Grand Slam-winning tennis star Andy Murray’s mother, Judy, makes some telling points in reflecting on how it feels as a parent when watching your child going through a difficult interview with media.
Feature photo: The then 19-year-old Andy Murray a picture of despair during a press interview, having lost at the 2006 French Open. AP
Most young sportspeople of exceptional talent are not necessarily prepared for the spotlight that comes outside the confines – or relative freedom – of the playing field. It is easy to be caught off-guard by an unexpected enquiry.
After all, as a child you first want to play, actually compete, and – hopefully – win. That is your focus; not being asked questions that can be tricky to answer.
And with the overwhelming focus of social media, those unexpected questions can lead to a long tail of comments by persons who (i) may not even know you and/or the circumstances, and/or (ii) do not have sufficient grasp of the issue to be in a position to comment with authority. But comment… some certainly will.
Of the pressures on a young athlete, there is also the age-gap. Often those persons asking the questions or commenting on the responses are considerably older than the person in question (no pun intended). This can also lead to misunderstandings in what the young person being interviewed actually meant.
This Judy Murray passage from her article in this morning’s Telegraph warrants being stated in full:
“When you step into an interview room, there are so many potential pitfalls. If you’ve won, you’re excited and in danger of feeling so relaxed and happy that something slips out and gets you into trouble.
“It’s tougher, though, when you’ve lost. You’re much more likely to become upset or to bristle at a provocative question – and we all know that anger, tears, feuds and gossip make for good stories.
“The whole situation takes me back to when Andy was young and really struggled with the press-conference environment. He wanted to compete in big stadiums in front of huge crowds, not to be asked about whether his shorts were too big, or whether he should get a haircut, have a shave or smile more often.”
Remember, he was still a teenager; he just wanted to win matches. End of.
Judy, who has a lot of experience in tennis as a player and coach herself, arranged for the then 19-year-old Andy to undergo a course in media training
“The idea was to help Andy deal with the attention, the adverse comments, and know which subjects to avoid. You’ve got a coach at that age, teaching you how to hit your shots and plan a match strategy, but few young players can afford a PR consultant as well.”
English media professional Jonathan Overend gave the young Andy (then 19) the best advice, whilst sharing a taxi, says Judy.
“Jonathan… made some great suggestions on how to handle press conferences and interviews,” says Judy.
“Speak about your tactics, how the weather was affecting play, and what the momentum switches were. Do the press conference on your terms. It was common sense but a real light-bulb moment.
“If you don’t want to bring emotions into the picture; then you can be more analytical. Instead of saying, ‘I’m upset because I lost’, say ‘I missed a chance at this moment’, or ‘I need to go away and work on such-and-such.’
“The other thing we [Judy and Andy] did was to watch press conferences of players who handle them really well.
“Andy Roddick and Roger Federer were two of them. They were so good at taking an awkward question and turning it around so that they could get their message across. They also used humour brilliantly. Yes, they were older, but that’s the best way to learn. Study those who do it well.”
Judy goes on to say that more attention should be focused on this aspect of the recognition that comes with sporting success.
“Being comfortable and confident in front of a microphone is so important. It’s just not the sort of thing that a young athlete is thinking about when they’re trying to establish themselves…”
I didn’t realise quite how distinguished a career and life Sir Andy Murray’s mom has had. Google “Judy Murray tennis” and you will see in Wikipedia that she has done quite a bit. Judy actually wrote the article. Her piece was prompted by the decision of the world’s highest-paid female athlete, Naomi Osaka of tennis fame, to boycott press conferences. If needs be, Google and you will be up-to-speed with this ongoing saga.
Seth Godin, who writes an insightful daily blog on anything and everything pertaining to the human condition, has this to say today.
I’d like to know what you think.
Over to Seth: “Talent is something you’re born with. Skill is something you earn.
“Skill comes from commitment and practice and self-discipline. The skill of earning skills is a lifelong advantage.
“Without a doubt, encouraging boys to leverage their talents is a skill. And yet…
“Who gets to be the playmaker in the boys’ basketball first team – the tall kid? Or the one who practises the most diligently and brings the most teamwork to the game?
