Arnold voices fears over Britain's medal Crisis - Coaching in the UK,,4-2020887,00.html

Arnold voices fears over Britain’s medal prospects
By David Powell
Our correspondent talks to a leading coach who cannot see a career structure in place for the next generation
FOR more than 30 years, Malcolm Arnold has been a distinguished international coach. In fact, at 65, and still working, he is probably Great Britain’s most experienced coach, certainly among those who operate at elite level. Arnold’s voice, therefore, deserves to be heard and what he has to say makes uncomfortable listening.

“Coaching in Britain is in crisis,” he said. His headline comment stems from his concern that, while training centres and funding for elite athletes have taken off in Britain over the past ten years, coaches — and coach education especially — have been left behind. “If we do not want the embarrassment of no medals at the 2012 Olympics in London, the system must change,” Arnold said.

His voice of experience should be listened to by the government agencies planning for 2012. “What wound me up was that, after the Olympic bid was successful, Seb Coe announced that he thought that one of the key things for British success was coaching,” Arnold said. “But people still do not have due regard for the process it takes to become a good coach.”

Dave Collins, Britain’s performance director, has limited resources for change and, as a relative newcomer, he does not have the experience that Arnold has. John Akii-Bua’s Olympic 400 metres hurdles victory for Uganda in 1972; Mark McKoy’s Olympic 110 metres hurdles gold medal for Canada in 1992; the world-beating successes of Colin Jackson — all were coached by Arnold.

Jason Gardener has become world indoor 60 metres champion and an Olympic sprint relay gold medal-winner since turning to Arnold, whose enthusiasm has encouraged Craig Pickering, the European junior 100 metres champion, to move to Bath to work under him. Britain’s head coach for three years in the 1990s, Arnold has seen the sport from every angle.

But where is the next generation? “There is no career pathway for coaches,” Arnold said. “The whole sporting establishment of the UK has to address this. If we want top performers, we need career pathways for people to specialise in coaching.” He believes that coaches are being “set up” as the ones to blame for failure.

That was the case in Helsinki last summer, when, after Britain’s worst showing at the World Championships, coaching took the flak. “And the coaches will get the blame in future unless there is change,” Arnold said. “UK Athletics (UKA) employs six full-time professional coaches. We have created a cadre of full-time athletes, but most coaches have other jobs and can coach only in the evenings and at weekends.

“The common perception is that all you have to do is identify a top performer, latch on to that performer for a period of time while he or she wins medals and that is how you become a top coach. But it is a continuous education process.” Arnold, like Collins, favours the kind of system that exists in Russia, where an athlete reaching a certain standard is passed on to a relevant coach.

“Somebody who is taught maths at primary school is not taught maths by the same person at university,” Arnold said. “Some are talented at bringing on youngsters, some are talented with club athletes, some are talented with top athletes. But some think that the only mark of talent is being associated with a top performer.”

A mistake was made in 1998, according to Arnold, when UKA deemed that the coach education system was inadequate and revamped it. “It was one of the best systems in Europe,” Arnold said. “But the new scheme did not keep the continuum going and there have been very few education opportunities over the last six or seven years. If we have fallen this far in six years, where will we be in six years’ time?”

Arnold points to the sprinters who have failed to fulfil their potential: Mark Lewis-Francis, Dwain Chambers, Christian Malcolm, Leon Baptiste. “We need to have faith in the coaches who are attempting to bring these people to a higher level,” Arnold said. He is concerned, also, that proven coaches — John Trower, Alan Storey, Aston Moore — have been lost to management jobs within UKA.

The same goes for successful athletes — Jackson and Jonathan Edwards, to name two of many — who have been lost to the BBC. Gardener is a bright young man who, unlike most before him, is taking his coaching qualifications. “Because there is no career pathway, who knows what opportunities might be available to him when he retires from competing,” Arnold said.

“Jason is a top-class athlete, with wonderful experience at the highest level, but he cannot see a career in coaching, so he is hedging his bets as to what he does. The lottery system has been a failure. It has been like building a new school, filling it with pupils, but not providing any teachers.”