Recently I read an article about the reasons why the New Zealand 7s rugby team was so successful under Gordon Tietjens. Tietjens coached the New Zealand team for 20 years. His success is legendary. He expects his players to make extreme sacrifices. He revealed that the players have to undergo tests for strength, repeated speed and Beep/YoYo testing.
Tietjens stated that players have to comply with conditioners’ standards.” If they don’t, I don’t pick them”. He expects his players to look after their nutrition, fitness levels and to manage their lifestyles.
Success is mandatory and selection is ruthless. He told the reporter that success in sport, just as in business, depends on culture.
His approach and ethos is mirrored in almost every high performance sport programme across the developed world.
Here in T&T, some people label our sportsmen and women pampered and mentally soft. This is an unfair and judgmental statement meant to cover over the deficiencies of sport leaders, decision makers and the sport system.
There are two sides to every story. What are our athletes saying?
Individual and national team sport athletes determined to maintain their focus and attention on becoming a Continental, Olympic or World champion feel they are being impeded in their efforts by a dysfunctional, bureaucratic, inefficient, ineffective and unsympathetic sport system.
That there are gaps along the pathway from junior to development level and the system is failing those who have the talent and potential to be successful elite level sportsmen and sportswomen.
To achieve excellence they need excellent coaches, excellent training programmes, access to facilities and financial support.
They perceive there is a lack of financial support, lack of coaching expertise and support, lack of training/competition opportunities.
Sportsmen and women perceive the sport system here as an obstacle rather than a success factor.
It makes little sense hiding the extent of the problem.
Lack of support is an obstacle that can negatively impact performance excellence.
In the modern world of elite sport, an amateur athlete or national team is required to train full time to the detriment of other areas of their lives.
Our sportsmen and women need help now, not tomorrow. We have to stop putting the bandwagon before the horse.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the responses of our athletes and national teams.
We are selling our sportsmen and women and national teams short. Our sport system is too far behind.
There is a growing gulf between our sportsmen and women, elite level athletes and national teams and national sport organisations, national governing bodies, Ministry of Sport and the TTOC. The problem needs to be addressed now not later. The landscape is evolving rapidly.
We are fast becoming a relic of a bygone age.
The deficiency has been collective. Elite and Olympic level sport isn’t nebulous. It is performance driven.
Successful athletes and national teams inspire a generation of young people.
We need successful athletes and national teams. Sport provides almost immediate feedback of what you have achieved or not achieved.
People generally have passionate views for a reason. We have to create the sport environment that will inspire our athletes and national teams to strive, achieve and maintain excellence.
Our athletes feel that those in power sit in their ivory tower and remain detached from the feelings and concerns of sportsmen and women. This is not only frustrating but should be of concern to those entrusted with the power and authority to make a positive difference.
The time to start is now.
• Brian Lewis is the President of the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the National Olympic Committee.