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We need our own collegiate system for athletes

by ZwemZa on May 20th, 2018

South African swimmers react after winning gold medals for the 4 x 100 freestyle relay at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. From left to right they are Ryk Neethling, Lyndon Ferns, Roland Schoeman and Darian Townsend (AP)

South Africa’s loss of talent to the American collegiate system is nothing new and as long as youngsters buy into the idea that the United States is the Land of Opportunity it is unlikely to change.

Each year American universities lure South African athletics and swimming talents with the promise of a degree and the hope of global success once they have finished their studies.

The reality is that the American system is unlikely to invest heavily in other countries’ talents.

They are merely there to make up numbers although one will find the odd success story like Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman and Anaso Jobodwana.

Athletes are generally run into the ground and never quite reach the full potential they would have had they stayed on South African soil.

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 09: Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa celebrates after winning the Men’s 100m Breaststroke on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Optus Aquatic Centre on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Home-grown swimming sensations Cameron van der Burgh and Chad le Clos have banished the idea that you have to go to America to make it on the global stage in the pool.

South Africa has always produced world-class track and field athletes but the current sprinting boom is enough evidence that we have the talent and coaching know-how at home to make it on the global stage.

But the exodus continues unabated and we are set to lose more talent with promising swimmers like Mariella Venter and Luan Grobbelaar set to leave our shores.

The country’s highly successful rowing programme is being undermined by the American system with the universities there attracting some of our top talents.

The rowers that fall for the lure are lost for the system as the centralised programme cannot accommodate athletes on the other side of the Atlantic.

One of the country’s top upcoming rowers bravely declined a handsome offer from the States because of his pursuit of Olympic success.

While South Africa has experienced a fair amount of success in swimming, rowing and athletics over the last few years it does not mean the country is without flaws.

Chad le Clos and former coach Graham Hill (Getty Images)

The country desperately needs to create an environment where coaches and athletes can earn a decent living.

South African athletics seriously lacks coaching depth with few new mentors coming through the ranks.

The country’s sports administrators should consider establishing academies where we can develop the next generation of coaches.

The national federations in this country seem to forget what their core business should be. Some want to host events, others believe their sole purpose is to regulate the sport.

The view from my soapbox is that federations should create a conducive environment for a sport to thrive.

They should provide people with the tools and the knowledge to empower the youngsters that want to pursue a career in whatever their chosen code is.

There are few dedicated systems around the world that actually work and by setting up knowledge-based environments you create a self-sustaining environment.

The universities are brimming with youngsters that want to pursue a career in sport where they can also walk away with a sports science degree without any specialisation.

Our schools generally lack people with technical knowledge which in turn leaves our future talent with a poor foundation.

Ockert De Villiers | Saturday Star

Disclaimer: ZwemZa encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on ZwemZa are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of ZwemZa.

From → African News, Columns

  1. Graham du Toit permalink

    Well said. You forgot Penny Heyns. She went to Nebraska on a bursary I arranged -simply because of training facilities and the support structure.
    We need to overhaul our administrations and SASCOC and place more focus on the competitors

  2. Walter Trevisan permalink

    Our federations and facilities are severely underfunded. Too many federations are being run by people who know nothing about the sport. The Department of Sports and Recreation and SASCOC need to redirect their funding to benefit athletes and not the administration. They need to employ ex athletes and coaches to build the appropriate infrastructure and systems to support aspiring world class athletes in a post secondary education environment. Currently available funding is being squandered.

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