Temper high expectations for junior athletes

By Jeremain Brown

Today I want to look back at what was a glorious 2013 staging of the ISSA/Grace Kennedy Boys and Girls Athletics Championships.

Many are labelling these as the best champs ever, but I want to hone in on the records set by the younger athletes at the five-day meet, the class three and four athletes aged 12 and 13. 

Should extreme caution be urged in how these exceptional young athletes are celebrated and also guided in years to come? I say an overwhelming yes and my reason for saying so is this:  Not for the first time we are seeing exceptional times or records being run by very young athletes at Boys and Girls Champs.

There were many eye-opening records but the three I'll point out are 13 year old Kimone Shaw of St Jago who ran a record 11.75 and 24.28 to win the class four girls 100 and 200, 13 year old Jevaughn Matherson  of Kingston College who posted records of 10.85 and 21.87 on his way to victory in the class 3 boys 100 and 200 and 13 year old Nathaniel Bann, also of Kingston College, who broke a 22 year old record in setting a remarkable 49.17 secs to win the class three boys 400 meters.

These athletes are gems and and should be treated so. But I must also point to a few other gems who set stupendous records at a tender age at champs and did not go on to fulfill their potential, either at the senior age group at champs or at the senior national level.

Ali Watson of Calabar ran a record 49.63 seconds to win the class three boys 400 meters in the year 1991 and that record stood until last Saturday when Bann of KC handsomely broke it.

Watson was hailed as the next great quarter-miler from Jamaica after that run; however he did not go on to either win another individual gold medal at Champs and certainly did not make a name for himself at the senior level.
There was talk of him being beset by injuries at Champs and being over worked from too early.

The next athlete I'll point to is Anneisha Mclaughlin of Holmwood Technical, who set exceptional records of 52.52 in the 400 meters and 23.11 in winning that double in only class three in the year 2001. Mclaughlin did go on to flourish at the junior level, winning two world junior silver medals in the 200 meters, but where is she now?

She made her first senior world championship team in 2009, years after this had been expected and is yet to grace the Olympics stage. At age 28 she still has time but there is the feeling that the workload as a junior, along with the expectations, took a toll on her.

These athletes at age 12 and 13 at Champs on the weekend looked like the complete package, and that is cause for concern, because so did Watson and Mclaughlin.

They are entering high school as ready-made packages, are steeped in advanced coaching; not a totally bad idea, but natural talent must also be allowed to manifest and flourish.

Even the great Usain Bolt who ran a world junior 200m record 19.93 at age 17, had to battle huge physical and emotional hurdles to accomplish his amazing Olympic feats.

The expectations are huge, but let us be careful in not putting too much pressure and demands on these very young athletes. Systems must be in place to protect them from overwork and overzealous coaches at Boys and Girls Champs so they can fulfil their potential and carry on Jamaica's great tradition in track and field, and in particular, the sprints.

So lets put on the caution brakes as we look to usher in the next generation of great Jamaican athletes.

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