This is the Judo blog of Lance Wicks. In this blog I cover mainly Judo and related topics. My Personal blog is over at where I cover more geeky topics. Please do leave comments on what you read or use the Contact Me form to send me an email with your thoughts and ideas.

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The #JudoWindowChallenge 

This weekend, an idea germinated on the BJA facebook group ( which I've dubbed the #JudoWindowChallenge.

The idea is that if everyone one of the over 4000 members of the group printed a "Try Judo" poster and put it in their car window we would get more people seeing Judo and hopefully joining.

It's a simple, low-cost idea that anyone should be able to do.

To get it started people thought we could borrow from the Ice Bucket challenge of 2014 and make a social media challenge of it. So the idea is that we challenge three Judo friends to put a poster in their car window and then post about it on Twitter or on their Facebook page (and or Blog) too.

So it's just starting today.
A great conversation has sprung up about what sort of images to use and where to get posters. Nicola Fairbrother has some great free to use ones on her KokaKids site (like this one for example: ... osterflyer ).

So, join the challenge. Design or download a poster. Print it out and stick it in your car window. Take a photo and share it online and challenge your friends to do the same.

It was/is for Judo in the UK. But already it's spreading out internationally; so join in and lets see how this works out!


p.s. Try and use the hashtag #JudoWindowChallenge so it's easier for us to see all the awesome photos!

Facebook #JudoWindowChallenge

Twitter #JudoWindowChallenge

Google Search: #judowindowchallenge

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February 2015 update. 

So.... what a month!

Lets start with the big news, the European Championships have moved from Glasgow to Baku.

The story goes like this, the EJU cancelled the event (for the first time in 59 years, and that was for a revolution!). The reason given by the EJU was "...The European Judo Union has come to the realisation that the British Judo Association does not fit the EJU criteria to host the EJU flagship event...".
This is based on the incredibly devisive sponsorship deals between BJA and UFC.

Later the event was moved to Baku, which is a sane decision as Baku is probably the only place that could pick up the event at short notice. They were already in progress with the European Games, so have things in place to run the event (not to forget they run IJF events already).

For me, it is a right kick in the guts!
I have worked the past two Glasgow Opens; last years in particular was a test drive for the Europeans. I was asked specifically to report back in reference to how it went and of course how it fitted in with the readiness for European Championships. I was also on the roster to work Glasgow, so thats two years of commitment by EJU as much as for the events team of the BJA.

The BJA Leadership have since "lawyered up" as one of the many many commenters on the BJA Facebook page coined it. We after more than two weeks have not heard a peep from the chair and only the statement from 19th.

For me it was obviously a poor partnership, from the start. The majority of the membership was I feel against it; those who were on the fence did not like the way it has caused conflict.

Worse it has been obvious to all that the IJF and EJU are totally against the UFC forays into the Judo community.

After the initial UFC deal in November, the IJF general secretary followed by the IJF president himself spoke out about the topic. This was above and beyond the more private opposition to this direction from the wider community towards the BJA.

The newer UFC deal was a shock to me, I could not believe the BJA had done it. Then as the story unfolded I was shocked further that the EJU followed through and cancelled the event taking it away from the BJA. Shocked, yet impressed.

The BJA leadership maintains it acted "professionally and diligently"; this I find an embarrassment as their actions caused the loss of the event from British shores. Their pursuing a bad partnership against the views of the the wiser and more experienced opinions of the EJU and IJF is stupid to me. The actions that lead to a situation where the parent organisation not only cancels the event but describes a national governing body for Judo decisions as not being compatible with the values of our sport is far from professional to me.

As I write this, the BJA are negotiating insurance and legal. They have yet to apologise to the EJU, IJF let alone the membership.
This again is unforgivably unprofessional and far from diligent. A carefully worded statementy from the chair would have been such a simple way of regaining some relationship with EJU, IJF and the BJA membership.

