The Motor Sports Association has announced the creation of the MSA Academy – a new structure for the MSA’s investment in the training and development of young drivers – and the creation of a new TEAM UK identity that will encompass the country’s best up and coming motor sport talent.
The MSA Academy creates a development pathway that will take competitors from the entry level at just eight years of age, through to Elite and post-Elite levels, with a view to the most promising emerging onto the world stage.
The Academy is the brainchild of MSA Performance Director Robert Reid. The 2001 WRC champion has been working with the MSA for the past four years and is delighted that a recognisable structure has now emerged.
“When I first started the Rally Elite scheme with the MSA four years ago, it was the first time there had been such a project in the UK,” says Reid. “Rally Elite was never going to be the end of the story and we extended Elite into racing with David Brabham two years ago. This August we will recruit the first students onto the Advanced Apprenticeship in motor sport – one level below Elite – but it was always clear that each element needed to form part of a bigger joined-up picture.”
That big picture is now in place, starting from the age of eight. Until the age of 16, all British children must legally remain within the education system, so the Academy will ensure that young competitors are supported and encouraged in their mainstream studies. With some 1,600 licence holders under 16 years of age in the UK, the MSA takes its responsibilities to these children and their education extremely seriously.
The MSA is considering the introduction of new regulations to ensure that competitors are fully engaged with their schools and to encourage organisers to provide study facilities for their competitors. It is anticipated that ultimately all drivers under 16 wishing to enter any of the UK’s national championships will be required to enter into a signed ‘contract’ with their school to keep up to date with their work. The message is simple: no education, no racing.
At 14, the UK system provides the opportunity for some students to take a Young Apprenticeship in Sport – a generic sports-based qualification that counts as the equivalent of up to four GCSEs – that gives a broad understanding of the world of sport and leisure.
From 16, the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) now sits underneath the current Elite programmes. Aimed at potentially elite athletes, AASE is predominantly a human performance course that will develop them as competitors, but at the same time will recognise the range of skills they are learning by awarding them transferrable qualifications.
“We see many competitors faced with a difficult career choice at this age,” confirms Reid. “What the Academy does – and in particular the Advanced Apprenticeship – is to provide a safety net at every stage, so that if the anticipated professional career doesn’t take off for whatever reason, the athlete still has options and qualifications for the future.”
AASE is fully funded by the UK government and is already active across a number of sports including football, rugby, tennis, golf, athletics and swimming with notable success – for example, Rebecca Adlington was an AASE student when she took double Gold in Beijing last year.
“Much of the theoretical learning and groundwork currently being done on the Elite programmes will be covered by the AASE content,” explains Reid. “That means that the nature of the Elite schemes can become much more focussed on real performance benefits in the future. It is easy to imagine that the vast majority of Elite recruits will in future come from the AASE gene pool; they will have a huge advantage over those that have not done it.”
As competitors move towards the top of the Academy, they pass into the existing Elite schemes which are designed to prepare them for and lead them into careers as professional drivers. The Elite course content is focused on equipping the athletes with the all-round skills needed at the highest levels of the sport and has this year been enhanced by the recent addition of FIA funding for young driver safety awareness.
From Elite, the best candidates will now graduate into the post-Elite phase. While perhaps not yet ready to win world championships at this stage, these drivers and co-drivers will be moving onto or towards the international scene.
The MSA has looked carefully at the examples of other sports and has recognised the need to identify the best British talent as a team of individuals under a collective banner. Consequently, members of the MSA Academy at Elite and post-Elite levels will now become known as TEAM UK and will be able to carry this designation to identify them as the best emerging talent in British motor sport.
Ultimately, the MSA’s ambition is to support the best drivers even further by creating a new revenue stream that will enable funding to be channelled towards those attaining post-Elite levels.
“We have always talked about funding,” Reid admits. “We know that it costs an awful lot to get to the very top of this sport and while the MSA is never going to be a position to invest that kind of money in an individual, there are some really interesting ideas that start to become possible once the funding starts to come in. However, you first have to have the structure in place in order to demonstrate the credibility required to secure the funding. We now have that.”
The final element in the MSA Academy will be the creation of a recognised coaching structure within UK motor sport, although this may take a little longer to deliver.
“It seems extraordinary, but we are one of the few sports that do not have a recognised coaching structure,” says Reid. “Right now, anyone can set themselves up as a motor sport coach and that cannot be good for the sport’s development. We have benchmarked the systems set up by other sports and this will enable us to establish the correct infrastructure for the needs of motor sport. Having a proper structure will not only be great news for the prospects of our drivers, but it will help to put motor sport back on a level with other sports that enjoy support at government and agency levels.”
It’s been four years in the making, but the Motor Sports Association has now created a forward-thinking structure that will shape the future development of the sport’s most talented individuals.
“It’s been a bit tricky at times,” admits Reid, “but I’m delighted that the structure and all the elements are now in place. I feel that the MSA Academy gives the UK a real opportunity to set the standards in terms of competitor development and will help to ensure that this country continues to be well represented at the highest level of world motor sport in the future.”