Pages

Sunday, 31 March 2013

made in Jamaica...


more fiya!

It’s September in Kingston, Jamaica.  

A group of 30 young sprinters, jumpers, and throwers begin their training session with sprints on the beach at Palisadoes.  Under the watchful eye of William Goldsmith, it continues with weight-training and body-weight exercises.  Later on, they will divide into smaller groups where older, mentor-athletes will share their wisdom. 

In January, the athletes separate into their event-groups, where they are overseen by 8 coaches, and begin the specific training that will lead them into the competitive period.  All gearing towards the Spring competitive season, culminating at Sabina Park, where thousands of spectators jam themselves into the packed-to-the-rafters Grandstand to watch their young heroes.

So what is this competition these young boys are preparing for?  

Jamaican National Championships, you say?  2012? 

Not even close.


This was 1962.  And the competition they were gearing up for was Champs.  The greatest high-school track and field competition in the world.  And a spectacle that has over 100 years of history.


Yes - in 1962, in a tiny island in the Caribbean, there was a group of high-school athletes who trained for 8 months under the watchful eye of a head coach, a strength coach, event coaches, and mentor coaches.  

And thus began the greatest dynasty in the history of Jamaican track and field.

For the next fifteen years, Kingston College dominated boys’ Champs.  An unprecedented 15 straight titles.  And it was all down to the vision of Sydney ‘Foggy’ Burrows, his coaching staff, and the work of his integrated team of former athletes - cum mentors.  

Jamaican 400-800 legend Trevor ‘TC’ Campbell remembers: 

“it wasn’t a big man/little boy thing, it was big brother/younger brother, and they took care of us, made sure that everybody was in school, they came and checked up on you.  If you had problems with books, they were there.  If you had problems with lunch money, problems with uniforms...they were just older members of our family and that in itself was part of what propelled the whole process”.
(from 'Champs 100' - Lawrence)

In last week’s post, Canadian sprint-legend Donovan Bailey spoke to me about this system.  How he thought Jamaican coaching was under-rated.  And how perhaps some of the so-called ‘first-world’ countries like Canada and the UK can learn from some of Jamaica’s practices.  

During this period, Kingston College would produce such international stars and Olympians as Lennox Miller, Rupert Hoillett and Trevor Campbell.


So maybe there is something we can learn after all...


The following is part II of my conversation with Donovan, where he reveals his thoughts on the Canadian program, what it takes to succeed in sport, Atlanta 1996, coming back from injury, and who his own sporting heroes are. 

Lennox Miller anchoring KC sprint relay at Penn Relays - 1964


SM: Getting back to Champs for a minute, we saw 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 year old kids running near-technically perfect.

DB: Again - like I said earlier - some of those that don’t get enough credit are the athletes that left Jamaica in the 80s and 90s, and have returned as teachers and coaches.  And these guys are doing a great job - because we see kids coming out now at 12 and 13 years old running more technically sound that I ever did!  I think fundamentally that these are the people that are behind this.  

...Stephen Francis and Glenn Mills are two guys that have incredible programs that can take talented juniors and convert them into International stars.  That was the major gap that Jamaica was missing for all those years.  Jamaica always had incredible juniors.  Incredible talent.  Just like Canada - we have incredible talent, but no one who can nurture it through to the international arena.  In the entire country, there’s maybe one-two coaches - maybe Desai and Anthony now are the only coaches in Canada who can take someone from a junior talent through to the international level.  Canada requires that.  Guys like yourself, Derek Eveley, Kevin Tyler - technical people, who actually understand.  

At the end of the day, anyone can coach a talented junior kid.  It’s just about organization, patience, and understanding the simple technical aspects of putting one foot in front of the other.  It requires these guys to come back to the country to take these juniors in to big-man time.  We are definitely lacking that massively in Canada, where Kevin at the highest level could bring in people - bring people together - and move these talented kids along...get kids all training together, coaches working together...


Why doesn’t this happen right now?  We see here in Jamaica, for instance, pretty much every international star trains with one of two coaches - either Mills or Francis.  You want to do some damage outside of Jamaica, first you need to beat your teammates...with the internal competition within these groups (not to mention the group to group rivalry), these guys can’t help but get better.  In the UK and in Canada, it’s us vs them.  In the UK, you have everyone trying to steal everyone else’s athletes.  There was a coach at our Olympic Holding camp in Portugal last year, for example - a sprint coach - who was recruiting all the other sprinters.  This was at the Olympic Games Holding Camp!  instead of everyone working together, you have 15 athletes working with 10 coaches.  All guarding their space, their time, their programs, etc...

