How to fix the current decline of male sprinters in Jamaica
Tokyo TestSaturday, July 03, 2021
Jamaica, the land of wood and water, has been producing world-class sprinters of both genders for over a half-century, beginning with the great 400m runners of the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.
Over the past 15 years, especially, Jamaican male sprinters have been performing exceptionally well. First, it was Asafa Powell, then came Usain St Leo Bolt. Bolt lifted the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing in 2008, running a then world record time of 9.69 seconds in the 100m and 19.30 seconds in the 200m, before lowering those to 9.58 seconds and 19.19 seconds a year later in Germany.
Other names such as Yohan Blake, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Warren Weir and others also contributed to the unparalleled heights of Jamaican male sprinting in this period. However, the showing at the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, highlighted concerns for our male sprinters as they performed well below expectations. This concern continues, even as we prepare for the delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics set to take place later this month.
Given my background as a qualified track and field coach, I want to outline some possible solutions to the current decline in male sprinting being experienced based on my observations. These changes would also be essential for our fantastic women sprinters to continue the success they have had from the days of Merlene Ottey and Juliet Cuthbert to current stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson-Herah.
Regularising the coaching structure
Firstly, we need to have coaches with the eye for talent and who have the correct coaching qualifications to properly nurture the sprinting talent in Jamaica. As a part of that, we need to regularise our coaching structure, requiring certain qualifications to coach at each level. For instance: level 1 — primary school; level 2 — high school; and level 3-4 — high school and senior athletes.
This system will help to foster the smooth transmission of knowledge and provide the nurturing that will aid in the proper harnessing of talent as athletes learn from more qualified coaches along their athletic journeys.
Improving the intercollegiate system
Secondly, we need to improve our intercollegiate system in Jamaica. As the current director of sport at the University of Technology, Jamaica, I have first-hand knowledge of the operations of intercol and look forward to the changes that will come under the organisation's new leadership.
Currently, the level of competition isn't the highest, which is a shame, considering the many talented high school athletes who enter the tertiary system here at home to compete. Getting greater buy-in from the sport's governing body, the Government and private sector, etc will be essential in upgrading and improving the quality of competition in the intercollegiate system. With proper planning and funding, we should aim to make our intercollegiate championship just as competitive and attractive as boys' and girls' championships.
More support for local athletes
Thirdly, stakeholders need to take greater steps to provide the necessary support for our locally trained sprint athletes. Using a single periodisation training programme and giving the clubs more support from private sector and Government are two such steps. When our athletes go overseas they are subjected to double periodisation to compete in both the indoor and outdoor seasons for their colleges, which can lead to burnout.
It is also advisable to organise multiple training camps with selected coaches after Champs to prepare athletes for international competition at the junior level. The Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA) can host this camp, where coaches and an elite medical staff can monitor the progress of our top young athletes and nurse any injury concerns they may have. Most importantly, these camps will keep the athletes sharp and ready for action on the international stage.
Proper nutritional guidance must be an integral part of this programme, as proper nutrition is a critical to achieving optimal performance. The athletes should be guided on what to eat, when to eat, and the other aspects of ensuring that they are taking in the right things to keep them healthy and successful. All schools should be encouraged and supported to put in place a proper feeding programme that will help their student-athletes fulfil their nutritional needs.
Getting Jamaica back on top
One of the main factors that seem to differentiate Jamaica's male and female sprinters at the senior level is the mental aspect of dealing with achievement. From the outside looking in, our male sprinters seem to be more negatively affected psychologically by the securing of contracts at an early age. It is possible that serious consideration needs to be given to securing the services of sports psychologists, life coaches, and mentors to alleviate this issue. Securing qualified financial advisors will also ensure that in their early years of success the proper investments are made to bear fruit in the long term, providing them peace of mind as they continue their careers.
Jamaica has the raw talent and the coaching expertise needed to see our male sprinters achieve the heights of the recent past. However, the need for proper guidelines, systems, and structures to support their development and put them in the right environments for them to grow as athletes is one that will not go away. It is important for us to put these guidelines, systems and structures in place if we are to reverse the downward trend of sprinting on the male side, and continue the dominance of our women sprinters as well as facilitate the continued rise of our field event athletes.
Editor's note: Orville Byfield has been affiliated with sports for the past 22 years, during which he obtained an IAAF Level 5 track and field coaching diploma in California. He has a masters degree in physical education and sports from Cuba, and is the owner/manager of Pro Launch Track Club in Jamaica.
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