Earlier this week, at the Sunday Times Sportswomen of the Year Awards, Celia Brackenridge received a lifetime achievement award in recognition of her services to child protection.
I was elated to hear this news. I have known Celia since 1980 and had the delight of attending with her the inaugural Lacrosse World Cup at Trent Bridge in 1982. She was the captain of the England team, my wife Sue was the coach. I was there as a videographer and fledgling analyst.
Our first conversation had been at St Mary’s College in 1980 when I observed her performance in a practice match. We discussed real time observation and the importance of having a qualitative as well as quantitative approach to performance tracking.
That conversation has stayed with me over the last thirty-five years. After she retired from playing, Celia took up coaching and devised her own notation system with which to record lacrosse games. I believe her approach to the observation and analysis of performance positioned her to be one of the godmothers of notational and performance analysis. She facilitated discussion of match analysis in the 1980s. A 1985 publication (co-authored with John Alderson) Match Analysis gave voice and focus to an emerging community of practice.
Many of Celia’s papers are curated at Brunel University. In that archive, she points out:
In the early 1980s, two major technologies were brought together to advance the science of match analysis: the first was the choreographic tool of notation, mainly associated with recording dance patterns, that was modified to record sport match patterns. In the early 1980s, coach Jake Downey developed a badminton notation and about the same time I developed a notation for lacrosse. These notation systems allowed us to store complete records of games, rather like musical scores, and to pore over these after each game to search for playing strengths and weakness. However, I was able to extend the technical analysis through the second innovation – the BBC desk-top microcomputer which could be used to crunch match data in seconds rather than hours.
Celia named her system BRACstat and used it to inform her coaching and stimulate reflections on performance in training and competition.
Although we have never discussed this, I do think Celia’s love of music in general and the cello in particular as well as her experiences of movement education at Bedford College in the late 1960s and early 1970s, positioned her to have a powerful insight into the practice of and reading of notation.
From the outside it was fascinating to watch an iconic player evolve into an inspirational coach at the forefront of using early forms of video (VHS and SVHS) to augment her and her players understanding of performance.
Celia’s experiences in sport fuelled a passion for equality that led her to a new field of endeavour. Her papers at Brunel University provide background to her academic and political work in the pursuit of equality in sport. Some of her papers related to women’s sport, including the formation of the Women’s Sports Foundation and WomenSport International, were donated to the Anita White Foundation at the University of Chichester.
Her commitment to equality in sport connected Celia with a global network of colleagues who shared her passion for access, opportunity and protection. In 2001, she wrote about her work from the 1980s onwards. Whilst much of her work in child protection remains closed in her Brunel Archive, the catalogue of her work over three decades is an immensely powerful reminder of her commitment to others. Her reflections on her work appeared in her book Spoilsports: Understanding and Preventing Sexual Exploitation in Sport.
Her pioneering work was exemplified in a project undertaken with the Football Association. In the first year of what was intended to be a five-year project, Celia and her research team collected data from 11 internet surveys, 32 club case studies, 200 interviews with stakeholders and an analysis of 132 case files of child abuse referrals.
To many of Celia’s friends and supporters the curtailment of the project after one year was a cause for concern and alarm. In true Celia fashion she redefined her work and had a productive decade of research and writing particularly after her move to Brunel University.
Celia was awarded an OBE for her services to Equality and Child Protection in Sport in 2012.
In 2013, Celia was appointed as Child Protection Expert in the Dame Janet Smith Review of the BBC. At a time when she was contemplating retirement this created a new focus for her lifetime’s work that was acknowledged earlier this week.
Celia has not been well for some time. My wife Sue, who has known Celia since their time together at Bedford College in the 1960s, and I have tried to heed Celia’s life partner Diana’s request for privacy during this time.
I do hope they both do not mind this intrusion. It is a joyful time when a lifetime of serving others can be recognised. I am delighted that Celia and her work is discussed in detail in today’s Sunday Times.
I have been inspired by her since our first meeting … almost thirty-six years of awe.