Category Archives: Coaching

Making sense of teenage Commonwealth Games medallists’ early success

Guest post by Ben Oakley, author of Podium: What Shapes Sporting Champions

Podium

 

First person autobiographical insights interest me since they provide examples of what shapes their path to the top. My fascination with these accounts, and my own experience as an Olympic coach (1988, 1992) and Open University academic, led me to research 25 autobiographies from serial champions. Amongst these were a number of teenage champions.

The youngest medallist at the Commonwealth Games was 13 year old para-swimmer Erraid Davies and the whole event narrative was dominated by young, up-and-coming athletes, many in their teenage years. Likewise the new Premiership season will no doubt see new 18-year-old, or younger, talents emerge.

Child champions

Child champions’ breakthroughs are fascinating as they have no medal success at the top level to help build supreme optimism to succeed. They often defy the form books to breakthrough to senior success while still at school. Take Cathy Freeman who, aged 16, won a relay 100m gold medal at the 1990 Commonwealth Games. ‘[She] spent the first few days [in the athlete’s village] with [her] mouth open, staring at everyone and everything.’ Problems with dropped batons in practice meant self-doubt began to gnaw away.

But confidence to succeed has a social element. What others say and their behaviour around us matters. If others believe in you and make this abundantly clear, it is a real fillip. In this case it came in the form of the team’s top sprinter, Kerry Johnson, who had been Freeman’s number one supporter and looked out for the ‘baby of the team’. Johnson threatened the management that she would boycott the team unless Freeman ran. Her pre-race advice to Freeman, ‘I think we’ll win this today,’ arguably helped convince the schoolgirl that she deserved to be there. They surged to gold and Freeman’s life changed in that moment.

Coaches and hormones

Likewise, the other person that helped instil self-belief in 15-year-old Michael Phelps was his coach, who ignited his desire to become the youngest ever swimming world record holder. But natural hormonal support was also at play. In the preceding year Phelps experienced his most accelerated growth spurt – a two-inch height gain on the marks on his doorway at home. His coach lit the fuse by writing ‘WR Austin’ (World Record, Austin, Texas) on all the notes he left for Phelps over six months preparing to break the 200m butterfly world record. At the Austin meet he was the first ever to swim under 1 minute 55 seconds.

Ian Thorpe has also described growth spurts, which caused a huge five-second improvement in his 400m freestyle time between the ages of 15 and 16. Imagine the exuberance and confidence of seeing almost monthly gains in performance. Mix this with youthful naïvety and there is a recipe for great things. Describing winning his five-medals at the Sydney Games aged 17, Thorpe said, ‘I had been devoid of nerves – dazzled by the lights and attention, unaware of the true pressure of an Olympic meet and oh-so calm.’

At the 2012 Olympics a shocked 15-year-old Lithuanian swimmer, Ruta Meilutyte, emerged from the pool astonished and in tears at winning gold. Appropriately, it was Ian Thorpe who defended and rationalised her teenage success to a suspicious media.

No fear

When former England footballer Michael Owen spoke about as an 18 year old scoring a wonder goal against Argentina in the World Cup he captured the clutter free thoughts of youth:

‘When I did it I wasn’t surprised at all, now as you get older and look back you think what an attitude I had, I wasn’t scared of anyone, I didn’t even know who I was playing against. We’d have team meetings and they’d say you’re playing against this man and this man: I didn’t even listen, I didn’t care. I just knew that I was playing, that I was going to score … You get older and you start worrying about things, you know, you just worry too much … You only have that not being scared as a kid.’

Not being scared sums it up nicely – the benefit of being a child. As he reminds us, life gets more complicated as an adult – relationships, mortgages, media commitments, expectations, elevated pressure, the weight of history and other athletes gunning to beat you.

Child champions’ unique experience are all part of the complex mix that contribute to examining what shapes champions’ paths. My research and writing Podium has also been a real journey that often challenged my own beliefs.

Ben Oakley is the author of Podium: What Shapes a Sporting Champion, order your copy today

9781472902160

Meet Michael Hutchinson and Discover the Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists

Discover the Obsession, Science and Luck Behind the World’s Fastest Cyclists

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Michael Hutchinson is obsessed with speed. He will be here at the Bloomsbury Institute on 6th May to tell us about his new book, Faster, and explain why cyclists do what they do, what the riders, their coaches and the boffins get up to behind the scenes, and why the idea of going faster is such an appealing, universal instinct for all of us.

Fantastic. An intelligent and personal insight in to the world of elite cycling’ Sir Dave Brailsford

Book your tickets today!

Know the Game

Ever lost out on that elusive pub quiz win because you couldn’t remember how many players in a basketball team? Or how far the penalty mark is from the goal in football? Or the height of a tennis net? Or when the game of badminton was invented?

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Or maybe you’ve got tickets to the London 2012 Olympics and want to brush up on the rules before you go.

Know the Game is a renowned and iconic series of sports books that will provide you with all the basics for understanding each sport along with clear explanations of the rules – so no more sitting in the stands wondering why the ref blew the whistle.

Written by the governing body in each sport, they give you practical, step-by-step guidance on how to play the sport, supported by helpful illustrations, as well as training tips from some of the world’s best players and athletes. There are also quizzes to test your knowledge. And if you’re interested in teaching, coaching or umpiring, there’s advice for you too.

Check out Know the Game for everything you wanted to know about your favourite sport.

So You Want To Be Captain?

A captain has many responsibilities and can make or break a team. So where can you look to for help? So You Want To Be Captain? a new book publishing in March 2012 is the answer. Perfect for any young sports-mad reader, it is the ideal resource for inspiring advice and tips on how to be a great captain and lead your team to success direct from some of the greatest sporting heroes. Advice is in the form of letters addressed to the author’s young son who wanted to learn the key attributes of being a great captain.

The author of the book, Declan Gane offers some words on the book and what Karen Atkinson has to say to young, aspiring captains:

Crowned World Netball Series Champions in November, English netball has been on a roll in recent years under the captaincy of Hertfordshire Mavericks skipper, Karen Atkinson who has more than 100 international caps to her name. In this book aimed at aspiring young sportsmen and women, Karen shares her ideas on how to captain a winning team with my son, Louis Gane (who was looking for inspiration when handed the armband as a 12 year old). As well as Karen’s own words of wisdom, 47 other leading captains give their top tips to Louis in the book, including sporting legends Ian Botham, Will Carling, Phil Neville, Colin Montgomerie and Jamie Peacock.

Karen advises wannabe captains to “MOTIVATE your team to give 100 per cent and perform to their best, use POSITIVE talk whether to praise or to give constructive feedback and be APPROACHABLE to all team members.” There’s plenty more great advice to inspire the next generation from skippers that have all ‘been there and done it’. Put a wise head on young shoulders. 

Publication March 2012

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