It has been some time since my last post, this is not due to lack of information, more to the lack of time. I have been lecturing a lot, preparing the lectures, and have also been on the road.
Just got back from Bermuda, where my former athlete Troy Douglas now is the head coach of the national track and field team. I coached him from 1992 until 2004 and he is one of the most pleasant athletes I worked with, always positive, always cheerful, and after working successfully with the Dutch relay teams, he got an offer to come back home to Bermuda.
Although Bermuda only has 60.000 inhabitants, they had and have some very good athlete. Brian Wellman 17.62 in the triple jump, Nick Saunders 2.36 m high jump and Troy himself 10.09 in the 100m and 20.19 in the 200m and 45.26 in the 400 m. And new talents coming up, I had the pleasure to work with Sakari Famous, who jumps 1.75 in the high jump, and…… she is only 15 years old and trains only 3 times a week. In other words a potential new star in the making.
Despite the talents, the excellent facilities and the perfect weather, there are some potential limitations too such as the limited population and the fact that elite sports evolves rapidly and standing still means going backwards. New ideas, concepts, innovations and technologies are not luxury articles, but bare necessities in the race for medals and records. The problem is that not many people see that and know that.
Holland is in the same situation, a country with a limited population (not even talking about the weather). Still, we are in the top 10 at the Olympics medal ranking competing with the sport giants like US, Russia, China, UK, etc. One of the reasons is that we do not only support our athletes, but have shifted our focus to the support of coaches. Supporting athletes makes sense in the short-term, but supporting coaches is strategic thinking in the long-term. It also takes a long time before coaches “mature”, but then they can share their valuable experiences and knowledge with their colleagues and with their successors and leave a lasting legacy.
Any good athlete has a limited career, and when that is over, one can just sit and wait for another one to appear, while one good coach may “produce” 10 good athletes and continuously create elite athletes over time.
Important: trust the people that your hire, they are professionals, the experts in their field. If their ideas or opinions might look strange in your limited experience and knowledge, give them credit.
If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got. Old ideas and concepts that worked 30 years ago have passed their expiry date, and coaches know that.
Continuing an adequate coaches’ education should be high on the priority list of any sports federation.
Another problem is that athletes often leave their homes to go and study and train in the US. Which in itself looks like a good idea. Also Jamaican athletes I trained myself went to study in the USA, but for every athlete that came back better, 5 athletes never improved themselves in the longer term or came home injured. One of the reasons of the Jamaican successes in sprint is that they created good conditions in Jamaica, so athletes do not have to go abroad anymore, and stay in Jamaica to study and train under good or better conditions than abroad.
This might be a solution for Bermuda too. If cooperation between the ministry of Education and the Olympic Committee and sport federations can be established. Also in Holland athletes who are students are supported e.g. they can shift their exam dates if they need to go on training camp or international tournaments. A cheap and easy solution if a country with little resources wants to create better conditions to increase the probability for Olympic success.
After working there for a few days and meeting with athletes, coaches and supporting staff, parents, and decision makers I found Bermuda, apart from its paradise-like appearance, a place that has a great potential for elite sports. Where with little investment even better results can be achieved, thanks to all the conditions that are already in place. Not working together for the common goal and living in the past are luxuries that a small country cannot afford. I am curious to see what the future will bring. We’ll find out soon enough, Rio is next year.