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Woodward's shot at Olympic contribution

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Matt Slater | 23:26 UK time, Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Like Mark Twain, reports of Sir Clive Woodward's demise at the British Olympic Association over the last couple of years have been greatly exaggerated. I should know; I'm responsible for some of them.

The good news is that Clive is alive and thriving at Team GB HQ, a place he has no intention of leaving until after London 2012.

It also seems he might at last be given a chance to actually do something, although I should qualify that statement before I'm permanently placed in Woodward's energy-sappers and termites pile.

The 2003 Rugby World Cup-winning coach is finally going to be allowed to do what most people thought he would be doing for our Olympic athletes (and what he himself has so desperately wanted to do), and that's coach them.

Word has arrived at the Big British Castle that Britain's beleaguered shooters will be the first Olympians to get the full-fat Woodward treatment, and for a team running low on ammo, the 53-year-old's arrival could provide the spark they need.

GB shooter Charlotte Kerwood at the Beijing Olympics

Yes, there will be psychological profiling, corporate auditing, aggregating of marginal gains and countless other things lifted straight from the Wernham Hogg management manual, but there will also be energy, honesty and an open mind.

And that's not all. Amid the buzzwords and sports science quackery, there will be the odd nugget (a peripheral vision coach sounded daft when Woodward first suggested it but that same coach has now worked with the last two Rugby World Cup winners) and it is those nuggets that make gold medals and gold medals are what British Shooting needs. Badly.

The sport was the biggest loser when the money available for London 2012 preparations was dished out in December. Having missed its two-medal target in Beijing, shooting was always going to be up against the wall when a failure to find private backing left Team GB's budget £50m light.

The fact that British Shooting had been funding 46 athletes in the build-up to the 2008 Games didn't help either, particularly as the sport's sights had been way off in Athens too.

But the news, when it came, hit hard. Shooting, which had provided a gold and silver in 2000, was now a "below the line" funding priority.

Confirmation of the sport's allocation did not come until late January. Shooting's bosses said they were expecting the worst - there was only £12.5m left in the kitty and 11 other sports to share it with - but even the worst of their imaginations wasn't as bad as the number they got: a little under £1.25m over four years. They had been spending that much every year since 2005.

So now shooting has five funded athletes, two coaches, no performance director, the same old headaches about finding places to train in the UK and a major flea in its ear about the venue chosen for the London Games.

But it has got Woodward and, in many ways, the two are made for each other.

Life since that Jonny Wilkinson drop goal has not been entirely smooth. Yes, there was the knighthood, a best-selling autobiography called "Winning!", the opportunity to lead a Lions tour and lucrative tilts at football and Olympic sport.

But then there was also the knighthood, the book called 'Winning!', the Lions tour and the highly lucrative tilts at football and Olympic sport. Tall poppies lose their heads in this country.

BOA elite performance director Clive Woodward at the Beijing Olympics

This has not been helped by the slightly unlucky position he found himself in when he accepted the BOA job. He had the kind of job title he wanted but sadly almost no chance of actually performing the task.

There were already plenty of elite performance directors in British Olympic sport, they just didn't work for the National Olympic Committee. They worked at UK Sport, the agency that holds the purse strings, or within the sports themselves.

Early attempts to manufacture a role, or find an opening at an Olympic sport, met with little real success.

Slowly but surely that has started to change. For this alone Woodward should be congratulated - many wondered if he would have the patience - but by showing a willingness to wait, watch and learn, he has earned a place at Team GB's top table.

His involvement in the process that monitors Team GB's progress - Mission 2012 - is highly valued, his plans to set up a coaching academy are advancing and he has recently been named as deputy chef de mission for the 2010 Winter Olympics, having fulfilled the same role successfully in Beijing.

But it is shooting that offers his most exciting outlet for expression. Success there will not go unnoticed and table tennis, another of the funding lottery's losers, has already expressed an interest in being next in line for some Clive stardust.

I wish him well. He's been a coach on the sidelines for too long.


  • Comment number 1.

    Well, I'm sure he will give it his best shot.

  • Comment number 2.

    Woodward should have been the coach on the Lions tour 2002, when England was in the ascendency. There's no doubt we would have won it. Instead, politics reared its ugly head, it was given to Henry with a resulting loss. However since winning the WC his approach and cv have been slightly off the wall to the extent that I don't know if he's brilliant or bonkers! Time will tell, I guess.

  • Comment number 3.

    Good article but I disagree with your term "sports science quackery", as a student completing my third year of sports science at uni I have to say that as a olympic correspondent you would have more time for it. Sir Clive Woodward certainly did and hes one of the best coaches this countries ever had. The sports psychology he used while managing England was brilliant.

  • Comment number 4.


  • Comment number 5.

    "Sports Science Quackery". Hmmm. Then you complain about our tendency as a nation to build people up and tear them down a nanosecond later. Please let us know what side of the fence you are on? I'm clear that the proof is there for all to see. When English or British teams have had real coaches like Clive, with a clear remit and no political nonsense to contend with then the results have been good. When we put in politically acceptable compromises or half baked "yes" people then we fail: simple as. England Football team is a case in point: same talent base plus professional coach leads to vastly better results or am I missing something?