Their are those who are pushing for answers, we want to know how the board of directors approved such a partnership given the obvious opposition from the EJU and IJF.
People also want clarification on the relationships between the UFC and the BJA leadership. Questions are not being answered about an organisation called CSF which has been reported as the broker between UFC and BJA. This CSF organisation I am lead to believe is a business of the the BJA chairman.

The BJA has long had a loose attitude to conflicts of interest in my view. But if this disastrous UFC partnership was done with any financial benefit to the chairman via this CSF; then the "professional and diligent" statement is terribly inaccurate or the BJA definition of these terms is hugely different to my own.

Personally, I don't feel the current BJA leadership have any solution that does not include very public apologies and without something special, people have to leave. The most obvious candidates being the chair and the CEO who from the outside seem the main players within the BJA involved in the fiasco.

So stay tuned, but don't hold your breath as I don't expect the BJA to suddenly change their approach and start communicating with their members. But, they will be forced soon to start talking even if it is very limited.

It is a disaster, which even if it was all done in good faith I think is of such a scale that people need to do the honorable thing.

We must not forget the simple facts, the last time the European Championships was cancelled was approximately 60 years ago, where it was scheduled I believe to be in Hungary, but the revolution prevented it going ahead.

The BJA lost the European Championships, along with the Olympic Qualification opportunity it gave. London2012 and Glasgow2014 have proved that Brits do better at home than away; so the loss is likely to impact the Rio2016 games (and funding associated with it) in a negative way.

Not only did the BJA lose the championships, they lost them in an embarrassing way. It has caused damage to the reputation of the BJA, EJU and Judo generally.

Other stuff...

So this month in Judo terms has included things other than the BJA/UFC fiasco.

I was in Austria for the Oberwart Continental Open for women. It was a good event, my first time in Austria and I very much enjoyed the smooth operation and being with my EJU family once again.

The BJA performance programme has adopted Alice Schlesinger this month. And suddenly we have a medal contender. She has fought well and got results.
Regular readers will know my opinions on the performance programme. And "airlifting" in an already elite level player was a bit of a surprise. But I am not looking this gift horse in the mouth. Israels loss is the BJAs gain.
I do feel for the other -63kg women in the BJA; it would have been so much better if we could have adopted a +100kg male for example where we no longer have an active athlete. But, it's a hard puzzle elite performance programmes; and the BJA had an opportunity to bring in a world level athlete and her coach. I hope they take full advantage. I really hope that once the athletes in -63kg (and other categories) get over the shock they see Alice as the leader she could be and that they can follow the example whe has given already to grow and excel in her slipstream; ready to overtake her once her time is past. To support her now; so that she can be a strong leader for the BJA athletes attack on Rio2016.

My club has been struggling somewhat this term; and this month it hurt not to field a team for the British Universities Championships for the first time since the clubs creation in 2010.

I see this as a challenge and I have started some changes to address the "rot". Not least of all is re-assessing our venue and training times and being re-invigorated to work on software systems to automate and "gamify" attendance and attainment for the club members (stay tuned).

On the plus side, we did something new and it worked well. We dedicated ourselves over 5/6 weeks to exploring the Kodokan go-kyo. This was a great experience as a coach and I hope as students of Judo.

We explored the gokyo one set at a time, not to perfect it; but to experience it. We not only did the techniques, we studied them. We used resources like the the Anton Geesink book and Kodokan book as well as youtube to explore different version of throws and discussed these differrences. We were also fortunate to have input from people around the world including from the Kodokan itself!

It reminded me that my role as a coach is not to teach, rather to create a learning environment. And despite the fact I was leading the sessions; I enjoyed watching the "students" teaching one another. To observe two white belts explore the more advanced waza in the fifth set was inspiring.

On a county level, the Hampshire Closed was today. It has been good to see the Fleming Park Judo Club pick up running events. And I was really happy to help them shift mats on Saturday night. And to sit in the hall on Sunday and see a venue that is probably the closest to EJU standard as I have seen in the UK was very rewarding. In recent years I have run quite a few events in Hampshire and I know firsthand how hard it is and how little support their is; so to see the work Roland and co put in makes me very happy!

