True coach development is being neglected due to the obsession with increasing ‘participation’, says Toni Minichiello

The way athletics is funded in England does not match up with the fundamental aims of athletics clubs. That is one of the many opinions uncovered by the latest part of Athletic Weekly‘s ‘state of the nation’ series, which this week looks at the health of Britain’s club scene and coaching in the sport.

AW-Feb-2-2017-cover-200While UK Sport’s millions are focused firmly on the very elite, and such emphasis is placed right at the other end of the sport in simply getting people involved, there are growing concerns for the majority caught in the middle. In other words, the good club athletes who want to enjoy the sport and want to develop.

“My personal opinion is that the sport is hampered by the way it’s funded,” says Andy Paul, chair of Birchfield Harriers and long-time club coach.

“At club level it is hugely restrictive on a club being able to do what it’s [traditionally] been in place to do.

“The way that Sport England funds means they now have an agenda which doesn’t match competitive club sport – it matches community development club sport, which is a very different thing.

“They fund participation, they fund mass participation – but that still leaves a mammoth gap in the centre of what the vast majority of clubs that run track and field (as well as road running and cross country) are there for – the development of talented track and field-based athletes.”

When it comes to coaching, there are similar concerns as to the emphasis placed on the current qualifications. Toni Minichiello, the man who guided Jessica Ennis-Hill to the very top of the sport, believes participation – rather than coach and athlete development – is at the heart of the present set-up.

“They are not coaching awards, they are designed under the Sport England direction to increase participation in coaching,” he says. “Fundamentally, they are designed to keep people safe and to be able to deliver to our sport safely.

“I get that – and I’m not decrying the amount of time and effort that people are putting in – but that’s not coaching. People will argue with that but it’s not fit for purpose. If you are calling them coaches then I think that’s an insult to a lot of people who are coaching at high levels.”

Instead, Minichiello feels the coaching awards of old are more relevant for what’s needed today.

“You used to have an assistant club coach, a club coach and a senior coach award,” he says. “I’m not saying they were brilliant but they were very much more event specific, they were very much more detailed.

“When they first came out, in the 1970s, they were a world leader. Yes it needed tweaking, yes it needed developing but we threw the baby out with the bath water when (former UKA strategic head of coaching and development) Kevin Tyler walked in and scrapped them.

“There have been some good elements to it (the current awards) but we threw out stuff and we’ve lost sight of what it is we’re trying to develop in terms of coaching awards.”

» For the full 10-page feature, which forms part of our ‘state of the nation’ series, see the February 2 edition of AW magazine. That magazine is available to buy and read digitally here