AAI endurance coach urges Ireland to look at long game
PLEASE don't calculate future senior success on underage medals.
That is the passionate plea from Chris Jones, the man entrusted with getting Irish distance running back to full health as a huge wave of underage talent across all disciplines heads into a hectic fortnight of international activity.
The World Youth Championships (Ukraine, July 10-14), European U-23s (Finland, July 11-14) and European Juniors (Italy, July 18-21) are all fast approaching.
Throw in the World University Games (July 6-17), which start in Russia tomorrow and includes rising senior internationals like Brian Gregan, Jessie Barr, Ciara Everard and Olympic walker Laura Reynolds, and expectations for medals this summer are high.
But Jones, the man who coached Fionnuala Britton to two European cross-country titles and is now Athletics Ireland's full-time endurance coach, has already spent much of his first month in the job trying to rein those in.
"A lot of my time has been spent travelling around the country to meet individual coaches one-to-one and asking them to slow things down," he revealed.
"For the last 10 years we've seen Irish athletes winning medals at youth and junior level but ask yourself 'where are they now?'. You could write columns about all the underage talents who have not progressed at senior level.
"If there is to be serious progress and longevity, then everyone must understand that youth and junior is just part of a process. Of course it is great to have success at that level but it is not the be-all and end-all and shouldn't come at the expense of long-term progress.
"It is natural for coaches to always be looking at short-term, at the next championship. But we need to take a long-term view and fully understand the lengthy process and support that is needed in order to produce fully developed senior athletes."
To that end Jones is developing a new Coaching Performance Development Programme (CPD), pointing out that coaches, like their athletes, need support and education.
The phrase 'next big thing' may be anathema to him but it will inevitably be bandied around if medals come in the next fortnight.
The quality of the European U-23 team in Tampere – which includes Mark English, Paul Robinson, Thomas Barr, Jason Harvey and throwers Conor McCullough, Aoife Hickey and Clare Fitzgerald – looks particularly promising.
The same can be said of the European Junior team for Rieti (Marcus Lawler, Ben Kiely, Siofra Cleirigh-Buttner, Sean Tobin, Karl Griffin, Ruairi Finnegan etc).
And what is particularly encouraging is the massive variety of clubs and locations nationwide they hail from, with Dublin and Cork no longer dominating the production of young track stars.