It was great also to hear good things about some of the young people I coached in Alresford who are now training in Winchester. Both the coaches and one of the peers mentioned them in positive ways. I am always saddened when I think of closing the club; but reassured that they have continued in Judo.

On that note, perhaps it is only other coaches that appreciate the amazing feeling that comes from hearing from people that have passed through your club and continue in Judo, sport and other good things.

Two students who started Judo with me and have since graduated university and the club have recently won medals and that makes me so happy. The medals are great, but what makes me so happy is that they are still in love with sport and Judo and living better lives.

Judo is "more than sport" and despite the depressing state of affairs with BJA pursuing UFC money when it should be supporting and following the EJU and IJF in growing people; I am optimistic.

Judo will continue to grow both as a sport and a way of improving people and society. It is doing that outside of the UK already. The EJU and IJF have grown the sport and put more effort into the non-sport side of Judo than the BJA has.

Outside of the UK, Judo is on the rise. My hope is that from the darkness of the BJA losing the championships; a change will be forced and new leadership will rise and Judo here will grow towards it's potential.

It can happen and I believe it will happen. I don't think that the BJA can continue in the direction it has been going.

It will move towards promoting the sport of Judo and the social benefits of Judo as a sport and activity for all.

So there you have it, some random ramblings to mark the end of the second month on 2015. Good things are coming; I'm sure of it. After the storm, the sun will return.

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Judoka Quarterly - A new Judo magazine for English speakers. 

If like me you are a English speaker, you are missing out on so much Judo! Speak or read French, German or Japanese for example and there are some amazing Judo magazines you can enjoy.

If you are an english speaker however, since the sad death of Bob Willingham's TWOJ there has been a void. But the void may soon be filled, and we can all make it happen!

David McFall and Rafal Burza have started a kickstarter campaign to produce an english language Judo magazine called "Judoka Quarterly"!!!!

David McFall lives in Japan and trains regularly at the home of Judo, the Kodokan. He also commentates for the IJF. Rafal is a respected Judo photographer and together they will be producing the magazine.

Here is a video from David explaining it:

Now... here is the exciting part. You (yes you!) are the one who determines if this magazine gets past the planning stage and into your hands.

The magazine is being launched via crowdfunding, so it's a case of if you want a Judo magazine become a financial supporter via Kickstarter.

If enough of us want it and support it, then the magazine gets produced. If you support and not enough people join you, then you get your money back. So it's win-win. You invest as little as $10 USD and help create something special for Judo.

Or you don't and... well lets not think about it!

The campaign is time limited, we only have till February 20th to invest. So please do, via the simple payment options on the kickstarter page.

Please also spread the word, tell everyone down at the club about it. Share the link with them, make a poster and put it on the bulletin board.

Together we can get this magazine produced, we can get quality Judo content in english in a glossy magazine format (as well as electronic versions).

So please, please consider investing at



P.s. Just in case you are wondering, I have no stake in the magazine other than know Rafal and David. My interest and enthusiasm is about my personal desire for a quality English language Judo magazine.

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2014: My year in review. 

As is common at this time of year, I want to look back at my 2014 and reflect on the highs and lows so it may influence my 2015.

In 2014 I had a somewhat restricted Judo schedule only making it to 8 events. :-( This is almost entirely due to commitments outside of Judo that I use to pay my bills, AKA a Job.

It did mean that I got to attend the European and World Championships as well as EJU Opens in Italy, Estonia and Glasgow. I also Attended the Jeju and Abu Dhabi Grand Prix events along with the EJU coach education (Judo Knowledge) meeting in Cambridge.

I continued to work with my colleagues in the EJU and IJF and and the live streams are better than ever. A new role for me this year was to administer the newly formed IJF Junior World Ranking List.

