Orville Higgins | Don't shun youth games
The Jamaican team is just back from the World Youth Championships in Kenya, and the discussions are ongoing as to whether the Jamaicans should be satisfied with their eight-medal haul. Depending on your perspective, the Jamaican performance is either disappointing or satisfactory. I will address that at a later date, but for now, I want to tackle head-on the view held by some rather misguided people that our elite young athletes should not take part in these games, but should instead be focusing on trying to make the senior team. That view was being put forward by one of my colleagues on radio a few days ago. I disagree vehemently. Views like that ought to be illegal. Freedom of speech was taken a little bit too far.
I am among those who have questioned the wisdom of sending our top athletes to the CARIFTA games, where quite often, victory is seen as routine, especially with the sprinters. Being Caribbean champion doesn't seem to carry the same prestige for these athletes, and I have heard many athletes saying that they prefer a champs gold medal to a CARIFTA gold medal any day. Having said that, I understand that there are several benefits to competing among Caribbean neighbours. The life of an athlete involves not just competing on the track. It is about adjusting to different cultures, different food. It's about about coping with travelling and living in a hotel. It is about learning how to share rooms and getting on with others. So, while our best athletes may not get the competition in the CARIFTA games, there are a lot of benefits that they could derive from competing.
I feel the same way about some other meets. The Pan Am games, the Commonwealth Games or even Penn Relays are events that are neither here nor there for me. These events provide the athletes with another arena to showcase their skills, but that's just about it. I don't take performances in these meets as seriously as some do. Competing with a select set of schools or countries just doesn't carry the real oomph for me. I do, however, make a distinction for the World Junior Games or the World Youth Games, which just had its final staging.
When a youngster is matching skills with the best in his age group, that is a big deal. How can anyone argue against that? Why shouldn't a youngster want to know how he stacks up with the very best in the world in his age group? Before a youngster takes on the best seniors in the world, how does it hurt for him to first test his skills against the best in the world, in his age group? The level of confidence he gets from beating the best in the world is quite often the psychological boost he needs to continue the sport.
Many of the senior stars we cheer on now, including the great Bolt, were former junior champions. We cannot calculate the tremendous psychological boost it must have given them to beat the top juniors in the world. We cannot calculate how being junior world champions must have inspired and motivated them to want to take their skills to the higher levels. By destroying the very best in the world at their age group, it must have hardened their resolve to stick to the sport, realising that they are as good as, or better than, their peers.
One foolish argument I have heard is that in track and field, your performances can be judged against others without you competing against them. The reasoning is presented that a youngster who is a great junior hurdler, for instance, can just look at his times and know that he is better than other junior hurdlers around the world. That is a very limited view. You want to be in the same race, under the same conditions, and experience the satisfaction of beating them on the same day. The thrill of victory is one of the main reasons people play sport. When that victory is against the best, then that is in essence what makes sport what it is.
The other reason these global youth games shouldn't be shunned is that they look wonderful on the rÈsumÈ of a youngster when potential sponsors are looking to sign. Surely, to say you are a world junior champion must give you greater leverage with a shoe sponsor than to say you are the Champs champion! Surely, to be the best youngster in the world must count for something when people are looking to be part of your background team.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to email@example.com.