It is said that a high-performance individual sport can be so much based on singular needs that it requires as many high-performance plans as there are athletes.
While there is a strong element of truth in this, Athletics Ireland exists to provide a ‘bigger picture’ look at the preparation for major games and Championships and yesterday it published its plan to do just that and to “work with athletes and coaches to provide what works best for individual athletes as part of a wider team.”
There is a recency bias about sport that can be volatile in terms of public expectation.
We spoke yesterday to Athletics Ireland High-Performance Director Paul McNamara who described the role of a sporting director as one of “reality-based optimism” which is a nice way to sum it up.
Athletics Ireland’s 2017-2020 High-Performance Strategy identified twenty-five medal opportunities over the course of the cycle, with a target of actualising 70 per cent of those opportunities into medals won.
Irish athletes actually achieved thirty medals in targeted championship events from 2017 to 2021. This compares favourably with the twelve medals won across the Rio cycle from 2012 to 2016.
That uplift is broad-based from sprint to longer distances and in a wider variety of events that has previously been the norm.
On the back of these successes, a robust and comprehensive period of consultation and research was undertaken to underpin the development of the 2022 – 2028 Strategy.
The plan cites partnerships as critical to the success of the high-performance programme and Athletics Ireland will seek to provide an optimal platform upon which athletes and coaches can thrive, but most particularly they will embrace the existing positive relationships with Sport Ireland (SI), the Sport Ireland Institute (SII) and the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI).
“It is in the DNA of many coaches to operate as an independent contractor but our role is to create an expansive and inclusive environment wher they can retain what makes them winners and add to their skills in a collective environment,” said McNamara.
“When we travel to Championships as Team Ireland there is a real sense of team and support. What we need to do is replicate that in a year round environment so that regardless of where athletes are in the world or in their programme that they feel part of something bigger and something special.”
“Creating a culture and environment of honesty and transparency is really important and having that evident at every point is something which we aspire to produce for the good of all.”
The key recommendations identified in the Tokyo Review include the need to devise a clearer coaching structure and model, and to establish a clearer framework for athlete support beyond the Sport Ireland Campus.
The new Athletics Ireland High-Performance Strategy highlights performance coaching as a key area for investment and critical to continued and enhanced success.
Parallel to investment in indigenous coaching talent, the need has also been identified to build capacity and to integrate medal-winning expertise and global credibility into the coaching ecosystem. That will require high standards of quality assurance and oversight.
The Sport Ireland Institute is an invaluable resource to performance athletes and coaches and will continue to serve as a central hub, while Athletics Ireland will extend the network of supports available so that they best serve the needs of athletes whose optimal performance environment is remote from the capital, consistent with SII’s own strategic direction going forward.
The full-time National Event Leads in Field Events, Endurance and Sprints were identified as having been important in the surge of performance.
Reality Based Optimism
Irish athletics has seen unprecedented success at key pathway championships during the last cycle and are now seeing some outstanding talent successfully transitioning into the senior ranks. These are well placed to make a significant impact in Paris 2024 and LA 2028. The plan has a headline target of winning an Olympic medal across those two games, coming back to that reality based optimism.
Ireland has only ever won six athletics medals at the games and only two since Ronnie Delaney’s Melbourne Gold in 1956. “Yes it is a stretch ambition but the talent we have coming through in a number of areas makes it one that we can stand over,” added McNamara.
“We have seen a greater number of athletes qualifying to major championships off tougher qualifying standards, and an enhanced depth in the performance level across a range of events. We look forward to building on those milestones and to future and sustained success as set out in our High-Performance Strategic document.”
This was backed up by Sport Ireland’s Director of High Performance, Niamh O’Sullivan who said that “Sport Ireland is delighted to support Athletics Ireland’s new High-Performance Strategy and we are confident that it can achieve the key performance targets set out in the document.”
“Ireland can be proud of the achievements of our athletes over the last number of years and be ambitious for the future. With the right people and structures, the potential for Irish athletics is exciting and we look forward to supporting Athletics Ireland on this journey.”
“Our High-Performance programme has made substantial progress as evidenced by the increase in international medals attained over the last Olympic cycle,” added Athletics Ireland CEO, Hamish Adams.
Our new High-Performance Strategic Plan addresses the three major findings of the Tokyo review and will support us in realising the mission of this strategy which is to have our High-Performance Programme delivering medals consistently at global and European Championships.”
Sport for Business Partners