Given my financial position I expect to do approximately the same level of travel in 2015. :-( However I really want to push forward in different areas to try and engage even more with the Judo community.

Locally and personally, 2014 was a tough year Judo wise. Balancing a fulltime demanding job, a family, Judo coaching EJU and IJF roles means I end up spread very thin.

Too thin, unlike me. My health (primarily my weight) has suffered and I have to try and resolve that in 2015. Also, I had to in 2014 make some very tough calls in regard to Judo. My beloved Alresford Judo Club is now closed. After struggling to keep it afloat for a number of years this year I finally had to make the decision to close the club.

The Judo community for me has been interesting and challenging this year. Especially the local UK community.
For me, the UK Judo community is not healthy. Where I see growth and exciting times ahead the UK community is depressed, disenfranchised and worrying about MMA, BJJ and UFC when the rest of the world is focussing on Judo and going forward.

2014 marked I think the 6th year that I have administered the unofficial BJA facebook group. Which continues to be an open discussion area and I enjoy "most" of the interactions I have on there. This year I "bit back" at some of the trolls and those who misunderstand the purpose of the site. A couple of threats of physical violence from some not really Judo people and it settled down and the discussions regained the foreground.

My coaching at the Solent University continued. It was a tough year with my travel and other commitments when combined with some core members graduating away and a poor freshers intake affecting the clubs progress. I really enjoy coaching the club and we hosted some more events in the first part of the year.

Hampshire Judo has had a shaky year this year. But looks to be on the mend with the good folks at Fleming Park really stepping in and putting on some events. I genuinely hope they get back on an even keel and the innovation can restart soon as the problems have resulted in it slipping back to old models of operation that are far from ideal. Again, I think that hole may have been escaped and in 2015 I hope they are on the path forward.

British Judo has been interesting, it hosted two strong events (Commonwealth Games and Glasgow Open). And in 2015 will host the European Championships in Glasgow. The europeans will be good I am sure. It will be a challenge for the BJA to step up from opens but I am confident they will put on a good event.

In 2014 I continued to be a open voice of opinion in the BJA. Where as many are hesitant/afraid to speak out I have no problem in doing so. I have no elite player I am coaching and have nothing to lose; so have a more free voice than my colleagues.

There have been some really positive signs coming from the BJA. Kerrith Brown and the Board do appear to be at least trying to get the BJA back on track. It can be hit and miss, but there are signs that they are trying to clean house and catch back up with the rest of the world.
Unfortunately it has not all been positive. They persist with Walsall which is a project that even after spending a day trying to persuade me by the Chairman and Performance Director I do not feel is the most effective direction for the BJA. It is not a disaster and to be fair they have little choice as the piss poor performances of the past mean that they have weak positions against the funding partners who are dictating what they do to a large degree in the performance programme. Rod Carr (and his board) I would contend has more influence on the direction of the BJA performance programme than the BJA does; which is sad and not I think good when we need radical change to escape the culture and status quo that persists in the BJA.

The BJA and British Judo community has proven a bit out of step with the rest of the world of Judo. We are isolated some what and have made some moves that raise eye brows.
The BJA signed a partnership deal with the UFC; the former Chairman took a CEO position with a MMA orgabisation. Quite a vocal proportion of the BJA community are obsessed with BJJ, MMA and UFC and it's cage fighting lesser orgainsations.
All at a time when the IJF is pushing hard to distance Judo from the world of MMA. The IJF, EJU and most of the wider international Judo community is from the perspective I have been fortunate to have been focussed on growing Judo and it's working. For me it hurts to see the BJA community of which I am a member of getting it so wrong and wanting to go down a path that the rest of the Judo community has looked at and went "no thats not for us".

Judo is (despite what people keep saying) not dieing. It is not getting smaller or worse. It is getting larger and more popular and better. It is gaining in fans and events and athletes.

