You often hear athletes mention ‘the Team behind the Team’ in post-competition interviews as they give thanks for the wider support they receive on a day-to-day basis.
This may typically refer to coaches, physiotherapists, strength and conditioning experts, performance analysts, family, friends….the list goes on and varies from athlete to athlete. So what does it take for Team Leaders and Chef de Missions to bring the whole operation together from top to bottom for a major Games?
Our new feature series, entitled ‘Behind the Scenes With’, sees experienced support staff offering insight into the processes involved in preparing for a major Games. Current and previous Team Leaders and Chef de Missions will share their experiences to help better understand their roles, the detailed planning in the build-up to a Games, and the key considerations during competition-time.
This time in the hotseat is Jo Kirk!
Jo is the Head of Women’s Domestic Cricket at the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and will be the Team Leader at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.
She has helped transform domestic women’s cricket in England over the past decade and is now helping prepare the national team to compete in the first ever women’s cricket tournament at the Commonwealth Games.
Here, Jo reflects on her experiences in a special blog written for Team England Futures....
“My role for the Commonwealth Games is in the Team Manager role. This has involved working closely with our England Cricket operations team around all of the requirements going into the Games. The logistics, paperwork and everything that goes into work with Team England and the organising committee, I have been involved in.
“I have mainly been getting the team and staff ready to go into what will be a really exciting multi-sport event for them. I was fortunate, in that in my role with England Cricket, I was actually involved in our initial bid to the organising committee for cricket to be part of the Games, with the ECB and the International Cricket Council.
“That was at the end of 2018. In terms of my work for Team England and the Commonwealth Games, that has been ongoing over the last two to two-and-a-half years or so. Obviously this has been impacted by COVID-19 and at times we weren’t sure what exactly was going to be happening, but thankfully we’ve come out of the other side of that now. It’s all very real now.
“I have worked at the ECB for eight and a half years in a variety of roles and have seen the transformation first hand - I feel very fortunate to have witnessed that. It is almost unrecognisable. When I first started it was very amateur and players almost paid themselves to play.
“Now we’re in a fortunate position with a number of professional players sitting underneath our centrally contracted players. Last year we had the huge success of The Hundred as well which has given men’s and women’s cricket a similar platform and helped the profile of the game in this country.
“The England women were away at the start of the year for The Ashes and then the World Cup in New Zealand. They have had a good rest since. The team have then had Tests, ODI and T20 matches against South Africa and have gone almost straight into the Commonwealth Games, so the preparations are done over quite a short time-frame. It has been a busy year to say the least! But one we are hugely excited about.
“It is a really exciting opportunity to engage with new fans and help us grow the game, which is my priority as Team Leader. With the Games on the BBC, the free-to-air broadcast coverage is also huge for us. I think the opportunity to be part of a multi-sport event is also unique and that can help us find a new audience.
“From a performance perspective, it is a truly world-class event with the top eight teams in the world competing (West Indies represented by Barbados) and that can really help the profile of the event as well. The main challenge has probably been COVID-19. I think in the world we’re in now you’ve always got one eye on it.
“That has been quite a big one for us. Also, it is the first time a number of our athletes and staff have been in that environment, that brings different challenges and potential distractions, but we have been ready for that. I think once the team finally step onto the pitch, it will be a mix of huge excitement and huge relief we’ve got them on the field.
“Edgbaston is an iconic cricket venue. Not too many of our players will have played there in an international setting, so it will be a brilliant and fitting venue. Our aim is definitely a medal. It is going to be a tough competition, we are in a group with Sri Lanka, South Africa and New Zealand, so we’ll need to hit the ground running. It is going to be a really hard fought competition throughout – but we’d love to be coming away with a medal.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!