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I have been pulling together an article on what constitutes a successful transition from junior to senior as part of an assignment for Athletics Weekly. Here's a part of it that will provoke some debate and thought (I hope!). The rest of the article has research from international athlete and researcher Karla Drew (who looked at the specific stats pertaining to the transition between junior and senior GB athletes) and the IAAF who survey athletes from the first world youth champs (to see how they fared over the next 5-6 years)
I have coached a European junior champion - Elliot Safo long jump 2013. Safo, was also a finalist in the Barcelona World Juniors. The jumper along with other athletes from my group have attended World School Games and the Commonwealth Youth Games and European Youth Olympics. I say this not to brag in anyway but to highlight that for me managing the transition from promising young athlete to senior level as a coach has well and truly been experienced/is being experienced.
I think that the sport (and parents/coaches/fellow athletes) can place too much emphasis on junior success. As a coach I’m not too bothered by junior (and below) levels of success. I try to continually stress to the younger members of my group, that it’s not the u18, u20 “medal haul” that really matters, but the senior years’ one (although what you do in those transition years will of course have an effect).
The problem is that you can’t hold an athlete back in terms of the development of their talent – if they jump 7.70m at 17 (as one of my athletes did) then they’ve done it. It’s what subsequently happens that counts and in some case these great early athletic achievers can create something of an albatross around their necks. The performance becomes one they have to catch-up to and can’t readily easily replicate soon after (yet often “expect” to). In such instances that guidance that Karla Drew talks about is needed and coaches, in particular, must be able to handle the situation.
There is so much for a young athlete to deal with when transitioning from junior to senior. At 18-20 an athlete has to make some important decisions – they have to go into the world or work or study and try to fit in their training around this (unless their parents or any sponsors will support their training or they perhaps work part-time to support their training). Governing body funding to enable this is relatively minimal.
There are few athletics academies to my knowledge that could guide and help young athletes for a number of years like there is in football and rugby. Instead, it’s a choice of work or college or a self-funded athlete life (with no guarantees). It’s for these reasons that many UK athletes look to go to the US on scholarships. They are – dependent on the college attended - given kit, have their tuition paid, living expenses provided, food provided, physio, access to doctors and so on. It makes it quite easy to see why more and more UK athletes are going to the US or are at least seriously considering it.
Many would argue that the sport of athletics tends to be a bit of a lucky-dip contest – at least for the under 20 age group. Transition depends on what’s around that athlete and how they are guided; where they live; who coaches them; what injuries they sustain (a subject in its own right), and what the sport’s governing body can, and is able, and wants to do for them.
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