A big issue we need to overcome is this idea of recreational and competitive Judo players. Of technical and competition dan grades.
The reality is that they are one in the same. One of the reasons that Judo is struggling in this country is because of this weird differentiation I feel. All Judoka should compete, not at the Olympics or with a "at all costs" approach. But we should all be enjoying the sport we have. To have a football club where 90%+ of the members never played a match is unthinkable, yet this is the norm in the BJA.
There is no seperation between competition player and kata exponent. There is no difference and we need to stop creating these artificial barriers.
Especially as when compared to the rest of the world, all but a few players in the UK are competition players and if the rest of the world had our perspective we would all be "mere recreational" players.
Of course the rest of the world does not have this warped perspective (on the whole); they see the 6 year old who comes to run around on the mats with his older sister as a Judoka. They see the 18 year old sister who competes at county level as a Judoka. They see the father who does kata and helps coach as a Judoka. All are equal and just in different places in the art of Judo. None of which are inferior to the other, just different.

We now have a large international circuit. 2014 saw the expansion of this circuit to include Junior and Cadet athletes. The team format continues to grow in popularity and significance. It is now a popular fixture in continental and world championships and the EJU leads the way in club based team events.

I saw first hand in 2013/2014 that our small local team based circuit was popular and successful. It has been an experiment that proved what is possible with little financial investment and only a small core of supporters.

I have been researching competitions formats in and outside of Judo and plan to contribute a document that outlines some ideas on how a BJA structure could be formulated.

We need to push hard to catch up with Europe and the world. Britain "was" the world leader in Judo and has a history of success both in Shiai and in the other important areas of Judo. But today we have lost that position. The BJA no longer performs well in competitions internationally and local competition is unstructured and low level at best.

We need to learn from our European Judo neighbours and learn fast. We also need to learn from other sports.

Mainly I think we (the British Judo community) need to re-learn what Judo is about. That it is about doing Judo at all levels. That the striving for competition is part of the path to improving yourself and to having the understanding to be a better person. That the technical skills you learn in competition assist your kata and vice versa.

We need to re-learn the meaning of sport, the meaning of it that existed in the late 1800s and early 1900s when our founder was active. That sport is more than just physical activity, that it is a way of life. That through sport we make ourselves better and our community.

We need to realise that only by competing do we learn and that our lack of competition success is a direct result of our lack of learning. We all need to compete against one another to learn and to improve and to make ourselves and the British Judo community better.

Alternatively, we can invent technical/competitive pathways; partner with cage fighting entertainment companies and continue to have no national competition structure and no international reputation.

We can continue to isolate the clubs and the coaches and continue to fester whilst the rest of the Judo world expands and shines.

I know which vision I want to be part of and what vision I want the Judoka I am involved with to share.

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My visit to the BJA Walsall centre. 

This past Saturday I travelled up to Walsall to visit the BJA Centre of Excellence at the invitation of Nigel Donaghue. Upon arriving I got to sit down with Kerrith Brown and Nigel after getting a tour of the facility.

After 8.5 hours with these two men, I was in the car and on my way home having learned more about the changes happening within the BJA and the setup inside the Centre of Excellence and the performance programme.

I'm writing this on Sunday evening after having a little time to review what I saw and heard as well as to consider how it ties into what people asked me publically and privately to looks at.

What I would like to do is divide this into two parts, one about the association and second the performance programme/centre of excellence.

For those of you prone to TL;DR, here is a summary:

I think the BJA is in a state of change. Kerrith Brown (Chairman) spent a long time sharing the changes that have taken place, are taking place and he wants to see happen within the association/ His approach is to find a segement of the organisation and dig into the heart of it and change what needs changing. Given the current negativity I sense in the membership; I think he is following a wise strategy which he hopes will leave a stronger more closely knit association in the long-term.

On the perfomance side, I think Nigel Donaghue (Performance Director) is putting in place a structure based on what he has been told to deliver by the BJA and it's funding partners. I think he is doing it to the best of his ability. I personally don't think the approach is the correct one and worry that culturally the performance programme feels very similar to the Dartford experiment that it mirrors so closely.

