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Medal Target?....“We haven’t got one”

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“You must be mad.”

“You obviously don’t care about winning.” 

“Everyone sets medal targets.”


These are just some of the responses I tend to get when sharing with people that Sport Wales doesn’t set a medal target for the Commonwealth Games. 

But we’re comfortable not doing the same things as everyone else. And I’d encourage anyone who is thinking of setting themselves (or others) a medal target to ask themselves two questions before they do. 

Firstly, how many athletes go to the games trying NOT to win? And, therefore, what does a medal target add to an environment where intrinsic motivation is incredibly high? 

Colin Jones and Lauren Price embrace after a fight at Gold coast 2018
Colin Jones and Lauren Price embrace after a fight at Gold coast 2018. Pic Team Wales


Secondly, do you think medal success is the ONLY reason to undertake athlete development? If your answer to that second question is yes, then there probably isn't a place for you in the sport system we're trying to nurture in Wales. We’ll let athletes and their support teams concentrate on helping athletes to be the best version of themselves. Because that’s the way to give them the best shot of winning. 

We believe that winning medals should be ONE of the consequences of excellent athlete development – but not the driver of it. We want to win, and the number of medals we win can be used as a good indicator of the general health of the performance system in Wales. But setting a target narrows thinking to the exclusion of the other, desirable benefits of athlete development. 

What does that mean for accountability? Well, it means we help our partners to account for the things that they can lead and influence – the quality of their athlete development programmes; the environments they create; how they capture athlete experiences and improve programmes accordingly; how they ensure that athlete development programmes can meet the needs of a more diverse group of athletes. Better the focus is here than holding them to account on a medal target that, in reality, is out of their control.

It’s something that we’re starting to focus more of our attention on.  It’s something that we want to explore beyond performance level sport.  We want to look at aligning the whole sport system in Wales so that every person in Wales has the opportunity to get involved and develop to their full potential.  But more than this, we want to create the right environments so that every person has an enjoyable experience suited to their needs at all points on their journey, be it community club or training for the Commonwealth Games. It sounds simple, but it’s going to take a shift in the way we do things. It’s not something that will happen overnight and it’s not something that anyone can do in isolation but if we get it right, then medal targets won’t even be a consideration.

Owen Lewis is Assistant Director Sport System Strategy and Services at Sport Wales, responsible for athlete services and systems.

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