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.


Posted by: Norman Brook | September 8, 2016

UNESCO and J|Academy launch Soft Skills Manual

A soft skills manual is unveiled during a training day at Juventus Stadium, a new tool developed by Juventus and UNESCO supporting the development of J|Academy coaches.

Education, integration and the rejection of all forms of discrimination are the core objectives of the strategic partnership between Juventus and UNESCO.

And these were also the underlying themes of today’s meeting at Juventus Stadium, where five J|Academy coaches met UNESCO expert Norman Brook from Brook Sport Consulting, who gave a presentation illustrating the finer details of the initiative and much more.

Full article here


Posted by: Norman Brook | September 7, 2016

Cooperation on Sport2Work Manual for Ethiopia

Norman Brook, has just returned from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he conducted a workshop with Niklas Grau to test a new manual titled Sport2Work that has been commissioned by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).


The manual being written by Norman Brook, Donny Jurgens and Niklas Grau aims to help coaches in four team sports – basketball, football, handball, and volleyball – develop soft employability skills in young people through sports activity on and off the field.

The manual is being designed primarily for use in TVET institutions linking to National Occupation Standards, but will be flexible with potential use in High Schools, Sports Federations and in the NGO sector.

Posted by: Norman Brook | July 19, 2016

Basketball4Life Manual Launched

Bsketball4LifeAuthored by Norman Brook, the Basket4Life Manual has been written to assist basketball coaches to facilitate positive youth development among Namibian youth (boys and girls) who like to play basketball. It has been developed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), working in partnership with the Namibia Basketball Federation (NBF).

The manual seeks to promote sport as a tool for both positive youth development and the adoption of healthy lifestyles. The principles set out in this manual can be used by basketball coaches operating in basketball clubs/ teams who wish to promote the holistic development of their players or can be used by basketball coaches working in NGOs where sport is used specifically as means of reaching young people and developing their life skills. The manual can be used by coaches coaching youth under 20 years of age, but the content of the healthy lifestyles section has most relevance to the under 13 and under 15 age groups who are transitioning through adolescence from childhood to adulthood.

In addition to writing the manual, leading basketball coaches in Namibia have been been prepared to facilitate training using the manual to coaches and have been supported during  their first training courses by a mentor.

Basketball4Life is a sister publication of Football4Life

Posted by: Norman Brook | May 13, 2016

Football4Life launched in Namibia

Authored by Norman Brook, the Football4Life Manual has been written to assist football coaches to facilitate positive youth development among Namibian youth (boys and girls) who like to play football. It has been developed by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), working in partnership with the Namibia Football Association (NFA).

The manual seeks to promote sport as a tool for both positive youth development and the adoption of healthy lifestyles. The principles set out in this manual can be used by football coaches operating in football clubs/ teams who wish to promote the holistic development of their players or can be used by football coaches working in NGOs where sport is used specifically as means of reaching young people and developing their life skills. The manual can be used by coaches coaching youth under 20 years of age, but the content of the healthy lifestyles section has most relevance to the under 13 and under 15 age groups who are transitioning through adolescence from childhood to adulthood.

You can download the manual here.

A second manual called Basketball4Life is currently in production and will be launched soon.

Norman Brook and Donny Jurgens conducted facilitator training in Windhoek for leading Namibian Football and Basketball coaches preparing them to deliver coach training in how to use the two manuals.

Training on a newly developed Football4Life coaching manual was offered to the sports community in Windhoek and the Ohangwena region in the first and second week of November last year.

News coverage on the implementation of the manual can be found here for the Namibian Sun and here for the New Era

In September 2014, Norman Brook facilitated a session at Keeping Children Safe 2014 Conference held in Cape Town on the International Standards for Safeguarding Children in Sport developed by UNICEF UK. Norman lead the session with Elizabeth Benninger, Waves for Change and Sally Warren, Keeping Children Safe.

Keep Child Safe

Keeping Children Safe is a membership network of organisations working together to increase safeguards offered to children. Keeping Children Safe strives to ensure children globally are safeguarded and protected from all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation.  It was formed in 2001 by some of the leading international development agencies in response to incidences of abuse and exploitation of children that were arising as a result of organisations work with vulnerable communities.

Later last year in November in Johannesburg, Norman arranged for South African football legend Amnadla Dlamini to announce the launch of the standards at the Beyond Sport conference. Watch the launch here.

You can find the Powerpoint Presentation from the Keeping Children Safe 2014 Conference session here.