“Who gets an ‘A’ in maths – the one who can breeze through the tests or the student who asks intelligent questions and challenges the assumptions?
“Who gets into a fancy varsity…
“You get the idea.
“Leaders talk about developing real skills and encouraging people to develop into their full potential but – too often – we take the short-term path of betting on raw talent instead.
“And of course, what looks like raw talent might not be. It could simply be our confusion about first impressions compared to the power of commitment and persistence.”
*A couple of words have been changed to suit the KZN10.com theme.
A well-known coach at a top-end KZN10 school who also has experience overseas, has this to say about the controversial school sport rankings:
“Hi Jono, the ranking system has created an environment in SA school sport that prioritises winning over development, understanding of the game and sportsmanship.
“I have seen coaches at top sports schools in SA actively promoting cheating on subtle levels; as well as refs and umpires manipulating their favoured team’s winning opportunities… and all to be ranked higher.
“I called a school sports ranking organisation and asked them to explain how they work it out – and it blew my mind.
“It’s based on the previous year’s ranking position for starters! Hogwash!
“Certain coaches in various sports codes at schools in SA will rely on a handful of boys to get the WIN instead of to create a learning environment – in other words, to use winning, losing and the highs and lows to help nurture our young talent to be bigger and better human beings.
“I could go on and on about how the performance of a team and the successes of the processes and culture put in place far outweigh a coach or a team, a boy, a parent or Old Boy walking around saying, ‘We won!’.
“The real question is not, did you win, it’s did you play well?
“The ranking system is fundamentally damaging to coaching, and the players!”
Ever since their introduction by school sport websites, school sports rankings, especially rugby and cricket but across the board now, have drawn massive interest. And massive criticism.
One schoolboy rugby fan told me:
“Rankings should have no place in the schoolboy game, it’s tantamount to child abuse as it puts huge pressure on the boys, albeit subconsciously one might hope, by their coaches to perform.
“There is also pressure heaped on the players by their schoolmates, parents and Old Boys, whether it is chiding them for slipping in the rankings or what is a dangerous case of over-inflating fragile teenage egos by lauding them if their team (and, by extension, the boy’s prowess) is placed high on the rankings.
“What is also very very sad is that so many of my rugger mates take these rankings as Gospel truth, yet it’s surely obvious to these guys, who have a great depth of understanding of the sport as well as a passionate love of schoolboy rugger, especially our great KZN rugger schools, that by their very nature, these so-called rankings are flawed from the word go.
“Why do I say this? It’s very simple. You can’t measure teams unless they all play each other home and away in the same year.
“On top of that, some schools play dozens of matches a year, many of them against weak opposition, which guarantees easy ranking points, while other school first teams play far less matches but against much stronger opposition.
“It’s a bloody farce, yet schools do this on purpose as they use these rankings as massive marketing tools in order to attract the cream of the primary schools’ talent, and with the added carrot of sports scholarships and sports bursaries.
“The sports scholarships and bursaries is another animal that is wrecking the natural balance in our schools.
“Unscrupulous parents even play one school against another in bidding wars so they can squeeze out the biggest amount of tin – and yet again it’s a case of using unsuspecting kids as financial tools for reasons that having nothing to do with the kids’ welfare in the long run.
“Jono I could go on and on, so one last word from me: These are teenage boys – and I see it’s now rapidly infecting our talented young girls – these boys and girls might have precocious talent but; emotionally their talent doesn’t yet match their fragile self-esteem and self-confidence.
“Yet before you know it these kids are blown up as superstars – and the big crowds in the thousands that come to watch schoolboy rugby in particular, just inflate the supposition that they are going to earn millions as soon as they enter senior sport, but the reality is that that most of them will be playing in front of a man and his dog after school.”
“And what happens? They give up playing and join the varsity pub crowd.
“Jono, I’ve said enough for the moment, and your asking my opinion has put me in a bad mood before my day has even started!
“Seriously, Jono, I’m glad you asked because you’ve given me a platform to vent my frustrations as a father, an Old Boy and a passionate schoolboy sports lover.
