Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

When it comes to the international stage too many of Northern Ireland young athletes come up short

The world has become a tougher place with the recent economic climate and yet we still have a sporting environment that fails to produce hard-nosed competitors.

When the coach of basketball side Belfast Star, Jose Maria Berracol, said his young players were "too soft" he could have been speaking of young sports men and women of Northern Ireland as a whole.

Outside of amateur boxing, it seems that we are nurturing pampered sports men and women who can compete at an Ulster and Irish level, but when it comes to the international stage too many come up short – largely because they come face-to-face with the likes of tough eastern European and Asian teenagers.

Many middle class parents don't help, not wanting wee Johnny to be shouted at or not prepared to push little Samantha when she is "feeling tired" after school.

Cast a glance at countries such as Poland, Russia or China for example and you'll see how champions in all sports are made and it's not with the softly, softly, "it's the taking part that counts" approach.

Read Rafa Nadal's autobiography and you get a real insight into why he has become a sporting legend. He directly points to his uncle Toni, who on one occasion refused to buy him water when the young Rafa had forgotten to bring his bottle for a match in Spain. He simply told him to "endure".

If we are to have more champions at the highest international level, coaches need to be free to instruct their pupils to endure, to toughen them up.

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