Sunday, January 25, 2015

Pipelines and Things

It is fair to report that our sport has enjoyed great success at recent Olympic, World and European events.  You may well argue that it has never been healthier and that we live in a golden age of success.  If you look at the international achievements of the likes of Anna Sloan, Greg Drummond, Michael Goodfellow, Scott Andrews, Tom Brewster, Claire Hamilton, Vicky Adams, Lauren Gray, Eve Muirhead and David Murdoch – to name but ten, and in no particular order – well, you cannot really argue.  These people have been prepared to commit wholly to their sport; they have given up huge amounts of time and effort and, yes, they are living their dream. But the rest of us should never forget that they didn’t achieve this success by accident: they visit the gym regularly; they put in as much work to their sport as the rest of us do to our jobs and, though the highs are undoubtedly high, they come at a price.

Such is the lot of any top sportsperson in the UK today.  You want to get to the top?  Commit.  End of.  And when there is lottery money available to fund all of the coaches and support staff, then that is fine.  Sorted, in fact.

It is up to the sport’s governing body to do the next bit.  I am going to call it “the pipeline”.  The pipeline is important for two immediate reasons
·       The top chaps need to be kept on their toes; they need to be kept “honest”; they need to know that if they slip – even fall – then there will be someone else in the wings willing and able to leap into their place.
·       There needs to be a succession plan in place; we need to think long-term.  It is all very well thinking of these top players as being long-term solutions, but life is about change, so there needs to be a Sarah Reid willing to step into the shoes of a departing Claire Hamilton, for example.  Oh.  There was; so that’s OK then as well.

To be serious for a second, we actually do have at least a couple of teams in both ladies and men that are serious challengers for the Scottish Championships this year.  I am thinking of the likes of teams MacDonald, Brewster and Edwards in the men and Gray and Fleming in the ladies.  Any one of these teams should have been exposed enough to top-level competition (as well as being serious, regular visitors to the business ends of our national championships) that, if push comes to shove and they find themselves representing their country at World or European level – well, they should be able to make a fist of it. 

Last season, in the controversial absence of the two Olympic teams, teams Barr and MacDonald came out top in their respective Scottish Championships and went to the World Championships.  Unfortunately, neither team threatened the podium, but the experience gained will always be there in the memory banks if the same thing happens again.  

Earlier this season, Teams Edwards and Muirhead won the European play-off in Scotland and therefore took on the far more perilous trip to the European Championships.  For team Muirhead, this was all grist to the mill but for team Edwards, this was their first outing on the serious international stage (with apologies to sundry Junior and European Mixed Championships) and the stakes were high indeed – qualify Scotland for the World Championships.  As the week ground on, the wee Andrex puppy was becoming increasingly agitated, but they came through in the end – as did the ladies with a Bronze medal win over Denmark, their slightly surprising conquerors in the 3v4 play-off game.

So – a story of mixed success then and I think that there are some learning points here for the HHYs.  I’ll bullet-point them as follows
·       The Scottish Championships remain an important calendar event and the stakes in this open competition should remain high.  Bottoms should squeak.  Top teams need to be kept “honest”.
·       Serious competition is important, so ensure that you have at least two “other” teams that can step up to the plate.  This means funneling funds in their direction as well and sending them off to at least three Champions Tour events in the period September to December/ early January.
·       Maintain the age-group championships, but let the youngsters pick their own teams until at least age 18.  Let them enjoy competing with friends; allow them the space to become enthused with the game before you channel them inexorably into teams when they are still too young.

There’s other stuff as well, but that will do for the moment!

Sorry that it has been quiet here for so long and many thanks to those of you whom I have met in my travels and who have encouraged me to take up the fingers again. 

More later.