Creating a legacy
The key to sustained high performance is looking at the big picture and considering long term benefits over short term gains every time.
My goal for Malaysian sailing is to create a legacy, centred on long term thinking. After 1992 the funding for sport in Great Britain was at an all-time low and therefore unsurprisingly in the 1996 Olympics Great Britain won just 15 medals (including the 2 Silver from Sailing) its worst Olympic Games ever, finishing in 36th position. The then Prime Minister John Major set up the National lottery in 1994, the funding for which allowed athletes to train full time (28% of the fund goes to good causes such as sport and arts), rather than part time, and of course there is a huge performance advantage to have 6 full time training days a week rather than just 2. This effect took several years and the results of this are now clear; Rio was a hugely successful Olympics for Great Britain, finishing 2nd overall with 67 medals (including 2 Gold and 1 Silver).
Perhaps the best example I saw of short term thinking was whilst working for the Chinese in 2013, 2 things happened which would ultimately hugely affect the result in 2016... In 2012 everyone was delighted with Lily’s success; a Gold medal at the 2012 games, much more funding for the Radial class, who could ask for more? This however came at a price, full time coaching and support. The first issue was with health and fitness, right from the beginning of us working together Lily had the occasional shoulder ‘niggle’ which I remembered from my own experience in the 90s and I kept on top of it, knowing full well what would happen if we ignored the problem and ensuring she had rest when she needed it and built up the strength to protect the shoulder. Thankfully it did not affect her performance 2012.
In 2013 the Team were in money saving mode: the next Olympics seemed a long way off and they just wanted to spend time in China. After months of no coaching we made rapid performance gains when she returned to Europe, 15th Hyeres 2013, 6th Medemblik, 1st with a day to spare in Weymouth World Cup and at that point the Team Leader decided the performance was good enough and sent her back to China and again no coaching. So, sadly it was unsurprising that the shoulder problem continued to develop whilst in China until it was a huge problem by the 2013 Worlds (which were held in China) in October and of course there was lots of pressure for Lily to perform there. The issue which affected her performance was something which had been identified in 2011 but was pretty much ignored after the 2012 Olympics.
Unsurprisingly the Team Leader was unhappy with Lily’s performance and wanted me to fix it, I explained that we were doing our best but there was no way to make up for missed training half way through the competition – I taped her shoulders every day and we did everything we could but the damage was already done. Indeed I was very proud of a top 10 performance considering she was racing in a lot of pain. During the World Championships, there was something else we needed to talk about, another long-term problem and perhaps a topic for another blog but I was not allowed to talk at the time (the Team Leader just wanted to think about the Worlds’ result). I left China having explained to the Team Leader that she must be given the time to rest and recover; she must not complete in ANY more competitions in 2013, only to see her racing in the Chinese World Cup event without a coach, just a few weeks alter and forced to retire after just 2 days when she was so injured she could no longer sail…
Jon Emmett has over 20 years of coaching experience from grass roots to Olympic Gold.