So on with the long version:

BJA Changes:

I spent almost 8 hours with Kerrith and Nigel on Saturday, both in quite formal presentation mode and also in more relaxed situations over food or walking around the campus.

Kerrith spoke openly with me about the situation he walked into as the new chair and how he has approached making changes internally. Obviously, as he took post British Judo was on a precipice; after all the London2012 funding and lack of string performances Judo was hit by funding cuts and targetted for more. Kerrith described how he needed to focus on securing funding first and foremost.

History shows that Judo managed somehow to hold onto good funding both performance and grassroots. Despite protestations I see and hear and have heard; British Judo remains well funded. British Judo has it's performance money and it's grassroots money.

He spoke about changes at board level and how he intends to havr all elements of the association examined and revised appropriately. This will include areas asuch as the grading systems, competition structures, communication, areas and counties, associations with AJA/BJC etc.
This for me is really a positive message and one that fills me with some confidence that the BJA might just dig itself out of the mess it has managaed to find itself in. We spoke about the disconnect between clubs and head office. Between the guy/girl teaching a class of kids in the local school hall and the staff member(s) in Loughborough and how these two groups of people are so removed from one another.

We spoke about the poor communication and how in my view the BJA needs desperately to find a “community manager”, by which I mean a person who is responsible for being the link between the member clubs and the association and it's staff. To date the closest to this I think has been the efforts Andrew Hafflner has been putting online. He is one of the few officials of the association engaging with the wider BJA community and explaining the associations position when appropriate and listening and referring back to HQ where appropriate.

We did not agree on all things, but on some might say a suprosingly large number of areas. It is a tough job, the BJA has lost a lot of control over itself. The funding bodies are demanding that the BJA do what they say it should and given the associations failure to perform internationally and also to increase participation it is not suprising.

Performance Programme:

Again there was a lot of agreement between myself and Kerrith and Nigel. Nigel has put a lot of structures in place and again is not entirely the master of his own ship as the funding comes with a tight leash. The mistakes of the past are still hurting the programme. It is hard to lead the required revolution if someone else is telling you what to do.

What Nigel has done is put some fundamental basics in place, athletes have plans. Not as long as I would like (they are now up to 12 months) and not as detailed as you would like to see. But as Nigel described many of the structures, it is the first time they have been put in place at all. This amazed me as it really is coaching 101.

I am not a fan of the centralised programme. The new world of Judo with the WRL is far more about individuals and building multiple paths. I am not in the majority I think here. A centralised programme is an approach I advocated for my native New Zealand, so it is not that I dont think they can work... it's just that I don't think that in the UK it is a model that will work.

Perhaps it is not even so much about centralisation as it is about how you approach a programme. Walsall is very much like Dartford; an enforced central centre. And Dartford did not work. For me it is crazy to think that the cultural issues that prevented Dartford working would disapear just by moving it to Walsall.

It is a top down decision, the BJA decided to have a national centre (under pressure from funding bodies I am sure) and then hired a performance director to deliver their plan. The Performance director is now making that happen, moving first the Juniors and then the seniors to Walsall on a non-voluntary basis. Time will tell if the clout of the BJA is strong enough to make players move. I would expect that when push comes to chove the BJA will remove the “self-funded” option from players not based in Walsall along with any possibility of funding or selection.

The programme really needs to pick up their act if they want to win the “hearts and minds” of the athletes, coaches and wider community. This weekend was the ONST; Open National Squad Training. People had come from Wales and Scotland to attend. Yet when I arrived just before 11am the 9:30am-11:30am session was finishing early. It was not a “one off”; it was a question raised to me prior to my attending by more than one person via Facebook/Email. Why would a session on a big weekend end 30+ minutes early? It took me over 2.5 hours to get to Walsall, if I had brought a player to train I would be pretty annoyed if they lost 25% of the session for no reason.

