Has athletics got it all wrong?

I have been meaning to write a blog for a while but haven’t really had the time or the subject to discuss. But today something came into my mind & it got me asking the question… Has athletics got it all wrong?

I have been in athletics since the age of 10 competing in sprints and jumps to national level. I gave up training and competing at around the age of 25.

Since the age of 16 I have been coaching so over 20 years now as I turned 37 last month.

At first I coached youngsters the basics and made sure they had fun and enjoyed themselves whilst learning important fundamental skills related to athletics of run, jump and throw.

I have always continued this ethos in my coaching. I met my wife Claire through work and we both shared a passion for coaching so worked as a coaching team until the birth of our child Samuel in 2010.

We started a group in Canterbury coaching young athletes and used the multi-event approach with great success with three athletes making the English Schools and gaining top 10 finishes & medals. Of these three athletes one stopped competing and training as an U20. The other two have continued one has represented England in the heptathlon the other is training full-time as part of the British Skeleton Talent Squad in Bath with the aim of making the 2022 winter Olympics.

We have coached athletes of all ages and abilities many of whom have had success at County, Regional and National level. Along with developing their sporting abilities we will always support and develop them as a person.

So that’s my background and coaching ethos; develop the person,not just the athlete.

Back to my initial question: Has athletics got it all wrong?

Is the sport targeting athletes too early?

I have been in sports development since the age of 16 and I have had numerous parents phone me and say their son or daughter are the next Olympic champion. I ask them how old are they? They respond 5 years old. I just and say great but come back when they have been through puberty and then we will see how good they are then.

Athletics is a late developing sport with many top athletes winning medals in their mid to late twenties and in endurance events their early to mid thirties.

Yet why do I see on a weekly basis children running their local 5km park run trying to better their previous weeks time. Parents running alongside them pushing them on or in cases running behind their child shouting at them to go faster…
As an athlete I know that feeling you get when you have nothing left and nothing anyone says will make any bit of difference.

Have we got to stage were athletes are leaving athletics between the ages of 14 – 20 years old due to burnout, boredom and pressure from parents/coaches?

Should we as a sport be encouraging our young athletes to sample a range of sports and events for as long as possible?

Making training/competitions less intense and more fun?I think we should… I have always been in athletics and never experienced another sport until now. As a parent Samuel has recently starting playing football for a local team. At first I was really sceptical about it but I have been pleasantly surprised by the experience.

As part of the U8s team they train for an hour a week and have matches most weekends. The sessions are fun and the coaches are great with the children. I didn’t realise until the first match that all the games (league or friendly) don’t actually count and goals are not recorded in a fornal league table until they are in the U12s age group.

I wasn’t sure how Samuel would react to this but after 4 months it has been a success; his team haven’t won a match yet; but not once have I heard him or his teammates complain.
As a goalkeeper Samuel often lets in 3 or more goals but doesn’t moan and is still smiling at the end of the game.

Perhaps athletics could learn from this and other sports…

I totally understand we need to engage with young people and get them interested in athletics but as a sport we need to be more creative, educate parents and most all look after our young athletes so they are still involved within athletics or sport as an adult.

I could go on forever for about the pro’s and con’s of athletics in its current state but will leave this until another day.

I would appreciate people’s views on this.

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