It doesn’t really need to be said, but it’s a very challenging time at the minute for Athletics, as it is for pretty much every aspect of our lives. I’d say these last 6 weeks have been the toughest since we first locked down 11 months ago. Here’s why.
I used to be a massive football fan. I’d go along and support my team, buy the shirts, idolise the star players. However, no much how much I put into it, nothing I could do would have an influence on the success or failure of my beloved team. Occasionally you might get a hastily given autograph if you were lucky, but that was as close as we ever got. Athletics is different. It’s the most fantastically accessible sport, and we have so much control and ability to shape our athletics journey.
Thinking back a year ago, we would train wherever and whenever we wanted, with fantastic access to facilities. Often, we would train alongside elite athletes including Olympians, as well as training next to clubmates and friends. On a Friday we would watch those stars at Diamond League on TV, and then on Saturday we would go and replicate our heroes at our championships and league meetings. Sometimes we would go to events and compete on the same schedule as our idols, getting a cheeky photograph and having a chat with them. We would see clubmates and fellow athletes all the time, and forge friendships.
It felt like anything was possible and given hard work and commitment there was a clear pathway to achieve our dreams.
Right now, things are so different. Of course, we are in the midst of the pandemic and we have to accept that right now we can’t train together – however it feels like that gap between grassroots and elite is growing and that accessibility that we all love feels far away. Watching the recent world indoor tour events has left me feeling a little sad, and this weekends European trials events held across the UK have been open to such a small number of athletes. I feel desperately for those senior athletes who are on the cusp of elite level but have not been given access to facilities or invites to events. It should be said, the cold, harsh winter certainly has been harder to take than the balmy spring of the first lockdown. During lockdown our athletes have adapted fantastically well and continue to train and keep the passion live - this never fails to inspire me.
I feel for athletes looking to transition from junior to senior level, who are missing out on some of the most crucial years in their development. Of course, it pains me the most that our young Team Blyth juniors and friends all over the country cannot train together, access facilities or see friends.
So what does the future bring? Fingers crossed, restrictions will slowly be eased soon, and we can start training in groups and accessing facilities again. I sincerely hope our NGB’s (national governing bodies) give consideration to how we are going to invest in the future of athletes of all ages and abilities. Facility operators need to commit to opening up to the community and allowing athletes to train in a safe environment, with access to train for ALL events. This needs to be consistent across all regions. Clubs and coaches have a huge role to play in welcoming athletes back to their clubs, and this should be done sensitively and with real thought.
In regard to returning to competition, it may be a controversial view, but I am of the opinion that outside of elite level, there should be no championships this summer season at local, regional or national level. Its just not a level playing field (I know it rarely is), and I worry that to much pressure to perform could be counterproductive. Let’s keep it fun, relaxed, and allow time for genuine athlete development. Championships can return in good time.
At Team Blyth we will do all we can to help our young athletes, and the role we will play shaping the futures of these fantastic young people is all the more important now. My message to all young athletes - Everything is still possible, and these hard times will just make the journey all the more memorable