Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Hill and Mallard put up, shut or p**s off

Thank you to all of those who have given up so much to represent New Zealand at the commonwealth games. However because you haven’t met our expectations we’re going to say you are not good enough. Doesn’t sound very nice does it ? Enough to make some athletes take up a “proper job” perhaps ? I wouldn’t blame them.

It seems a rum old deal when Trevor Mallard and Nick Hill describe the New Zealand CWG team as lacking in mental toughness. With quotes like: "New Zealanders tend to be too nice." or they lack: “ruthlessness” and a “cut throat” attitude. I at least am left in no doubt as to who the gutless ones really are. They were careful of course not to say gutless themselves.

Mallard is an ex –teacher professing an interest in rugby and mountain biking who deservedly may be described as a sporting never was. Hill is an ex electricity exec who got as far at Otago U20 rugby so we might call him a nearly has been. Can’t see what about these two really qualifies them to talk about the difficulties and the issues surrounding modern international elite sport.

Hill does sit at the top of SPARC it must be said, but he doesn’t actually run the high performance program. He is probably far to busy working out performance based funding formulae and medal expectations for 2008, which appear to have no correspondence in reality. Can a team of athletes really be described as lacking in toughness when they fail to achieve goals that apparently they didn’t even set themselves ? When the head of SPARC blames a formula and the athletes for the failure to achieve an apparently uncontrollable if not arbitrary gaol; I start to question whether he has any grasp of sporting reality at all. I certainly doubt whether he should really have influence on New Zealand high performance at any level. My earlier point remains you don’t damn athletes because they failed to meet your expectations however well calculated.

Mallard is easier to explain; he clearly feels that NZ have underperformed and that this reflects poorly upon him personally, hence his expert analysis and conclusion that NZ athletes lack “mental toughness”.

Phrases like lacking 'killer instinct' or “mental toughness” reflect exactly the unarguable platitudes that are referred to by the inept and intellectually bankrupt who are unwilling to take responsibility for failure. However if anyone is interested at the bottom of this section I have put the dimensions of “Mental Toughness” as researched and published by Jones, Hanton and Connaughton of the Uni of Wales in 2002, who took the time to ask elite coaches and athletes what they thought mental toughness was. Note the absence of phrases like not being too nice or indeed cut throat/killer instinct. While you are at it see how many of those 4th places can actually be attributed to lack of these qualities. And if you have time read the more sensible and measured response of Dave Currie our very capable chef de mission.

I too am disappointed to see that NZ didn’t do a well as on previous occasions and there may be room for improvement in many areas. But to be honest my first step would be to sack those in authority who appear to want to either grandstand at athletes expense or are unable to take responsibility for their share of failure. Such people are in my opinion of no use or value to a team. Say something positive or constructive or shut up. Better still go join act and then we know not to take you seriously.

1. Having an unshakable self-belief in your ability to achieve your competition goals 2. Having an unshakable self-belief that you possess unique qualities and abilities that make you better than your opponents
3. Having an insatiable desire and internalized motives to succeed
4. Bouncing back from performance set-backs as a result of increased determination to succeed
5. Thriving on the pressure of competition
6. Accepting that competition anxiety is inevitable and knowing that you can cope with it
7. Not being adversely affected by others’ good and bad performances
8. Remaining fully-focused in the face of personal life distractions
9. Switching a sport focus on and off as required
10. Remaining fully-focused on the task at hand in the face of competition-specific distractions
11. Pushing back the boundaries of physical and emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress (in training and competition)
12. Regaining psychological control following unexpected, uncontrollable events

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