Wednesday 13 December 2017

We need a system that nurtures stars of the future

I had terrible stomach cramps during the London Marathon, but I kept running.
I had terrible stomach cramps during the London Marathon, but I kept running.

Catherina McKiernan

I met a friend of mine last week for ‘a green tea’ and the only items on the menu were running-related. Over the past number of years we all know how the running boom has hit the country. It’s a great plus for the nation’s general health to see all of this activity along the highroads and by-roads of Ireland.

At the top level of athletics, there are many people who bemoan the fact that we are not able to compete like we did a decade or two ago. If I got a cent for every fan who asks me why we are not performing on the international stage, I’d be able to buy green tea for the whole country.

I understand that our top athletes train extremely hard and make huge commitments to try to achieve success. But the long and the short of it is, we don’t have the same depth of talent as we had back 10 to 20 years ago in middle distance races, in either male or female competition.

The million dollar question, why? Everyone can’t be a champion but certainly if a youngster shows some talent, they should be encouraged and nurtured.

We are a small country dominated by GAA, which takes a lot of the most talented sportspeople into its ranks. So we only have a small number of athletes to choose from.

Athletics, and in particular middle distance running, requires a person to be psychologically strong. It is much easier for youngsters to play a team sport like football and hurling.

Perhaps children nowadays don’t have the opportunity to build the aerobic base required for middle to long distance running. For instance, like a lot of people, when I was growing up, if I wanted to go somewhere I either ran or cycled. We didn’t have iPhones, iPads or the like. We went outside, ran around, had fun and without knowing it, built up stamina and strength.

Another reason I feel the standard has dropped is because there are too many races around the country and the top athletes aren’t racing against each other often enough.

This can cause them to slacken off in their training as they know they can win a race because their nearest competitor is committed to running in some other race.

I believe also that young people are not as tough these days and we need to engrain into our children’s minds that in life if you work hard your will be rewarded. The mind plays an extremely important part in achieving success. You can do all the training in the world but if you are not psychologically strong and hungry for success, you won’t get the benefit from all the hard training.

I remember when I was running the London marathon, I got terribly bad stomach cramps which started after 13 miles. I had put so much hard work in preparing for the race that nothing was going to stop me. It would have been very easy to stop but no, I kept my focus, and worked through the discomfort for the second half of the race.

Another problem is if young athletes show potential, the media straight away puts pressure on them by comparing them to some of our former greats. It would be better if the media backed off as this kind of publicity does an athlete no favours.

We need to take a serious look at our athletic system once and for all, make positive changes and get our athletes into the right mindset so they believe in themselves.


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