The BJA performance programme has I should say gotten a bit more of a handle on the WRL. It notoriously did not understand the importance of it leading up to London2012. Now at least it is front and centre on their minds and they have started to talk with some nuanced understanding of the new reality of our sport. I was also pleased to see/hear some planning around who players have fought as opposed to merely looking at results on the medal table.

There are some oddities I observed during the actual training. There were a good number of coaches bowing on at the front of the group. No bow to joseki, in part because for some reason the traditional portrait of Kano was absent. Not many of the “coaches” were engaged in anything more than taking up space or propping up the walls.

Along with the missing Kano portrait, I noticed one other Judo faux pais. World number 1, Automne Pavia was on the mat. I would have expected that she would have been shown a little respect and invited to stand with the coaches during the bow as opposed to actually standing behind others in the line of players.

Talking to Nigel and Kerrith, it is very clear that Walsall is the future of the BJA. Loughborough HQ will be moving I believe, all players will be there. I would assume (or at least hope) that all coaches will move to Walsall too.

This is putting a lot of eggs in one basket.

Of course the centre is not the entireity of the performance programme. I sat in on a AASE meeting where coaches from around the country involved in the running of this programme to get young people prepared for high level training were being spoken to by the BJA staff about the programme. It was clear that to date there was been little or no real collaboration between AASE and the BJA performance programme. It was good to see the comnversation taking place as the AASE locations really should be the main pathway for athletes to entire the national programme.

I was also shown the new BJA iPad App. This is a comprehensive tool that takes all the paperwork that the programme has and puts it online via an application from ILG. It is a snazzy app, able to do many many good things. As a geek it really appealed and got my attention.

As a coach and obsessive about performance programmes, the iPad seemed like a gimick and like the centre itself indicative of the common “brick and mortar” approach to building a programme. Call it a “bits and bricks and mortar” approach perhaps.

The well regarded Southa African sport scientist Ross Tucker wrote back in 2013 an article called “Bricks, mortar and high performance inefficiency” ( ... fficiency/ ), which resonates very much for me. The gist of the article is that it is not about what you can build or buy. Rather it is all about the athletes and what they can achieve.

However, as the title of the Tucker article suggests; the approach the BJA seems to be implementing is not necessarily a path to failure just inefficiency. The BJA programme for me repeats the strategy used in previous Olympic cycles. A forced centralised programme, heavy on facilities and staff (and now tech), heavy on procedures. But for me it feels light on athlete focus and creating systems that match the needs of the athletes. This echoes the concerns that I have had raised with me directly and indirectly.

As I write this, the centre is now 12 months old. It feels unfair to “pick on” the programme when it has only had a short time to get it's house in order. I as with many others in the BJA want to give the programme a chance... but the clock is ticking.

Kerrith Brown and Nigel Donaghue both seem committed and passionate about making changes and improving the BJA and the BJA Performance Programme. On the association side, I am filled with some confidence. On the performance side it is good to see some structures in place and some planning.

If Rio2016 was today, the BJA would have nine athletes competing, qualified via the IJF WRL. This is actually a pretty darn good situation to be in if the BJA is able to maintain this level of ranking. The approach they are taking is very structured and based on the idea that you can build a “pipeline” where if you feed in enough people at the top a world class champion will pop out the other end. It is not a model I believe in, I am of the philosophy that you take each player on their own merits and and needs and tailor the support mechanisms around them that they need. As opposed to shoe horning athletes into a programme.

The approach is ineffecient, not inneffective. The athletes in the system can make it to the Rio (and beyond). The programme can be stronger and will improve I hope; it already seems to have made some improvements. But is it money well spent? Would the players make it without the BJA performance programme? Would more? Would fewer?

There is a lot of money being given to the BJA and it is being spent. I see millions going in and worry that we are not going to see this translate into medals when it counts. I worry that the talent is not being nnurtured if it does not fit into the rigid structure of the centralised programme. I worry that the culture of the BJA has not changed enough especially on the performance side. On the administrative side I think I am seeing more rapid change and improvement.


