Connor hits out at British system

Is anyone listening?

Connor hits out at British system
By Simon Austin

Connor took triple jump bronze at the 1984 Olympics
The former head of athletics in Australia has hit out at the structure of British athletics following the poor performance of Team GB in Helsinki.

Keith Connor, who won Olympic bronze for Britain in 1984, said: "We’re still doing things like we did in the 1960s.

"Too often a local coach will chance upon a talented youngster and stay with him through his career, despite not having coached top athletes before.

“The club system relies on volunteers, and that system’s falling apart.”

UK Athletics performance director Dave Collins has already vowed to make changes after Britain suffered its worst ever performance at a world championships.

Connor, who was snubbed for the UKA performance director job, admitted: “Our performances, our preparations and a lot of the things we do are generically unacceptable.”

Britain doesn’t have the same level of pressure and competition as the US

Keith Connor

Connor, who won triple jump bronze at the 1984 Olympics and was also European and Commonwealth champion, says British athletics must learn from the American model.

The USA team dominated competition in Helsinki, winning twice as many gold medals as any other nation.

“The Americans know how to compete,” Connor told BBC Sport.

"At the US trials, you’ll probably have to beat a world or Olympic champion if you’re to make the team.

"In the US, there are 52 states and each one has at least two universities. Each has a track and field programme, with 25 athletes. You only progress if you’re the cream of the crop.

"Britain has nothing in comparison. The Grand Prix circuit doesn’t provide the same level of pressure and competition.

“If you fail at one meeting, there’s another two weeks later where you can make up for it.”

Several British athletes have been accused of underperforming at the Worlds, particularly Nathan Douglas and Mark Lewis-Francis.

Feature: Where has it gone wrong for British athletics?

Douglas failed to make the 12-man final of the triple jump despite being ranked third in the world this year, and failed to jump to within a metre of his personal best.

Lewis-Francis, world junior champion in 2000, went out of the 100m at the quarter-final stage.

“The triple jump was a fantastic example of the difference in systems between the US and UK,” said Connor, who narrowly missed out on the job of UK performance director last year.

"A US athlete has been through that type of intense competition every year at the NCAA Championship and the US trials.

“Douglas had only previously been to one World Championship.”

Connor backs the comments of double Olympic 1500m gold medallist Sebastian Coe, who has criticised the standard of coaching in the UK.

“You need professional coaches who are working with top athletes all the time,” said Connor.

"This kind of coach will be able to take a 16-year-old who can run 10.35 seconds for the 100m, and know how to make him run faster.

"With the talent pool we clearly have out there, there is an opportunity to create champions at the 2012 Olympics.

“So we need to go out and get as many 16 to 18-year-olds as you can. But if we sit back and wait for them to come through, we won’t do well.”

He says there are 52 states here. Huh? I guess it’s time to add stars to the flags because we must have missed some along the way.
Yes we do have typically very good competition but in some cases I really wonder how much of a “system” we have in the U.S. It’s a great deal of hit or miss, trial and error, just like some other countries. Fortunately, we have a great deal of talent. Unfortunately a great deal of it becomes squandered-especially post collegiately where unless you have performed at an extremely high level already, there is probably not much in the way of resources to allow you to continue. Those who fall below this level will probably not have many options but to begin their careers and forget about track-at least competing.

Lol, I didn’t even notice that. Good points. What about the coaches in USA? How many professional coaches are there?

I’m not sure how many professional coaches are here. What I can tell you is that just like everywhere else, there are some good ones and some bad ones. If one is able to promote themselves properly, even the bad ones can at times make a living. Making a living doing it is not generally easy but it can be done and it does appear to be improving. Most high school coaches make it through 1) their teaching salary and 2)their coaching supplement which can range from absolutely pitiful(to the point where the coach does not remember volunteering for charity work but this sure appears to be the case) to okay-say 10% of their salary.
Not a ton of professional opportunities but the field does appear to be growing with of course the college coaching jobs and the sports performance coach(personal training for athletes) field starting to move up and some of those businesses and individuals are actually doing financially quite well.

In saying that can I add that not always are the best coaches progressing.