In the aftermath of victory, athletes, competitors or teams invariably pay tribute to the inspiration provided by a coach or, increasingly in the modern era, a support team made up of an entire ‘backroom staff’ of mentors, trainers, ssports psychologists, advisors and consultants. Although it is tempting to view the advent of coaching schemes and training schedules as a relatively recent phenomenon in sport, it would appear that coaches and trainers have been involved in competitive sport for considerably longer. It is now acknowledged that even in the Ancient Olympics many athletes employed professional coaches and followed dietary and training regimes just as competitors in the modern games.
Despite this, we frequently hear references to a perceived ‘Golden Age’ of the talented enthusiast, and many observers distinguish between the amateur traditions of the first modern Olympic Games and the current professional status of most athletes. For cinema audiences, this distinction was perhaps most famously expressed in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, set at the 1924 Paris Olympic Games during a pivotal scene where sprinter and Olympic hopeful Harold Abrahams is admonished by senior figures at Cambridge University for employing the coach, Sam Mussabini, during an era when professional coaches were not common or even officially recognised.
Regardless of the historical accuracy of this scene, there is no doubt that coaches and coaching are a fundamental part of modern sport and yet their practices often remain a mystery to the uninitiated and they continue to divide opinion. Newspaper reports of unprecedented British swimming success at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, for instance, frequently cited head coach Bill Swettenham as the reason for Team GB’s impressive performance, although there were also suggestions that some sections of the swimming community were uncomfortable with his unconventional methods (The Daily Telegraph, 02.03.2009).
Other sporting arenas demonstrate similar ambivalence: for example, professional football clubs are notoriously hasty in removing previously successful managers and coaches if results fall below expectations. Sir Clive Woodward’s meticulous approach to preparation and his entourage of individual specialist coaches and advisors, including a visual awareness coach and kit technician, is thought to have contributed significantly to England winning the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup. And yet these same methods were roundly criticised in the aftermath of a disappointing British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand in 2005 (The Times, 11.10.2005).
Much recent discussion has focused on Britain’s prospects of maintaining on home soil in 2012 the impressive medal haul at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Coaching successes – and failures – have been at the heart of much of that debate with individuals such as the rowing coach, Jürgen Gröbler, and cycling coach, Shane Sutton, lavished with praise, while UK Athletics was quick to appoint Charles van Commenee as its new Performance Director after a disappointing set of results. The Olympic Games itself, unfortunately, has also been inextricably linked with coaching malpractice in the guise of the systematic use of illegal performance enhancing substances, either by individuals or indeed as implemented by entire national coaching structures.
More recently, in February 2009 Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, launched a public-private partnership, Team 2012, designed to generate funds to support elite athletes in 24 summer Olympic and 20 Paralympic sports and money for an initial trial of the British Olympic Association’s elite Olympic coaching programme (The Guardian, 25.02.2009).
Getting started with the British Library's collections
Moynihan, Colin. & Coe, Sebastian. The misuse of drugs in sport: a report
Department of the Environment, 1987
London reference collections shelfmark: BS.414/2470
DS shelfmark: GPB-9004 DSC
Ungerleider, Steven. Faust’s gold: inside the East German doping machine
Thomas Dunne, 2001
DS shelfmark: m02/15683 DSC
Woodward, Clive. Winning!
London reference collections shelfmark: YK.2006.a.18503