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SportMap sets path for young athletes

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Seminar covers physical, mental, nutritional aspects of training

The journey from bottom ranks to the national team in any sport may be a long and difficult one, but at least there’s a map to follow.

More than 220 young athletes, coaches and parents took part in the inaugural SportMap Primer Workshop at Millennium Place on July 26, a presentation by the Telus Whistler Sport Centre.

The SportMap Primer is pilot project of the PacificSport Group, the B.C. Network of National and Regional Sport Centres, and SportMedBC which was undertaken on the behalf of the B.C. Sport System Integration Group. The group is comprised of the B.C. Games Society, the National Coaching Institute of B.C., the Coaches Association of B.C., the Premier’s Sports Awards Program, B.C. School Sports, Sport B.C. and the Sport and Community Capital Branch of the Government of B.C.

The goal of SportMap is to integrate all aspects of athletic development, such as skill development, fitness, psychology and nutrition, into a comprehensive program for B.C. athletes. It is also makes co-operation easier between various organizations within the B.C. sport system, enabling groups to pool resources and share tools to provide young athletes with "a dynamic environment for sport performance at all levels."

At Millennium Place, the participants went through a series of sessions with speakers who were involved in the creation of the SportMap Primer.

The first speaker was Dr. Istvan Balyi, a consultant with several Canadian national teams and a globally recognized expert on long-term athlete development. He discussed the B.C. Sport System’s Athlete Development Model, which he developed himself, and the importance of a staged progression from the most basic fundamentals of running, jumping and throwing to pursuing Olympic medals.

"What we are finding when we get to the competitive level is that many kids don’t know how to run properly, they don’t know how to jump properly," said Dr. Balyi. "I’ve always maintained that the best coaches should really be working with our younger kids, but instead we put them with our elite athletes.

"That is the opposite of the European system in ski racing, where the best coaches work with the youngest skiers, and there is a noticeable difference in terms of how the kids are developing."

Still, Dr. Balyi believes the B.C. program is years ahead of the rest of Canada in sport, sport theory and overall fitness. Programs in the province are even receiving international attention.

"We are the leading edge. People are watching us because they want to do what we are doing now. We don’t want to lose that edge. The athletes in this province are not just strong, we are in the process of bringing up kids as the whole athlete, as a complete person," said Balyi.

The next workshop speaker was Dr. Dana Sinclair, a sports psychologist who gave a presentation on motivation, planning and goal setting. While most athletes are dedicated to learning skills and training the body, she believes athletes are neglecting the mental skills that matter most when they are called upon to perform.

"If you talk to any successful athlete, ask them how much of what they do is mental, they’ll tell you 75 per cent, 80 per cent," said Dr. Sinclair. "Good mental preparation is something that every great athlete has in common. It’s the way they prepare for a competition, what is going through their minds up in the start gate, the way they handle adversity, that gets them to the top."

She took athletes and coaches through a series of exercises athletes can use to self-regulate their mental processes leading up to and during a competition, including technical cues, what you tell yourself, visioning exercises, and behaviours that build confidence.

"You can wake up in the morning and everything feels good, everything works, but how often does this happen?" Dr. Sinclair asked. "Can you count on it? The answer is no. Sometimes competing is the last thing you feel like doing, but you’re not going to have a choice.

"The key is mental toughness, the ability to perform to your potential any time, anywhere. It’s confidence."

Following Dr. Sinclair, the group broke up into three training and competing seminars: one for athletes with Olympic physiotherapist Allison Megeney and strength and conditioning specialist Neil Purves; one for coaches with Dr. Sinclair; and one for parents with Lynda Cannell, the director of SportMedBC since its creation in 1982. Cannell’s presentation was called "Parenting an Elite Athlete," and was tailored to help parents foster mental, physical and technical skills in their children while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

SportMedBC develops and co-ordinates educational programs and services for the provincial sport system by connecting coaches, athletes and sports medicine practitioners.

Following the seminars and a dinner break, Whistler’s Britt Janyk gave a short speech relating her own experiences on her way to the national ski team.

"There are always times when you feel frustrated or disappointed in yourself and wonder what you’re doing out there. When that happens I always take a second to remember why I got into racing in the first place, and that’s because I love to ski and I love the mountains. And racing is just another aspect of skiing."

The next session was nutrition with Dr. Susan Crawford, a registered dietician and nutritionist who has been a sports nutrition consultant for the past 15 years.

Her presentation covered the basics of a good diet, an overview of energy and recovery foods, eating strategies, as well as the issue of nutritional sport supplements.

"Once again the best example is the Europeans. It’s not supplements either. A long time ago they learned that the better you eat, the better you perform," said Dr. Crawford.

"We’re not going off the rails with this, we’ve just lost touch with what good food is. The basic rule is if it’s been to a few factories on the way from the field to your mouth, then you’re not get everything you need."

The final session was a repeat of the earlier training and competition session, with parents and coaches learning about injury prevention, recovery and regeneration from Megeney and Purves, and athletes learning the specifics of mental preparation from Dr. Sinclair.

Bob Kusch, a chairperson for the Telus Whistler Sport Centre, said the SportMap primer was a huge success.

"It was by far the largest SportMap Primer held anywhere in the province, and a plus is that the calibre of the presenters was very high," he said. "The best part was that we got to see all the young athletes and future Olympians there, so the information is getting to the right people."

Kusch says more SportMap Primer events will be scheduled in the future, focusing on more specific topics such as nutrition and mental preparation.

Part of the mandate of the Telus Whistler Sport Centre is to host the SportMap Primer Workshops, which were conceived in 1999 when sports organizations came together to form the B.C. Sport System Integration Group. Programs.

The Telus Whistler Sport Centre is funded by the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Bid’s LegaciesNow program.