Junior Development: The Rise and Rise of Nijel Amos

 

The young man from the laid back village of Marobela in northern Botswana has taken the world of athletics by storm. Twenty-year-old Nijel Amos, aka “DJ Zorro”, has taken the world 800m athletics competitions by the scruff of the neck and established himself as a force to reckon with. He has completely ignored expert opinion and the bookmakers by annihilating the much fancied East African opposition in the form of the Ethiopians and Kenyans. 

By winning the Commonwealth Games gold and the International Association of Athletics Federations(IAAF) Diamond League in the same year, the young lad is now indeed a world star who deserves the respect of the sponsors and, of course, his rivals.  Winning of medals at such events is always a product of hard work, dedication and commitment by the players, technical teams, national sports associations (NSAs), governments and sponsors. 

There are many other relevant stakeholders, including the fans who throng the stadiums to support their athletes and teams in competitive and friendly matches.

Qualifying for finals of major international events raises the bar of expectations on the part of sports lovers in southern Africa. Meeting them is another thing altogether. To this end, there is need for strategic planning on the part of NSAs to sustain the pursuit of excellence by national teams for both men and women and at all levels. For southern Africa to continue registering successes and rising up the ranks of various international sports federations, there is need for greater prioritisation of and investment in grassroots programmes and junior development.

“Catching them young” should be the catch phrase and approach for all NSAs in Southern Africa.  Successful countries in world sport from both developed and developing countries such as Australia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Spain, Germany, and Holland have invested heavily in junior development programmes, sports academies and schools of excellence. The existence of lucrative, viable and well managed league structures at all levels is also a big plus factor for development of national teams.

For example, a simple survey of Southern Africa would most probably reveal the absence of junior structures for more than half of them. 

There are no junior sports leagues to provide for rigorous skills development and competition at an early age. 

This is in direct contrast to modern sports science. In terms of sports science, the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) approach has been widely adopted by many sports organizations and countries. The LTAD indicates that it takes 8-10 years to produce a world-class athlete. This means that the NSAs need to start now in identifying athletes who will represent their countries at major games such as the 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2024 Summer Olympic Games.

Over and above, having good development programmes, the NSAs and their stakeholders must make deliberate efforts to expose young athletes at invitational tournaments before major games. In addition, the NSAs need to use bilateral relations in ensuring periodic training attachments for talented players at major clubs and academies in Europe, Asia, North and South America.  

Such training and competition attachments help to reduce stage fright for young athletes when they participate in in official competitions.

Sport development and transformation needs to be guided by target-setting and performance measurement both on the field of play and in institutional development. Without objective and agreed performance targets, it is difficult to measure the success or failure of any organisation. Sport in Southern Africa still has a long way to go in terms of junior development. 

It has great potential to become a viable industry engaging thousands of youngsters in gainful employment and activity. 

It can also contribute greatly to the socio-economic development of the region. However, sport development needs stable but innovative and visionary leadership to guide its development and transformation.

The way forward is marked with milestones, which must be religiously pursued and attained. The future of southern African sport is already here with us.  The future is indeed bright. Very bright! Sport administrators and coaches must keep the fires burning through sound strategies, plans and decisions.

Corporate sponsors also need to come on board and not leave everything for governments.  

Young southern Africans have now proven beyond reasonable doubt that they, indeed, have the talent to compete with the best in the world, earn a living for themselves through sport and make their countries and the region as a whole very proud. 

What they need are the right support services, which in most cases do not require a lot of money, just good planning and management.  

There will, obviously, be further ups and downs on the way but compromising on high standards and failure are not options. They should never be!  The Southern Times Sport Forum heartily congratulates Nijel and hopes that he will continue to be an excellent sporting ambassador and a role model for other youngsters in the region.

September 2014
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