In your mind, can the Federation step in and mandate that these guys work together...train together?

...yes.  Definitely.  Especially if they’re getting paid.  But it’s not really so much the Federation, though.  It really isn’t.  I think there has to be a unilateral agreement about success of the program.  It’s the dumbest thing in the world for coaches to fight, because in the end it will benefit no one.  If I succeed, we all succeed.  If I succeed as an athlete, it benefits of all the other athletes.  If the athlete is successful, then the coach will be successful.  If you succeed as a coach, it benefits all the others.  

What a lot of these coaches need to understand is no one in history has ever gone to a competition to watch a coach.  It’s the dumbest thing in the world that in Canada, and the UK to have coaches fight each other.  At the end of the day, the feeder system that we have in Jamaica is very good.  In this small island, we probably have about 20 clubs, with a structured set-up - sponsorship, money, shoe companies, development coaches, all feeding into two big clubs - two successful elite coaches that take these juniors to the international level.  Everyone gets to eat.  The coach that works with fifty 12 year-olds, and feeding them up the line, all the way to Francis and Mills.  Kids and coaches move up the ranks, each of them surrounded by increasing quality of athletes and coaches, so they either compete, or get left behind.  Survival of the fittest for both...




Until eventually, they get to try out for National teams - athletes and coaches - and now at the highest level, there must be success, as they have competed their way up the ladder.

It’s incredible that in Canada, where we have some incredible talent, and we have 100 coaches coaching 100 athletes...it’s the dumbest thing in the world.  We see now with what Desai and Anthony are doing - bringing kids together, working together, and the success that the entire group is enjoying.  

I’ll give you an example of how dumb these guys were.  Dan (Pfaff - Donovan’s coach) and I used to joke, because I would insist that other National Team members would come down to train in Austin.  One of things we were very curious about was that these guys would come down and train at odd times - times when we were not at the track, or just finishing up.  Or - if it was at the same time, set themselves up at a different corner of the track!  Like it was some sort of secret thing they were doing - as opposed to coming in, talking to Dan - who’s more open with coaches than anyone - he’s an abundance of knowledge, with access to experts in every field imaginable, and willing to sit down and talk to any of these guys.  Instead, they hide away on the other side of the track!

These idiots in Canada instead would teach these kids how to run really pretty...and really slow.  So their uniforms would be nice and white - not a drop of sweat. Finishing beautifully.  In 8th place.  And then wondering what was going on.  



Before I got to the team, there was a lot of people in Canada who’s only goal - only reason to be on the team - was for the uniform.  Unfortunately, I feel we are getting back to that way right now.  It’s why I’m hoping that someone like Kevin Tyler is involved in the program.  Because if someone like him is involved, the first phone call will be from me.  I want to sit down with him.  Sit down with the kids, and say “listen, these are the expectations.  This is what is necessary to reach them.  And second-best is not going to cut it.  We will fund you, support you, do every single thing necessary...but here is the expectation.  And if you’re not reaching it, you’re out”.  

I want to talk to Athletics Canada, OTP, the COC, whomever - just because that is what the expectation should be.  We see it in our winter sport.  But summer sport is a million times bigger.  Bigger audiences.  More sponsorship.  It’s incredible that we are not doing so much more...


So how do coaches begin working together then, if Federations don’t mandate it?  In my mind, this has to be a top-down process, as at the bottom no one is willing to give away their little piece...

...I agree with you.  that is why I want to be involved in the program.  I am not competing with anybody.  I have no competition.  Essentially, what I would like to do is come back in - speak to these guys - let them know what I want to contribute, and that I only want to contribute to success.  The biggest problem in Canada - and I see it all the time - is someone gets a job, and they spend all their time guarding against their job, and doing stupid things and making dumb decisions, because they’re guarding against their job.  Not for the good of the athletes, not for the sport, and not for the good of the country, and those are the three things I want to contribute to.  


OK - so you talk a lot about success.   What does success mean to you?

