A powerful decision this week by British Athletics with possible far-reaching consequences. The European Championship qualifying standards were released this week, and from the strictly myopic viewpoint of a pole vaulter I think its great news.
I remember 2012 well, a home Olympics sitting close to the European Championships on the calendar meant that athletes were told that generally they wouldn’t be allowed to do both competitions, this meant the emphasis of European Champs became as a development event with an accompanying slightly lower qualifying standard. I remember well trying to chase the 5.55m qualifying mark all across Europe on one leg with only a couple of months training behind me ( I love my Achilles). I got nowhere near it to the surprise of no one. But as an athlete, who’s exposure to sport psychology has topped out at the reiteration of the importance of goal setting over and over, this mark represented an achievable stepping stone-like goal.
Talking about anything other than pole vault will show how clearly uninformed I really am, but I’m going to do it anyway. Competing at an International Championships as a field eventer is tough. Because of the various rounds of track events, this opens up spots to greater numbers, allowing the qualifying mark to be lower than in the field, relatively speaking. Achieving the qualifying mark in a field event at Championships will generally see you comfortably into the final if not just outside the medals. I don’t think 10.20 in the 100m is going to to be making an olympic final any time soon. This is not a complaint, just a vaguely fact based field event biased opinion. The throwers will have a whole other boatload of hardships to proclaim on top of this but I’ll leave that can of worms for now.
These high standards make the transition from a junior level International competitor to senior level tough to say the least. Without prodigious talent, you’re talking at least a couple of years of hard training and solid progression to make the step-up, again, as a heavy thrower you’re probably looking even longer. These years of training towards a long term goal are do-able, but maintaining focus on only the possible chance of making a senior championship in 4 years time is tough. This is where developmental champs become so important, a gap that has been previously filled solely by the Commonwealth Games recently.
I find myself extremely lucky to be Welsh. Due to the arbitrary piece of soil I grew up on, one side of an imaginary line defined centuries ago, I’ve benefitted from the kind of support from Welsh Athletics that has kept me in the sport. Achievable qualifying standards and physio support among a lot else means I’m sat here at the start of 2014 still planning to go to my 2nd Commonwealth Games, which is awesome, but is one championships every four years enough to keep an athlete dedicated enough 24/7? I’m going to say no. But the ability to step up in performance and have another major aim this year, and then again in possibly 2 years? Definitely. Once the 5.60m mark for this years Europeans is in the bag, 5.70 for a World Champs is only a stones throw away, and that’s how progressive goal setting works to drive performance higher.
Triangles to improve performance levels
I’ve heard people talk about focusing on general participation levels, increasing numbers to have a broad base of the triangle leading to higher performance at the apex. I’ve also heard people talk about focusing on the top of the triangle, really supporting the elite to help them directly to achieve their ultimate performance. Now the triangle is a really powerful shape, so I don’t want to throw out that analogy, but remember that the triangles strength comes from the straight lines drawn from the wide base to where they converge at the apex, all points along that line need to be there, otherwise the strength is lost. Allowing a lower qualifying height for the European Championships is filling in a point on this straight line that was previously missing.
I hope that this year, field eventers all over the country raise their game, if only slightly, this can lead to better overall performances for the next few years, otherwise my point will be proven wrong, but it will still be a point, a point on the inclined side of a triangle.
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