OTTAWA - It wasn't exactly the media message prepared by sports officials Wednesday, but a close reading of a new survey on elite coaching in Canada had a clear subtext: Show us the money.
More than half the men and women training Canada's current and future Olympians earn less than $20,000 annually from their primary coaching job, and another 15 per cent are volunteers.
The figures, from a 2008 national survey of elite-level coaches by the Canadian Coaching Association, highlight a disconnect in the evolving development system: increased government funding for elite athletes is not matched by the cash available for the people who train them.
"More and more of our athletes are full-time athletes and able to devote the vast majority of their time to preparing for world and Olympic competition," John Bales, the CEO of the Canadian Coaching Association, told a news conference in Ottawa.
"And that really demands full-time coaches."
Bales offered a couple of quick, short-term fixes that won't break the bank.
He said coaches working on four-year or longer Olympic cycles shouldn't be getting one-year contracts - if they're lucky enough to be offered a deal in writing.
And more administrative support should be provided to get coaches out from behind the desk and onto the pool deck, slopes or track.
But the survey results indicate coaches themselves see a clear bottom line.
Among a series of options "that might improve the situation for high performance coaches," the single strongest response by far was to pay them more.
On a scale of one (not important) to seven (very important), 43.8 per cent listed better pay as a seven. Another 47.5 per pegged it as a five or six.
The second strongest response was to "Make more financial resources available to the coach." Some 85 per cent placed it among the top three levels of importance.
Having more facilities available - another pricey option - was the third strongest response.
More time off, lighter workloads, more sport science and medical support, by contrast, were considered far less important.
Other results from the survey arguably support the pay angle. For instance, three quarters of elite coaches have a university degree or more. And half the hiring agencies surveyed said they receive three or fewer job applications for elite coach openings.
Canadian governments have poured tens of millions into elite sport development programs in recent years. Both the Own the Podium program - aimed at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C. - and the Road to Excellence program for summer athletes are providing more funding for full-time carded athletes.
Alex Baumann, the two-time Olympic swimming champion who heads the Road to Excellence program, said improving conditions to attract the very best coaches is now the program's top priority.
Baumann is pushing for a series of high-performance sports institutes across Canada that can hire and retain full-time elite coaches.
"Canada has moved quite a significant way (in elite sport funding)," Baumann said in an interview. "But there's no doubt that we need additional resources if we're going to put the institutes as a high priority - if we're going to put coaching as a high priority as well.
"So we need to keep pushing for that."
Gary Lunn, the federal minister for sport, appeared to pour cold water on the notion of more funding in an interview.
"I don't think it's always just about money," Lunn said moments after Baumann had made his pitch to The Canadian Press.
"I've had these conversations with Alex and he completely supports me, that sometimes we need to find a better way."