Due care needed to guide young athletes, says Glen Mills
...as success is not guaranteed upon going professionalMonday, June 21, 2021
BY PAUL A REID
Glen Mills, one of the most successful sprint coaches the world has seen, thinks that more care needs to be taken when young athletes, leaving high school, are making the decision to sign professional contracts or go to college first.
Mills, who has guided the careers of several World and Olympic champions, including triple world record holder Usain Bolt, as well as Yohan Blake, Warren Weir, and Kim Collins, said a “great deal of assessment and research into that athlete's development pathway and ability to be successful at the next level; great attention should be paid because its not everybody who runs a fast time at Champs is really designed to do well at the next level”.
The president of the Racers Track Club was a panellist at a recent webinar hosted by G C Foster College, with the theme being 'Pathway to Elite Performance'. He said success at the Inter-secondary Schools Sports Association (ISSA)/GraceKennedy Boys' and Girls' Championships was not a guarantee of success at the next level as a lot of the youngsters were not properly prepared for the transition and what it will take for them to gain success.
Mills told the webinar that there were three options open to athletes leaving high school: “one — take up scholarships at US schools where they have four years to continue developing in the sport while pursuing a degree; two — part-time student and professional athlete, especially if they remain in Jamaica; or three — a full-time professional which basically is a full-time job.”
He posited that the athletes who decide to go straight to the professional ranks are not always ready. “What I find is that most of them don't understand what it means to be a professional athlete and what professionalism demands. One of the things I try to pass on to them is that you have to understand that you have made a decision to earn a living from track and field as a professional athlete and as a result it requires you applying yourself as you would do at a job at the workplace. It is not a part-time occupation where if you choose to train today it's OK and if you don't tomorrow it's OK and you can't be making appointments at training time etc.”
These athletes, he said, would have “lots of difficulties with the transition from the kind of freedom that you have at the high school level as it relates to now becoming a professional athlete. A lot of them have not had any kind of preparation — physiologically, mentally, and otherwise – to cope with the sudden change of becoming a professional athlete, and so you find that the attrition rate of success is very low. I have not done a formal survey but less than five per cent of them don't make it past the first stage”.
Success as a junior, Mills said, did not guarantee success at the other level either. “When you look at the number of outstanding performances at the boys' and girls' championships and then you look at the number who actually succeed as professionals, earning a living from the sport, you will realise that the number is extremely small.”
While attending college provided the safety net of a degree, he said delaying going professional by up to four years also did not ensure success at the professional level.
“Those who go on to college and have the additional four years of development have an opportunity to decide during those years whether they want to continue after college to pursue a profession in track and field.
“If they are successful in getting a degree, if they would want to go and work in that area, but if you look at the number who go on scholarships and the number who actually continue in the sport you will see that the number is even smaller.”
The hyped-up atmosphere of Champs, he said, served to bring out the very best in athletes, but only a few are able to exceed their performances in other circumstances. “There are a number of factors that determine the performance of a junior at a high level and especially at Champs where the atmosphere and the whole Champs psyche is such a powerful stimulus that it brings out superhuman performances for juniors at that level, but very few have gone on to reproduce that performance or go beyond it in taking up professionalism.”
The pathway to success as a senior was not an easy one. “I think a lot of attention needs to be paid to educating both coaches, managers, and athletes at the junior level as to what are the indications and what you are going to experience at the professional and higher level,” he stressed.
“The athletes also have to make significant decisions as it relates to their careers and selecting the organisation or management structure that is going to guide that athlete, especially through the transition.”
Selecting the best environment for the athletes was also crucial Mills told the webinar. “Athletes should gear themselves toward programmes that have shown that they are capable and have the experience and have produced athletes at the elite level, basically a proven track record, because a lot of nurturing, a lot of training and expertise is needed during the transition period which is very difficult. Whether you are at the university level or straight to professional, you have to ensure that you are well informed and well equipped to take that path.”
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