Hallmarks of the Champion ParentBehind every athlete dreaming of being a champion is a parent who wants to assist them to that goal but despite the numbers of athletes that have gone through the Australian school and club system over recent years only about 100 men have represented Australia in all the middle/long distance events (800m, 1500m, 5000m, 3000m SC, 10,000m or marathon) in all the Olympics held since 1896 and about 33 women since the inception of a full program in 1984.
What does this really mean? It means three things. 1. Based on three athletes per event, there have been about 400 opportunities for a male athlete to achieve Olympic selection over 108 years but only about 100 have done it! An average of less than 1 athlete per event per Olympics! In the women’s events things have been basically the same. 2. The coaching has to be high quality and focussed on the longer term. 3. Parents who understand junior results mean little and who support the coach play a critical role in ensuring the success of their children
So is becoming an Olympian is not easy! On the other hand it’s actually not that hard either! Sound like a contradiction?
The truth is Herb Elliott was totally correct when he said many years ago that most athletes only train to 70% because they cannot really push themselves and Percy Cerutty divided athletes into two categories, ‘willers’- those can make a 100% effort until the task was achieved - and ‘wishers’- those with equal potential and similar goals but who do not have the necessary dedication, perseverance or intelligence to be successful.
What makes succeeding easier than it sounds?
- The vast majority of truly talented athletes are often so accustomed to early success coming without having to give much commitment that when that full commitment is required they are unable to give it.
- Later, when talent evens out and the willingness to work hard becomes a more important factor, it is 99% likely that the athlete who has enjoyed early successes will fail to progress significantly and eventually to drop out of the sport.
- Coaches and parents often assist in the process of eliminating the truly talented athletes from the sport by focusing on the wrong things. The coach focuses on winning under age State and National Championships and the parent boasts of their kid’s successes in these competitions. Meanwhile the less talented, usually more committed, kids are working with better coaches and, like so many of Australia’s greatest athletes who never won a Junior Championship, are planning for real success as seniors. Parents need to remember it is much easier for coaches to produce age group champions than senior national champions or international representatives so judging coaches on junior results is a mistake.
- Many kids have 'pushy' parents although, unfortunately, most of these parents believe they are simply being supportive.
Willer’s are relatively simple people. They will:
- Commit themselves unreservedly to the task of achieving their goals.
- Eliminate those activities in their lives that can be described as distractions. This does not mean they become hermits. To train properly does not require more than 10 - 15 hours per week. This leaves plenty of time for work, family, friends and other activities. It does mean however that late nights and activities that require significant energy output on a regular basis have to be eliminated.
- Demonstrate a high degree of balance in their lives, though this does not mean they will be ideal parents, friends, employees, etc, because they will still have an undercurrent of focus that means they will never lose sight of their goal.
- Be intellectually honest because an athlete who cannot recognise their own strengths and weaknesses or who cannot honestly examine their own performances in training and competition can never get the best out of themselves.
- Exhibit common sense in relation to injuries, recovery and regeneration.
- Some don’t really want to work hard at all
- Some are willing to work hard but will not modify their lifestyles.
- Some are those who are willing to work hard on some aspects of the training but shy away from other essential aspects of correct preparation.
- Some train really well but have real difficulty competing without reservation.
- Finally there are some who profess to want success but will not train for the event they might achieve it in. Every coach knows the 200m runner who should be running 400m, the 800m runner who should look to 1500m, the 1500m or 5000m who should try the steeplechase etc.
Parents can play an invaluable role in their child's development from school to the Olympics by:
1. Understanding coaching is a profession that is as demanding of a coach as research is to a scientist.
- Coaching is, or should be, a profession.That just as no parent would send their child to a semi-professional surgeon or entrust their business affairs to a partly trained accountant no parent should entrust their child's athletic future to anyone less than a highly performed coach. Nor should they believe they know more about training athletes than a highly qualified coach.
- Coaching is an art and a science. However the scientist is normally 3 to 5 years behind the coach.
- An your child will have only one career. If those advising the your child - including you as the parent - make mistakes or lack experience - your child’s career is gone. There is no starting all over again.
- “Level’s” mean virtually nothing in coaching in Australia because a person can go all the way from unqualified to Level 2 with no more than a month of formal education. They can even get to Level 3 and 4 never having coached an Olympian or World Championship athlete.
- There are many coaches to choose from but few who have coached athletes from school age to the Olympics. There is a vast difference between coaches who have coached Olympians, been coaches on Olympic teams, lectured internationally for the IOC and the IAAF and perhaps even been Olympians themselves and someone with a Level 1, 2 or 3 qualification.
- A coach who has worked with many athletes may eventually produce an Olympic level athlete however many talented kids may miss out on the way as the coach gains the necessary experience.
- Harmful – as in the overuse of anaerobic training or the focus on incorrect goals
- Neutral – the program contains nothing harmful but also nothing that will advance the athlete’s ambitions.
- Good – the program will advance the athlete’s ambitions but only the truly talented will have any hope of reaching the elite.
- Optimum – the program gives the athlete the best possible chance to succeed.
Obviously coaching “willer’s” is a relatively easy task. “Willer’s” select proven coaches, they do not change coaches’ unless something major occurs, they understand success as juniors is much less important than senior success, they have the intelligence to set realistic tangible long term goals, they commit themselves to achieving these goals and they let nothing stand between them and the success they want.
Coaching “wisher’s” is not so easy and may involve a number of strategies.
