By Lee Ness.
I’m no rugby fan, but the expectation for the sacking of Stuart Lancaster by the England RFU has parallels with track and field that is close to my heart.
So, knowing little about rugby, my understanding is that Lancaster did a decent job coming into the world cup but then seemed to have changed approach in some way during the major championship. He made serious mistakes I’m told, with team sledging and decision making. So should he be sacked? In my opinion, definitely not. I can’t imagine that there is anything in a sport that prepared you for the pinnacle world championship tournament. So Lancaster has been through the process once note, made his mistakes and probably learned more from the last couple of months than in the whole test of his career. Would it be right to throw this away now? Of course not. He is probably the best-placed person to take England to the next world cup and use all the vital knowledge.
The alternative is to react to media pressure and start the process again with someone else who will now have the same learning process. Einstein said the definition of insanity was to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.
How does this relate to Track & Field?
So enough rugby.
How does this relate to track and field?
I’m a strong believer in experience. I think to perform truly at your best, you need to be comfortable. You need to be relaxed. Buzzing with excitement, but not overwhelmed by everything. Comfortable enough to perform, not making rash decisions or false starting our overcooking the heats.
I try and get my athletes to compete at the highest level they can whenever they have the opportunity. There are a few reasons for this, but the one about this is fit than to get experience.
If they qualify for the AAAs, then I encourage them to compete, even if they will come in last. The experience counts. Because next year might not be the year, they come in last. They might have a chance, and when that happens, they will be familiar with the event. They’ll have already been in the warm up areas, in call up, know where to park, where to stay and so on.
Stuart Lancaster now has that opportunity to learn from his mistakes and his experience and be a better coach for it.
However, I think British athletics is also missing major opportunities. We have a selection policy for major championships, including youth and junior that we only take athletes who will make the final and hopefully medal. Our qualifying criteria is far higher than the entry standard usually. This means that, while the percentage of athletes getting medals is very high, the quantity of athletes gaining experience is very low.
This year, we had two 400m runners who achieved the entry standard for the European junior championships. Both, however, were just outside the British athletics qualification standard. Neither was taken. Instead, we chose to take no male 400m runners. The opportunity for experience was squandered. Knowing both runners, I also think a medal was squandered too.
The same thing can be said with places that go unfilled in senior major championships. Other than minor financial savings, I don’t see what strategy this fulfills.
I am a strong believer in challenging practice and a growth mindset. This policy goes completely against that grain. Let’s be honest. We’re a small island and we’re not Jamaica. If we are to try and punch above our weight on a world stage we need to increase the quantity of athletes that have experience of…. wait for it…. competing on a world stage!