First Apprentice Coach: Brits moves to rectify coaching problems


September 28, 2005

The Times

Club coach in fast lane as overhaul starts
By David Powell, Athletics Correspondent

IT SOUNDS like an idea for a film, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but the 50-year-old apprentice is no fictional character. Mike Leonard, a highly regarded club coach with Milton Keynes AC, was named yesterday by UK Athletics (UKA) as its first “developing elite coach”. It is his chance to make it big in athletics.
As the first in what Dave Collins, the UKA performance director, said would be a series of appointments, Leonard is to receive assistance to improve his coaching. Collins has been under pressure to improve coaching in Britain after the UKA took much of the blame for the team’s shocking performance at the World Championships in Helsinki last month.

The package available to Leonard will include mentoring from Malcolm Arnold, who coached Colin Jackson to world No 1 status in the sprint hurdles and Jason Gardener to top position indoors over 60 metres. Leonard has been a coach for 16 years and in July he steered Craig Pickering to the European junior 100 metres title.

A UKA spokesperson described a developing elite coach appointment as “like an apprenticeship”. Leonard said: “This is a good opportunity for me to develop as a better coach. As a sprinter, I only got to club level. As a coach, I am ambitious to go to the top.”

In Helsinki, Frank Attoh, a British coach, guided Trecia Smith, from Jamaica, to the triple-jump title and expressed his disaffection with coaching back home. “The trouble with Britain is that it does not value coaching,” Attoh said. Sebastian Coe, a double Olympic 1,500 metres champion in the 1980s, said: “I am not sure there are enough coaches that can take young talent and get them into the top five in the world.”

Charles van Commenee, who guided Denise Lewis and Kelly Sotherton to Olympic heptathlon medals, said: “Coaching education has been neglected and athletics is paying the price.”

Hence the importance now attached to Collins’s plans. “We are trying to reconnect with the personal coaching network,” the UKA spokesperson said.

Before the appointment of Leonard, who will receive expenses to help to improve his knowledge and will visit Bath University, where Arnold has taken over as Pickering’s coach, Collins set up a top tier of three senior performance managers and a second tier of four senior performance coaches.

At last a good idea! The question now is how good is Malcolm Arnold at explaining what he may well do instinctively. I’d love UKA to pay for me to do some mentorship but somehow i doubt they would be very happy with my choice of mentor… “that stuff is old fashioned this isn’t the 80s anymore”!

This is a fantastic idea and one the country needs , The problem though is that in appointing Mike Leonard from first it looks like the decision has been made on what Young Pickering did this season gone 10.22 and winning the European Juniors. The problem now for the first time in years Britain had 6-7 kids that all ran faster than 10.38. In fact the kid (Simeonson) that beat Pickering 3 times this year (but not when it mattered at the Euro) also ran 10.24. Do you then make give all this kids coaches awards NO is the answer to that. A lot of the coaches cant even tell you how this kids ran fast because it bin wis-wasy training.Apparently some of this guys cant even write training season. So I ask although this is a good idea the problem is we cant have UKA deciding what athletes goes where and automatically commit themselves to supporting the athletes coaches (The performance Director advised Pickering to go to Malcolm Arnold) So here we go again until the body sits down and put together a proper plan rather than making rash decisions then the sport would for ever be in trouble.
Being a fan that is very close to the sport my self there are other coaches that are doing well and have the athletes. Ayo Falola, Michael Afliaka, Harry King, Lloyd Cawen to name a few. This guys have some of the best kids in Britain. Do you not support them and pick and choose who you thing MIGHT make it… that that question. Or without sounding controversial Has Pickering being assisted so quickly Because he is WHITE.

Athletics in Britain needs a white hope to do well and I hope that with the support and set Up they have got him into I hope he makes it…

While the white hope idea is feasible I would like to think it is perhaps for other reasons.

I think what you have here is a bit of political spin to avoid the whole MLF/Steve Platt incident reoccuring and keeping the debate out of the letters page at Athletics Weekly!