Success doesn’t mean you necessarily have to break a world record.  Success means that you do everything in your power to maximize every ability in your body.  Now - for some of us, it may mean that we become the best in history at what we do.  For others, it might mean second place.  Others, it may be tenth place.  For others, it will be something else.  The final outcome is not that important - as long as you can look yourself in the eye and know that you have willed every ounce of effort out of yourself.  

Success is ultimately defined by results - but is limited by your God-blessed ability and talent, and what it is you are blessed with.  It’s a combination of hard work, environment, attitude, ego, confidence - it’s all of those things. 

I’m number four of five boys.  Winning matters.  But it’s not winning, if you’re going to destroy yourself if you don’t win.  It’s winning with the understanding that if you get knocked down today, you will tell your opponent that you will be coming back tomorrow.  And if you get knocked down again, it’s telling him you’re going to come back the next day.  It doesn’t matter what you do.  It’s the same attitude you need if you’re a salesman.  It’s the same attitude you need if you’re a CEO.  It’s the exact same - nothing is different.  I sit on a variety of boards - including some charities - and it’s the same thing.  It’s still a competition.  There is only a finite amount of business or dollars to go around.  It’s all a competition.  


In your mind, what are the three most important factors essential to an athlete’s success?

Ok - I think the number one thing is the athlete has to make a commitment to be a student.  That is number one.  

Number two - he needs to surround himself with extremely smart people.  What he needs to do is absorb as much of the very best information as he can from all of those people.  For example, I think you need to have an incredible coach, therapist, and nutritionist.  Those are key.

And number three - you have to have focus and discipline.  If you don’t, then you can just throw out the previous two...

For example, the Olympic Final: three false starts later...

My reaction time out of the blocks was horrendous.  I ran the worst 30m I had ever ran.  I mean - according to Dan, I was capable of running between 9.71 and 9.74.  I wasn’t even close.  

So how were you able to maintain focus and discipline while all this was going on - the false starts, I mean...

One - it’s a race - there are still things I needed to do.  I had to remember that the simple things that I was taught in practice are the simple things that I needed to utilize in the race.  And it’s just that.  If you go into a race, and you are over-thinking things, then guys are going to be blowing your doors off. My focus was always - take a deep breath - re-set the clock, almost...

Yes - I have this image of you sitting on the lane marker stand, seemingly oblivious to everything that was going on...what was going through your head at this point?

Well, you know I was actually just thinking about staying calm.  The easiest thing to do is to think about what I don’t need to do.  It definitely seemed that there was a couple of guys that were getting frustrated, but I really didn’t care.  I saw this frustration, and I just thought to myself “yep - got you...you’re done”...every false start, I got more calm, while others got more frustrated.  I recognized that I was running hellified fast in practice, and if I got out behind anyone, then I just needed to calmly go through my transition - to not panic - and my top-speed would win me the race.  If I did that, it was impossible that I would lose.  It didn’t matter who was out there, I knew I could go snatch them.  So yes - my entire thought process was ‘stay relaxed, take a breath, do a decent drive-phase, and then rely on my top-end’.  

So basically, you’re sitting there, just focussing on the basics...

...yes - again - focus and discipline.  My middle 40 I knew was going to be good - it’s like Usain right now - he’s not going to snatch anyone in the first 40, but he knows that no one can touch him in the middle 40.  I knew I had the fastest top-end speed, and it’s something I had to keep in my mind.  I fed off this...



Who’s success do you admire the most?

Muhammad Ali, definitely.  I love the swagger.  Pele - he was the best.  But if I had to pick one, it’s got to be Ali!

Ali was a one-man show - just like track and field.  He had to stand in front of a crowd.  

There’s a lot of similarities between boxing and sprinting.  

There’s huge similarities between boxing and sprinting.  

You’re good friends with Lennox Lewis who lives down here just around the corner....you guys ever talk about that? The similarities...

Absolutely.  A lot...
I didn’t get to enjoy Lennox’ career as much as I could have, since I was competing at the same time.  But Ali - he professionalized boxing...made it possible for guys like Lennox to come through...

...and another guy I have a ton of respect for, that I have to mention: I completely respect Carl Lewis.  Again - someone who professionalized track and field.  He was going to make sure that sponsors and meet directors recognized the fact that he was a superstar!  And he was going to get paid like a superstar for his time, his God-given talent.  And that allowed guys like me, Linford, Usain Bolt today to command what they do because it is a professional sport...and that was down primarily to Carl.  

