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Success is to be enjoyed . . . but must also be analysed

The officer at RAF Leeming, Chris Moore, spoke on Saturday at the global coaching house in Glasgow about the debriefing of pilots.

PROGRESS? John Robson's Scottish 1500m record, set 35 years ago, still stands
PROGRESS? John Robson's Scottish 1500m record, set 35 years ago, still stands

This was arranged by the International Council for Coaching Excellence to coincide with Glasgow 2014. Many of the Commonwealth's greatest coaches were in attendance.

Debriefs occur after every mission in Afghanistan, every tour of duty. Every moment of each flight is analysed. Moore's world is about pilot decisions which are a matter of life and death. Sport, as has memorably been stated, is more important than that. Most will recognise a trite aphorism by one of the geniuses of coaching: the late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly.

Point by point, Moore explained how every moment of every mission is analysed. It's frank and open. It has to be, otherwise people will die. Sometimes they already have.

The point is that the shelf-life of athletes is short, the window of opportunity to deliver too precious to waste. It is life and death to the competitors who were in the arena.

Think the heart-stopping experiences of swimmer Michael Jamieson and steeplechaser Eilish McColgan, and their determination to continue whatever the consequences.

Scotland's 17 Games sports, sportscotland which funds them, and Commonwealth Games Scotland which delivers the team, must now conduct the same kind of forensic debrief as they look at funding.

Never has there been more right to bask in the glory: the record medal haul, the mainly slick organisation, the massive sense of fun. But that should not blind us to the reality that best business practice decrees it as important to analyse after success as after failure.

Debriefing should examine the behaviour and performance of athletes in the arena, how that was engineered, what coaches were saying to them, what they were doing, decision-making at every level, what the management and administration did, who counselled the coaches in the first place, the precise role of the multi-faceted specialists at the Institute of Sport (who played a sterling role) and how it was all funded.

They would tell you they already do this. However, the process should be independent, given vested interests among all partners, and jobs and multi-milion funding dependent on outcomes.

Moore, incidentally, said he wished that all the monitoring devices available to competitors were available to the military. This confirms sport's remarkable attention to detail.

It is always hard to come down from the high of a major championships, and especially so from this greatest of Commonwealth Games.

Many sports got it gloriously right. Others did not. Can funding continue at the record levels of the current cycle? Government should be taking the broadest of views, or we may conclude they were simply jumping on a populist bandwagon. By taking independent advice they can avoid such criticism.

Chief executives of some governing bodies will already be using success to build their case, while others attempt to justify failure and hang onto funds.

I spoke yesterday with Frank Dick, the former chair of scottishathletics. Despite improvement from two medals to four, he believes there is "insufficient performance mindset in scottishathletics . . . Swimming knew it was underperforming, and has taken a while to get there, but some of those who won medals for Scotland are quite young.

"The sport has got the message now, and the performance mindset in swimming operates at all levels. You can't have mediocrity at one level, and expect excellence to flow out at another.

"You can go through life settling for a place on the team, or fight for gold. Fighting for gold is a risk business. We should be doing this in athletics. It's not as though we have no history in athletics, but I feel the leadership of this sport becomes uncomfortable in the presence of those who go for broke and focus on top-level performance."

How true is this? Well, the 5000m, 10,000m and marathon native records set by Ian McCafferty, Lachie Stewart and Jim Alder in 1970 were not challenged in Glasgow. They still stand. All three say they've never been approached to advise or coach.

Alder presented the marathon bronze at Hampden to a man who ran slower than he did 44 years ago. "If we don't do something, it's never going to be any better than it is now," said McCafferty, 5000m silver medallist in 1970. John Robson won 1500m bronze in 1978 and set the Scottish national 1500m record 35 years ago. It also still stands.

Now a sports masseur in Kelso, he ran 3:33.83 for 1500m. "Establishment folk took over the sport long ago, and ruined it," he said yesterday. He works mainly with rugby players, but still runs five miles a day at 57. "I'd much rather be working with athletes," he says.

He has encouraged Chris O'Hare on Facebook and reckons he and Jake Wightman, "if they got in the right races, could beat my record".

All four would be happy to mentor athletes. Perhaps the replacement for Stephen Maguire, Scotland's outgoing head of performance, will consult those who have so much to offer when he arrives.

As McCafferty says: "We must have been doing something right."

Sport without a history is sport without a soul. To ignore the lessons of history is simply stupid.

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