Edition No. 28. Autumn, 2001. Today is
Building the System
An Interview with Peter Gardiner

Introduction: 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".

Peter Gardiner

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