Talent and innovation - a snapshot of 2008Subscribe
Jessica Whitehorn 31 December 2008
February marked a year since the launch of a nationwide talent recruitment drive by the UK Sport and English Institute of Sport to find tall athletes for the sports of rowing, volleyball and handball. The launch of ‘Sporting Giants’ in 2007 captured the imaginations and Olympic dreams of nearly 4000 applicants and after a year of testing and trialling in partnership with the three Olympic sports, over 50 promising athletes were taking part in talent confirmation and development programmes. This project also unearthed six canoeists, who joined the existing flat-water fast track talent development programme supported by the UK Sport and the EIS. UK Sport have since hosted an 18-month review of the programme with the sports involved, and 45 athletes are still in full time training programmes. A study looking at the discriminating factors between the 'successful' versus 'non-successful' Sporting Giants to date has been produced for the purpose of better validating and informing assessment processes used and future public appeals of this nature.
Building on the success of and lessons learnt from ‘Sporting Giants’, UK Sport launched two new talent recruitment campaigns in 2008. Girls4Gold is a campaign aimed at mature age female athletes, looking to give them the opportunity to be assessed for their Olympic potential in six sports – cycling, rowing, canoeing, sailing (windsurfing), modern pentathlon and bob skeleton. The purpose of this is to see which may be their sport of best fit, in which they could be fast-tracked to the podium in 2012 and beyond if surrounded by world class coaching and training environments. Over 900 girls aged 17-25 were put through a battery of tests at Girls4Gold Olympic Talent Assessment Events in Bath, Loughborough and Manchester throughout the summer, and 200 of these have now progressed to a Phase Two sports-specific assessment in one or more of the targeted sports. Talent Confirmation Programmes in the six sports, for those progressing past Phase Two, will commence in 2009, where the athletes will be expected to undertake a period of increased commitment to training programmes within the sport in which they have shown potential. Throughout this period the coaches and talent identification scientists will be looking at the athletes’ propensity for skill acquisition, responsiveness to the training stimulus and adaptation to the high performance lifestyle.
The second new Talent Identification initiative for 2008 is Pitch2Podium, a ground-breaking talent transfer scheme to harness the wealth of untapped talent within the football community. Pitch2Podium offers young academy players yet to secure a professional contract with the chance to apply the conditioning and training aptitude they have developed through years of experience in football to an Olympic discipline. Of 28 football players tested at Phase One, 23 athletes have now progressed to Phase Two testing in at least one of the targeted Olympic sports (cycling, canoeing, modern pentathlon, hockey and bob skeleton), showing the huge potential for talent transfer from the professional sports to unearth exceptionally talented athletes for Olympic disciplines. As with Girls4Gold, Talent Confirmation Programmes for the Pitch 2 Podium athletes will commence in 2009. This scheme will be re-launched in 2009.
Heath-checks with regard to talent identification, confirmation and development practices were undertaken in 2008 with all summer Olympic sports. This enabled UK Sport to capture the current talent landscape and allowed informed decision making for the next Olympic cycle. The findings of the talent health-check provided data to shape and develop the UK Sport 2009-2013 Talent Strategy, which includes the expansion, in 2009, of the UK Talent Team and will present the opportunity for greater technical leadership, support and guidance for national governing bodies in implementing their own talent models towards 2012 and beyond.
Research and Innovation
In January, UK Sport announced a major technology partnership with defence research experts BAE Systems, to support the work of the Research and Innovation team in delivering performance solutions to our Olympic and Paralympic sports. The relationship gives the British sporting world access to world-leading technologies as well as considerable engineering knowledge and expertise. BAE Systems and UK Sport will work together until 2012. The first year of the partnership has already seen BAE Systems driving cutting edge innovation within the sports of taekwondo, bob skeleton, cycling, and shooting.
BAE Systems have been recognised as a ‘Podium Innovation Partner’ in recognition of the fact that they are supplying their unique expertise on a value-in-kind basis, while seven other organisations have been recognised by UK Sport in 2008 as ‘Innovation Partners’ for providing services that meet the world class standards of excellence in performance science and innovation required to make an impact on the UK’s best athletes and coaches. These organisations are: epm: technology group, Frazer-Nash Consultancy, Loughborough University Sports Technology Institute, the Sport and Exercise Science Department at Portsmouth University, the Centre for Sport and Engineering Science at Sheffield Hallam University, TotalSim and the University of Southampton (Wolfson Unit).
2008 saw the launch of the Research and Innovation team’s Ideas 4 Innovation programme. Ideas 4 Innovation is an award scheme designed to encourage sports enthusiasts with expertise in science, medicine, engineering or technology to apply their skills to sport in the hope of discovering novel techniques, methods or equipment to enhance the performances of our best athletes in 2012 and beyond. There are two awards on offer: the New Researchers Award, for students, and the Garage Innovators Award, which is open to any member of the British public, both with a top prize of £25,000 in research funding. The inaugural New Researchers Award was given to Chris West of Brunel University for further research into his idea for the development of a novel device for performance enhancement in spinal cord injured athletes. The Garage Innovators Award winner will be announced in the new year. Ideas 4 Innovation 2009 has already been promoted to final year university students, in order to influence their decision making around topics for their final year projects.
As part of the team’s review of priorities in training science, the team launched ‘Train Like Champions’, a nationwide recruitment drive for highly trained volunteers to act a subjects for research trials into elite sports performance.
With it being Olympic year, 2008 also saw the completion, delivery and review of many major technical projects with the summer sports, including a joint project with the British Olympic Association into the environmental demands of competing in Beijing. Work continued to progress on winter sport projects in preparation for the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games in 2010.