- The first strategy is to reject the athlete as soon as the weakness becomes apparent - a common approach with coaches seeking personal glory or working for institutions such as Sports Institutes. A 'pushy' parent may induce the same response from an experienced coach!
- A second is to employ a “make or break” approach in which the athlete is subjected to a very rigorous routine and he or she makes the decision about continuing or not. Again, this is a not uncommon approach in an institutional type of situation and it most certainly is the approach taken by the elite units of most of the world’s Armed Forces eg. Australia’s Special Air Forces or the US Navy Seals. Getting selected into the Kenyan Track team or the Australian Swim team also has this ‘survival of the fittest’ aspect. Kids are rarely ‘made’ using this method.
- The third option is to try and work through the athlete’s problems. This involves time and patience and the coach must try balance the amount of time and energy he or she is putting into this athlete with the needs of all the members of the squad. However if the coach follows the Arthur Lydiard’s approach, progressively strengthening the athlete over a number of years the athlete will improve. Gradually, as Lydiard said, “from enjoyment comes the will to win”. The steady development of stamina and speed will result in faster times and better results regardless of whether the athlete is highly motivated or not. Some athletes may never be able to get more than 90% out of themselves while others will continue to get 110% but regardless of all that greater strength, stamina and speed will result in improved performances and I have actually coached a number of “90%’ers” into the Olympics because they were very genetically endowed.
In the 1960’s Bud Winter, possibly the greatest sprint coach of all time, wrote a simple book called “So You Want To Be A Sprinter”. This book contained just about anything any coach needed to know to produce a sub 10 second 100m runner, a sub 20 second 200m runner and a sub 44 second 400m runner because that is the type of sprinter he produced. In the book he had a chapter entitled “The CHAMP and the CHUMP” and in this chapter he detailed the characteristics of both type of athlete.
This idea of Champs and Chumps can be more broadly applied than just to athletes.
THE CHAMPION PARENT UNDERSTANDS:
- Junior success is basically unrelated to senior success.
- Senior success comes from patiently following a proven goal orientated long-term training plan.
- Senior success is all about self-belief and literally seeing yourself “as a champion” in the future.
- Enjoying both training and competing is more important than focusing on results.
- Developing basic speed and stamina are much more important than flogging the athlete with anaerobic training.
- Participating in many aerobic based activities is ok but training anaerobically for multiple sports is a recipe for disaster.
- Their child must ease back in all activities when physical or mental signs indicate its necessary.
- The importance of selecting the right coach and then supporting the coach so the long-term goals are achieved.
- Understands that training is useless unless the body is given the correct amount of time to regenerate.
- Pain is a warning sign to be heeded in all activity regardless of which particular activity it surfaces.
- Training at the listed venue is important because the workout is usually designed for the venue. This is especially true of non-track venues and that if the athlete cannot get to the venue the coach should be consulted about the alternative venue.
- No changes are made to the coaching program or no decisions taken that impact on training without consulting the coach
- There are those with knowledge and experience and those who rely on ideas and theories
- Understands the importance of massage, the ability to relax before, during and after competition and that pre race nerves are natural but that anxiety and worry must be addressed.
- Their child can have other interests in, but cannot be distracted by, what others are doing or saying.
- Limitations are gifts that show where improvements can be made – not reasons to quit.
- A defeat is merely a temporary setback that will be rectified in the future!
- Their children must be encouraged their children to keep detailed personal training records
- There can be no compromise on sleep, nutrition, hydration and the safety aspects of training.
- Poise, grace and courage are important in victory and defeat.
- Unless a skill, drill or technique is practiced 100% correctly it is being practiced incorrectly.
- A good session and a hard session may be two completely different things.
- Junior success is measured by zone, regional, State and National Championships.
- Senior success comes naturally so planning any further ahead than the next 12 months is unnecessary.
- Senior success is all about hoping your dreams will be fulfilled.
- Striving for faster times and better results while paying ‘lip-service’ to enjoying running is the way to go.
- Training as hard and as fast as possible is all that is required.
- Allowing their children to participate in many activities without monitoring the physiological impact of allowing all these different coaches to train the kids hard in every sport they participate in is just fine.
- Allowing the child to dictate when rest, recovery and regeneration are required is ok.
- Selecting the coach that promises the most or sounds the best is the correct move.
- Training, even the best possible training, is what produces results rather understanding it’s the recovery from, and regeneration after, training that counts.
- Passing things like pain, illness and tiredness to medical advice is better than monitoring the child’s activity.
- Training anywhere is the same as training at a specific venue.
- They are as capable as a coach to make changes to the coaching program and consulting with the coach is not really necessary.
- Anyone with lots of ideas and theories, including themselves, will be able to produce optimum results in their kids.
- It helps their kids if they get as stressed, nervous and anxious about training and racing.
- Interests and distractions are the same thing.
- Limitations are excuses for loses or reasons to quit rather than areas to improve in to ensure long-term success.
- A defeat is a disaster for the child and a major lose of face to the parent and those who inflicted these defeats are inherently superior athletes and their parents are superior versions of the Homo sapiens species!
- The coach, or ‘someone else’, will keep all the training records
- Sleep, nutrition, hydration and the safety aspects of training are all quite important but disregarding some of these from time to time won’t do any real harm.
- ‘Over the top antics’ are important in victory and defeat.
- Skills, drill or technique practiced without 100% concentration are doing some good even if the child is not getting all the benefits they could achieve.
- Any “hard” session is a good session without reference to specificity or physiology.
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