Performance14 Aug 2021


Three ways to help youngsters get off to a great start in athletics

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Feeling a little empty and sad now the Tokyo Olympics are over? Missing that rollercoaster of excitement which is watching elite athletes perform on the biggest stage of all? Well, fear not, because the World Athletics U20 Championships get underway in just four days’ time in Nairobi, Kenya.

After a brief post-Olympics rest, we can all climb back on the rollercoaster, fasten our seatbelts and watch the world’s best youngsters battle it out for the top spot.

While watching the Tokyo Olympics, I often thought of the old proverb ‘From little acorns, mighty oaks grow’. We witnessed a changing of the guard and the arrival of a new generation of young stars. Teenagers Athing Mu, Keely Hodgkinson, and Erriyon Knighton performed with maturity and excellence way beyond their years. We were left wondering how they could be so… well, simply so FAST, at such a young age. They are still small acorns in terms of their age, but already mighty oaks in terms of their performances.

Developing children into strong athletes and confident adults is all about inspiration and experience. Giving children inspiration, for example through visible role models who they can relate to, and positive experiences of training and competition, is the foundation of creating a lifelong love of sport and being active.

Programmes like Australia’s Little Athletics illustrate how this really works in practice. Tokyo medallists Nicola McDermott and Ash Moloney are just two Olympic legends who enjoyed Little Athletics as children.

But what is the best way to nurture and develop children into becoming good athletes? How do you balance hard training while ensuring their efforts are sustainable? Of course it varies from one child to the next. But a few common themes crop up again and again.

 

1. Enjoyment

Children love playing, and if a sport is fun, they will enjoy it more. Making activities exciting, fun and interesting will keep children engaged and wanting to do more.

 

2. Variety

Children need to develop a full range of physical skills such as balance, agility, speed and coordination. This calls for a wide variety of activities without specialisation too early. The hard training that all world-class athletes must do as adults calls for bodies which are robust and well-rounded.

During my teenage years, I loved hockey, netball, swimming, tennis and other sports – this laid the foundation for being able to handle training for the marathon at elite level when I was much older.

 

3. Participation

Just having a go is the way we all start a new activity, regardless of our age or ability. Giving a sport or athletics event a try, even if it doesn’t go well, is the first step.

It was fascinating to see athletes such as Shericka Jackson in Tokyo who had switched events – just having a go at something new pays dividends at all levels.

 

When the action begins at Nairobi’s Kasanari stadium on Wednesday, prepare yourself to witness some incredible performances from the world’s best teenagers. And if you have children in your family or neighbourhood who could grow into mighty oaks, make sure they watch these championships!

Mara Yamauchi for World Athletics Be Active

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