On the 11th of November Athletics Northern Ireland launched our first ‘Elite Coach Development Programme’ with the aim of supporting the development of a group of coaches working with athletes towards upcoming major championships.

The programme running over the next 8 months will focus on the art and science of coaching, developing a community of practice for peer to peer learning and striving for excellence through a performance culture where coaches are well equipped to lead the performance team. The first modules of the programme centred on developing a coaching philosophy and building relationships to support the athlete.  Each coach was provided with ‘Steve Ingham’s book; ‘How to Support a Champion.’

Steve who was instrumental in performance teams within British Rowing and Athletics (working with Sir Steve Redgrave, Sir Matthew Pinsent, Kelly Sotherton and Dame Jessica Ennis Hill) writes of embracing the resourcefulness of individuals in a team and extracting the best possible solutions from the people with the most information…

“It was very clear that we all had our own objectives and ambitions, ideas and opinions, but unless we were prepared to put down our own personal agendas, take off our egos and give ourselves to the overall team goal, then we would be a negative influence on achieving a goal that was worthy of the mantle – greater than the sum of our parts.”

Readers can check out Steve’s book; ‘How to Support a Champion’ here.

A podcast by Dr Fergus Connolly also supported learning on the first modules of the programme. As a human performance leader in sports (Welsh Rugby, San Francisco 49ers etc), military and business teams Fergus speaks on the commonalities in great leaders, the planning process, the benefits of small systems and the coach as a generalist.

Discussing reflections on the podcast coaches felt commonalities in great leaders included:-

  • Character, humbleness
  • Distinguishing between success & sustainable success
  • Reflecting on criticism & continuing to improve
  • Analysis of failures & successes
  • Brutal honesty that isn’t personal
  • Functioning well in high stress situations
  • “Transferring leadership to the athlete to empower their decision making.”

In relation to athlete empowerment I shared this recent quote:-

“If my coach is there (at major championships) it should be because I want him there, not because I need him there. If I need him there he has failed me.” 

Tianna Bartoletta -3x Olympic Gold Medallist, & 4x100m World Record.

On planning Fergus stated; “The plan often doesn’t survive first contact with the enemy… the plan serves a purpose but the purpose is not to follow it blindly.” Coaches also discussed gut instinct “head versus heart” with the Athletics NI team proposing that gut instinct should be based on analytics and previous experience. A coach working with a single athlete or small pool of athletes will have much less evidence on which to base gut instincts than someone like Dan Pfaff for example who has 40 years of coaching experience.

As the performance teams around an athlete grow we believe there is a greater need for coaches to lead collaboration of support personnel.  This will require understanding support services and communicating with each individual to integrate sports science within the programme.  Athletics NI recognise we must remove as many blocks from the system as possible to ensure the physical environment and approach & mind-set of service personnel are optimal to allow the ‘coach led, athlete centred and service supported’ model for athlete development to succeed.

Future modules on the ECDP are outlined below:

Hopefully the links to podcasts and reading that supported our first ECDP modules will allow some other coaches in Northern Ireland to dig deeper into these topics using the same resources as coaches on the ECDP. My next post will share some advice from ‘sub 10’ sprints coach Jonas Dodoo on ‘Developing a Coaching Philosophy.’