Saturday, April 1, 2006

Educating athletes and officials (31/03/2006 - The Malay Mail)

Publication : MM
Date : 31/03/2006
Headline : Educating athletes and officials

THE character-building of athletes and officials' responsibilities both
play vital roles in shaping the end-products.
After repeatedly witnessing incidents over the years where athletes and
officials faltered due to a lack of these attributes, it is about time a
serious stand is taken on the matter to educate both parties.
As promised in last week's column, I would be talking about a personal
experience about trying to get an interview with England's Michael Owen
in 1997 in Johor Baru, which gave me an insight into educating sportsmen
and women about the real world.
Owen was here for the 1997 Youth World Cup and several local sports
journalists were trying to get an interview with him.
We had to make arrangements with the England team's communications and
media manager, a female.
The process itself irked us because we were not used to waiting for
interviews to be arranged, as we usually grabbed hold of our subjects and
asked the questions there and then.
But this was an England team we were talking about - even though they
were the junior side.
Anyway, it took two days before we got the interview and at the session
itself, we not only had Owen present, but also the communications and
media manager, the team manager, assistant coach and a team official.
The interview went well and Owen, although only 17 then, spoke with
maturity, and one question saw him answering in depth - a refreshing
change from our local lads who would come up with one-liners, such as
"the ball is round" or "it's God's will"!
Not to mention that Owen, who has been exposed to soccer since he was
six when he joined the Liverpool junior programme and had about 11 years
of experience despite only being only in his teens.
I was curious as to why there were so many officials present. Were they
there to gag him by telling him not to answer some questions?
No, Owen answered all questions and there was no intervention from any
of the officials during the 20-minute-long interview.
The communications and media manager later revealed it was all part of
Owen's training.
Yes, the officials were all there to see how Owen handled the Press,
and how he tackled the questions.
After that, it was back to another room for Owen, where the officials
reviewed his "performance", and offered him advice and suggestions.
"This is all part of building our players' character. All our players
go through this because we realise how important the media are to the
players and the game," said the official.
"We need the players to make a good impression, and be able to tackle
the media who will field all sorts of questions - be them easy,
difficult, sensitive or even provoking.
"This is all part of the education of a player in the game."
Is it little wonder that Owen, who became a full-fledged England player
soon after returning to his homeland, was able to handle the media there
despite his young age?
And the responsibilities the officials assumed in moulding Owen only
spoke volumes of their dedication and commitment in bringing the best out
of their athletes.
How many of our local officials take the trouble to prepare our young
athletes to face the media as they progress in their careers?
How can our local officials prepare our athletes when the former are
either "media-shy" or treat reporters like the plague!
Some officials are even known to tell athletes not to talk to the media!
But when the athletes do well, the officials will be the first to come
forward even before their achievers say their two sen's worth and have
pictures taken with them, shedding their crocodile tears or displaying
so-called affectionate hugs.
This is another area, where Malaysian sports lacks quality and it needs
to be addressed, if our athletes and officials are to venture out to
conquer the world.

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