25th January 2020

Performance Review Comment

25 January 2020

The following comment by Sarah Rowell on the outcomes of the recent performance review was published in this week’s edition of Athletics Weekly magazine. 

To view the Executive Summary please click here

UKA Performance Update

As readers will I am sure recall over the summer of 2019, UKA commissioned two independent reviews: One of our performance system – this included the UK Sport World Class Programme but was not limited to it, rather it looked wider across all disciplines and performance focused support such as non-Olympic disciplines, Futures and GB teams; and one looking more specifically at performance coaching. I would like to thank Vikki McPherson and Malcolm Brown for their work on the reviews, as well as everyone who contributed their thoughts and ideas, whether via the online survey or in interview with either Vikki or Malcolm.

As expected, the reviews generated much to think about, highlighting both positives and areas where UKA and the sport can do better (the Executive summary produced by Vikki follows this article and is reproduced verbatim).  In particular, five themes were clear where change was most commonly called for:

•Performance leadership – in terms of key staff roles such as Performance Director and Head Coaches, as well as how such individuals best interact with the UKA Board 
•Performance Coaching/coaches – How performance-focused coaches are both developed to be the best they can be and then supported to work with aspiring and international athletes
•Team selection – ensuring the balance is right between achievability and aspiration, and also that the selection process is clear and seen to be objective and non-biased
•Communication and Connection – We must ensure that there is much better communication between those involved with the performance and talent programmes and the wider sport, and that there is greater transparency around recruitment of coaching and team staff positions.  This will ensure that the connectivity between the clubs/wider sport and the performance programme is stronger going forward
•Support Provision – getting the right balance of local, regional and central services

Building on the following three core principles that the UKA Board have signed up to (below), it gives us a real opportunity to embed a new performance approach and philosophy that will put athletes and coaches at the centre of our performance system.  Giving them a strong voice as well as supporting strong talent pathways will ensure the heart of our sport – the clubs – are fully engaged in helping ensure our athletic and coaching talent can not only reach their potential but also help fulfil our objective of ‘Inspiring the Nation’. 

Too often the UK Sport-funded World Class Programme is viewed as the performance programme. Although it does play a significant role, it is part of a bigger performance remit. Developing how it operates and integrates with other aspects of performance will be a key part of our next steps in developing a new performance approach for UKA.

Core UKA principles to set our conscience and guide our values

1.We have a culture of transparency, honesty and fair play

2.No one is beyond reproach

3.Safeguarding comes first for all participating (safety and respect)

So what sort of changes could you see based on the findings outlined above?  The following paragraphs set out our current thinking, which, subject to feedback from the UKMC, the Athletes Commission and the wider sport, will be used to both drive our own performance strategy as well as inform our submission for UK Sport funding post Tokyo.

Performance leadership 

While we have complete faith in our current interim leadership, we recognise that a change is required post Tokyo to allow us to meet our aspirations. We must ensure that we have both the longer-term strategic leadership and oversight of the whole talent and performance pathway, as well as good coaching and technical leadership.  The latter must be focused on supporting the current best athlete-coach pairs, as well as developing the future generations of coaches and athletes.  This is likely to mean a more traditional model of a Performance Director working closely with Olympic and Paralympic Head Coaches, plus technical experts.

We also need to ensure that employed performance staff have the right balance of check and challenge and support from the Board and the wider sport.  This will mean revisiting the makeup and also, the terms of reference of the current Performance Oversight Committee.

Finally, as highlighted in the report, we need to ensure there is real clarity around which roles are focused solely on WCP delivery,  and those that have a wider performance system remit.


It is very clear that not enough is being done to best develop British performance focused coaches. Our aspiration is that every time an athlete decides they want to change coach there are strong British options for them to consider.  Firstly, we need do more to help develop coaching talent; creating both structured as well as more informal learning and development opportunities.  Secondly we need to re-visit how we invest in this area so that those coaching our best up and coming athletes are rewarded and recognised for doing so. Finally we must ensure there are better mechanisms for the collective views of coaches to be heard. 

Team selection

As highlighted, selection is an area with strong but often polarised views.  We need to continue to focus on ensuring the balance is right between achievability and aspiration, especially at a senior level.  At the lower age groups, the policies and standards set should reflect their role as experiential stepping-stones to senior performance. Similarly, athletes and coaches must have confidence in selection processes so they are seen as clear, objective and non-biased. For this reason, we will be making changes to the Olympic selection policy, so that the acceptance of the recently introduced  invitation places is clearly linked to objective performance measures.   

Communication and connectivity

The World Class Programme is, and must be seen as, part of the sport rather than something separate to it, operating in its own silo.  We must ensure that there is much better communication between those involved with the World Class Programme and talent programmes and the wider sport, and that there is greater transparency around recruitment. These improvements are all vital to helping ensure that the connectivity between the clubs and performance is stronger going forward.

Support provision

The continued emergence of regional talent hubs as part of the joined up approach between the HCAFs and UKA to develop a more structured talent pathway, coupled with better support for athletes and their coaches, also affords the opportunity to revisit how best to deliver science,  medical and therapy support to athletes.  These considerations must be for the benefit of athletes in the UK as well as abroad, and in doing so we must also ensure that the role of the NPI remains fit for purpose as we move forward.

Most importantly UKA will, in future, measure the success of its performance programme and the WCP using a balanced and more diverse score card.  Medals will still be important – they are the core part of UK Sport’s investment, but so will measures related to culture as well as athlete and coach progression.

UK Athletics strongly believes that with the above focus we can build on our successes to date and come out of what has been a period of uncertainty, working closely with our home country partners  and the whole sport to create a performance structure which supports and enables all to maximise their potential; and does so by building on our current strengths, responding to new opportunities and addressing the gaps and weaknesses highlighted within the reviews.

2020 clearly has a Tokyo focus for many, it is however also the time to develop the detail which will turn the above into actions on the ground in a way which matches our aspirations and expectations alongside practical affordability and sustainability.  We are currently considering how best to engage with the wider sport to get their views on the above, and in the meantime would encourage anyone with views to send them to review@uka.org.uk 

All the best for a healthy and successful 2020