Tanya Lee | The great Champs debate
Another Champs, another round of active debates on whether athletes who do well at Champs are doing so to the detriment of a successful track-and-field career later. If we are to examine this debate closely, while it does seem probable on the face of it, I don't see a direct correlation.
With the recent senior-level successes of many athletes who did well at Champs and the junior level, I am even further unable to conclude that Champs is detrimental to one's senior career.
My colleague Oral Tracey had a great piece on this debate some days ago, and while I agree with him that the idea of training to win Champs could affect some athletes, I don't agree that, as he puts it, "Champs has wrecked and effectively destroyed many of our youngsters".
The issue for me is, I am not seeing any solid evidence to directly support an unquestionable correlation between non-performance at the senior level and having a previously successful showing at Champs.
We all went to high school with students who excelled academically from first to third form but did not excel in their external exams two years later. We've also seen cases where students didn't do well academically, but went on to achieve massive levels of success in their professional lives. The same is true for high-school athletes; some will reap success, while some will fade from the track.
The recent list of Champs athletes who have done well professionally is quite lengthy. Names like Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Usain Bolt, Melaine Walker, Ristananna Tracey, and Warren Weir are a few that readily come to mind. They have all medalled at the senior level.
If we consider that the transition phase from Champs athlete to a professional athlete is some three to four years, we will realise this is quite some time in which there are many factors that can mitigate against senior-level success. Some athletes won't adjust well to their new coaching environment. Some will lose their interest in the sport as they develop other interests. Some will lose patience during the transitional phase and fall by the wayside. Some will have family and financial pressures that take their toll. Some will become distracted and may lack encouragement and self-motivation. Some will become plagued by injury. And yes, some will, after an intense training through high school or college, become beset with emotional exhaustion, where they lose the spark and get tired of competing.
And then there are those who will continue to build on the great work ethic that was developed. There are those who are highly motivated to stay the course and who continue to push past their perceived limits. Some will respond well to their new coaches and to their training programme. These are the strong, steady performers who are not distracted during the transition phase and who develop the mental fortitude that is necessary for all professional athletes.
This is why it is very important for athletes to surround themselves with supportive family and friends.
Years ago, I did a presentation to a team of Red Stripe Premier League players in which I urged them to consider other means of income to support their football career. I used as my main basis of argument the fact that most of our successful premier league footballers transition to Major League Soccer, where the salaries are, for the most part, not as lucrative as in other top-flight leagues globally.
I also shared that by the sheer numbers, less than 1 per cent of those who play football at the high-school level in the US will go on to receive professional contracts. An even smaller number will be successful at it.
While it remains inconclusive whether there is any real correlation between athletes who excel at Champs and those who don't transition into a successful senior career, I would caution parents, coaches, and fans to be mindful of setting excessively high expectations on student-athletes. Pushing too hard too quickly may reap the short-term benefits at Champs but may create issues for that athlete in the long run. Better to err on the side of caution.