You often hear athletes mention ‘the Team behind the Team’ in post-competition interviews as they give thanks for the wider support they receive on a day-to-day basis. This may typically refer to coaches, physiotherapists, strength and conditioning experts, performance analysts, family, friends….the list goes on and varies from athlete to athlete. So what does it take for Team Leaders and Chef de Missions to bring the whole operation together from top to bottom for a major Games?
Our new feature series, entitled ‘Behind the Scenes With’, sees experienced support staff offering insight into the processes involved in preparing for a major Games. Current and previous Team Leaders and Chef de Missions will share their experiences to help better understand their roles, the detailed planning in the build-up to a Games, and the key considerations during competition-time.
This time in the hotseat is Paula Dunn!
Paula Dunn was one of Britain’s best sprinters of the 1980s and 1990s, representing her country at Olympic, World and European level as well as winning five medals across three Commonwealth Games. Since retiring, Paula has worked for UK Athletics for over 20 years – most notably as Head Coach for British Athletics' Paralympic Programme and now Team Leader for the Olympic Programme.
Here, Paula reflects on her experiences in a special blog written for Team England Futures....
“I had been Head Coach of the Paralympic Programme since the back end of 2012. The job involves supporting athletes and coaches who are on the World Class Performance Programme - supporting them at global events, like World Championships and Paralympics. That's making sure we're all up-to-date with the needs of the athlete whilst they are with us pre, post and during competition. It's a really close collaboration working with the coach and athlete to make sure that we can make them as comfortable as possible in a very uncomfortable position at a Championships.
“It's our responsibility to make sure athletes are in the best position. All that they're wanting to think about is that competition, so we can then take care of the accommodation, nutrition and also an athlete's plan - how each day looks for them. It reduces all the little stresses for them prior to them travelling so that they can just be relaxed and compete. Day-to-day, we make sure that we're optimising and maximising every single training session. That means we can put support around that athlete in respect of physio, doctors, S&C and then we will make sure we can identify what support they require.
“In Championships, it's probably more critical because we know what the athletes are doing in their own environment but you're bringing them to a foreign environment. For me, it's to make sure that the environment at every Championships is relaxed, supportive and purposeful. We're there to support them to make sure they reach their potential. It's so exciting to have another home Games with Birmingham 2022. Hopefully we'll have big crowds so people can really feel it and really take part in it and celebrate all the athletes competing.
“I've been fortunate to be at major events at home before, like with 2012 which was amazing, and we were also had the Para World Championships in 2017. You do get a real buzz and you feel the sense of expectation and excitement. There's really nothing like competing at home because the crowd are willing you to do well, and even if you don't, they're so supportive. The reception of British fans carries a lot of athletes. It's so exciting to be at a home Games, representing your home nation and hopefully winning medals.
“On the back of London, para athletics had never really been viewed that way before and we got so much interest from those Championships - it was so exciting. People like Kare Adenegan and Sophie Hahn, who are now multiple Paralympic medallists, were inspired in 2012 and when they compete in Birmingham this year, someone else will be inspired. It's a brilliant competition for us to showcase our role models and inspire that next generation.
“I love the inclusivity and diversity in the Games. That real integration is amazing - everyone has the same value across Team England. I think it's really good that able-bodied athletes are also able to gain a new insight that they usually wouldn't because the para athletes are incredible. For most athletes, it's their first multi-sport major event which is brilliant because it gives you an insight into what an Olympics or Paralympics could look like.
“We talk about it being a friendly Games - they are friendly - but the level of competition is still so high in those events. It does feel different competing for your home nation - getting the opportunity to compete for England is so special.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!