Norman Brook has been appointed to the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee’s Education and Training Commission. The commission is headed by SASCOC Vice President, Mr Barry Hendricks and comprises four members. The other members are Ms Marion Keim Lees, Ms Thoko Mlonyeni, and Mr Cecil Colin Abrahams.

The Commission’s Mandate is to provide policy guidelines and recommendations to the SASCOC Board on all matters relating to policies of Education and Training within the organization. Position’s on the Commission are regarded as a voluntary service.


SA Group 6

Norman Brook recently contributed to a three day Safeguarding Children in Sport workshop held in Johannesburg. The workshop was lead by Elias Musangeya and Jemima Coates from UK Sport and was facilitated by Wilbert Muchunguzi from Keeping Children Safe. The workshop was attended by representatives from the sports of Cycling, Netball, Rowing and Triathlon.

The workshop afforded participants the opportunity of considering what needs to be done in their sports to implement the International Safeguards for Children in Sport which were developed by a working group representing a range of sport and sport for development stakeholders which was lead by of UNICEF UK.

Attending the workshop were participants from Botswana, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Posted by: Norman Brook | March 20, 2017

Sport Workforce Development

Sport is delivered through a workforce that is comprised of both salaried staff and volunteers. The workforce comprises administrators, technical officials, coaches and other roles specific to the sport. Sport needs a competent workforce to deliver a quality sports experience to their participants that requires access to learning and development opportunities in order to build their competences.

International and national sports federations are increasingly seeking to develop sport by investing in the learning and development of their workforce. Individuals working in sport learn through a mixture of activities including practicing in the field, completing formal sports education qualifications, self-directed study, by attending conferences, workshops and seminars, and through mentoring or being a member of a community of practice.  Traditionally sports federations would deliver face to face training leading to a formal sports education qualification or certificate. Advances now see sports federations supporting the learning and development of their workforce by supporting the different ways in which people learn.  An example of this would be the introduction of blended or hybrid learning where online digital media is combined with traditional classroom methods.

Sport Workforce Learning & Development Opportunities

Figure 1: Sport Workforce Learning & Development Opportunities

Sports organizations are increasingly looking at a learning and development strategy for their workforce that asks what are the competences we need to develop in our staff and volunteers to enable them to perform their roles to the best of their ability. Strategies that include formal sports education programs with clear outcomes that focus on developing the applied competency or capability of the workforce. Programs that are outcome driven and can be evaluated.

In addition to designing education programs which feature traditional face to face training courses, many sports federations are using online platforms to blend pre-course and post-course study with the instructed course.  They are also supporting ongoing learning and development outside of formal sports education courses and qualifications by delivering continuing professional development opportunities in the form of conferences, workshops and seminars and are delivering formal mentoring programs.  This ongoing education and learning activity following on from traditional sports education courses and qualifications helping the sports workforce move from competence to capability i.e. not just being competent to undertake a task, but having the ability to adapt tasks in new situations.

Applied Competency

Figure 2: Supporting Learners to Shift from Competence to Capability

In order to deliver a comprehensive sports education program, many sports organisations are developing a team of people who support the education and development of the workforce. These sports educators work to:

  • Develop organizational strategies to support the learning and development of the sport’s workforce;
  • Design education programs and develop resources to support learning;
  • Facilitate the learning and development of the workforce in face to face settings;
  • Conduct assessment of learners seeking to gain a qualification/certificate;
  • Mentor learners in the field;
  • Evaluate and verify the delivery of sports education programs.

Sports educators can be program developers, facilitators, mentors, assessors or verifiers.

Brook Sports Consulting has years of experience in developing individuals working in sport and supporting sports organizations to develop and deliver education programs.  We are currently working on sports education projects for a number of International Sports Federations. We also have experience of developing the workforce within organizations that specialize in using sport for development outcomes.  Developing sport for development programs, resources and people.


Photo 1: Developing a Sport for Development Education Program for use in TVET Colleges in Ethiopia.


Photo 2: Participants at the ITU/ASTC Facilitators Workshop held in Kuala Lumpur 2012

Brook Sports Consulting offer support in developing sport education strategies and programs, in developing learning resources, in training facilitators, mentors, assessors and verifiers.








