This is part 3 of our interview of Jo Coates, new CEO of UK Athletics. This interview was done by Stuart Weir in May 2020.
Jo Coates, CEO of UK Athletics – Part 3
Jo Coates was appointed CEO of UK Athletics earlier this year. In an exclusive interview with Stuart Weir in May 2020, she shared her vision for the future and stressed the need to restore confidence in the sport
The organisation you have joined has had a difficult few years. How do you restore public confidence in UKA?
We restore confidence by having a really good plan. I’m always talking about this and I think I’m boring people to death. Unless an organization has a really good plan that everyone buys into, you can’t restore confidence – because nobody knows what their part of the plan is. So, it’s writing a very clear plan, which has some very strong themes in it. And a few of the themes I’m talking about, which will restore confidence, are coaching, competition, communication, culture and behaviour. Things like that need to be a big part of that plan. Once people start to see that we are delivering against the things that they – as our customers – think are really important, then we start to see people have confidence in the sport they love. We are in a privileged position that we have an opportunity to make decisions on their behalf. Once they see a plan – that they believe in – working, I think then they will have the confidence to give us, once again, the ability to make decisions on their behalf.
You said “the sport is out of shape”: what did you mean by that?
I think it’s out of shape because of the things I talked about. We have forgotten that we are the governing body. Yes, we have events but there again they are not delivering the commercial returns that we would expect. Then there’s the whole piece around forgetting the things we’re responsible to do.
You also said “there definitely is an issue around trust”, how do you regain trust?
I think people have lost their trust in athletics because of all the negative stories they’ve read over the last few years. There’s a lack of trust that what they see is real. And absolutely what they see people do in track and field is real. We need to have processes in place that we can prove that it is real and regain the people’s trust. And we can do that through good clinical governance and more transparency around those issues, and that’s certainly what I’m looking for. It’s something the chief medical officer and I are discussing. It’s about how we make it all more transparent. I think once we do that, we will regain people’s trust.
How would you like to see coaching develop?
I would like to see coaching develop in the way that many sports have it; you have the right coach with the right athlete at the right stage of their development. I would like to see a coaching strategy that matches the number of athletes we have in this country. If we can map the numbers then we can say there are so many athletes, then we need so many coaches. What Toni Minichiello and Malcolm Brown have done so far on coaching strategy is a really good piece of work and we need to take that on now. We will be developing a coaching steering group to drive that work forward. I’m also a great believer that if an athlete really loves their coach and doesn’t want to change coaches, we shouldn’t force them to. We should enable them to stay with that coach and put all the support around them if they choose to have it.
I think there are two important things. We need to make sure that we can educate coaches at all levels so that we have suitable coaches for athletes at each stage of their career. But if an athlete loves their coach and is developing with that coach, you don’t remove them from that environment. You add to that environment. We know that a lot of the time that what coaches offer is a lot more than technical support; they offer emotional support and a connection which is really important to an athlete. I don’t think you should take that away. It’s about building a structure which gives coaches opportunities to develop and also ensures that we have enough coaches at each level to service the organization.
Does the balance between foreign and home coaches matter?
I think we should always have the best coaches at the time for the right athletes but my goal would be to develop far more British coaches. To have a great British infrastructure of coaches is something that we should absolutely aspire to. I think another point to make about coaches is that we need a greater mix – both in terms of ethnicity and gender.