“Rankings are a cancer, but how does one get rid of them before they do even more damage?”
I asked another passionate schoolboy sports lover, who is a high school parent, and probably the most balanced bloke I know, what his thoughts were.
He was in a rush but his carefully considered opinion is one that I respect, and that goes for just about anything and everything.
“Jono, to be very honest I like the ranking system. I could elaborate further when I have some time.”
So, two opposing views.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS TOPIC?
I’d love to know.
With Day 1 of Maritzburg College’s 60th annual Oppenheimer Michaelmas Cricket Week just 17 short days away I was clearing out my cupboard and came upon a December 2018 feature I wrote on Mike Bechet, the outstanding SA schoolboy cricket (and hockey) coach. The upshot is that my cupboard is still not cleared up… as I spent the next hour before going to the office reading and reminiscing on a remarkable man I came across for the first time in 1981.
Here are some of the SA School Sports magazine excerpts from that fascinating interview with Bech. Can’t wait to catch up with this legendary Durban-born DHS Old Boy and Jeppe first XI coach in the iconic Kent Pavilion on Goldstones.
Feature image: Mike Bechet with one of his Maritzburg College players who have made it big on the world stage and the SA sports star who inspires him the most – David Miller – pictured here at the SA Cricket Awards Evening in 2016.
Impressive schoolboy cricket coaching credentials of Mike Bechet.
So what does Bech – the longest-serving member of the SA Schools and SA U19 selection panel – look for in a schoolboy cricketer?
CLICK ON THE LINK BELOW FOR EXCITING NEWS
Bech, is Gauteng schools cricket stronger?
‘Our school structures are arguably the best in the world’
The Mike Bechet you don’t know.
Bech’s thoughts on the life skills that cricket teaches schoolboys.
So what is it about schoolboy coaching that drives Bech?
Mike Bechet is director of cricket, head of boarding and a teacher/coach at Jeppe. So Bech, the teacher/coach or professional coach dilemma?
‘Surround yourself with the right people’ – Mike Bechet
Mike Bechet pays tribute to his family.
Four of the best. Guess who played first team cricket too?
AS we go into the latter part of the year, it’s perhaps time for KZN10 sportsmen to reflect on what they did well and what they can change.
But during this relative down time, especially for the winter sport aficionados, a degree of conditioning training will be expected – as the cricket, basketball and water polo seasons are already upon us.
Jono Cook feature image: Maritzburg College biokineticist Jason Greeff.
For the rugby, hockey and even the football programmes there will be a cooling off period for most, with rest and rehab thrown into the mix.
The biggest bugbear of every sports-mad KZN10 schoolboy is injury: the seasons are short, compact and extremely intensive; a few weeks out of action, less-than-ideal rehab and suddenly the rugby (for example) season is done and dusted; and potential has not come close to being realised.
What’s even worse is that for the grade 12s it’s the last time they will ever have the unforgettable opportunity to play KZN10 schoolboy sport – you want to leave school with great sporting memories, not “what-might-have-beens”.
So let’s take a look at what the KZN10 schoolboy sport medical specialists’ views are; general pointers to guide KZN10 schoolboy athletes whatever their primary sports code may be:
A while ago, KZN10 asked Maritzburg College biokineticist Jason Greeff, who works closely with physiotherapist Mike Denton, to enlighten us on some of the processes.
Jono: Jason, you have honours degrees in both biokinetics and sports science, and extensive work experience in elite sport, including KZN10 sport, what has always intrigued me personally is how do the bio and physio work together?
Jason: “Jono basically the difference between a bio and physio is that the physio handles the initial phase of injury, while the bio takes over from the physio so that the athlete can to return to play.
“Physios handle the acute injury – they deal with chronic injuries as well, but acute being the initial injury once it’s occurred. Physios handle the fibro-blast repair phase, which is the inflammation; they help the muscle heal, the swelling, the initial healing.
“Once the ‘wound’ has healed and there is pain-free range of motion, there will be a handover from the physio to the bio. Those muscles have atrophied; they have become weaker because they haven’t been used.
