2012 coaches face test of courage
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen" - Winston Churchill.
There has been a lot of discussion about the nature of courage here in St Andrews this week. It's the theme of UK Sport's World Class Performance conference. Gathered are the great and good of elite coaching.
The aim: simply, to help deliver more medals at major championships for British athletes. This year, I'm feeling the heat of expectation beginning to stoke up ahead of the London Olympics.
The courage expected of coaches and performance directors is not the same as that required of the athletes. They are being challenged to face the difficult decisions that coaches dread at this point in the Olympic cycle. With 20 months to go, now is the time for finalising who makes the cut.
Coaches will need to take a leaf out of the 'Duke's' book. Photo: Getty
Identifying those athletes on elite programmes who are capable of really delivering: The ones who will get a seat on the boat, be trusted with the baton for the final leg of the relay, make the first XI hockey squad.
Once that is done, it is time to look those left behind in the eye, and tell them they didn't quite make it, and to reach those decisions without sentimentality and or excess of emotion. Having already had the temerity to quote Churchill, how a bout a little Plato: "Courage is knowing what not to fear."
The message for coaches now from the conference leaders is that you have to have the courage not to fear failure, or the challenge of the big decisions now.
As Baroness Sue Campbell, Chair of UK sport puts it, "there's no more time for maybes of wannabes, it is now time to focus on the gonnabes."
UK Sport have espoused this tough love strategy for some time. Funding decisions are based on a no compromise attitude. Funding follows genuine medal chances, and the reality is some coaches have to go to athletes who have devoted their lives to their sport, and deliver bad news. That does take some backbone.
In his keynote speech to conference, coaching legend Frank Dick used a fitting analogy: "the parent is to the bow as the child is to the arrow." That is true of the coach/athlete relationship too. The best coaches prepare their athletes to the point where they can say honestly to themselves they couldn't have done any more, that they thought of everything.
That is the point they step back from the limelight, to give centre stage to the athletes. Here at this conference, you can sense the tension among those who know that moment will all too soon be upon them.
How they cope with that pressure, and the weight of public expectation on will surely be one of the factors that determines how many medals team GB chalk up in 2012.
Perhaps the coaches would do follow John Wayne's wisdom: "Courage is being scared to death ....and saddling up anyway."