Posted by: Norman Brook | March 9, 2017

Building Sporting & Life Competences

Posted by: Norman Brook | March 3, 2017

Developing Independent, Confident & Skilled Athletes

Richard Mayer is a South African athletics coach, runner, athletics statistician and an advocate for the Lydiard approach to running.  He recently asked this question in a running forum:

“I belong to the school of coaching that tends to make the coach redundant – if you guide your athlete well enough over 4 to 5 years, she or he should be able to do it on her/his own and only need your guidance when problems arise – However, where I do believe the coach must monitor and interact with an athlete extensively is in the crucial peaking phase – the business end of the training programme and periodisation cycle- what do other people think?”

This is my response:

One of long term aims of coaching should be to build the athlete’s awareness, their confidence and to enable them to take responsibility for themselves in training and competition. A level of awareness that enables them to make good decisions in training, in competition and in life. The confidence to act independently and to take responsibility for their own actions and resulting performance.

Coaches need over a period of time to transfer control from coach to athlete. Coaching should be athlete centred and designed to meet the needs of an athlete at the time reflecting the stage of development they have reached. The style of coaching adopted by the coach therefore changes over time as the athlete develops increased awareness, confidence and responsibility.

Coaches should want the athletes they coach to become independent thinkers and decision makers and to see their role as coaches change from being that of an instructor to that of an advisor.

The conscious competence learning model helps us think about how athletes progress as they learn and to reflect on how our coaching style should change to meet the changing needs of the athlete.

The conscious competence model has four stages:

Unconscious Incompetent –  At this stage the athlete does not know very much and they have low levels of skill.  A young beginner athlete entering the sport for the first time would most likely be at this stage.

Conscious Incompetent – At this stage the athlete understands what they need to do to perform but has still not developed the skill levels required to be competent.

Conscious Competent – At this stage the understands what they need to do to perform and has developed the skills needed to perform with competence, but they need to make a concentrated effort when doing so.

Unconscious Competent – At this stage the athlete can perform with competence without needing to think to much about it.

As the athlete progresses through these stages of learning the style of coaching they need changes.

  1. The unconscious incompetent athlete needs direction. They need to coach to tell them what to do and to explain why they are doing it. This would apply especially to young beginner athletes who do not know very much about the sport and have yet to develop their skills. Here the coach makes decisions and directs.
  2. The conscious incompetent athlete knows what needs to be done and why they are doing it, but has not yet master the skill. The athlete needs to be coached. Here the coach consults with the athlete helping to develop their awareness, confidence and responsibility, but largely leads on decisions.
  3. The conscious competent athlete knows what to do, why they are doing it and has developed good levels of skill. At this stage they still have to make concentrated effort. Responsibility has moved from the coach to the athlete who now makes the decisions in consultation with the coach who has moved from being a coach to being a mentor.
  4. The unconscious competent athlete has a high level of awareness is confident and takes responsibility for their own participation and performance in training and competition. Responsibility has been delegated down from the coach to the athlete. The athlete will consult with the coach from time to time to seek support or advice.

I would recommend all coaches to read Ken Blanchard’s classic book Leadership and the One Minute Manager.[i] Although this is a business management book, it is also essentially a coaching book that introduces the concept of Situational Leadership, explaining how to coach people at different stages of their development.


Of course, it is important to recognise that a coach may need to change their coaching style in different situations in order to meet the specific needs of an athlete. An athlete you are coaching, for example, may be at the conscious competent stage in terms of skill related drills they use in training. You then as the coach decide to introduce the athlete to a new drill. At the start the coach needs to introduce the new drill by providing direction. As the athlete practices and starts to understand and develop the skill involved in performing the drill they require coaching. Once the athlete masters the drill the coach moves to supporting them.

We need to recognise then that the coach needs to be able to direct, coach, support and delegate and that anyone of these different styles of coaching may be called upon depending on the athletes being coached and their level of competence.

Over time our aim will be to build the awareness and confidence of the athletes we coach and to progress them the stage where they can take responsibility for their training and competition. The point where coach can sit in the background with a smile and recognise a job well done.

