Follow The Trace | Save the young athletes
The contemplated changes to the rules of the ISSA Boys and Girls' Championships aimed at reducing the amount of events individual athletes can compete in has filled the air with questions and uncertainty in the months leading up to Champs 2017.
It has been proposed that athletes should only compete in two individual events plus one relay, down from three individual events and one relay; the 5000 metres and 2000m steeplechase will be contested by Class One boys only, while the girls 3000m and 2000m steeplechase will only be contested by Class One and Class Two girls instead of being an open event. The gruelling 400m hurdles is set to be broken down into Classes One and Two for boys instead of being an open event. The multi-event competitors in the decathlon and heptathlon will be allowed to do no other event.
On the face of it, these recommended changes have the appearance of a panic or knee-jerk reaction to the couple of tragic deaths which occurred in and around ISSA football and basketball earlier this season. The amount of work being done by student athletes across the board has become more of an urgent concern for one and all.
That reason aside, these recommendations will more importantly serve to protect the long-term welfare of the nation's talented young athletes. Understandably, the coaches of some of the top schools especially the schools contending for Champs glory will have a problem with these changes. After all plans and preparations for Champs 2017 are well advanced, with some athletes already putting in the background work in accordance with the old rules.
If, however, the future of our young athletes is the genuine priority and not the champs winning ambitions any individual or any group of schools, then by all means bring on the changes.
It is a part of a wider revolution that must take place in school sports in Jamaica where the future of our most talented athletes across all sports must be seen as more important than winning Champs, or the Manning Cup or the daCosta Cup. For far too long, far too many outstandingly talented young track and field 'stars' at the Boys and Girls' Champs level have fallen by the wayside due to physical and or psychological burnout.
We are at a time and space now where the systems and structures are in place by way of a wave of impressive private track and field clubs that continue to effectively capture the best of the best of our young track and field athletes, but regardless of their talent level if the youngsters are physiologically exhausted, burnt out and psychologically saturated the track clubs will be getting athletes for whom it will be difficult if not impossible to make the required transition.
The trend over several years is there for all to see. The majority of our most successful senior athletes were hardly ever over exerted at Champs, the best of them all Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Asafa Powell, Elaine Thompson were never members of any title chasing teams at Champs.
On the contrary the list is way too long, of outstanding Champs stars who were members of title contending schools, but who have failed miserably to fulfill their promise and potential.
The recommendations for changes to the participation rules at champs might well be a knee jerk or panic reaction, but in these moments of panic, ISSA has stumbled upon some sensible changes which are needed to protect our top athletes from the very coaches and schools and communities they so innocently and proudly represent.