Performance year in review: an ‘incredible achievement’
December 29, 2022 | by Matt Halfpenny
England Boxing’s Head of Performance Chris Connelly is excited for what the future holds after a record-breaking year for Team England in 2022.
The Three Lions collected a best-ever major tournament haul of 45 medals from the European Under 22, European Youth, European Schools, European Junior and Youth World tournaments, held across the year.
And while that total may be hard to match in 2023, particularly in light of the fact there may be less tournament medals to go for, Connelly believes there is plenty of further gains to be made, in and out of the ring.
As such, he and the Performance team have already started to put plans in place to make improvements that will benefit the England boxers, coaches and staff alike, as well as the England Boxing member clubs who continue to produce talent at grass roots level.
“I feel that it is very exciting times ahead for us and we can continue to grow and build on the great work that has been done across this year,” said Connelly, who joined in September.
“Although we want to continue to achieve in terms of the numbers of medals, it’s also about trying to grow and develop the programme, which has impressed me so much since I came in.
“We want to develop the boxers not just for their potential to win medals, but as people as well, and the same can be said of the coaches and staff who are involved as well.
“The 45 medals won in 2022 is an incredible achievement – I’ve never heard of it before – and I know that there has been a lot of talk about it… about the level of talent coming through and that it looks to be a bright future.
“Our goal now is to try to get a bigger number of boxers to the stage where they are ready to compete for a medal.
“It has been the policy for a while now to only send boxers in weights here we believe they genuinely have a chance to medal, which is why we sometimes have smaller squads than others at the top end of the medal table, who take boxers in all, or nearly all, of the weights.
“Eventually we hope to take bigger squads across the full range of weights, filled with boxers who can compete for honours.
“Part of that process is to increase the experience and exposure that our boxers get to international boxing, so we are hoping the opportunities they get to compete both domestically and by attending events overseas will increase.”
After returning to the international fray in early March after a two-year absence due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Team England secured a 3-3 draw with Glasgow.
For much of the time since then, the work of the Performance Department has been taken on solely by Lead National Coach Amanda Coulson and Performance Pathway Manager Andrea Rankine. Only at the back end of the year, with the appointment of Connelly and new National Coach Mick Maguire – whose transfer from the role of Competitions and Events Manager will happen gradually over the coming months – has the team been strengthened.
Connelly described the duo’s efforts, which culminated in them leading Team England to a record seven goals at the Youth Worlds in November as ‘truly remarkable’.
He said: “To do all that work themselves – the planning, the organising, the preparation, the delivery, everything – when the team has been down on numbers has been a phenomenal effort and a testament to just how good they are in their roles.
“Amanda has been the only full-time coach and, on top of that, has done so much more in so many areas to keep everything running smoothly.
“Having put so much of the work in behind the scenes, it was great to see Andrea take on the Team Manager role in Spain at the Youth Worlds. The two of the together have been world class operators.
“So many people talk about boxing being male dominated and dominated by male ex-boxers, but it’s fantastic that England Boxing has Amanda and Andrea in place because they are the best two people for the job – and they are great models for other women and girls coming through.
“Mick will also be a fantastic appointment because he has great coaching experience, also coaches for GB and knows how England Boxing works and what we are trying to do, having worked in two other roles for us.”
Those staff members have, of course, been supported by an army of volunteer coaches who have continually excelled in their quest to help the development of boxers on the England Performance Pathway.
Connelly hopes improvements to the existing coaching structure will allow those talented individuals to continue to thrive and add their respective skills into the mix.
“It’s just as important for us to develop the skills of coaches on the pathway as it is the boxers, as, without good coaches, the top level of boxers are less likely to follow,” he said.
“We have a really strong team of coaches who give up their own time to help develop our boxers, and while it is an honour for them to be able to represent England Boxing, we also want to give them more in return by helping them improve their abilities.
“We are creating a partnership with the GB World Class Programme so that coaches can work across both teams of boxers, working more fluidly.
“Not only will it help the coaches grow and learn new things, but it will also help boxers who make the transition from England to GB, because they will have worked with the coaches before.
“That cohort will be strengthened in January when those who recently applied to join the England Pathway will go through assessments, meaning we will have more than 50 coaches to call on.”
A major focus in 2023 will be getting an Elite-level England squad up and running, similar to what is the case in Scotland and Wales.
It will allow those boxers who do not earn a place on the GB squad the chance to continue to compete internationally beyond the Youth ranks, while giving them the opportunity to make a fresh claim for a place on the World Class Programme.
Connelly said: “In January and February we will be running three pilot Elite-level England camps and then use the learning form that to shape the Senior programme that will follow.
“We will be looking to confirm the names in the squad in mid-May following the conclusion of the England Boxing National Amateur Championships in April.
“There are two good reasons we want to have the squad. For one, we believe we should have a senior squad where people can pull on the Three Lions vest and compete internationally.
“Secondly, we want to help the transition between Youth level and the GB World Class Programme, so that there is another level for boxers to develop.
“We want to extend this helps to sports science, such as strength and conditioning, nutrition, psychology and performance analysis, so there is another option other than getting on GB or going pro.”
Having seen the Performance Programme bounce back so strongly from the Covid-19 Pandemic, Connelly has huge amounts of praise for those who make grass roots boxing tick.
He insists it is only through their hard work that the Three Lions continue to be a force to be reckoned with on the international scene.
“I can’t emphasise enough just how crucial the work they do is,” said Connelly. “There’s no doubt that without the countless hours put in by the coaches, members of staff at the clubs and dedicated parents, then the England Performance Pathway wouldn’t be where it is now.
“The workforce across the board that makes it all happen is superb and it is quite hard to fathom just how widespread it is when you sit back and think about it.
“We want to try and nurture that relationship with clubs even more and build on the work that they put in to develop athletes as boxers and people because they are the bedrock of what we do – and I thank them for it.”