British Athletics

I’ll come clean. The Brad Pitt reference was just designed to grab your attention. Although the thought of Toni playing Billy Bean, in a re-make Moneyball, is an intriguing notion it probably won’t make it past the pitch stage in Hollywood.

Toni’s back at the EIS and is finally happy to reveal his thoughts on British Athletics and, as he coins it, their anti-Moneyball approach. The conversation, led by Toni, goes something like this;

“Without going into too much detail the point of Moneyball is to not go with received wisdom and chase the stars, the big names. It’s to load the bases. Load the bases and you score points”.

“And that relates to athletics how?”

“It’s interesting that Morgan Lake, Jessica Taylor and Ben Gregory all achieved scores that according to the European criteria would qualify for Amsterdam. British Athletics in their wisdom have set the bar one hundred points higher”.

“Why?”

“Good question. When the European Governing Body set a standard for under twenties and under eighteens why do British Athletics feel the need to raise it up?

“Why do they?”

“They’re chasing medals so they set qualifying standard in relation to the top eight at the previous four championships. A period of eight to ten years. Then they average it out. Without taking into account context”.

‘What’s the net result?”

“First we’re achieving less, not more. Secondly we’re asking young athletes to perform at their best four weeks before major competition, which means they are preparing for trials not championships. They also run the risk of burnout.

“It’s insane to keep thrashing our youngsters, in the same way, year on year and expect different results”.

It’s insane to keep thrashing our youngsters, in the same way, year on year and expect different results”.

‘So what should happen”

“We should lower standards.

Take Sabrina Bakare. She didn’t make qualifying standard but at the championships her time would have been top eight.

British Athletics are ignoring the masses. It’s a dangerous message – ‘we’re not interested in you, you’re finished’. Studies show that there’s little correlation between junior and senior success why encourage people to walk away? There is no logic whatsoever”.

“So you need to keep them interested, hungry and involved by a more incremental approach based on improvement?”

“Yes. The former UK Athletics Head Coach, Charles van Commenee, said ‘nobody jumps higher by lowering bar’. Holland always finish lower than us in the medal tables. Why are we judging ourselves against philosophies from a nation not as good as us at track and field?

“…If you set the bar too high people won’t climb for it… people need to be one click away, not two. It’s not about making it easy, it’s about working towards and measuring incremental gains”.

If you set the bar too high people won’t climb for it… people need to be one click away, not two. It’s not about making it easy, it’s about working towards and measuring incremental gains”.

Toni is on a roll now,

“Most British medal prospects are either based abroad or received their formative coaching abroad. We need to be able to effect things in our own country.

“…Focusing our measurements on top eight performances alone? A useless tactic”

Retention in all UK sport is poor at teenage level. It’s shocking in athletics. We’re running the risk of having no quality seniors. We need to go back to basics. Encourage more involvement, increase team size, encourage camaraderie and take time. Make it a big deal to be part of the team but take the biggest team possible. Focusing our measurements on top eight performances alone? A useless tactic”.

There you have it; Brad Pitt, British Athletics and Moneyball.

Moneyball

*SIDE NOTE
In case you don’t know, Moneyball is a book and film based on an analytical evidence-based approach to baseball that challenged received wisdom and use of statistics. The film stars Brad Pitt.