[i] Ken Blanchard (2015), Leadership and the One Minute Manager, Harper Collins, New York. IBSN:978-0-00-710341-6


Posted by: Norman Brook | February 3, 2017

Safeguarding Children in Sport – Benefits & Risks

In previous articles published here, I have highlighted the absence of safeguarding policies and practice in sports organisations in South Africa. I believe the same could be said in most Medium and Low Income Countries (MLICs) across the world where National Sports Organisations have still to grasp this issue. Whilst great strides have been made in High Income countries to address the matter recent cases of historical child abuse in sport have highlighted the risk that not acting on this issue presents to sports organisations.  The adoption of safeguarding policies and practice in sports organisations will benefit children in sport creating a safe and enjoyable environment for them practice sport and develop as individuals. The risk of not adopting safeguards not only puts children at risk, but also puts the organisations responsible for governance in sport at risk of litigation and reputation loss.

UNICEF UK has led an international working group which has developed the International Safeguards for Children in Sport. I am pleased to have contributed to the working group as a member of one of the learning sets. If we are going to ensure the safety of children taking part in sport and protect the integrity, reputation and funds of National Sports Federations around the world, it is vital that such organisations in MLICs come to the table and start to implement these standards.

For this to happen we need international bodies such as the International Olympic Committee, United Nations Office on Sport for Development & Peace and Commonwealth Advisory Body on Sport (CABOS) to encourage the adoption of the International Safeguards for Children in Sport by targeting the International Sports Federations and National Sports Departments of Governments.  International Sports Federations can apply downward pressure through their regional structures to encourage National Sports Federations to adopt safeguarding policies and implement procedures. At the same time National Sports Departments can require National Sports Federations to adopt safeguards. National Sports Federations are dependent on funding either that cascaded down through their International Federations or Government funding which flows through their Department of Sport.  A requirement of funding should be the adoption of safeguards for children in sport as a key component of good governance.

To see if my fears that little was being done in South Africa to implement safeguarding of children within formal sporting structures were valid, I recently surveyed the websites of ten sports in South Africa to see if they have safeguarding policies or procedures and if there is information on their websites how children or parents can raise concerns. The ten sport were chosen randomly from those being surveyed annually by the Eminent Persons Group on Transformation in Sport and were all considered sports for children. Of the ten websites surveyed not one had any information on the safeguarding of children in their sport. One, South African Swimming, made a one line mention of child protection in their constitution which is available on their website. It read under clause 4.13 “Ensure that the Child Protection Policy for persons working with minors is rigorous.” The lack of information on the website suggests that the Child Protection Policy may not be as rigorous as intended.

My feeling is that if sports organisations in South Africa do not have safeguards for children in place, it is likely to be reflective of all MLICs given that South Africa is a leading sports nation.

The International Safeguards for Sport give the following reasons why sports organisations should safeguard children in their sports structures:

  • Recognition  – Key organizations such as the International Olympic Committee have acknowledged this issue.
  • Media – Cases of abuse are increasingly reported.
  • Human Rights – United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children.
  • Duty of Care – If you are responsible for children you have a fundamental duty of care to ensure they are safe.
  • Scientific Evidence – Research suggests that abuse in sport is a key issue.
  • Benefits of Sport – Safeguards can help maximise these benefits.
  • Reputation – Cases of abuse can threaten the integrity of your organisation, sport and community.

I would add to their list the following two reasons:

  • Moral Responsibility – Sports Federations have a moral  responsibility to contribute towards the eradication of violence against children in society by ensuring children in their sport’s systems are safe.
  • Risk – In an increasingly litigious society it is only a matter of time before a National Sports Federation will be sued for not taking measures to safeguard children participating in their sport.

This lack of visibility of safeguarding measures in the sampled South African Sports Federations highlights the need to push forward the agenda around implementation of the International Safeguards for Children in Sport in the Federations and their structures in MLICs.

Norman Brook MBE was a Child Protection Training Tutor and Trainer of Tutors for Sportscoach UK during the 1990’s and 2000’s. He was responsible for developing and implementing Child protection policies and procedures at the British Triathlon Federation where he was the Chief Executive Officer. He served on a working group contributing to the development of UNICEF UK’s International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport.  Through his work on developing coaches and coaching resources for sport and development settings, Norman has ensured that all publications address the issue of safeguarding children participating in sport.

