Inside Revolution: Inside HQ – Meet Katie Baldwin

Thursday 21 September 2023

As Competitors Pathway Manager here at Motorsport UK, Katie Baldwin is now steering stars of the future to maximise their potential.

Revolution is available online, as a PDF download and on the Revolution app (for both iOS and Android devices). 

It was thanks to Colin McRae Rally on her Playstation1, when she was around eight years old, that Katie Baldwin first found an interest in motorsport. 

“I remember once getting a steering wheel for a present”, notes Baldwin. “One that attached to a dining room chair… My mum had just got brand new dining room table and chairs, and the first time I used the steering wheel, I had been so engrossed in the game I didn’t realise I hadn’t attached it properly. It had scratched the chair – oops! So, I wasn’t in my mums’ good books after that. I also enjoyed watching motorsport on the TV with my dad, and later he took me to some small events which I loved. We took camping chairs and set up for the day – I’d come away from those covered in black debris and rubber which was all part of the experience. When I was a little older, I did a few track day experiences which I really enjoyed, but I was definitely better on the PC / games than real life! 

“Ironically, I now manage the Academy Coaching team which consists of Nicky Grist, one of Colin McRae’s co-drivers, so it’s funny how things come back around. Little did I know when I was sat playing the rally game on the floor in my living room, that in years to come I would be overseeing and developing these programmes. 

Although enthralled by motorsport from a young age, Baldwin did not begin her professional life in this arena. “I worked in high performance sport and talent development for around eight years – originally at England Netball for four years, and then at England Rugby. Having completed a degree in Sport and Exercise Science, I have always been really interested in how to optimise sporting performance and what processes, and frameworks can be implemented that can contribute to elite success. My previous roles ranged from athlete services management to talent development and performance management which at times were quite reactive. I knew that in the longer term I wanted to move into a pathway management role, which takes a more strategic view of the whole athlete journey. When the vacancy at Motorsport UK came up, I knew instantly that I wanted to go for it. I have been with Motorsport UK now for almost four years and enjoy working in a different sporting landscape which has come with new challenges. 

The development of Sport Science, and the pathway management programmes that support many sporting fields, have been growing over the last 20+ years. In UK motorsport the way that we support, and mentor young athletes has been evolving too. 

“It was back in 2005,” reveals Baldwin, “when there were calls for the (then) MSA to ‘do something’ to support young talent. David Brabham and Robert Reid designed the concept and were the Performance Directors at the time. They launched the Rally Elite and the Race Elite programmes. Initially it was run via external sources, but they were designed to be taken in-house over the longer term. It wasn’t until 2009 that the ‘Academy’ umbrella was created, and the first internal staff member was appointed to manage it. The delivery remined external at this point. The first programmes back then were Team UK, plus some performance master classes (delivered at junior championships) and the AASE college programme (now DiSE). 

“In 2011 the first partnership created with Racing Steps Foundation which aimed to benefit wider pool of competitors and provide financial assistance (mainly a contribution towards living costs) to allow them to focus on training and competition. In 2013 it was taken fully in-house, and the existing programmes were developed. A co-driver programme was added, and the concept of motorsport coaching was explored from then on. In 2020, shortly after I started, the programmes were redesigned to Team UK, Team UK Futures, and the Diploma in Sporting Excellence, all of which have both a driver and co-driver strand and cater for multiple disciplines –Race, Rally, Rallycross and Karting.”

So the journey for Motorsport UK has been a progressive one, and now with Baldwin at the wheel, things have really stepped up. “In the past four years”, she adds, “we have focussed on creating a clearly understandable talent pathway with an easily recognisable identity to become a platform for drivers and co-drivers to build their profile, as well as to equip them with all the tools and skills, knowledge, and behaviours to achieve their ultimate motorsport goals. Secondary to this, is to ensure that in pursuit of these ambitions that they do not neglect their education. This is where the DiSE programme comes in. It is also essential that their knowledge and experience is retained within the motorsport industry, so we provide many exit routes from the talent pathway – helping them to plan their careers. We take a holistic approach to athlete development with a progressive curriculum. This is covers different performance areas including technical, tactical, psychological, physical as well as commercial/social elements such as sponsorship and personal development. It is all delivered via workshops, training days as well as 1:1 coach reviews and performance management meetings to provide athlete centred, individual support, as well as team opportunities. Most recently, alongside the Academy programmes we have launched the Motorsport UK Coaching Pathway to recognise and support the upskilling of those delivering great coaching to our future stars.

So how does motorsport differ from other sporting activities? Are there similarities, and what can be learned from other sporting organisations? 

“It’s a common misconception that drivers ‘just sit behind the wheel’”, reveals Baldwin, “and yet motorsport is one of the most physically and mentally challenging sports. 

“For both drivers and co-drivers, and for the teams that play an important role in their car’s performance, motorsport requires a high level of physical fitness as well as mental toughness, plus teamwork, communication, and precision. Of course, this is the same across many, if not all, other sports at an equivalent level, but what makes motorsport unique is that often, training and competition become the same thing. Practice and training or testing opportunities are usually few and far between, so the athletes must look beyond the car and track time for training. Within the Academy, we help them to identify areas of performance development which are outside of the car – looking at lots of small performance gains, often marginal gains, that will culminate in an increase in performance. This could be anything from their nutrition, preparation and recovery, sleep cycle, and travel health, physical or mental fitness. With the benefit of technology and innovation to support this over recent years, we can now use simulators and esports as a training tool, with many transferable skills from digital to real world. 

“At motorsport UK, we have been working closely with other sports governing bodies as well as UK Sport, Sport England and UK Coaching to share best practice and used their learnings to help inform our own framework and approach to developing talent. In terms of similarities, there are many sports, such as Equestrian, Sailing, Snowsports and Skeleton (yes – you would be surprised) which we link up with regularly to share ideas and challenges. The main thing we have learnt is that when you take away the context of the sport, the athlete journey is largely the same. With this in mind, we can use case studies and learnings to ensure that the Motorsport UK Academy are implementing practices which we know equal success.” 

So where to next for Motorsport? What does Baldwin see as the next test for the governing body? 

“We must continue to develop the Coaching offer by Motorsport UK,” she declares. “We have focussed a lot of time over the years on the athletes, but what about the workforce delivering the sport? Where are the opportunities for them to ensure their coaching practice is the best it can be? Is it underpinned by principles that have been tried and tested over the years within the Olympic space and that have resulted in higher percentage of medals for Team GB. We are taking these learnings and applying them to motorsport, ensuring that the coach is recognised, supported, and developed in the same way the athletes are. There’s a perception that a good competitor is automatically a good coach, but as a governing body, Motorsport UK has not, until now, provided those individuals with the tools to transfer all that amazing knowledge and experience onto others effectively. It is an exciting time as this also links in Motorsport UK’s wider participation objectives. 

“The Academy team are also working on plans to look at a broader competitor development offer – using the principles delivered within the Academy and making those available to people who simply just want to be the best they can be at the level they are participating. The focus for this project is enjoyment and ensuring that we can provide experiences that provide a long and fulfilling motorsport journey – so watch this space! 

Read more from this month’s edition of Revolution