Lessons to be learned from McLeod, Osaka and Sha'Carrie
The Sporting EdgeThursday, July 22, 2021
With Paul Reid
There are lessons to be learned by young Jamaicans aspiring to be professional athletes in three very well publicised recent events involving our 2016 Olympic Games 110m hurdles champion Omar McLeod, Japanese Grand Slam tennis champion Naomi Osaka, and American sprinter Sha'Carrie Richardson.
All three accomplished athletes found themselves in the glare of the public and media spotlight, not for brilliance in their respective sporting endeavour, but rather in a negative light.
McLeod said he suffered muscle cramps the morning of the final, which prevented him from competing at his best and he finished last in the race after experiencing some technical issues and was subsequently not named to the team that will represent Jamaica at the Olympics.
Osaka withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon over what she said was for her own mental well-being in her dealings with members of the media, while Richardson was barred from the Olympics after she admitted to smoking cannabis, a banned substance, and later admitted she knew that it was banned when she smoked it.
At a recent webinar hosted by GC Foster Sports College, noted Jamaican sprint Coach Glen Mills made the point that one of the things that all aspiring young athletes must ensure they do was to carefully select those who will be guiding their careers.
Mills advised that choosing people who had good track record of guiding young athletes was one of the first decisions they should make.
In my opinion, all three athletes were let down by people they paid or trusted to guide their careers and the very unfortunate situations could have easily been avoided with more attention.
While it is their talent that set them apart from the rest of the society and makes them so marketable, it will take more than just ability to win matches or to run fast, and this is where the management team fell short and let them down.
McLeod and his team made very little sense when they tried to blame everyone else but their negligence for what transpired at the National Championships. Blaming the curfew for him not having a decent post-race meal on Saturday after the semi-finals was, at best, farcical.
Any management team worth their salary would have put things in place BEFORE they even left the hotel for the stadium and he would have been assured of his meal when he got back and would not have to make do with a “soup and a salad.”
In her first appearance on national television after she was banned, Richardson looked unprepared and unsupported, rambling in her responses and was barely coherent at times when she was being interviewed on one of the major US networks.
A decent public relations team would have had a script for her to read from or at least to guide the 21-year-old in her remarks, someone from her management team or her shoe sponsor should have been with her even to show support.
Why was she left alone after she got the news of the death of her mother, which, she said, was what pushed her to use the drug as a coping mechanism?
She was left alone to fend for herself and we saw a completely different person from the brash, loud talking, finger pointing sprinter that we have come to know.
In the case of Osaka, I refuse to believe that a four-time Grand Slam winner and former number one ranked tennis player, one of the highest paid athletes, who has made tens of millions of dollars last year, would not have been able to get assistance for her issues dealing with the media.
It's common these days to use the 'mental health' band-aid to cover everything, especially when it could easily have been performance anxiety when getting ready to play on clay, her least successful surface.
To get to number one in any sport, especially one as competitive as tennis, takes a lot, not least of all talent, and Osaka would have played a lot of tennis in far-flung places, far away from the bright lights of Wimbledon, Flushing Meadows, Adelaide and Paris.
One thing is sure, however, is that she would have more than enough experience dealing with the media and finding strategies to deal with them.
She is not the first world-class athlete who would rather walk over hot coals than answer questions, especially after not doing as well as she wanted to.
Again, like McLeod and Richardson, she was let down by those around her who should have been looking after their best interest.
It is well established that the mental side of sports is just as valuable as the physical and most successful professional athletes, especially those in the 'individual sports' such as tennis, track and field and swimming, use sports psychologists to get the edge over their opponents.
If, in fact, Osaka's issues are mental then shouldn't a professional be able to assist her in dealing with it?
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