For athletes on the next step of the pyramid, the News Chronicle’s four-point plan for raising the achievements of British athletes at the Olympics included training courses for athletes at national level. These were held at Lilleshall over the Easter holidays, later at Crewe and Loughborough, and ran from the 1950s until 1991.
Any athlete selected to compete in the ESAA Championships received a letter outlining the newspaper’s scheme, and the details were also included in the official programme. A panel of experts selected sixty athletes to attend the courses, which were led by the national coaches for the full range of championship events.
What lessons did a future Olympian and world record-breaking sprinter learn from the Lilleshall course? Peter Radford’s copy of his programme from 1956 records an 8-point plan for circuit training and reminders to himself to eliminate strain in his neck when starting.
Just like the Staffordshire course, the programme at Lilleshall emphasised the importance of understanding all athletics events and trying other sports. Radford enjoyed both archery and basketball in 1956 and he sums up here the opportunities ESAA courses offered for young athletes.
The All-Englands were the end of a very thorough process of preparation by Staffordshire Schools. The Staffordshire Schools Championships were a month before the All-Englands, and then they picked their team, and we went on a 4-day residential course in Barlaston, one week before the All-Englands, to prepare us for them.
The programme looks very amateurish, but the course wasn’t. Even before this, there was a North-West Midlands Schools Athletic Meeting in May, so athletes at school had quite a lot to get their teeth into.
As I was also in the Air Training Corps at school, I also had Wing, Group, and National Championships with them too. So, a schoolboy had a full season, without having to rely on a club – which was just as well, as I did not have a club, or a coach, nor was there a track in my home-town.