Brook Sport Consulting conducted a successful first tutor training course for tutors of Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) commisssaires at the World Governing Body’s cycling centre in Aigle, Switzerland.  The course was lead by Norman Brook and co-facilitated by Thanos Nikopoulos. Commissaire is the generic term for an official in competitive cycling, approximately equivalent to umpires or referees in other sports. The training course aimed to improve the teaching skills of the tutors moving them towards a more facilitative style of delivery that helps develop the applied competence of commissaires across a number of the cycling disciplines governed by the UCI.


Participants attended the course from Canada, France, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Singapore and Switzerland. They reported that the course had helped develop a range of skills and teaching styles that would better help them deliver training that meets the needs of potential international and national elite commissaires.

Posted by: Norman Brook | December 15, 2016

No safe sport in a society that is failing to safeguard children.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a renowned South African Anglican cleric known for his opposition to the policies of apartheid. During the 1980s he played an almost unrivaled role in drawing national and international attention to the iniquities of apartheid, and in 1984 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. He later chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and has continued to draw attention to a number of social justice issues over the years.


Archbishop Desmond Tutu pictured with members of the Professional Footballers Association and Coaching for Hope during a visit to Cape Town in May 2014.

In recent years, Archbishop Tutu has focused much of his time and the work of his foundations on improving the lives of children around the world, promoting their well-being and safety.

The importance of safeguarding of children who participate in sport has been highlighted in recent weeks as a result of  20 former footballers in the UK coming forward with allegations of historical child sex abuse in football.  The English Football Association has announced an internal review, an NSPCC hotline has received more than 250 calls and individual football clubs are conducting their own inquiries.

News of these disclosures of historical child sex abuse has dominated the UK press, but has also received global coverage, which is not surprising given the reach of the English Premier League. Here in South Africa, when you ask someone what football team they support, they first tell you their English team and after that which South African football team they support.

English Football, starting in the mid 1990’s, developed sound child safeguarding policies, procedures and practices. I remember delivering child protection training ,and training tutors in the delivery of child protection, prior to and after 2000 to the FA, Premier league Academies, and to community based football clubs. 2000 is a key date, as in 1999 the mission led by the UK sports councils and the NSPCC to promote and develop safeguarding of children in sport resulted in the establishment of the Child Protection in Sport Unit (CPSU) within the NSPCC. In 2000 the FA formalized a partnership with the CPSU to further develop and promote the safeguarding of children in football in England.

I would encourage you to visit the Football Association’s safeguarding pages on their website to learn about their safeguarding policies, practices and programmes.

In the UK, I would hope the work that started prior to 2000 to safeguard children in sport has created an environment where child abuse is less likely to occur and where concerns and disclosures of child abuse can be properly investigated and addressed. This work needs to continue, with disclosures of historical child abuse in sport being duly investigated, and the learning from these cases informing future practice in safeguarding in sport. As the UK Minister of Sport wrote recently “…the sport sector needs to do everything it can to ensure that if proven allegations are found there is justice for the survivors of past abuse, and that sport today is as safe as it possibly can be.”

My concern though is that whilst sport in countries in the Global North has increasingly implemented child safeguarding standards, the same is not true in the developing nations of the Global South.

I will use South Africa, a middle income country, as an example. South Africa has a modern constitution and laws that protect the rights of children. There is however no requirement for sports organizations or clubs to adopt safeguarding policies, procedures or practices. In fact, it is difficult to find examples of good practice in South African sport in terms of safeguarding children.

In the development sector where sport is used as a development tool there has been some progress. UNICEF UK has been leading with the promotion of the International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport and Keeping Children Safe have developed the International Child Safeguarding Standards which have been adopted by most international development organizations.


South African Football Star, Amanda Dlamini launches UNICEF UK’s International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport in Johannesburg 2014

The progress made in the sport for development sector is sadly not being reflected in main steam sport in developing nations.

During the apartheid years in South Africa,  Archbishop Desmond Tutu commented that “There can be no non-racial sport in a racist society”.

Adopting the same thinking, sport in South Africa cannot be free of child abuse whilst there continues to be such high levels of violence against children in South African society.

The University of Cape Town recently released South Africa’s first study on the national annual incidence of child sexual abuse in the country. Conducted by the university’s Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention and the University of Cape Town, the research has revealed ground-breaking information on the extent of sexual abuse crimes committed against children and young people.