Norman Brook has been retained by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH to develop a new manual for coaches of youth from the Namibian Football Association.

The new manual will bridge between the UNICEF Sport2Life manual and the GIZ Youth Development through Football manuals. Through a consultative workshop the key social challenges facing young people in Namibia will be identified and the social messages that can be delivered in an innovative and exciting manner through football will determined. This will lead to a manual that incorporates different approaches to social messaging around football and addresses the important social issue facing young people in Namibia.

Posted by: Norman Brook | May 30, 2015

South Africa’s Education 2 Employment Challenge

Here in South Africa most children enter primary education. In this respect the country fares well in achieving one part of the Millennium Goal 2 that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling.

That is the good news, the rest is not so clever.

The country has poor education standards ranked 134th globally for numeracy and literacy and with 87% of schools performing poorly. Most children start primary school but 46% drop out before grade 12 and only 25% of grade 12 pupils qualify for tertiary education. Only 4% of all young people access a university education, but only 1% go on to graduate with a degree.

A total of 1,261,827 pupils started primary school in South Africa in 2002, but only 562,112 pupils wrote their grade 12 matriculation exams in 2013. That means that only 44.5% of those pupils who started primary school completed their secondary education. 78.2% of those who finished secondary school passed the matriculation exam. So only 439,572 of the original 1,261.827 pupils graduated secondary school with their matriculation certificate. That means only 34.8% of children entering primary school in 2002 matriculated.

Of those who matriculated, not all will have pass marks sufficient to find their way into a College or University where they can gain a National Certificate, Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree.  More than 50% of 2013 matric learners passed their individual subjects at less than 50% the requirement to study for a degree at a university.  That means 17.4% of the children who started school in 2002 have achieved a school leaving certificate that will get them into higher education. In fact many matriculates will not pass with a combination of subjects that will allow them entry to any training or any job.

This all leaves children in South Africa with a 4% chance of entering university. Given the high dropout rates at university, some estimate that only 1% will gain a National Certificate, Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree. Compare this with high-income countries where a young person’s chances of progressing to tertiary education and completing a qualification is more like 70%.

So 7% of the population have a graduate degree or diploma and 95% of them are in employment and contributing 65% of GDP. 55% of South Africans who have only a high school certificate are employed, 45% of people who do not have a high school certificate are employed, overall unemployment is at 25% and 49% of South Africans live below the poverty line.

One of the challenges of accessing a university education in Africa is cost. In the USA, the average annual university cost as a percentage of per capita income is between 20 and 65%, varying between public and private universities. In Africa, the average figure is 170%.

The importance of gaining a tertiary qualification to future employment prospects is highlighted in a report by the McKinsey Global Institute conducted in 2012 titled “The world at work: Jobs, pay and skills for 3.5 billion people”. There is a serious and growing gap in the supply of workers with the skills needed to drive 21st century economies and a growing surplus of workers with more limited skills. Globally projections are for a shortage of 38-40 million high-skill workers with tertiary qualifications; a shortage of 45 million medium skilled workers in developing countries; and a surplus of 90-95 million low skilled workers.

The future for young people without a good education is bleak and we are likely to see a growing burden of youth unemployment if education is not prioritized. A huge investment is needed in education to address the global gap in the supply of workers with the skills required to drive modern economies. In particular, there is a growing demand for graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and South Africa is performing poorly in this aspect of education. According to The World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report, out of 148 economies, South Africa’s ranking for Science and Maths education is 148th.

SDGsThe proposed Sustainable Development Goals to be introduced in 2015 include Goal 3 – Provide Quality Education and Lifelong Training and Goal 8 – Create Jobs, Sustainable Livelihoods and Equitable Growth.  South Africa’s faces the challenge of high levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality. The solution to these challenges will be found in providing quality education that sees a massive increase in the numbers of South Africans successfully completing a tertiary education.

Posted by: Norman Brook | February 7, 2014

SA coaching hero wins royal favour

Growing up in Scotland, Norman Brook wasn’t exactly fond of sport. In fact, he did his best to avoid it. It was to get out of rugby practice that he took up cross-country running. Fortunately for the world of sport, he discovered he was quite good at it, and ended up being the school cross-country champion.

Brook (59), who is now based in Cape Town, was recently awarded an Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to social development through sport, specifically in Southern Africa.

He manages the Southern African region’s Coaching for Hope programme, which is an initiative of Skillshare International, a volunteer-driven development organisation.

Follow this link to read the full article…….

Mail & Guardian Article

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