Pickering is being “taken away” from Mike Leonard and being sent to Malcolm Arnold (A development that UKA wants to encourage) so to appease Mike UKA are allowing him to have some input into Craigs future by introducing this “mentorship” programme.

I assume that as UKA will be consistant and help out other coaches when they get into a similar position…

I hear that BUT the problem is who decides who is a better coach than someone elas. For me looking from the outside Malcolm had Colin and less be honest most good coaches can make Colin run fast. As much as I understand that a some of these athletes can should shift their backside and find better coaches I feel UKA shold find a better way of doing things. Malcolm for me is a typical tradition “get-strong” Run fast coaches and technically is not great. So Lets look at Colin’s Career yes he won a lot of medals and did well for Britain. For a man that ran 6.49 indoors he “ONLY” delivered 10.23 outside. That my frined is terrible sprinting. Why did you not get a mentor for MLF and Steve Platt and help them deliver…

The attack on Arnold for a 10.23 by Colin might be harsh. He was paid to hurdle outdoors and would only tke the pay cut to sprint if something was wrong.
That said, why is a 50 year old the first choice for an apprentice? What sort of longevity do they expect once he’s done? Do age-related performance standards only apply to athletes? Doesn’t look good as far as objectivity is concerned.

The issue about the age is a fantastics point. I would love to coach on day If I can but from what I have read this new Technical Director Collins have to be carful because I think he is taking a lot of this volunter coaches for granted by expecting they would always be there coaching. But without the coaches ther are no athletes.

TC what else would you like to see happen? Is the EIS having an impact at all - they seem to pay their ‘scientists’ well (psychologists, physios, etc). Is it a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth? Cheers!

Taking volunteer coaches for granted is typical. Would that this was all the bureaucrats do. Standard operating proceedure is to drive a wedge between coach and athlete to try to gain control- especially as there is funding for some of the athletes.
A typical tactic is to tell the coach to pass on some info (more funding comming etc) to their athletes and then shoot it down to the athletes saying: “I don’t know why your coach told you something like that.” This way the bureaucrat disrupts trust between coach and athlete and creates communications directly with the athlete for more backstabbing later on.
Coaches are too busy actually doing a job to watch their backs but the bureaucrat, unencumbered by any useful work, has plenty of time for Machiavelian plotting.
Hint: Never pass on info for bureaucrats to your athletes. Make them put everything in writing, so they can be held to account for their words. Tape recording your own discussions with the bureaucrats comes to mind.
Wouldn’t you like to know how many coaches were led to believe that THEY would be the first apprentice before this came out.

Ooo, you cynic!!! :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue: :stuck_out_tongue:

I don’t like to be too dictating in what i think would be better because I don’t have a good enough perspective of what goes on in the management within UKA and as someone who used to have to make a lot of decisions similar to this (though not on such a big scale) i know it is hard when you have years of culture behind you. But since you asked me and assuming an ideal world i would do the following…

  1. Get coaches talking and networking more.
  2. Integrate EIS into the picture more fully.
  3. Stop EIS from trying to be “the solution”.
  4. Focus on developing balance in all areas of an athlete/coaches development.

The first thing i would like is for everyone to talk more. To get together and discuss training, share thier expertise. I’d want all the major coaches to know each other and begin to network. Perhaps i’d even build a discussion forum on the internet like this one!

Each major coach could have a section where they discuss thier philosophy only. They say what they think and others listen - no politics or “my ideas are best” simply “this is what i do”. If you want to play on a team you need to know each other. No one in england talks. I see 3 high profile coaches in one place and they never say a word to each other.

Next thing I’d do is get EIS involved with passing on thier expertise to coaches. One thing i have learned from Charlie is that if you want to be the best you need to know something about everything. Obvioulsy you get support when you need it but I bet Charlie has learned loads from all the experts he has worked with in regeneration, nutrition and S&C over the years. If you read Speed Trap you can see how he systematically went after people he thought he could learn from (Horst Hille for example).