The following facts were reported by BHEKISISA the South African Health Journalism:

One in three young people report a sexually abusive experience in their lifetime. A total of 784 967 South Africans have been abused sexually at least once by the age of 17. Almost half of these cases occurred in 2015 alone.

Boys reported higher lifetime prevalence rates of sexual abuse (36.8%) than girls (33.9%) unlike previously thought. However, the nature of the abuse is often different. Girls are more likely to experience contact sexual abuse, where they are physically touched, and boys are more likely to experience exposure abuse, where the child is forced to see sexual images or incidents. Males are twice as likely as females to be “forced to look at someone’s private parts, forced to watch them masturbate or to view nude pictures or pornographic videos”.

Children reported higher rates of adults they know abusing them sexually (8.2%) than adults they don’t know (5.5%). Half of the young people reporting abuse by an older person they know say that the incidents happened more than once. But, 90% of those who report abuse by an adult they have never met say that the incident happened only once.

Violence against children including sexual abuse is a big problem in South African society where one in three children is likely to experience sexual abuse. In a society where there is so much violence against children it is simply not possible to imagine that there is not a problem of children participating in sport being subjected to abuse including sexual abuse. This in a society where the constitution and laws are in place to safeguard children, but where the reality is very different.

If in South Africa, sport is not as safe as it can possibly be for children, it is fair to conclude that in other countries where children’s rights are not respected, mainly medium and low development countries, that children are equally unsafe when participating in main stream sport.

I firmly believe that international and national sports federations need to do be doing much more to be promoting and implementing the International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport ensuring that sport today is as safe as it possibly can be for all children.

Related Article: Child Protection in Sport in South Africa

Norman Brook MBE was a Child Protection Training Tutor and Trainer of Tutors for Sportscoach UK during the 1990’s and 2000’s. He was responsible for developing and implementing Child protection policies and procedures at the British Triathlon Federation where he was the Chief Executive Officer. He served on a working group contributing to the development of UNICEF UK’s International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport.  Through his work on developing coaches and coaching resources for sport and development settings, Norman has ensured that all publications address the issue of safeguarding children participating in sport.


Norman Brook delivered a talk at Athletics South Africa’s National Coaches Symposium in Bloemfontein on the 7th October 2016 addressing the question “What must South Africa’s approach be for developing athletes for the 2020 Olympic Games?”

Through the medal winning performances of Caster Semenya, Sunette Viljoen, Wayde van Niekerk, and Luvo Manyonga, South African athletics achieved its best ever medal tally at an Olympic Games. The federation is keen to build on this success and invited Brook to share his thoughts on what they need to do pursue success in 2020.

According to ASA president Aleck Skhosana the federation will be, “listening to different experiences as we seek to make it easier for each other to present an athlete ready for competition at all levels”.

Press Coverage

This presentation was delivered at Athletic South Africa’s National Coaches Symposium in Bloemfontein, South Africa on the 6/7 October 2016.


The 2020 Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo, Japan, from the 24th July to the 9th August. There are 1385 days left until these games begin.  To answer the question “What must South Africa’s approach be for developing athletes for the 2020 Olympic Games?”, South Africa needs to:

  • Celebrate the success of RIO 2016 and create a virtuous circle that learns from that success and aims to improve on that success in Tokyo 2020;
  • Support those athletes who have a realistic chance and are committed to winning medals in Tokyo 2020;
  • Seek continuous improvement by challenging and improving performance in all areas of preparation;
  • Remember that Tokyo 2020 is followed by Budapest/Los Angeles/Paris 2024 and somewhere else in 2028.

Create that Virtuous Circle

Through the medal winning performances of Caster Semenya, Sunette Viljoen, Wayde van Niekerk, and Luvo Manyonga, South African athletics achieved its best ever medal tally for the sport of athletics at an Olympic Games. The previous best being three medals.  This is an outstanding performance and one that should be celebrated. It is also a potential platform on which to build further success by using this achievement to create a virtuous circle, a beneficial cycle of events or incidents, each having a positive effect on the next, where success begets success.

One good sign that links the celebration of success in Rio to support for Tokyo 2020 was the Minister of Sport, Fikile Mbalula’s statement at the recent SASCOC Annual General Meeting:

“We need to work harder and invest in sport in a similar fashion to Britain to get the best results and many medals. It’s time to have a budget focused on Olympics, every year we should get money for Olympics. I am going to advocate and motivate to the government that we get a budget for Olympics over and above the money we receive for development of sports and NFs (National Federations).”

