Dave Collins' New Direction for UK Athletics

Dave Collins’ New Direction for UK Athletics
A UK Roadshow!

Dave kicked off by saying that while London 2012 couldn’t have come at a better time for UK athletics in terms of it taking the pressure off the current situation and redirecting it towards performance at London 2012. However, the UK still has to be careful it doesn’t loose site of the importance of winning medals in 2008.

He said that the government expected the UK to win about 5 medals at Beijing but 8-12 medals in 2012! That’s 1 in every 16 medals. They also wanted the UK to finish 4th overall on the medals table.

The good news is that since there are 43 gold medals up for grabs in athletics as opposed to 2 in say Hockey that UK athletics will be getting a good proportion of the funding allocated for 2012. There is he said “room for growth” in athletics.

The bad news is that the government will not fund lost causes so it is important that UK athletics looks as though it is “in good hands” and being managed professionally in the short term to ensure that funding is secured long term.

After this opener he performed a very sneaky (and effective) psychological manoeuvre by setting the agenda and inoculating himself against potential debate about other issues.

He did this by explaining what his job was about and what it was not about. Essentially his job is about performance. It is about getting people on the podium and in the final at the Olympics. It is not about increasing standards of athletics, increasing participation or about increasing coaching standards. These Collins explained are the job of other people and are not up for debate at this time.

This is clever. Anyone who has studied persuasion and influence knows that there is a general rule known by politicians that “The person who sets the agenda controls the debate”. Collins obviously knows this (as he should coming from a Psychology background) and by bringing this stuff up early the debate went exactly the way he wanted it.

His job is not about getting people to the World Championships or winning medals there it is about winning medals at the Olympics and this is what he will be judged on.

After this he started outlining how he thought this could be achieved.

He started by explaining that from now on Lottery money will go to only the athletes that have the potential to make the final at the Olympics. Athletes below this level will be funded by other means.

His observations since coming to the sport were that athletics was a divided sport. It was divided at both a structural club level and at a high performance level with respect to coaching. More specifically there was a disjoint between voluntary and professional coaches and this has to do with a number of issues – poaching being highlighted as one.

He saw the steps that need to be taken to push UK athletics forward as firstly reconnecting/uniting the sport in terms of sharing coaching knowledge and getting clubs collaborating again. Secondly, a “seamless pathway” needs to be established so athletes understand what they need to do to make it to the top and finally early scores in terms of results need to be achieved to secure funding – e.g. good results at European championships.

In Dave’s system he would be open to ideas but performance would bring privileges. This means that better coaches and athletes get the right to have a greater say in what happened and ask to try new or different things whereas those with less of a track record will be kept on a tighter leash.

Secondly he wants to establish a standardised method of monitoring and evaluating athletes and coaches. He wants good coaches and he thinks of them as being the coaches that add the most value to their athlete “make them gooder”! The criteria he will use to measure progress will be published on the UK athletics website and basically fall under 3 headings. Outcome measurement - basically meaning results. Progress measurement meaning measuring commitment, attitude and progression and finally performance characteristics which will basically come down to do they have the physical characteristics to make it to medal at 2008 and 2012.

As for why he didn’t want to bring outside coaches in, Dave said that this presented problems because they often continue to work as if they were in their usual environment and not the UK and he would also prefer to develop home grown talent for the future.

Basically, he wants athletes to want to win badly and to go into major championships and give it all they have got even if they are going to go out in the heats. He wants coaches to want to learn and to be self starters and aim to improve themselves as much as possible and finally he wants the administrators to be flexible enough to change things that aren’t working and to provide support that is needed when it is needed.

He then want on to explain his 5 rings theory (see Spar Sprints Conference) and noted that each of these 5 performance areas will need more focus at different times of year and at different times during the athletes long term development. He said that he saw coaches as being managers that oversee everything but that they will need specialist support from EIS etc in some of the areas they are not up to speed on.

Next the “seamless link” World Class Pathway was described. It consists of three levels. The top level called World Class Performance will fund about 40 athletes who are podium bound for 2008/2012. The next level down is called World Class Development and will cater for 80 or so athletes who show potential to make it to the top. The final lowest tear will be Talent Identification and will look to support young talent coming through the ranks. It will be like a Foundation Course or Apprenticeship so they learn all the skills they need to make it to the top. This way Collins said if they get there the top coaches don’t have to spend a year or two teaching them the basics.

The structural side of UKA was then presented and Collins ran through the rolls of each of the administrators involved in performance and what they were required to do. This way everyone knows who is accountable for what and who they need to speak to with regards to any topic that arises.

His final points regarded his performance focus, with respect to athlete and coach. For the athlete he wanted to ensure everyone had genuine expectations of what could be achieved, that they were given the support they needed in terms of therapy and competitive schedule, and that every athlete had an a formal “Athlete Performance Agreement” which appeared to equate to a yearly plan of what they will do, how they will do it and how UKA can support them.

For coaches he wanted to provide them with a better mentoring service, better general education and ensure that good coaches that added value to their athletes were rewarded and supported. Where these skills didn’t exist he would consider buying in consultants to come to the UK and help the coaches out.

The final comment on Medical Support was perhaps the most interesting. Collins said that a 3 tier system would be put in place that was proactive rather than reactive. Ranging from 5*, 3* to 1* this system would ensure those at the top got the absolute best support in the world “better than anything anyone is getting at the moment”. This was to ensure that those athletes that were in medal winning positions actually were able to make it to the track to compete! However, this did mean that those people at the bottom of the ladder may not get the same level of service that they are getting at the moment.


This is the second time I have heard Dave Collins speak. While the effectiveness of his policies will only be apparent years down the line on a personal basis I can safely say that he is very well organised and thoroughly prepared. He had an answer worked out for everything and got almost total agreement from the audience on every point (at least in public). If we had 50 people with Dave’s organisational ability to run UKA I’m sure he could pull off his game plan. I guess the next big test will be to see if he can get the rest of the UK to do what he needs them to do to make sure his plan is a success. As someone who has been there on numerous occasions this will be the hardest job of all. I will be interested to see how he selects his staff in the coming months and whether he makes some hard nosed decisions and kicks a few people out!

Note: Once again this is only my interpretation of what was said. If anyone has anything to add who was at or is going to the rest of the roadshows then please give your perspective.

Here are links to the official reports:


Still to come:

Thursday 20 October: Sportcity, Manchester (7pm-9pm)

Friday 21 October: Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield (7pm-9pm)

Monday 24 October: Alexander Stadium, Birmingham (8pm-10pm)

Tuesday 25 October: Bath University (7pm-9pm)

Thursday 27 October: Gateshead International Stadium (7pm-9pm).

Was Dave wearing a green costume with question marks in black? The riddler. This is what athletics needs: increasing standards of athletics, increasing participation and increasing coaching standards this will help us get athletes on the podium?

He said these issues would be addressed but not by him and this presentation was not about that. He is soley there to get the UK to win medals at 2012 by supporting the elite and the would be elite.

Interestingly, in theroy if you are not top 8 (e.g. our 100/200 boys) you won’t be getting Lottery Funding under his scheme. I will be interested to see if this really happens in practice.