I have asked for help from EIS before and they are just like - sorry you/your athletes arn’t on the list. So I’m like “how do I get on the list” and they just smile. So i’m like f*** you I’ll learn to do it myself - which is fine if you are me but not so fine if you are someone else who isn’t the kind of person with an obsessive compulsive personality!

EIS should also work with athletes as well. Athletes at the next level down - the people they don’t have time to coach directly but who perhaps could make it to the next level if they didn’t continuously drop weight plates on thier toes metephorically speaking. Why can’t they hold “how to squat/olympic lift” classes at Sheffield, Bath and Loughborough Universities? It would take 2-4 hours a week and all the athletes going though there would understand what they are doing rather than just throwing the weight around. These are the kind of people I work with regularly and the difference I can make (despite not having 20 years of experience or millions of pounds at my disposal) is amazing.

At the moment EIS do thier thing away from everyone else. They only work with a few key athletes and very little knowledge ever gets passed on (except i may add at the UK strength and conditioning conference where they were great).

The other problem with EIS is that they are obsessed with using all the different tools they have regardless of whether they are needed or not. If you watched the Sky documentary the other week they were working with Craig Pickering on his start - analysing it to death. Which is great but i think it detracts from what you really need to do which is make consistant small steps towards your goal.

When you set something like this up everyone always thinks they need to perform miricals on that day. Find the missing piece of the puzzle and correct it then and there.

But you can’t tell an athlete to “push more with your front foot” (or whatever Michael Johnson was saying was wrong with it) and expect them to think about it and react explosively. You have to say “Ok coach this is a weakness I think you need to work on - lets go see what we can do and come back in 4 months and do the tests again and see how much we have improved. Then we know if what we were doing worked or not”.

But what happens at the moment is that it is back to the track with one thing in mind - “fixing the problem”. When really it should be progressing the athlete in all areas.

Its a great idea for EIS to gather data on top athletes but how much impact does this have on their performance now? And who works with the athletes the most? EIS or the coach? So who is going to have the most impact (good or bad)? It needs to be a partnership rather than a consulting service or drop in clinic. You are only as strong as your weakest link and what do you do if there is no link at all?

I think EIS is a good idea but perhaps they should devide thier time into categories like:

  1. Training athletes
  2. Analysing athletes
  3. Passing on knowledge to coaches/athletes
  4. Finding more ways to integrate the above 3 points.

and then give equal weighting to all of them because to be world class everything has to be good. Its no use being good at only one thing.

To sum up my rant, I think UKA & EIS are like the England football team - tallented individually but can’t play well together. I guess we will have to continue this conversation after London 2012.

A thoughtful analysis, especially about communications, but a few thoughts.
1: first and foremost, the coach must be at the centre of all activities by assisting bodies and nothing must be done without him/her. the example of overanalyzing Pickerings start is typical. Confusion, and worse, conflict can arise as a result. So the role is working with and for the coaches- not the athletes directly.
2: At reasonably high levels of performance, results can be had with fairly simple and straightforward programs that avoid anxiety and overanalysis (see the GPP Essentials DVD). Usually, the more tarted up a programs is- the worse it works. Add complexity only as required by advanced results.

how many truely great athletes has arnold coached…colin jackson is the only one i can think of.he now coaches gardner but his previous coach made him european champ numerous times and also had him run his first 9.99…with gardner he will always run fast indoors and outdoors is his achilles whether its his training(which i believe it is) or something else.

now this new guy is 50…great but thats 40 years of training the old school way which of hand is total Bull****.he is now getting access or help from MA who also follows old school

so how the F**** is this moving forward.

frank attoh coached X person in the Tjump to gold and charles Van coached lewis but hang on there…who is coaching the sprinters.

UKathletics need to take the same approach they did with the 2 above coaches which is outside help.

MA is mid 60 and this new guy is 50 so thats great nember of knowledge but it won’t make a toss if the knowledge is s***.

Lets not jump to conclusions… does Mike Leonard really coach old school middle distance sprint work? Does anyone know what he does currently?