If anyone could come up with a definitive formula for producing elite athletes, they could sell it for millions of pounds a time.

But there is, as everyone in sport knows only too well, nothing of the sort.

There was much talk last week of the failings of the pathways within Scottish rugby. A dismal Six Nations campaign by Scotland’s Under-20 boys, which saw them win only one game, has led to something of a deep dive within the sport in an attempt to find out why there is so little talent coming through.

It is not necessarily a wide-spread problem within Scottish sport. This country does, in some sports, already punch above its weight.

Andy Murray is one of tennis’ all-time greats. In track and field, with Laura Muir, Jake Wightman, Josh Kerr and Eilish McColgan, there are a good few runners who can consider themselves world class. And in Olympic champions Duncan Scott, Kathleen Dawson and Katie Archibald, there is talent in the swimming pool and in the cycling velodrome too.

But for all the success of these individuals, there is little doubt that Scotland does not have a water-tight plan that ensures we systematically produce truly elite athletes with the regularity we would like.

You only have to look at our men’s football and rugby teams – the sports in which many Scots would want success above all others – to confirm this.

Our population is often cited as a reason. But this doesn’t wash when you compare this country to Norway, which has managed to produce as effective a pathway across the sporting spectrum as any country on the globe.

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The list of Norway’s sporting champions is astonishing. The Scandinavian nation’s past success is impressive, but its current achievements are even more remarkable. From topping the medal table, by quite some distance, at the past two Winter Olympics to producing the Ingebrigtsen brothers, and in particular Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who is one of the true contemporary stars of track and field, to developing two of the world’s best footballers in Erling Haaland and Ada Hegerberg, to Viktor Hovland in golf’s world’s top 10 to Casper Ruud in tennis’ world top five, Norway’s production line is breathtaking.

This, from a country with a population of only 5.5 million, which is almost identical to that of Scotland’s.

So what is Norway doing right, and what should we be copying?

Clearly, their success in winter sports is thanks, in large part, to the fact that there are limitless opportunities to be in the snow.

But weather conditions do not a champion make. There is a sporting culture within Norway that focuses primarily on using sport to aid children’s social development rather than focusing on winning.

Within kids sport, there is no first to last ranking until they are 13. There is an explicit understanding that pressure to win at a young age, and a focus on results rather than fun, are detrimental to long-term development.

Contrast this with some of the outrageous screaming you hear from adults on the sidelines of kids’ football matches in Scotland.

Secondly, long-term investment is crucial. Yes, Norway is a wealthy country but just as snowy mountains do not necessarily produce skiing champions, money does not automatically guarantee winners.

After Norway had a dismal Winter Olympics in 1988, where it failed to win one gold medal, funding and support for sport increased substantially. Investment though was not concentrated purely on the elite few; rather, it was used to fund grassroots sport with the obvious consequence of a wider base of the pyramid ensuring more rise to the top.

The stats for child participation in sport and activity in Norway – 80 per cent of children between 6 and 12 participate in at least one sport – are impressive.

So while it would take Scotland years, decades even, to replicate the Norwegian system, we must try to make incremental changes if we want to stop lamenting the absence of an effective pathway.

There may not be a guaranteed blueprint, but we would do well to copy Norway’s model as closely as possible if we want to improve Scotland’s success rate in producing elite athletes.


There is longevity in sport, and then there is Rafa Nadal longevity.

Last week, the 36-year-old Spaniard dropped out of the world’s top 10 for the first time since April 24, 2005, slipping down to 13 on the ATP rankings.

What an astonishing statistic.

When Nadal broke into the top 10 as a teenager, Tony Blair was Britain’s Prime Minister, Woolworths was still on the high street and the current men’s No.1, Carlos Alcaraz, was not even one.

For 912 consecutive weeks, Nadal was a permanent fixture in the world’s top 10. It’s extraordinary longevity that is unmatched in global individual sport.

To put it into perspective, Alcaraz would need to remain where he is until October 2039 to better Nadal’s streak.

It is easy to underestimate how challenging it is to remain at the top of any sport for that length of time but it’s often reiterated by the world’s best that the easy part is getting there, it is staying there that is much more difficult.

And so, for all Nadal’s accomplishments, and there are many, it’s arguable his top-10 streak is the most impressive of them all.