Great Britain started to seriously invest in Olympic medals post the 1996 Olympics where the nation finished 36th in the medal table winning only 15 medals of which there was only 1 Gold. In 2016, they won 67 medals, 2 more than at the 2012 London Olympics becoming the first host nation to better their medal haul in a subsequent Games.


South Africa and Great Britain Olympic Medals in Athletics

Great Britain with the 5th strongest economy in the world spent £350 Million on winning medals over the 2013/2017 funding period resulting in an average cost of each of the 67 medals won being £5.22 Million.  South Africa has 40th strongest economy in the word, but is only a medium development country on the human development index and has the highest levels of inequality in the world. South Africa has pressing development needs that are not faced in more highly developed countries such as Great Britain or Australia.

Despite high levels of investment, Great Britain finished below South Africa on the athletics medal table, although they won 7 medals to South Africa’s 4. South Africa placed ahead of Great Britain by merit of the quality of medals won.

Australia finished 10th on the medal table in Rio with 27 medals in total investing AUD 330 Million over the four-year Olympic cycle and with the average cost of each medal being AUD 12.2 Million. Australia only won two athletics medals in Rio, half the number that South Africa won.

So here we have South Africa being more successful in athletics at the Olympic Games than countries with much higher levels of funding. South African athletes received support through Operation Excellence and had access to performance support services and facilities through a network of High Performance Centres, but the scale of investment was considerably lower than countries like Great Britain and Australia.

Clearly there is more to achieving medal winning success at an Olympic Games than simply throwing money at the challenge.  That said it is becoming increasingly difficult for athletes to train to produce an Olympic podium performance without becoming full time athletes. The hours required for training, eating and recovering require a full time commitment and this means that potential Olympic podium athletes need to have their living and athletics costs covered somehow. The Minister’s desire to find more money to invest in medal winning performances is therefore welcome.

Support Committed Athletes

Increased funding of athletes through programmes like Operation Excellence should not mean that more athletes will be funded, but rather that more funding and support will be directed towards those athletes identified as having a realistic chance of winning Olympic medals in 2020. In a country where resources are scarce we need to focus funding on the clear target of winning medals in 2020. Programmes like Operation Excellence should be designed to help athletes win medals, they are not about assisting athletes to qualify and simply participate.  Athletes on the way up who have not yet demonstrated that they have Olympic medal winning potential should be supported by other parts of the performance pathway.

Those athletes who will win medals for South Africa in 2020 are almost certainly already known in the sport.  Caster Semenya was a medal winner in London 2012, Sunette Viljoen finished one place outside the medals in London 2012, Wayde van Niekerk whose breakthrough year was in 2014, was a junior South African international in 2012, Luvo Manyonga was a potential medallist in 2012 having been World Junior Champion in 2010 and placed fifth in the World Championships 2011. It should therefore not be too difficult to identify which athletes might have the potential to win medals in Tokyo and to immediately start to support those committed to getting on the Olympic Podium.

Three days before the Games of the XXXI Olympiad opened in Rio, Brazil, the legendary Australian swimming coach, Forbes Carlile sadly passed away at the age of 93 years. He coached many notable Olympic swimmers including Shane Gould who as a 15-year-old won three gold medals, a silver medal and a bronze at the 1972 Summer Olympics and in that same year held world records simultaneously in the 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1500 metres freestyle and the 200m individual medley.

Forbes together with his wife Ursula, and assistant coach, Tom Green, ran a performance swimming centre in Ryde, Sydney, where the following sign hung at the entrance some 50 years ago.


Legendary Australian Swimming Coach, Forbes Carlile

It reads “Our object is not to not being the intent to produce A Champion, but rather to provide an atmosphere where champions are inevitable.”  Forbes modified this quote over time to “Our aim is not to produce champions, but to create an environment where champions are inevitable.”

What was true over 50 years ago is true today and the philosophy of creating the right atmosphere, environment or climate that makes champions inevitable still applies in high performance programmes today.

One of the coaching models, I like, was developed by Olympic Gold Medallist, David Hemery, Olympic Field Hockey Coach, David Whitaker and Sir John Whitmore, a former motor racing driver. It is called the GROW model. The GROW acronym standing for Goal, Reality, Options, Will.

