is the programme really centralised? Well Ratho is now deemed a centre of excellence or BPJI 2 or whatever it is being called. This came about quite simply because they have the a very high number of the best players in the country and basically they refused to move. We have a large number of players a Camberley, they are forced to attend the BPJI regularly, possibly victims of the proximity to Dartford. There is no doubt in my mind the majority feel they have to do extra hours at Camberley to make up for the time they feel they waste at the BPJI. Then we have Bath, I will discuss coaching philosophy in a later post, but the head coach at Bath and the GB head coach have very opposing philosophies to coaching and this means Bath players are often victims of politics despite being some of the best players in the country.
I had some other things I want to write but this post is getting too long so I will end here, I would like to point out the the BPJI has actually been very good for me personally. I live only 1hr away, I can take players from my club there to train for free, I am sent the program and can turn up whenever I want with my players for a session, I think this is excellent.
Next post I will consider the role of UK sport, transparency and general mood within British Judo.