UK Sport's 13th annual World Class Performance Conference presented by Sportscover is taking place at the Midland Hotel in Manchester this week (25-27 Nov).
The Conference theme this year is 'Motion'; with sights firmly fixed on beating our London 2012 medal haul in Rio, as well as success in Sochi, UK Sport will be using the Conference to focus minds and efforts on breaking new ground. The Conference will explore three components; Energy (our personal resource), Mass (our capacity for greater expertise), and Acceleration (our ability to act) - which all contribute to our goal of creating a stronger and more sustainable high performance system.
Ahead of the second day of the WCPC, we spoke to Neil Black – Performance Director at British Athletics – about his session at the Conference, preparing an athlete for a major event and the graduation of one of his coaches from UK Sport’s Elite Coaching Apprenticeship Programme (ECAP).
Can you summarise what you and Barry [Fudge, Senior Physiologist at the English Institute of Sport] will be talking about in your session at the WCPC?
Barry and I will be discussing the level of teamwork that goes into bringing an athlete like Mo Farah to the start line in the best possible shape, demonstrating not just how important it is, but how well a team can operate even from different sides of the Atlantic if there is excellent communication, trust and respect for everyone involved.
How crucial is good preparation in delivering optimal athlete performance?
Good preparation is crucial. There is the cliché that says if you fail to prepare you are preparing to fail. However it is fair to say whilst preparation is important, great communication is what makes it possible. And the key to good preparation is everyone doing what they should at the right time and trusting in each other’s roles and the part they play in the overall bigger picture.
How do you manage this when said athlete is preparing for/competing in multiple events (Mo in 5000 & 10,000 or Jess in heptathlon)?
The consistent factor is bringing the athlete to the start line (however many start lines they have to line up at) with complete self-belief that they are in great shape to start with and that they will go on maximising the opportunity to recover at every second in between events. Athletes like Jess and Mo have the time in between their events mapped out in detail and know exactly what they plan to do whether it is a matter of hours and minutes in Jess’s case, or with Mo, it may be a day or so between rounds.
Julie Hollman, one of your coaches at British Athletics, is graduating from ECAP at the Conference. Why do you think it’s important for coaches to take part in development programmes like ECAP?
The best coaches that I work with are continually learning and wanting to improve themselves, whether it is the technical elements within the specific event area they coach in, or honing their skills in terms of methods of feedback and communication. ECAP allows coaches a real opportunity to develop a range of skills as well as learn best practice from individuals working in others sports, that is extremely valuable.
In what ways do you think Julie has benefitted from the programme?
She has clearly gained a lot of confidence through her time on the ECAP and as a coach has a much greater understanding of what is required to be a performance coach. Her level of self-awareness has grown and she has a hugely improved understanding of how to work with and direct athletes as a coach. She now works closely with a network of coaches from other sports that she can learn from, and with that understanding that she is developing as a coach, knows there are a lot of people out there she can learn from.
Since its inception in 2001, the World Class Performance Conference has become the key event in the diaries of coaches, performance directors and sports science and medicine practitioners, as the one opportunity every year for the entire Olympic and Paralympic high performance community to come together to network, debate and share best practice. The aim is to equip these individuals with the skills and knowledge to make sustainable improvements to their sport’s World Class Performance Programme.