Neil Black appointed as UKA performance director

Former head physiotherapist promoted into newly-created role is tasked with appointing replacement for Charles van Commenee

Posted on September 13, 2012 by
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Neil Black (Mark Shearman)

Less than a week after head coach Charles van Commenee publicly announced that he would not be renewing his contract with UK Athletics, the national governing body has appointed former head physiotherapist Neil Black into the newly-created role of performance director.

Black, a former middle-distance runner, has been a key figure in the sport for 20 years. Initially as a physiotherapist and, since 2009, as the man in charge of performance support services, science and medicine at UKA.

The lead up to 2012 has seen him coordinate all support elements for British athletes, and he personally managed the support programmes for Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah.

Dave Collins was the last person to hold the title of performance director, and although Van Commenee took over Collins’ role in 2008, the Dutchman was given the title head coach.

Having already worked closely alongside Van Commenee and Paralympic head coach Peter Eriksson as part of UKA’s Olympic and Paralympic task force, Black will assume his new duties with immediate effect.

One of his first tasks will be to appoint Van Commenee’s replacement, with many expecting Kevin Tyler to be given the role.

“It’s an honour to be given the chance to lead the Olympic and Paralympic task force and be asked to lead colleagues with whom I have worked hand in glove for the last four years,” said Black.

“The performance team has worked hard to change the structures and cultures of our sport and I very much look forward to working in partnership with colleagues to build on the success of the last four years as we continue on our journey to 2017.”

Outgoing Olympic head coach Van Commenee is in no doubt that Black is the right man to lead the sport through the 2017 London World Championships and beyond.

“If I were ever CEO of a national athletics federation or even Olympic association, Neil Black is the first guy I would call and try to hire,” said Van Commenee. “I am one hundred per cent happy that he is the right man, within the right structures, to push on with the next phase of the ten year plan we devised together back in 2008.”

Known to many within the sport as ‘The Wolf’, several athletes on twitter expressed their joy as Black’s appointment within minutes of the news breaking.

“Very happy to hear Neil Black has been appointed new performance director of UK Athletics,” said marathon runner Alyson Dixon. “Great man, respected by many. Good times ahead!”

“So happy that Neil Black has been made the new UKA performance director,” tweeted 400m runner Andrew Steele. “He is a great, great man.”

“Really really happy for The Wolf!!” added Steele’s fellow 400m runner, Martyn Rooney.

“Never saw that coming but congratulations to a lovely guy and awesome physio Neil Black,” said steeplechaser Hatti Dean. “Although I’m sure lots of legs will miss him!”

800m runner Emma Jackson added: “Really pleased for Neil Black, he will be a great performance director of UK Athletics. He is well liked by all and a great guy.”

But former heptathlete Kelly Sotherton warned that Black has a tough side too. “Neil Black is tougher than a conker soaked in vinegar!” she said. “I think he’ll shock some athletes who think otherwise!”

“Neil Black assuming the role of performance director is the culmination of succession planning we began when Charles first signed up as Olympic head coach on a four-year deal in Beijing,” said UKA chief executive Niels de Vos. “Moving him from head physiotherapist into a general leadership role four years ago was done very much with this outcome in mind.

“He has been the ‘glue’ in the Olympic task force system I created, ensuring the right people, places and performance culture was in place to support the head coaches of the Olympic and Paralympic teams.”

3 Responses to “Neil Black appointed as UKA performance director”

  1. Javelin Sam says:

    so Charles was always going to leave regardless of the medal outcome then….

  2. Geoff says:

    Neil Black may well be a good choice as performance director but it is vital UKA have an appropriate and effective structure and systems to move the whole sport forward. Everyone has assumed Kevin Tyler will be appointed as head coach but that decision appears to be delayed. Whoever is appointed they must be able to link with the rest of the sport whose goodwill and sacrifices ensure a supply of elite athletes.

    The structure must link all levels of the sport and reduce areas of conflict that seem to have increased in recent years. It is in everyone's interest to have a sport where people work together and feel valued as part of a successful team. UKA's apparent 'us and them' approach has to be broken down otherwise the continuing decline in senior athletes and coaches will continue leading to a smaller pool of talent for the performance director to oversee.

    I am, though, more hopeful of the future than under the past set-up. Time will tell!

  3. James says:

    Congratulations to Neil; I remember my many physio appointments with him with a big grin on my face!! That said, being a focussed individual serving individual needs of top athletes is different than providing a macro framework to deliver sporting excellence across the whole athletic fraternity. To support Neil he will need appropriate support from the successor to CVC. A more robust accountable structure needs to be deployed in UKA; to me it starts with the recruitment of a former athlete(s) who have been away from the sport and transferred their former athletic excellence into business and bring this back to athletics. The head coach is a coordinator and doesn’t coach; the successful candidate needs to ensure sporting excellence is delivered by their National Coaches who then support grass route coaches who look after their athletes. My observation is most of the senior UKA coaches have only done one thing, they have been an athlete, they become a coach but have limited “skills” in running a business – this Head Coach role is about applying business principles but allowing the coaches to deliver sporting excellence.

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