“So the biokineticist’s job is to strengthen those muscles to make sure that (a) the injury doesn’t re-occur and (b) also to get the player up-to-speed with his fitness so that he can get back into the match arena.”
Jason certainly knows his stuff, having completed his internship at the Sharks under the guidance of the legendary Jimmy Wright, a man with 30-plus years’ experience in the field in dealing with professional athletes.
Jason: “Yes, Jono, from Jimmy I learnt so much; every time I sat with Jimmy there was something new to take away. I was privileged in having that exposure at such a high level and it laid the foundation for my working with schoolboy teams.”
An interesting aside is that Jason is a big fan of athletics; the sports code being a vital component in the physical development of athletes no matter their sports code of choice, that is, their sports code that involves running as a specific skill in the sport.
Jason: “Jono, in many sports codes it’s essentially all about the mechanics of running. And that is where the sport of athletics comes in.
“From a young age, most [KZN10] boys haven’t been taught how to run efficiently, so from a bio-mechanical point of view more emphasis on athletics in the first school term would definitely aid speedwork, fitness and injury prevention, while the benefits of cross-over training into, for example, the rugby, hockey and soccer seasons, to name but three, will go a long way towards minimising needless injuries.”
Jono: Thanks Jason, certainly much food for thought, and in your employers’ case, Maritzburg College is perfectly placed to take advantage of this insight now that an internationally accredited athletics stadium lies literally a hop, step and jump from the school precinct in Princess Margaret Drive.
Roll on the rest of 2019 – and, of course, a bright new start with the year 2020 not far away. KZN10.com can barely wait.
The 6th Powerade Performance Academy kicked off in Durban last week. It is an annual seminar held in major cities nationwide to empower local coaches.
It saw coaches from around KwaZulu-Natal listen to expert performance coaches as part of an interactive session of empowering and enriching lessons for school coaches.
Powerade has aimed much of its focus on high school coaches in recognition of their role as primary influencers of the next generation of South Africa’s sporting heroes.
Dick Muir, Simphiwe Dludlu, John McGrath and Sizwe Ndlovu took the coaches through critical aspects of coaching, on and off the field of play, at the KZN Academy.
Dick Muir, former Springbok rugby player, ex-Springbok and Sharks coach and managing director of the Investec International Rugby Academy SA, spoke about why he is part of the Powerade Academy.
“The biggest thing for me is sharing knowledge with the coaches, making them believe there is no such thing as a bad coach, just an ill-informed coach.” he said.
“It’s important to invest in coaches because, through them, we are investing in our youth. Developing the knowledge of coaches is important in preparing kids at a young age.” Muir concluded.
Simphiwe Dludlu, SA U17 women’s soccer coach, reflected on the team’s 2019 U17 Women’s World Cup experience. She inspired the coaches to build character in their teams.
“I find it amazing that we expect players to perform in a certain way when we do not really know their characters and what they are mentally capable of.
“Everyone is born with a certain character; we need to understand the building blocks of character and how to influence a person’s character for the better.” she said.
Sizwe Ndlovu, 2012 Olympic Games gold medalist, spoke about what he called the new low.
“It is important for people – and coaches more especially – to understand that when they reach a milestone, instead of saying that this is the highest they can reach, rather should look at the milestone and say this is my ‘new low’ and I need to do better than this’.”
Ndlovu continued narrating to the coaches about his journey as an athlete, facing setbacks but never giving up. He further explained how the concept of a new low helped him to surpass his goals.
John McGrath, a former strongman who is now a high-performance business coach, tackled the mental side of preparing sportsmen and women.
“In shifting paradigms it is about abandoning preconceived ideas that people have about their abilities and about what is perceived to be a boundary (to progress),” he said.
McGrath illustrated practical examples of breaking boundaries by bending nails, breaking chains, tearing packs of cards and straightening a horseshoe.
“These are all metaphors for what you can do and what is possible. I don’t expect all of the coaches to start bending nails, but the coaches at the Powerade Performance Academy are there to learn how to make breakthroughs.