My overiding impression of the trip to Walsall was that it looked and felt a lot like Dartford when the BJA Performance Programme was there under Margaret Hicks, Patrick Roux and Jane Bridge. The facility is smaller and less polished, there is accomodation onsite and a university campus and facilities there which is a big improvement.

Kerrith Brown impressed me on several occasions. He was very open and communicative and very much convinced me that he wants the BJA to change and to change for good. Not only was he there talking to me, he was also on the mat. I had to laugh and call him over and say “I doubt you'd see the Chairman of the Football Association training with the team!”. This is not a man sitting in an ivory tower looking down. This is a man getting stuck in and trying to implement change it felt to me.

Nigel continues to be one of those people who you know is pouring every hour he has into his job. He is in a tough position though. The BJA is being pressured (as a result of it's failures in the past) by the funding bodies. When Nigel took post in March 2013 the BJA had already decided on a centralised programme and to put the centre in Walsall. So he is not really the master of his domain. He is, I think, building the structures that others have decided should be there. He is adding his own touches but the programme is the same as leading up to London2012, but in a new location, a smaller budget and a harder mountain to climb to even get players to the games. The “bricks and mortar (and now bytes)” aproach as Ross Tucker describes it is symptomatic of a 1st world country with money to spend.

I would prefer to see the BJA invest the money it receives on success. By which I mean on the players and coaches in the country who have proven they can produce international level players. I look at the top players and have to ask why the money is not invested in where they have chosen to train. Where have our top players come from? What could those clubs do with the money the BJA has spent on Walsall? What could the money spent on the new iPad app do for the self-funding players?

My genuine hope is that I am being a “grinch”, that I am being a pessimist and that come Rio2016 Nigel gets to laugh in my face and tell me I was wrong, I really do.

The simple fact that Nigel and Kerrith invited me to visit Walsall and spent their time with me fills me with some confidence that I am wrong. It shows a level of interest in engaging with others I hope is a sign of change.

The BJA is changing and I look forward to seeing changes in the competition structures when theycome in particular. We are a sport where the national governing body does not organise competitions; this is pretty odd. I wonder how many other Olympic sports NGBs doing organise inter-club competitions on a national scale.

The openess to engage and link with BJJ I think is good if done properly and with the right reasons as the drivers. I understand the BJAs perspective on the UFC partnership; I see the benefits to the BJA and although ethically I can't agree with it as UFC is cage fighting; I do feel the partnership has the potential to really help the BJA if it goes well.

The performance programme is getting it's act together. The basic structures and planning seems to be put in place. Where I feel an athlete-centric programme is required, the BJA is going for a centralised one size fits all approach, like it or leave. I feel like we are repeating the approach used in previous cycles and expecting different results.

I worry immensely that so many people I respect do not feel that the performance programme is on the right track and that some of the really awful things that pagued the previous performance programme seem to be re-occuring.

So here is a few thousand words written on my time in Walsall.
Scanning back over what I have written I realise there is plenty more to write.

I'd like to congratulate and thank Nigel Donaghue and Kerrith Brown for making the effort to invite a vocal critique in and to share with me their time, opinions and passion.

I hope that history will show that I was pessimistic and that 2014 was the year that the BJA started to change direction, and that success followed on the foundations built this year. That the cultural and orgainsational changes in the BJA and the BJA Performance Programme made a real impact and change the tide of public opinion. That it was in 2015 the BJA membership started to fell some confidence in the association again.
I hope that 2015 is recorded as the year that the players felt the performance programme were on their side and bending over backwards to help them. That the club coaches felt that the BJA was taking work off them and making their lives easier and better. That the members of the clubs felt part of the association and that their association was building for Rio2016.

I have strong opinions obviously, and am happy to discuss your strong opinions. Please do leave a comment below or email me via


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