  • Comment number 6.

    Matt Slater- your 'sports science quackery' comment has already been highlighted by two other posters but I couldn't let you get away with it either. Honestly, for you to make a comment like that displays a complete lack of awareness and knowledge of real sport. Sports science is a crucial and fundamental aspect to every major sport in the world. Vastly more successful sporting nations than us have been using sports science principles for years. Only in the past decade or so have we really caught up. Comments like yours don't help the layman's view on the issue. And why contradict yourself by putting the following piece of evidence in brackets afterwards?

    "a peripheral vision coach sounded daft when Woodward first suggested it but that same coach has now worked with the last two Rugby World Cup winners"

    Honestly Matt, even if you were just saying it tongue-in-cheek, it's still an irresponsible comment for someone to make on a BBC blog.

  • Comment number 7.

    Afternoon all, thanks for reading and posting, a few replies from me.

    Pompey Lackey: boom! boom! But I kind of got there first with my headline, didn't I?

    matt1815, DERedcoat and hamiltonricardo: Come on, I was only teasing! And I have sat through more than enough sports science-based seminars, conferences and presentations to know when the line has been crossed from worthwhile, science-based good sense, to snake-oil geekery.

    Woodward toes this line permanently. It's almost a badge of honour.

    Over the years I've had the good fortune to speak to a number of players and coaches who have worked with CW in rugby and football and most have said the same thing: 90% of his ideas were either completely barmy or basic common sense dressed up in quasi-scientific language, but 10% were utter genius...the kind of innovation that genuinely makes the difference once the whistle blows.

    Woodward himself talks about wanting people to be sponges, soaking in knowledge from any source available. Some NFL teams had been using peripheral vision coaches to help their running backs but it took CW to spot that this might help rugby players too. He has also championed techniques like generic coordination skills (juggling and so on), core strength (pilates), biomechanics and mental visualisation.

    What's really interesting about Woodward is that many practising "sports scientists" (the types that you tend to find at UK Sport and the Australian Institute of Sport, for example) tend to scoff at all this and say, 'well that's nothing new, we've known about that for years'.

    What they miss, however, is that Woodward manages this process very well and he does it in a way that boosts his charges' confidence. Most of them think he's a mad professor but they're pleased that he's their mad professor and they're willing to give his methods a go because they might just make the difference.

    DRedcoat, I see no problem with my remark that Woodward is prone to the more left-field end of sports science AND my remark that his success/high-profile has caused him problems. Both of these suggestions are perfectly valid, aren't they? You might not agree with either but you can surely see how some might agree with both, can't you?

    And hamiltonricardo, aren't we just taking ourselves a little too seriously there? Is it really "irresponsible" to point out that SOME sports science terminology (and particularly Woodward's) is a litte, well, pretentious?

    As for you, thunderousNickRhys, I have only thing to say: just coming!

  • Comment number 8.

    Sir Clive had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve for the RWC in 2003. Fortunately the powers that be allowed him to do it. He covered every possible aspect within his plan and he executed it perfectly. This was a plan of several years and he included a great deal of sports science which assisted him but at the end of the day his genius was second to none.

    OK he did come unstuck with the Lions in 2005 but I do feel that he tried to achieve in 6 weeks with the Lions what he achieved in 6 years with England.

    In the modern sporting world we should not underestimate the importance of "Sports Science". Would the British Cycling team have won as many Olympic medals without it? I wouldn't think so! If the powers that be allowed Sir Clive to continue to build upon his 2003 success English Rugby would be in a far healthier position than it is in at present.

    Your comments Matt regarding "sports science quackery" are something that I would expect to read in the Daily Mail and not on the BBC. This only reinforces the typical British Attitude towards sport and sporting excellence. Attitudes such as this are why England have failed to win the Football World Cup for over 40 years.

    Sport in the modern era needs visionaries such as Sir Clive Woodward and not Daily Mail style jingoism. We as a nation expect instant success and to win every major championship without question. What we are not prepared to do is consider how we do this and be patient enough to realise that time is one of the most important factors. In my humble opinion journalists are the worst people for reinforcing our skewed British Attitude.

    Sir Clive is one of the great thinkers of his generation and he will bring success to the BOA.

  • Comment number 9.

    Thanks for that, Paddlesnapper, now climb off your high horse. Where exactly do I espouse any "Daily Mail-style jingoism"? Where do I say anything about expecting success for British sport (in this piece or anything I've ever written)?

    In your eagerness to vent, you appear to have missed the point that we basically agree about Woodward's ability to contribute to British Olympic sport. Read the piece again. I'm quite clear about welcoming this news. I think one of us has gone for a slightly Daily Mail take here, and it's not me.

  • Comment number 10.

    Haha, I didn't read the headline properly Matt! I did wonder why such a glorious opportunity for punnage had been passed up. Turned out that it hadn't. Good job!