So if we apply the GROW model to the task of developing South Africa’s for the 2020 Olympic what would it look like?

Goal: If South African athletics is to create a virtuous circle and improve on the outstanding four medals won in 2016, they will need to set a target of at least 5 medals in 2020.

Reality: If the goal is to win 5 medals in 2020 we need to quickly assess if that is realistic?  Does South African athletics currently have the athletes in the system that can, with the right support and development, win five medals in 2020? What is it going to take for the athletes to win medals in 2020? Where are South Africa’s athletes today in relation to what it will take and is the gap bridgeable?

In assessing whether we have the athletes currently in South African athletics to win medals in Tokyo 2020, we have to consider all medals including the relays. Japan won the silver medal at the 2016 Olympic Games in the 4 x 100m relay with a pool of sprinters that South Africa could better on individual performances.  Japan’s athletes and federation have been committed to success in the relays for a number of years. If South Africa assesses that it has a pool of sprinters capable if committed to winning an Olympic medal, then the athletes and federation must include this in their strategy.

Options: Having identified the potential podium athletes for 2020, ASA and SASCOC need to develop a strategy with the athletes and their coaches to ensure they can achieve the goal. They need ask what the athletes need in order to bridge the gap from where they are today and where they need to be in 2020. They need to consider what are the best options of providing support?

Will: Most importantly South Africa needs to know that the athletes identified as potential Olympic podium athletes are 100% committed to winning medals in 2020? That they will not compromise their preparations to win an Olympic medal. We also need to know that the athlete’s personal coach and performance service providers are also committed to that goal. Finally, we need to know that other strategic funders and stakeholders are also focused on Olympic medal winning goal?

Athletes, coaches, support personnel, strategic funders and stakeholders can only be aligned to the Olympic goal if they are speaking to each other.  Part of the success of Great Britain’s approach has been the gradual alignment of commitment of their athletes, coaches, support personnel, National Sports Federations, National Olympic Committee and Government towards the goal of winning Olympic and Paralympic medals has contributed to the programme’s success.


Is everyone focused on Olympic Medal Winning Performance

There is a big difference from athletes being motivated to compete at the Olympic Games to athletes being 100% committed to winning an Olympic Medal.  This was true for the sport of triathlon which became an Olympic sport in 2000 and where Great Britain had medal winning potential that was not realised until 2012. Prior to gaining its Olympic status, the sport produced a generation of “travel the world journeymen” type athletes. This was an approach that clashed with the focused Olympic medal winning approach. Triathletes wanted the world class funding, but also wanted to continue the journeyman approach. Being a young new sport, there was also a lack of experienced performance coaches with the skills to persuade triathletes to commit 100% to the Olympic goals.

It was only when the new generation of young triathletes emerged from the sports talent programmes and the experienced Olympic athletics coach, Malcolm Brown, came on board to lead the triathletes that Olympic medal winning performance emerged. In Rio, British triathletes lead by Malcolm took Gold, Silver, Bronze and a fourth place and five of the six triathletes on the team came from the same training centre he leads in the City of Leeds.

The Leeds triathlon experience is very much an athlete centred approach with the triathletes very much involved in decision making processes. Malcolm Brown leads the programme supported by an assistant coach, sports science and sports medicine specialists. The training centre is low cost and is supported by the university the National Federation and UK Sport.

The importance of an athlete centred approach to success in high performance programmes cannot be stressed enough.   Cycling, Great Britain’s most successful Olympic medal winning sport make this clear through a set of expectations they describe through the acronym CORE which stands for Commitment, Ownership, Responsibility, and Excellence.

Commitment:    Athletes are expected to be 100% committed to the goal of winning Olympic medals.

Ownership:        Athletes are expected to take ownership of their programme.

Athletes generally do not like to be told what to do, they respond best when they are consulted and involved in decision making. Directive coaching styles where the coach makes all the decisions and has total control of the training programme are not appropriate at this level of performance. Athletes should be expected to have an opinion and be made to feel they can voice their opinion.

Responsibility: Athletes are expected to take responsibility and be accountable for themselves.

Athletes should know what is expected and is not expected of them and conduct themselves accordingly.

Excellence:         Athletes should be committed to achieving excellence.

