Monday, 3 October 2011

Sportcheck: The need for sensibility, humility - NST

I TRUST that we have all recovered from the exertions of the past few weeks making the usual rounds of open houses during the festive season.

When Jacqueline Jenelee Sijore, a 19-year-old debutant, finished first among equals at the Women's World Tenpin Bowling Championships, it was such a thrilling present; worthy of the double whammy celebration of Merdeka Raya 2011.

Debutant archer Khairul Anuar Mohammad had also lost in a one-arrow shootout 9-10 to American Joe Fanchin, currently World No 6, in the men's single final at the final leg of archery's World Cup series in Shanghai.

He and his teammate Haziq Kamaruddin, another promising youngster, had teamed up with the experienced Cheng Chu Sian to go all the way to the men's team final against the USA, but alas they lost 218-222.
In Ordos, Inner Mongolia, eighteen-year-old Firhan Ashaari scored off a reverse stick shot seven seconds from full-time to wrest the bronze for Malaysia from Japan at the inaugural men's hockey Asian Champions Trophy.

These are not names that will bother the collective consciousness of the Malaysian sporting public but may well fill the back-pages of our newspapers in years to come. It's always exciting to witness the emergence of such promising youngsters in Malaysian sports.

What will happen to these precocious youngsters? Will they quickly settle down from the heady heights of such early success; steadily growing in stature to the stratospheric heights of being iconic champions in their later years?

Or perhaps, will they join the ranks of a frustratingly long list of young sporting Malaysians who have failed to fulfil their potential or are a flash-in-the-pan who have flattered to deceive? It would be quite unkind to offer any examples or to invite suggestions, so I'll refrain from doing so.

It is always our fervent wish that emerging Malaysian youngsters find their guiding light or the inner compass that will guide them faithfully in their quest for higher achievements in sport.

Victory is not always achievable but they would be deemed as successful, for maintaining a career of excellent performances that bring pride and joy to the nation; in the process inspiring future generations of athletes.

They would do very well indeed to take a leaf out of the books of someone like Datuk Nicol David or Azizulhasni Awang as prime examples -- supremely sharp, focused and fierce competitors but yet sensible and stable characters who have a winning personality to boot. Their precocious talents seem to be unaffected by all the fawning attention that have been showered upon them; they remain centred and true to themselves.

So what needs to be done to avert the risks of an ignominious fall from grace; that dreaded slide into obscurity? Many will cite the four "D's" -- desire, determination, dedication and discipline -- or what have you.

But then, all athletes who have reached that sort of level would have a healthy measure of those attributes anyway, either innately or acquired.

Of course, it helps to be sensible and humble; not necessarily highly intelligent, although when superior intelligence is combined with good sense and humility, the result is a powerfully potent force.

The ability to rapidly learn from mistakes and the resolve not to repeat them is another; to be utterly focused on the mission, and a very healthy appetite for making sacrifices and enduring hardship.

These are actually attributes that would lead to success in any walk of life, in any high performance environment.

An athlete's pathway to success is paved with so many challenges, pitfalls, unplanned detours and, dare I say, heartache as well.

But all that would be eminently worthwhile, as the passion and commitment imbued in their performances would bring the heady joy of victory or at least the supreme satisfaction of a job truly well done.

Preparing athletes for sustainable success is not simply a matter of whipping up a storm at a centralised training camp, hammering medal targets into their individual and collective consciousness; by such a time they should already be prepared for anything and everything.

It takes time for an athlete to grow and to flourish. It's an education that takes up the majority of their young lifetimes.

It's been oft-repeated that it'd take at least 10 years for athletes to mature and to reach their peak years. Often we read of the various physical, mental and spiritual aspects of such development and growth to the point of some familiarity.

Their respective families should play a vital role in shaping their character and instilling a winning mentality. In addition, coaches, beyond their obvious roles, enhance the return of their toils by contributing appropriately to the life education of their young charges as mentors.

The Roman poet Manilius's famous line, "Finis origine pendet" (The end depends on the beginning) would be an apt rallying cry for such efforts to instil the right values and proper habits in our budding athletes, and guiding them towards a suitable life style.

Since 2008, the three tiers of ISN's Talent Identification (TID) programmes, done in partnership with the Education Ministry's Sports Division, have amassed in excess of 150,000 and still counting, despite the limited financial and human resources and other challenges.

The basic idea is that all primary school children should be tested for their general potential for high performance sports as early as possible, preferably in year one.

In fact, for some sports that require an even earlier start, such as gymnastics, it follows that this process must start earlier too. The test battery implemented on nearly 30,000 children in the pilot test done in 2007 showed that about 5% of them would be suitable for high performance sport.

This initial testing, done on children who have not chosen any sport is called "Tunas Gemilang".

Those selected from these tests are then put through a foundation programme based on the multi-lateral principle (Program Asasi Atlet), which utilises key elements of athletics and gymnastics to develop a youngster's neuromotor function, energy system and other physical, physiological and mental development, implemented by teachers trained by ISN for special centres at district level. Twelve to 15 schools in a district would have one multi-lateral training centre.

This vital early work, which incorporates basic sports science knowledge for the athlete and his parents or guardians, will stand the athlete in good stead for later years.

It establishes the foundations that will pave the way to optimising the athlete's future performance. In this way, they would be ready to withstand the loads and high intensities of training and avoid the problems posed by early specialisation.

Everyone in Malaysian physical education and sports science knows this but never before do we have a well-integrated and concerted effort in the early development of our future athletes while avoiding over-training and early injury.

Subsequently, when athletes are ready to choose their sport, specific talent identification testing (Cari Juara) would be conducted.

These tests are done in conjunction with coaches sourced from the schools and their colleagues from the respective national sports associations.

ISN's role would be to ensure standards are maintained in the testing process, to provide the scientific impetus and to ensure that all data are valid and reliable.

As for the approximately 95% of children who will most likely not figure in programmes meant to nurture athletes through the national ranks, they would at least enjoy sports for health, fitness and recreation.

This would dovetail very neatly with the Education Ministry's "One Student, One Sport" initiative.

In addition, we can all readily recognise that for each child, adolescent or young adult on the sports field, there would certainly be one less youth in the streets wasting time or doing crime.

This in turn will yield huge improvements in social and health indices, reducing costs for healthcare and crime-prevention.

If we add the above-mentioned benefits to the enormous potential of our sports industry in yielding revenue for the nation, sports would be a powerful tool indeed in Malaysia's unrelenting march to developed-nation status by 2020.

Read more: NST

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