Identifying talent is just not enough

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By Allan Parrott

IT is all well and good to identify talent, but identifying talent is just not enough. After the talent has been identified it needs to be maximised. Let us say in our case (South Africa) to win Olympic Gold. Who will guide the athlete to achieve this goal?

Talent Identification in the old South African Senior Schools Sports Association (SASSSA) was aided tremendously by the “reach” that SASSSA had.

Talent Identification in the old South African Senior Schools Sports Association (SASSSA) was aided tremendously by the “reach” that SASSSA had. It reached every corner of the country.

It reached every corner of the country. However, after the talent was identified, the talent was not developed/maximised by SASSSA. It was left to individual teachers and the clubs to “develop” the athletes and give of their time and effort (and in most cases, money). Sharon Smith (néé Klein) touched upon this when she explained how the Maclons couple and Ian Rutgers looked after her interests. So did Roslyn Meyer when she named the teacher, who put her up in her living space.

Developing athletes

I think almost all of the SASSSA star athletes of yesteryear can tell you stories about the teacher or club coach behind them. I cannot remember any development from SASSSA in developing the athletes any further. Be it monetary or supplying equipment – even coaching courses and/or clinics were under the auspices of the South Africa Amateur Athletics Board (SAAAB). So, it seems, although SASSSA supplied the platform for the athletes to perform, it was up to individuals to further develop athletes from their own resources in the old SASSSA.

Corporate sponsors

When I look at the recent SA track and field team, which participated at the African Championships in Durban, I would like to think that some of the young athletes have been developed by programmes set up by Athletics South Africa – paid for by some benefactor, be it Athletics South Africa, corporate sponsors or government. Here I think of athletes such as Keagan Fourie (high jump), Rushwal Samaai (long jump), Luvo Manyonga (long jump), Alyssa Conley, Tamzyn Thomas (sprints) Maryke Brits, Taylon Bieldt (hurdles) and numerous others. However, my expectations of Athletics South Africa and their development programmes might be too high. If it is, this means that elite athletes in South Africa (now and then) are more the products of the input of their parents’, teachers, clubs and tertiary institutions and not the product of a system of development programmes.

Allan Parott
Allan Parrott of the Stellenbosch Amateur Athletics Club leads the senior men’s 1500m at the Vygieskraal Stadium during the 1980s.

Necessary resources

So we can go back to the system which SASSSA used i.e. inter-house meetings, inter-schools, Champ of Champs, provincial and national school meetings, but the question remains: Who is going to take the Wayde van Niekerks beyond the national school meeting? Are we going to rely on Steven and Odessa (parents), Grey College (school), University of the Free State (tertiary institution) or Anna Botha (individual coach)?

My position regarding development was, always, that the national federation should allow the individual coach to guide his athletes to realise their dreams – but the individual coach must be provided with the necessary resources – in other words, a development of the individual coach should take place. Why? Because that is where the passion lies. Let the coach find and develop the athlete. Let him do the work of maximising the talent of the athlete and assist him to grow with his charges.

 Luzuko Mfubo, Freddie Williams, Charlie Banjatwa and Allan Parrott.
In 1979, Allan Parrott (329) earned his place in the Western Province cross country team alongside team mates Luzuko Mfubo, Freddie Williams and Charlie Banjatwa.

The cost of coaching

Unfortunately, if a coach wants to find and develop athletes, it means he will need money. If he wants to attend a coaching course, buy books, DVDs to stay abreast of what is going on in his coaching field, transport to and from training and race venues, support for the athletes – food, medical assistance, transport, apparel and equipment, etc – that is all money.  At the recent African Championships, a jumps coach showed me the very, very expensive phone he bought to video record his charges and then play it back in slow motion. Apparently, the phone can slow the action down to such an extent that he could see every individual frame of the run-up, the take-off, the arch over the bar and the landing. Again this is a matter of passion in getting the latest technology in order to improve his skills and provide his athletes with the best training aids. And all this cost money.


A payout of R100 000,00 once every four years after the coach produced an Olympic gold medallist, is just not enough. We do not have to reinvent the wheel, other countries have shown us exactly how much it cost to produce Olympic medallists.

I know that the powers-that-be is mindful of handing money to individual coaches. There is always the possibility that the money can be misappropriated, but it is not difficult to monitor a coach and see exactly which coach is doing what and which coach delivers, and then distribute the money accordingly.

This is the 1982 Western Province Senior Schools Sports Union’s track and field team.

Systems for distribution of money can be worked out. Where there is a will, there will be a way. Support like physiotherapy, biokinetics, chiropractics, orthotists, nutritionists, etc can be centralised and subsidised, but that will bring the matter of transport to the fore again.


I say the individual coach is out there and he or she is working with the talent. The coach has so much passion that  it is enough to find an athlete at the innermost nooks and crannies in the city and from the far flung corners of this country right to Olympic gold. Please assist him (or her) in every way possible, before we lose him (or her) and his athletes.

*Allan Parrott has been coaching since 1978 and was coach to numerous SA Athletes in events ranging from the 100m, 200m Long Jump (Craig Steyn), 800m, 1500 (Rubin Steyn, Dezroy Pool), High Jump (Derrick Hendricks), Cross-country (Priscilla Windwaai, Jeannetta Abrahams and Emmanuel Springbok), Marathon and Ultra Marathon (Jowaine Parrott) and Triathlon (Brad Storm and Carl Storm).

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