After engaging himself at seminars and workshops during his two-day stay in Sri Lanka, Tony Campbell, the coach of Olympic silver medal winner Susanthika Jayasinghe, strongly believes that athletic should face a complete overhaul and produce a comprehensive plan to discover the country’s next world beaters. “This is not a joke, you can’t play this [...]


“This is not a joke”

Susie's celebrated coach Tony Campbell furious on the number of unqualified coaches misleading young athletes with wrong training methods

The Campbell-Susie combination active again, for a better future of athletics in Sri Lanka - Pic by Amila Gamage

After engaging himself at seminars and workshops during his two-day stay in Sri Lanka, Tony Campbell, the coach of Olympic silver medal winner Susanthika Jayasinghe, strongly believes that athletic should face a complete overhaul and produce a comprehensive plan to discover the country’s next world beaters.

“This is not a joke, you can’t play this kind of game on and on. There are good athletes out here, but not good coaches. It’s impossible to work like this. This is crazy,” furiously dejected of what he experienced during his two-day findings on local athletics, Campbell told the Sunday Times.

The combination of Campbell and Jayasinghe, or ‘Susan’ as the coach addresses the international medal-winning sprinter, lasted for years, eventually Sri Lanka benefiting with an Olympic silver medal; a silver and bronze at the IAAF World Championship; a gold, couple of silvers and a bronze at the Asian Games and six golds and a silver at the Asian Championships, besides number of medals won by the ‘Asian Black Mare’.

Since Jayasinghe’s retirement in early 2009, Sri Lanka failed to produce an impact-creating athlete in track and field events at world stage. With Sri Lanka’s second and last Olympic medal coming almost two decades ago, the authorities responsible have failed to come out with a comprehensive plan or make use of Jayasinghe’s experience as a world class sprinter, to nurture the next generation of runners.

Jayasinghe was one of renowned sprinters trained under Campbell’s wings besides athletes of the level of Michael Johnson, Maurice Green, Otis Harris, Tanya Lawrence, Allen Johnson, Felix Sanchez, Calvin Smith Sr. and Dennis Mitchell — all Olympic medalists.

Campbell was in Sri Lanka earlier this week to look into possibilities of creating a winning culture in athletics. One of the main concerns Campbell had to come across was the poor standard of coaching in Sri Lanka, next to communication gap and the failure to foresee potential medal winners for the country, at a very young age. To overcome this grave situation and regain the once glorious status Sri Lanka enjoyed at world stage, Campbell strongly feels that all stakeholders of athletics, from top to bottom, should amalgamate.

“The whole process should be education and sports as one. We don’t need to fight anyone, this is an effort to put everything in the correct path. The kids need education, and also sports. All kids are not going to be professional athletes. But sports can help them develop. When they progress in life the kids can decide if they are going to continue sports or not. They have that opportunity, but today in Sri Lanka, kids have no opportunity to chose what’s best for them, with no good coaching. If that was the case, the best athletes will remain to continue, and through a well organised programme, they can benefit and make the country proud. A kid also must graduate, not only become a good athlete. If those who are responsible could make a comprehensive plan, Sri Lanka can produce better, well-educated athletes,” outlined Campbell.

The latest Jayasinghe-Campbell combination comes as a long overdue implementation, after the National Olympic Committee of Sri Lanka (NOC) appointed Jayasinghe as its Director of High Performance. Once the most successful athlete-coach combination that gave many glorious moments to Sri Lankans young and old, has teamed once again up to help the island nation with their expertise for a fruitful future in athletics.

“There is a huge problem here, as I noticed, because of unqualified and uncertified coaches. There should be proper coaching for the children. All teachers must have certification to teach their subjects, so why not an athletic coach at school level. If you don’t have it, you can’t coach, it’s not correct,” stated Campbell, knowing well of the obstacles that are on the way.

“It’s going to take time, there will be big fights coming up, because some coaches are making money, doing nothing. Who wants to lose their job or earning.”

Soon after Jayasinghe’s latest appointment at NOC, she took a step further by relating her ideas to the NOC administration and made Campbell a part of the initiative. Campbell, ever-willing to oblige Jayasinghe’s call, was proud to state that his ‘Susan’ was lucky to have the best guidance when she most needed, but grieved for the present-day athletes.

“We don’t have another Susanthika Jayasinghe for the next 20 years, because the programme that is being followed by the Sri Lankan coaches, is antiquate. It’s very old by decades. Our attempt is not to get rid of the coach. We want to educate the coach, because local athletes need local coaches, not foreigners. The coaches must learn to be better coaches. By attending coaching clinics and seminars they can become better, and train the athletes the correct way,” stated the California based coach.

Affirming on her coach’s findings, Jayasinghe was modest to accept the fact that most of the present-day most young athletes follow the wrong guidance at training, preparation and other stages. Jayasinghe, knowing the facts and figures as a former top level professional sprinter, was quick to state that she could not digest what she’s getting experience around training grounds right around the country.

“Parents want quick results, when the athletes do not perform, they change the coach. That’s not the way. Like Tony (Campbell) always say, ‘if you go up quickly, you come back faster than you got up’. Parents should understand that this is a sport that needs to be developed step by step and sustain at the top level. I feel irate, but at the same time feel sorry for the kids. That’s why we are highly concerned about”.

While Jayasinghe was explaining the sad facts on what’s going around with the budding athletes being trained by unqualified coaches, Campbell was shrieking with delight pointing to an action cover picture triple jumper and national record holder Vidusha Lakshani, “you have one girl here, you have one girl here”.

“Now this girl could be much better if she had a jump coach. I was talking to her, she has very good talent. She could go a long way, so it’s possible.”

Campbell detailed that simply by reading a coaching manual, one cannot just coach athletes. To nurture youngsters the correct way, he said a coach must have practical experience.

“Every athlete is different from one another, though they compete in the same event. So based on their differences of approach and abilities, a professional coach can easily train them according to their individuality. But here, I have observed most coaches are training the young athletes as well as the bigger and older athletes, the same way. After some time, most of these kids, some highly talented, give up too early.”

The experienced coach elucidated the entire process in a simple way by comparing the growth and life-span of a medal-winning athlete as a pyramid. The foundation of it, according to Campbell, must be solid and strong, which in turn helps build up layers that are complete.

“It’s a pyramid, it goes up to a point. With a strong base, you build up the layers. When you get to the top, the best ones remain. If you had 1000 athletes at the beginning, the crowd will get smaller and smaller at each layer, and you get your ‘Susanthika Jayasinghe’ right there on the top. You are not going to find that athlete tomorrow, or in a week, but she or he is somewhere out there.”

“Sri Lanka has the talent like any other country, that’s the absolute truth. If smaller countries can have better athletes, why not Sri Lanka. It’s simply because the programme is not for the 21st century, it’s for the 20th century. We must get caught up with today, not 30 years ago. Moreover you need to work genuinely and put your effort to discover the best ones. It’s possible, if we use our brain smart. We can do it for sure,” stating that he is due again here in the island early next year, Campbell departed.

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