Interview with Peter Gardiner
TWOJ caught up with Peter Gardiner at the World Championships in Munich
and asked him to update me on his progress as National Coach for Denmark.
Peter has coached professionally for 26 years, first working for many
years as head coach at the Edinburgh club. He then formed his own
club, Sportif international. Over the years he has produced many top
level players including, Jenni Brien and John Buchanan who both started
with Peter as beginners.
When I arrived in Copenhagen Airport in June 1997 to take up the post
of Danish National Coach, tucked inside my hand luggage was a small
custom made plaque, which read "Believe You Can", above the words
the Olympic rings. That evening at the elite center dojo I presented
the plaque to the players. "Take a good look, this is why you are
here and this is why I am here. Someone from Denmark is going to win
an Olympic medal, and the work starts right now."
At that time the Elite center group consisted of 4 men and 1 woman.
Although the players were technically sound and experienced most were
in their late 20's and were beginning to think of retiring. It was
obvious that the future would lie with the cadet and juniors squads.However
to my great disappointment I discovered that there was in fact no
structured cadet or junior system in place. Although there were some
talented juniors scattered around the country, very few were prepared
to make the commitment to become a top elite player. Denmark would
have to wait a while for that Olympic medal.
I remembered a quote from cycling legend Lance Armstrong, Always turn
a negative into a positive. Yes there was a lot of work to do, but
this was the chance I had been waiting for, an opportunity to build
an elite programme from the bottom up based on my own ideas and experiences.
To date Denmark has never produced a World Class player, this inspite
of the fact that they have had several very talented individuals.
This begs the simple question, why not ? If we study the background
of a World class athlete we find that there are many different factors
that make them special. Natural talent and genetic makeup play a major
role, but talented individuals can only reach their full potential
if they are a part of a well structured elite training programme,
which has all the necessary support services in place. Simple research
and analysis of the Danish elite programme showed that it was the
system that failed the players, not their lack of potential or commitment.
It was clear before we could achieve our long term goals we would
first have to improve our system. Not only improve it, but strive
to create the best system in the World.
Some years before, I had worked as a Sports Manager for David Murray,
a successful businessman and the owner of Glasgow Rangers football
club. In his business manifesto he highlights the first golden rule
of management 'surround yourself with people more competent than you.'
Based on this ideology I set out to build a team of loyal, motivated
coaches and support staff. Each member of the team brought their own
individual talents, technicians, motivators, organizers. Central to
the team was the support we recieved from Team Danmark (the Danish
equivalent of UK sport). TDK provided vital non judo specific support
in the shape of specialist doctors, physiotherapists, dieticians,
sports psychologist and an excellent weights and conditioning coach.
The other crucial factor for our future success would be our ability
to plan well. Not planning for planning's sake but practical workable
step by step guidelines with achieveable goals. With a few exceptions
most Dane's experience of international contest was negative. After
a while some accepted the inevitable defeat long before they stepped
on the mat. I introduced the winning habit strategy. Reduce the level
of tournaments and build players confidence. As the results improve
so too will the level of the event. In 1997 the first tournament I
attended with a Danish team was the Scottish Open. With 8 players
we got 2 Bronzes. In 2000 we again attended the Scottish Open this
time with only 4 players and only one survivor from 1997, this time
we took 1 Gold, 2 Silver and 1 Bronze. Hardly the Olympic Games but
small steps in the right direction.
The main focus is still very much long term, we have now established
a sound cadet and junior programme which saw the juniors take part
in 14 international tournaments and 11 international training camps
in 2000. If we are to compete with professionals we too must become
more professional. In August 2001 we begin a full time elite training
programme linked to full time education. Team Danmark have created
a sports village with purpose built facilities for 5 selected sports
one of which is judo. Included in the complex is a purpose built combat
center, weight training facilities, on site medical support services,
accommodation and resturaunt facilties. The criteria for inclusion
in the programme is simple: being a national squad member, being committed
to the elite programme and the crucial element, all participants must
be in full-time education or employment. This is the key to the project's
success, it is our duty not only to prepare our players for elite
sport but, more importantly, prepare them for life by giving them
a bright future.
In June 1997 we had 5 players at the Team Danmark elite center, today
we have 21. The average age of our National squad members is 17 years
old. We still have a lot of work ahead and a very long way to go before
the first Dane steps on the rostrum at the Olympic Games. But we continue
to build the system, it is only a matter of time before that potential
Olympic medallist walks in through the dojo door and when they do,
we will be ready for them. We know we can!
Dansk judo Unions Elite policy mission statement "Achieve and sustain
top level international success through a structured and systematic
approach to elite development".