But Ali is the one for me.  When We Were Kings sits right next to my TV - right next to Scarface - the two movies that I love the most...

Did you meet him in Atlanta?

...absolutely.  I made sure of it.  The two greatest days in my life is 1) meeting Muhammed Ali in Atlanta, and him whispering to me “you’re the man!” - it’s funny, it was like I was a three-year old child.  And to this day, I’m pissed off with myself...the only thing I didn’t do is take a photo with him - terrible.  A legend...saying to me “you’re the man!”, and I’m saying to him “ha!  No - you’re the man!” - it was the greatest exchange ever, and I don’t have a photo of it!

And the second one was having dinner with Nelson Mandela in Toronto - two of the most incredible human beings on this planet.  Muhammed Ali for sport, Nelson Mandela as a man.  A big man amongst boys.  He’s a man against every other man in the world...



What are you most proud of?

Generally, I’m proud that I have been successful.  I’m happy that my mother - before she got Alzheimer's - got to see me be successful.  Am proud now that my father is my best friend, and he gets to share in that success.  

From a sporting perspective, I am proud that I had some incredible people around me - some great training - some great coaching - and it gave me the ability to be successful financially.  And I guess, in the modern world, this becomes the true meaning of success - when you have the ability to retire, and to do what it is you want to do.

There is a huge pendulum for me when we talk about ‘success’ - I’m a very teachable student - and I remain that way.  I was taught by very good people - my parents - to listen, to try to understand, and to learn from people who know more than I do.   

So that’s generally.  Is there anything specific that makes you proud when you look back at your career?  I mean - the obvious one is Atlanta, but do you look at it that way, or do you look at it more from a career perspective? 

Yes - for me - it’s the totality of it all.  If for instance, you ask me what my favorite race was it was one where I came fourth, in 1994 in Rome.  The Golden Gala.  Dan had always told me that I belonged - he saw my work ethic - he saw that I was focussed and disciplined, and I was very blessed in character...

What happened in Rome?

...it was my first year on the circuit.  First time on a big stage - 80,000 people in the stands, and the most incredible sprinters of all-time in the field: Carl Lewis, Frankie Fredericks, Leroy Burrel, Mike Marsh..and I was leading the race.  At 80m!  So I knew I belonged, but I decided I should look around - see where they were.  I shouldn’t be leading this race at 80m against these guys!  Well - I came fourth.  So clearly, I belonged, but I wasn’t ready for the big stage yet, because I was concerned with what everyone else was doing.  Yes - I was respectful of them - and I’m still respectful of these guys today - but at the end of that race, I realized “yes - I respect you, but I’m about to kick your ass next time I see you....that is not going to happen again!”

And that was due to my coaching, the environment that I was training in - LSU had the best team in the NCAAs - I was training with some incredible guys - and every single day in practice was competition.  The place exuded success.  And it wasn’t cockiness or arrogance.  It was just about expectation.  Whether it was jumping into the pit, or driving out of the blocks - everything was a competition.  I’m trying to beat you.  And you’re trying to beat me.  We gave it every single thing that our body would allow.  And these are all of the things that we need in today in Canada, because the Jamaicans are leaving us in the dust.  


In 1998, you completely ruptured your Achilles.  Fairly early into your track career - at least fairly early into the success you were beginning to enjoy - no one had ever come back from such an injury.  What made you attempt to come back?

I could have easily retired - I was the number one sprinter in the world, I held every single title up until that time.  But, I remember there was this doctor I was watching on TV - Mark Lindsay and I were watching it together.  And he said “Donovan Bailey will never sprint again”, and that was it...I’m like, ‘who the Hell is this guy?  He doesn’t know me!  He can’t say stuff like that!’  I said ‘Mark, let’s do it!’

So the challenge....I saw it as a dare.  

So I came back - in 1999, I competed sparingly.  I wasn’t really ready to run fast.  I ran at the Pan Am Games in Winnipeg - I wanted to run in front of the home crowd.  

And then I definitely got my swagger back in 2000.

So, would you say that you lost your swagger a little bit?  You lost a little confidence?  How did the injury affect you that way?

