Well it’s been quite a while since I have posted. This was for a good reason though as my daughter was born in October of last year. It has been an overwhelming, joyful experience and a life changer. As time has gone along ( she is eight and a half months old now), I have likened my experience to the sporting arena. Sporting organizations,clubs and teams have at some point unearthed ‘a baby’, a youth who has brought something extra, vibrant and meaningful to the plate. In some cases they have produced these young gems at will through well structured development programs and academies while in other cases talented ‘babies’ have been discovered but forced to thrive in challenging environments. Allow me to draw reference to ‘babies’ in different arenas of sport.
Hector Bellerin is an Arsenal youth who seized his chance this past season after an injury to starting right fullback Matt Debuchy. Carefully nurtured through the club’s academy system, he was promoted to the first team in 2014/15. The twenty year old started shakily with some positional issues but as time went along achieved a good balance between getting forward and defending. His improvement was so marked that he kept Debuchy from getting back into the starting lineup on his return from injury in April. Bellerin has been rewarded with a new long term contract and at the age of 20 the sky is the limit. It would be remiss of me not to mention another ‘baby’ like Kurt Zouma who stepped in admirably when starting Chelsea stopper, Gary Cahill was going through a bad spell. Zouma also played some effective roles in defensive midfield on occasion adding a freshness to the Chelsea juggernaut as they sauntered to the 2014/15 Premier League title. What has impressed me is his pace over short distances and as a result his ability to make quick recoveries. Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has already gushed about him in the media with a name like Marcel Desailly being mentioned in the same breath.
On December 20th, 2014 the West Indies Cricket Board announced that Barbadian bowling all-rounder Jason Holder would be assuming the role of captain of the West Indies 50 over side. He was the youngest player given such an honor at 23 years of age. A poisoned chalice maybe? The selectors indicated that the move was made with an eye on the future, but the decision makers in West Indies cricket have for a long time let down the region with regards to administration of the wonderful game. A lack of continuity with player development programmes as well as poor planning and constant bickering with the players’ union WIPA has led West Indies cricket into chaos and mediocrity. The Windies team has plummeted in the world rankings and the poor attitude of players and lack of commitment to fitness have been shown up by better prepared opponents. Can Holder succeed in this situation? It seems impossible to see West Indies cricket returning to the glory days of the 80’s but maybe Jason Holder can help his team remain competitive in the future. Despite the poor showing in the recent World Cup, Holder demonstrated his fight and talent with two well constructed knocks against India and South Africa in losing efforts. He also played a defiant, match saving 103 in the recently drawn Test series against England where the Windies surprised many with some gutsy displays. Holder does have to work more on his bowling as it is felt that at a height of 6 feet 7 inches he should be generating more pace out of his frame and become more penetrative in the Test arena. Hopefully the West Indies coach, Phil Simmons has recognized this and will work on it.
When I compare Holder with another cricket ‘baby’ of the past thrust into leadership at a young age there is a clear difference in environment and circumstances. Opening batsman Graeme Smith was appointed as South Africa cricket captain in 2003 similarly as Holder with little experience at that level. The difference is that South African cricket was on the way up and the administration and players were clearly more structured and professional in their approach. Smith turned out to be a great captain for South Africa and in 2005 his captaincy credentials were recognized when he was appointed captain of the ICC World XI against Australia. Smith, in addition to being a great batsman, was allowed to flourish in a more stable environment, something that Holder would surely benefit from at this time. We as West Indians can only hope and pray for this!
In the 2012 Olympic Games in London 19 year old Trinbagonian javelin thrower Keshorn Walcott shocked the world by claiming the gold medal amongst a strong field. Keshorn became the youngest athlete to win javelin gold at an Olympic Games. He also became the first athlete in any event to win Olympic and World Junior gold in the same year. Keshorn came back home to Trinidad and Tobago to receive national awards, land, a house and other rewards. Since then there have been reports that he has become distracted by the ‘bright lights’ and his career dipped a bit instead of maintaining an upward curve. Keshorn himself has admitted that his Cuban born coach Ismael Lopez Astrapa likes to take him away from distractions to help him focus on training and remaining healthy. Hope still abounds as he recently broke the national record in the Diamond league meeting in Birmingham with a throw of 86.43 metres to get a bronze medal.On July 9th Keshorn again broke the national record with a throw of 90.16 metres to win gold at the Diamond league meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland.
While Trinbagonians are hoping for Keshorn to medal again in Rio 2016 we may have another ‘javelin baby’ in that field in a year’s time. That gentleman’s name is Tyriq Horsford who won the javelin gold medal at the recent CARIFTA games in April. Tyriq stunned regional media by breaking the existing CARIFTA record of 67.67m and setting a new 70.43m standard. What is even more amazing is that Tyriq is only 15 and his potential for much more is amazing. His coach Wade Franklyn alluded to the fact that Tyriq has willingly increased his training days from two days to four days a week. He also indicated that he has not yet subjected Tyriq to weight training due to his age and has used other forms of strength training alongside a lot of core and technique work.
‘Sporting younglings’ in differing situations have been described above but the common thread is that they bring so much hope and excitement to their fans and in the cases where they participate in team sports, to their clubs as well. The satisfaction a coach gets from the fact that he nurtured a young talent to achieve potential must bring an awesome feeling of accomplishment. Similarly, parents have this responsibility of taking special care of their children and raising them to become a credit to their family and society. Being a new father myself I have many hopes and dreams for my daughter and I hope and pray to do justice in that role. “The genesis of something magnificent and beautiful!” is what a parent thinks of his or her child and similarly for a coach given the chance to mould a young talent for the first time.
Here’s to the babies, Cheers to the babies!
This post was inspired by the Father above, my amazing wife Neome and my wonderful daughter Anaïs.