Working with the Carnegie School of Sport to deliver gold standard support

Partner spotlight | Dr Andrew Drake, Leeds Talent Hub


Tom Bosworth with Chloe Caygill

A collaboration between British Athletics, England Athletics, London Marathon Events, TASS (Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme) and Leeds Beckett University (Sport & Active Lifestyles and Carnegie School of Sport).

Andi Drake is the Manager of the Leeds Talent Hub and an Olympic Games Athletics Coach. The Talent Hub is a track & field athletics programme based at Leeds Beckett University.

Tell us a bit about your organisation and what led you to working with the Carnegie School of Sport?

The Talent Hub programme aims to grow opportunities for everyone to reach their full potential in athletics. Currently there are two Talent Hubs – here at Leeds Beckett University and also the University of Birmingham. The Talented Athlete and Coach Pathway aims to provide a progressive support structure for athletes and coaches to develop skills and competencies with the aim of moving athletes on to representative honours at England and Great Britain Level.

We have an endurance events focus, reflecting our principal coaching expertise. I manage the programme, working with the university’s Head of Athletics, Andy Henderson. Helping create a professional dual career environment for athletes and their coaches is where the School of Sport comes in. Colleagues provide sport psychology, sports nutrition, exercise physiology and sports biomechanics services, which compliment strength & conditioning, performance lifestyle support and physiotherapy delivery. We employ a project officer in the School to both manage sport science support and share examples of research and good practice with the wider athletics community.

What I get from the Carnegie School of Sport are practitioners who deliver gold standard support. For me this entails high level knowledge and skills, underpinned by a striving to improve and develop own practice for the benefit of the programme. Our practitioners are to be found alongside our coaches trackside getting involved in all aspects of the Talent Hub regardless of their “labelled” role.  

Why were you passionate about this project and why is it important to the work you already do?

I’ve worked for and / or at Leeds Beckett University since 2009 in a range of evolving athletics roles with British Athletics and England Athletics. Each has involved coaching across the performance pathway from school level all the way to the Olympic Games, or projects developing individual events, event groups, and coaches. The Talent Hub brings much of this activity together, and the partnerships between the stakeholders come to life in the Carnegie School of Sport.

I’m now working in a role that allows me to proactively plan and coordinate support. We start this process this by making an individual plan with each athlete and coach. This involves identifying the demands of a World Class performance in their particular event that we call “What it Takes to Win”, and the “performance gap” between that and where they are now.

We prioritise goals to develop the tactical, technical, physical and mental aspects of their performance, and identify where the Carnegie School of Sport team can impact. If we take sports Nutrition as an example, of the 31 athletes currently on programme, many are undergraduate students at a Leeds university. Before calculating the optimal strategy for staying hydrated and fuelling in the extreme heat and humidity of the Tokyo Olympic Games we need first to help athletes establish a “food first” nutrition strategy! Athletes who are likely to be living away from home for the first time can now work 1:1 with our sports nutritionist in developing meal preparation skills that ensure nutritional needs for good health are met. Thereafter working towards to optimising fuelling for training, blocks of training, and competition. 

What have you enjoyed most about this collaboration?

The complex interaction of training and competition demands, see our team working together across disciplines to consider how best to support closing the performance gap. In this way we develop our own practice and expertise. This collegiate philosophy is central to what we do, and the partnership with the Carnegie School of Sport exemplifies this further by creating opportunities for academic research across the performance pathway, and professional development roles for postgraduate students to work alongside our coaching and practitioner team. The new Carnegie School of Sport Building with its fabulous outlook over the once hidden away outdoor athletics track has become a hive of activity. It is fulfilling to see athletes who are part of a bona fide high-performance programme including Olympic medallists and World Record holders training and studying as part of the School community. 

What have you learnt through this project and what's next for the Leeds Talent Hub?

Reflecting on my relationship with Leeds Beckett University I have learnt so much professionally putting into practice what I’m passionate about. Working in high performance sport can be challenging and uncertain – it is safe to say I have learnt much personally. Excellence in these environments is not achieved in isolation, and this is a novel approach with a group of stakeholders coming together. We have established the worth of our partnership with the Carnegie School of Sport and are looking to develop the Talent Hub supporting more of the World Class Programme and in the short term the 2022 England Commonwealth Games Team.

Sport throws up all manner of statistics – a real fun one was 25% of the Women’s 800 m final in Tokyo came from the Leeds Talent Hub (Alex Bell & Keely Hodgkinson)!

Even when you think a performance is a stepping stone to something bigger, I’ve learnt to celebrate it for what it is and I encourage the coaches and support teams of both athletes to do so. As a group we will continue working across the performance pathway with a philosophy rooted in helping athletes and coaches fulfil their potential. Doing that in partnership with the Carnegie School of Sport is the most likely way to see more of the athletes we support doing some of the wonderful things we saw at the Olympic Games this summer.

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