Yes - absolutely - in 1999 - it definitely effected me mentally.  I’m used to my body feeling and reacting a certain way.  I’m used to a rhythm that I feel when I’m going down the track.  And when you’re not firing the way they ought to - and I knew my body so well - it was essentially I had one side of my body in full acceleration mode, and another side of my body that was accelerating and stepping on the brakes at the same time.  I was a Ferrari where on one side I had two extremely good tires, and on the other side, I had two tires from a pick-up truck!  So that was very tough mentally to deal with.


But in 2000, I got it back.  I got my swagger back heading into the Olympics in Sydney.  I knew - by running 9.98 in Lucerne - that I was ready for the Olympics.  Now - having bronchial pneumonia is not something I expected!  It’s not something you can think about.  It’s not something I had ever had before.  And I was very unsatisfied.  Because Sydney was a place where I really should have medalled.  Definitely.  

But it was becoming very mentally draining for me.  My body wasn’t reacting the way my mind was, and I thought that it would best to finish my career in front of my home fans in Edmonton.  To celebrate in front of the crowd in Edmonton was the very best way that I could say farewell, and to hopefully inspire the next generation of Canadian sprinting.



thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this post, 
please share it on Facebook or Twitter...thanks



Donovan Bailey is best known for setting a World Record in winning Olympic Gold at the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996.  Voted by Track and Field News as the sprinter of the decade in the 1990s, Donovan also won 4x100m relay gold, is a three-time World Champion, eight-time Canadian Champion, Pan American Games Champion, Goodwill Games Champion, Commonwealth Games Champion, and still holds the world record for the 50m. In 1997, he solidified his standing as the Fastest Man in the World by beating Michael Johnson in a 150m race in Toronto.  He was the first sprinter to reach in excess of 12m/s. He is also the only person to be inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame as both an individual and as part of a team.  

Give him a follow at @DonovanBailey

and check out the awesome '96 final here...



watching that again, I really feel for Linford...you think it was a FS?  I'm not so sure...will need to talk to him about it...
All Donovan would say, with a slight smile, was "...that last one was VERY close..."

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for this interview Stuart. Really inspiring. One of the best inteview ever, I would say. I partticularly love this part :
    "Ok - I think the number one thing is the athlete has to make a commitment to be a student. That is number one..."


    I have to say that after watching this final, every other races taste like limonade. It's really good to see the hero of my youth, Donovan, Lindford, Frankie. They are high-class. I'm old school I guess.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. thanks Fabien...I agree. The Atlanta final just seemed to be far more dramatic then anything since. Five guys could have won that race.
      Donovan definitely has some good words of wisdom to pass along to the next generation (as well as to NGBs)...hopefully, some are taken in.

      Delete
  2. I have a question for you Stuart. Sure the athlete must be a student. This means that the coach has to be a teacher. I feel that you must not tell too much too your athlete (specially at the begining). To illustrate that, suppose you see some biomechanical inefficiency in some movement. You'll not give the whole biomechanical explanation, you'll give something to the athlete that he can use to correct the movement. In this particular case you want the athlete to do it well not to understand it well. I feel that you could kill the beast if the athletes start to think too much.

    A second problem is that you cannot explain a advanced graduate material to a 5th grader. what's your teaching philosophy how do you deal with it. Cause sometimes I find it really difficult to have an efficient pedagogical scheme.

    I don't know if what I'm saying make sense.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. makes total sense Fabien...

      it's the art of what we do....what to say/how to say it/when to say it/how much information to give/etc...

      I've written quite a bit about it previously, including:

      http://www.mcmillanspeed.com/2013/01/the-voice-of-silence.html
      http://www.mcmillanspeed.com/2013/01/on-gambetta-pfaff-weingroff-socrates.html

      ...and will expand upon it further in future posts. I find this subject extremely interesting, and challenging...and it's what separates 'master coaches' from the rest...

      Delete
  3. Thank you. Now I understand why I'm not a master coach yet :D. I'll check this and hopefully get some idea to improve.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I took a look at the articles, but definitely need to read it and think about it more deepily. I totally agree with the flow. It really speaks to me a lot since I experienced it as an athlete and now as a coach.

    I used to talk a lot as you mentionned in the article but now I feel it is better to show them the correct movement to teach them body awarness. Maybe telling them what they should feel is more important than what they should do. More feeling les talking :D. Sounds like a apple slogan :D

    ReplyDelete