Lizzy Yarnold’s miraculous ascent from skeleton novice to Olympic champion was achieved by extraordinary talent and dedication; not just from Yarnold, but also the team around her.
Speaking at UK Sport’s World Class Performance Conference in London today (25 Nov), that team shared their journey. Following the session we caught up with former world champion and British Skeleton Performance Director Andi Schmid.
How did you help build such a strong skeleton programme, in a country with no ice track?
[Former Performance Director] Simon Timson brought me to the UK as a coach for the Salt Lake City Games and, with very little money, we started to look at what we were potentially able to achieve. Simon’s ambition was to be the number one skeleton nation by 2010, which was a big goal. The key element was to identify objectives that we could measure and professionalise every area of our work, but most important was having enthusiastic people on our side. That system has now produced four Olympic medallists in four Olympic Games.
How will you ensure that success continues?
We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, our system is producing, we just need more depth in our talent pathway. The funding we get from UK Sport gives a huge opportunity, but it’s not just about money, it’s about expertise and having the right people in post. Once we have that, we can dream.
There is a focus on individualised coaching at British Skeleton; can you talk us through that?
Until Vancouver, we had a certain style in place, and to change a coaching style is difficult, but I knew that we needed to understand the individual needs of our athletes, to gain their trust and let them see that we supported them. The benefit to come from that is the relationship and the open discussions we could have. It’s a highly demanding and skilled approach, but understanding how a person ticks helps you make them a more successful athlete.
How did that approach help Lizzy?
Lizzy needed coaching, but she was also able to come to me with questions and ideas, which helped her identify who she is, how strong she is as a slider, and where she needed support. Lizzy really bought into the philosophy and wanted to push everything to the extreme, while still focusing on getting the basics right.
Power2Podium is helping recruit new skeleton athletes, what do you ultimately hope to get from that initiative?
What I want to achieve by the next cycle is a really strong group of athletes to create internal pressure; the athletes don’t like that, but it’s essential for them to keep improving. We also need more athletes in our pathway to push through and be successful at the big events. My goal for the end of the cycle is to have 15-18 athletes, but of course that depends on coaches, equipment, funding.
What next for British Skeleton?
We still want to be the most successful skeleton nation, but what do we need to do to achieve that? We need to look into the men’s field, find, identify and develop athletes, and of course defend our success on the women’s side.
We also need to identify a strong coaching philosophy, and work closely with Graham [Taylor, UK Sport Head of Coaching] and see how we can identify new, British coaches for the future. There will also be a focus on the research and innovation as well. We need to make sure we have every piece of the jigsaw in place.
UK Sport’s World Class Performance Conference, presented by Sportscover, is at the Wembley Hilton from 24-26 November 2014. The conference brings together coaches, practitioners and leaders from the British high performance sports community to meet, debate and share best practice across key themes influencing athletes’ performances. The theme of this year’s Conference is Focus.