Athletes should seek to do everything they can in their preparations to achieve excellence. They should be committed to a process of continuous improvement.

It is this pursuit of continuous improvement and excellence that has led to the “Aggregation of Marginal Gains” concept. Initially, there are big things you can do as an athlete to improve your performance, but over time it becomes the small things that create the competitive advantage.  The difference in performance terms between winning an Olympic Gold medal and finishing out of the medals can be very small. In this case every marginal gain that the athlete can make the difference between making the podium or missing it. Adopting the concept of aggregating marginal gains means adopting a process of continuous improvement where athletes, coaches and performance support personnel all seek to pursue excellence in everything they do, looking at all factors that impact the athlete. These include factors that go beyond the physical, mental, technical and tactical preparation of the athlete. A good example is how the British cycling team and staff were all taught how to wash their hands properly in order to cut down the possibility of infections being transferred and to keep the cyclists in good health for the competition.

Challenge & Improve

As I was about leave my role of Chief Executive Officer of the British Triathlon Federation, I took part in the first stage of a review process of our World Class Performance programme called Mission 2012.   In order to create the right climate, environment or atmosphere to succeed, UK Sport had developed the pioneering review process which tracks, checks and challenges each funded sport on their Olympic and Paralympic journey.

The Mission review process was originally developed for London 2012 and then was improved for Rio 2016. It ensures continuous improvement and has improved Great Britain’s ability to identify issues and find solutions before they have a negative impact on the athletes’ performances.

UK Sport works with each National Sports Federation’s performance team to assess and reflect on areas of strength and weakness in their Olympic programme. Each sport analyses elements of their athlete development and support programmes in three key areas;

  • Athletes – performances, development profiles, well-being, health, & commitment
  • System – the staff, structures, facilities, processes, knowledge and expertise
  • Climate – the culture, feel and day-to-day function experienced by athletes and staff

Progress is measured six monthly using a traffic light system and action plans are developed on a plan-do-review basis to address issues identified in the review. The review process identifies areas where the sport is underperforming and challenges the sport to address these areas.


Looking Beyond 2020

We know that potential medallists for 2020 are almost certainly already participating in the sport, but where are the future generations of medal winners for 2024 and 2028. The recent Eminent Persons Group on Transformation in Sport’s status report highlights that large sections of the population under-18 years are not able to access traditional school and club sport. The report states that there is an “inadequate focus on the 84% under-18 South African Black African segment compared to the focus on the 16% White, Indian or Coloured segment.”

Traditional thinking is that there is a relationship between participation and performance. The wider the base of participation the higher the level of performance. This is of course not true. You can have high levels of performance even if there is a small participation base. What is true is that if you are to maximise performance programmes you need to be able to reach down and discover talent. This has traditionally been achieved in sports like athletics through school and club athletics.

British Triathlon has had a strong talent identification and development programme for a number of years. This despite the sport being dominated by individuals, there being no triathlon activity in schools, and a small a small junior club base.  Against this background British Triathlon had to adopt more targeted talent programming finding young people in different contexts who could swim and run and pulling them into area talent centres.

If athletics in South Africa is to reach wider than it currently does it probably need to develop a talent identification programme and performance pathway that is not solely dependent on the traditional school and club sport models.


The 2020 Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo, Japan, from the 24th July to the 9th August. There are 1385 days left until these games begin.

In summary, what must South Africa’s approach be for developing athletes for the 2020 Olympics?

  1. Celebrate the success of RIO 2016 and use this success to drive even greater success in Tokyo 2020;
  2. Set a realistic but challenging medal target for 2020;
  3. Focus on those athletes including relay squads who are realistic medal potential for 2020;
  4. Conduct a performance analysis of where potential medallists are today and where they need to be in 2020. Form a strategy to bridge the gap;
  5. Ensure clarity over the roles, responsibilities and boundaries of the various stakeholders;
  6. Ensure athletes, personal coaches and other stakeholders are connected and committed to winning Olympic medals in 2020;
  7. Invest in the personal living and sports costs of the identified podium athletes;
  8. Invest in the development of personal coaches and performance support providers;
  9. Create a high performance environment and culture around the podium athletes;
  10. Seek continuous improvement in all aspects of preparation.


  1. Don’t take your eye off developing the next generation athletes, coaches and support personnel for 2024 and beyond.


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