“At Powerade Performance Academy you have coaches that have performed at a world-class level and they are talking to coaches from all over South Africa – and that is a price worth paying,” he said.
Coaching continues to be an ever-transforming discipline that incorporates innovative techniques and principles to improve performance.
The Powerade Performance Academy’s featured coaches, through their in-depth knowledge, afforded the attendees – the coaches from the various KZN schools and sporting codes – the opportunity to go back to their respective schools in the spirit of “teach one, teach all”.
To connect sports coaches across the country, Powerade has also introduced a Powerade Facebook Community called the Coaches Corner, where coaches can interact and share their daily challenges and achievements with their peers.
The next legs of the Powerade Performance Academies will take place in Port Elizabeth, Cape Town and Johannesburg.
For more information, visit Powerade Facebook page (@PoweradeZA) and #AlwaysForward.
More about the Powerade Performance Academy speakers
Dick Muir: Former Springbok rugby player, ex-Springbok and Sharks coach, and managing director of the Investec International Rugby Academy SA.
Topic: Creating your own coaching and playing philosophies
Simphiwe Dludlu: Former Banyana Banyana captain, former Tuks women’s coach, SA U17 women’s team head coach, and founder and chairman of The Simphiwe Dludlu Foundation.
Topic: Character carries her
John McGrath: Luvo Manyonga’s high performance coach, world-renowned high-performance coach and last Strongman of Africa; motivational speaker and performance artist.
Topic: Shifting sports paradigms
Sizwe Ndlovu: 2012 Olympic Games gold medallist; manager and coach of rowing at University of Johannesburg, and inspirational speaker.
Topic: The New Low
In our travels around the sports fields of the KZN10 we have encountered many coaches and, being one myself, have often wondered what drives most of them? The countless hours that’s spent honing your craft and getting yourself prepared. The time given to practice planning, analysing game film, dealing with players, with parents, with the school and even sometimes, your significant other.
With the influx of non teaching staff into the school sports environment there has been a marked change in the way sports are coached. No longer are some school teams coached by staff members who are teachers by profession, but by experts in their respective sports who operate at a professional to semi-professional level.
This also extends to young coaches who are fresh out of school and have a coaching job for extra money. This article is not meant to be a discussion about the pro’s and con’s of each but a snapshot of the current coaching landscape.
I have come to realise that we all work with a set of principles or beliefs that I would loosely call our coaching philosophy. Whether one realises it or not we all have one including you dad and mom as you read this. One of the important realisations that any person dealing with young people needs to have is that you do indeed have one.
I remember as a new green bean coach standing on the side of the court trying to eke out a victory. The game was tight and one of my players made an elementary mistake or so I thought. I am embarrassed to say that for a brief moment, I lost it, OK it wasn’t really brief, but you get the idea.
The part that really stood out to me was the looks that my grade 9’s gave me, let alone the poor player who felt my frustration, at the next stoppage in play. There was fear in their eyes as they didn’t want to be the next one to ‘fail’, to be exposed for not meeting up to the coaches requirements. This was especially acute considering that there were friends and family watching from the stands. The result of the match has faded in time but the lesson still lingers.
Yes, the stakes are higher and the pressure greater the further up you go and there is no denying that. Unfortunately, I had forgotten, and probably at that stage in my life did not even realise, that my role as a coach wasn’t so much to win games.
I had the privilege to be a part of teaching these players as people how to navigate life with all its difficulties and still be a good person. To fail, to lose, to win, to miss, to score to be human and still walk away with the courage to do it all again tomorrow.
After all, it was just a game and these were just schoolchildren. The gravity of the position hit me in that moment as I realised that unless I took the time to ask the tough questions, I would always be responding in ways that made me the victim of circumstance as opposed to a master of my future.
I still get a little passionate with my players from time to time but as I have refined my coaching philosophy, so the more I have become concerned about teaching these players about life than the sport itself.
As coaches we all want to win and to succeed and a coaching philosophy will go a long way in helping you do that.
In my next article I will talk about establishing your Philosophy and Priories associated with that.