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Interview with Scottish Rowing’s newly appointed Head of Performance Pathway, Lee Boucher

Posted 2 May, 2017

Today we announce the appointment of Lee Boucher as the new Head of Performance Pathway for Scottish Rowing. We took this opportunity to grill him about his new role.

If there is such a thing as your perfect job, is this it? Just how excited are you about getting started?

I’ve been involved in rowing all my life from a very young age, initially as an athlete at Methodist College Belfast, then as a coach at Heriot-Watt University and over the past 10 years as a volunteer with Scottish Rowing. So yes, to take my passion for the sport forward as a career is extremely exciting for me and a personal challenge that I can’t wait to get started.

For those that don’t know the job description, what is the Head of Performance Pathway responsible for?

In this role, I will be responsible for ensuring that there are sustainable pathways in place for Scottish athletes that allow more to reach their potential in the sport and ultimately to help Scottish Rowing deliver against its performance outcomes for the Olympiad. To put it simply, it is about Scottish rowers, developed in Scotland, competing for Great Britain at the Olympics and Paralympics.

You have been a rowing coach, as well as an athlete. How does the role of Head of Performance Pathway differ from a Coach?

Whilst coaches are the front line of support for our athletes, my role is to support the coaches and ensure that they have everything that they need to be successful. This involves managing relationships with key partners, taking responsibility for the performance budget including programme funding and athlete support grants, and co-ordinating the support services delivered through the sportscotland institute of sport.

You’ve already performed a similar role with Scottish Rowing as a volunteer for the past decade. How big an opportunity is there here for you and for Scottish Rowing?

I’m proud of what has been achieved over the past decade particularly when I look at the progression of university rowing in Scotland which has been a big area of focus for me. However, I am also conscious that as a volunteer I have had to manage my time carefully and not over-commit myself and therefore in this full-time role I will be actively looking to work with more clubs, coaches and athletes as we strive to ensure that more pathway opportunities exist at all levels across Scotland.

And does being a full timer mean you will have more time to develop new areas of the athlete pathway?

To date a big focus has been at under 23 level as we know that there is a strong correlation between athletes achieving success at this level and those that go on to GB senior teams. But going forward I expect that we will start to spend more time looking at our junior development programme and how we better support the transition of athletes from junior to under 23. I’m also keen that we look at how we retain more athletes in open club programmes post-university which would also create a better environment to support non-student athletes on the performance pathway.

Just how good are our high performance programmes in Scotland?

In my opinion, there has never been a better time to be an aspiring international rower whilst living and training in Scotland. The opportunities that are available to talented junior and under 23 athletes in Scotland are first class through our strong partnerships with the university sector, Winning Students and the sportscotland institute of sport. I know that our programmes are the envy of athletes and coaches elsewhere in the UK and of course my challenge in this new role is to ensure that we stay ahead of the competition by continuing to innovate.

Our Scottish university programmes have become very successful in a relatively short space of time. Where do you see the potential areas of growth being now?

We’ve always had Scottish crews doing well in national level junior competition however I believe that there is an opportunity to support more young athletes from a wider range of clubs and schools to achieve their potential in sport over a longer period. To do this we must work hard to keep athletes in the sport for longer and Scottish Rowing will be looking to support a number of initiatives in this area. I also see an opportunity for a Para-Rowing performance development programme in Scotland which helps support the transition of more Scottish athletes onto the GB Para-Rowing programme and ultimately the Paralympics.

Do you feel we have untapped talent out there, particularly amongst the juniors, and how will we go about encouraging talented athletes into rowing and keeping them involved?

Quite often individual athletes, particularly those in smaller club programmes, do not fully understand their true potential and whether that is competing successfully at the Scottish Rowing Championships, representing the Scotland Rowing Team or winning an Olympic or Paralympic medal, it is our job to ensure that more athletes from across Scotland get the opportunity to demonstrate and maximise their potential.

I am delighted that we have been able to secure the return to Scotland of the British Rowing World Class Start programme which is now based at Strathclyde Park. This programme has a strong track record across the UK of identifying and developing future Olympians and I’m sure that this will help to recruit more Scottish rowers on the pathway to 2024 and beyond.

At this month’s GB Rowing Team Senior & Under 23 trials the Scottish group travelled with the support of a physio and physiologist for the first time. Explain the support provided by the sportscotland institute of sport and the difference it is making?

The sportscotland institute of sport works alongside Scottish Rowing to provide high performance expertise to our athletes and coaches on the performance pathway and I believe that this partnership has been critical to our successes in recent years. Our programme now benefits from the day-to-day support of experts in physical preparation, physiology, physiotherapy, sports medicine, nutrition and performance lifestyle and this is all about ensuring that no stone is left unturned in our pursuit of success.

You’ve worked full-time in another sport as Head of Performance at Tennis Scotland. What have you learned from this role that you think can help us in rowing?

Having led a comprehensive review of Tennis Scotland’s investment in all performance activities which shaped a new performance strategy for the organisation, I was responsible for putting in place new ways of working that focused on athlete development at a local, regional and national level. I believe there is scope to further develop in these same areas at Scottish Rowing and I’d like to see clear pathways in place so that everyone fully understands the requirements to get to the next rung on the ladder.

In this role you will also have a remit to lead a whole sport review of competition. What are your thoughts on our current competition structure and what opportunities do you see for the sport?

In rowing we have a well-established competition structure for racing. However we also know from looking at other sports that many are now looking to innovate to ensure that their competition programme continues to meet the needs of the participants. Through the review process I will be hoping to speak to as many people involved in our sport as possible, from athletes through to competition organisers, to ensure that we are offering the best possible product to help us both grow participation in rowing and support those on performance pathways.

How far has Scottish Rowing progressed in the past 10 years?

Our performance rowers have certainly helped put the sport on the map and at both London 2012 and Rio 2016 rowing has consistently been one of Scotland’s leading sports both in terms of number of athletes and medals. However, our role at Scottish Rowing has very much been to ensure a consistent pipeline of talent coming through the Scottish system and I would say our greatest success has been increasing the number of ‘Scottish based’ athletes in GB world championship teams, from only one a decade ago to eight last summer. This is very much a product of the outstanding team of people that we have working in our performance programmes.

Where would you like us to be in 10 years’ time?

The challenge that any performance programme has is to consistently produce results year-on-year and I would love to see Scottish Rowing continue to be leading the way with our performance development programme, our athletes competing with distinction at national and international competition and hopefully seeing some familiar faces at future Olympic and Paralympic Games.

If anyone would like to speak to you, how should they make contact?

My contact details can be found on the Scottish Rowing website so in the first instance I would suggest that you give me a call or drop me an email. I’m hoping to be out and about at the upcoming domestic regattas and look forward to speaking with athletes, coaches and club volunteers. I am particularly interested to hear from any junior and club programmes that are committed to improving their offering for aspiring performance athletes.