  • Comment number 11.

    I too take issue with your use of "sports science quackery". The only time the use of sports science is pretentious or common sense dressed as something else, is when a coach gets hold of a small bit of knowledge and dresses it up as his own. In an ideal world, a coach would be just that, a coach. Used to teach technique and tactics (and even these can be hugely supplemented by scientific knowledge). Physical and mental fitness should be left to the sports science and physiotherapy team who can look to research to find proven methods.

    A recent seminar given by a highly respected football manager initially caused a massive grin on the faces of the coaches when their role was placed at the top of a pyramidal model of management, only to have it slowly drop when it was explained that without the base created by the physiotherapists, biomechanists, nutritionists, psychologists and physiologists, they would just be polishing the proverbial.

  • Comment number 12.

    I would tend to agree with Paddlesnapper. This disregard to the fact that science has a role to play is sport is hugely detrimental to our countries sporting success. It has taken far too long for those in charge of our sports teams to take any sports science knowledge on board, instead they assume the ideas passed down by generations of coaches, scared to take on new ideas? Or is it just that they don't want any performance increase to be attributed to the bloke in the lab with the white coat?

  • Comment number 13.

    OK, HamchesterUnited, good points, well made.

    But I still don't see how/why you're taking issue with my reference to Woodward's "sports science quackery"? By quoting those three words on their own you are losing all the context...and the balance.

    I am clearly talking about Woodward's buzzwords and sports science quackery - not anybody else's - but then immediately say that amid all that are some excellent ideas.

  • Comment number 14.

    I think that is where the confusion lies. To me at least it seemed as if you were referring to all sports science as quackery, yet then approving of several things sports science did for Clive and his teams. Never-the-less I do believe a negative attitude to all technical speak is manifesting itself in the media, with it all being labelled as jargon and buzz-words. When to the trained ears, the terms are perfectly warranted. A list of most mis-understood jargon appeared on the BBC site recently, most of which, were bona fide technical terminologies.

    But never-the-less, good article. And I'll leave you to it now.

  • Comment number 15.

    really enjoyed the read Matt. I particularly liked your honesty in the first paragraph. BUT, your "sports science quackery" is utterly ridiculo... *interrupts self* - sorry, i can't keep a straight face, i really don't get the offense?! At least there are some people who don't read everything too seriously! (maybe that's why I LOVE ROBBO ROBSON BLOGS!).

    But no, thoroughly enjoyed it, a good read after an exam on America in Latin America after 1945!

  • Comment number 16.

    I understand what you meant now, so, sorry for having a go. I thought you meant sport science was quackery, not the misuse of it. I suppose I have a chip on my shoulder because so many people have a go at me for studying it. If one more person calls it a glorified PE course I may explode!

  • Comment number 17.

    More to the point, who on earth is that fine young specimen in the first photo? Phwoar basically. Full marks to the pictures editor.

  • Comment number 18.

    The "first photo"? Do you mean me? Nah, of course you don't. The Olympic athlete in question is Charlotte Kerwood. And don't worry, she is one of the five funded shooters so should being gunning for gold come 2012. As for this "picture editor" fella, what's that? This isn't 1970s Britain, BagsofSmoke, we've got rid of the type-setters too.

  • Comment number 19.

    …just coming!

  • Comment number 20.

    Now now Mr Slater my comment was in response to what you stated in point 7 as opposed to just the main article.

  • Comment number 21.

    Well I, for one, don't have a problem with the "sports science quackery" remark! To be honest I'm amazed so many do! It's the sort of stuff I would sleep through! I would be interested to see any proper evidence for it (and saying "look at the results" doesn't count, I mean real evidence).

    Thinking about it, "interested" might not have been the right word there.

  • Comment number 22.

    Erm...OK, Paddlesnapper. Now you're just being cryptic. Can you tell me exactly what I say in post 7 that in anyway justifies your rant in post 8? Or be really cryptic and just give me a clue.

  • Comment number 23.

    george_the_second, the proper evidence for sports science working is modern sport. Without sports science nothing would have changed since the 40s. How can you ask to see evidence without looking at results?

    Im sure you believe that 70 years of scientific research is wrong and you are right, and Id love to debate this with you but im sure it would be an exercise in futility. I can't stand it when people make flippant remarks like yours, have you done any research into your comments that it doesn't exist or are you just writing the first confrontational thing that comes into your head?

    And I know that this looks like im taking it too seriously and need to lighten up but to be fair this is something Ive studied in high school, college and uni and I don't appreciate somebody saying its worthless

  • Comment number 24.

    Eh, Charlotte isn't one of the five remaining funded shooters.....

  • Comment number 25.

    Well Matt, I think you're going soft on the BOA's Elite Performance Director. What has he really achieved in three years at the helm? It is clear that very few of the Performance Directors in our Olympic Sports want him freelancing on their patch and in the meantime his failed programme has cost the BOA close to £2m. Shame that money wasn't made available to those sports that have now lost their UK Sport funding.


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