British Mentors: Q&A

Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 October 2006, 09:13 GMT 10:13 UK

Meet the mentors

Thompson and Merry have been chosen to mentor junior athletes
At the end of October, Daley Thompson and Katharine Merry will officially meet the athletes whose future they will help shape as the first UK Athletics mentors.

The ground-breaking scheme was launched in August with the intention of tapping into the experience of double Olympic decathlon champion Thompson and Merry, an Olympic 400m bronze medallist.

The pair will each be formally assigned half a dozen junior athletes, between the ages of 12 and 20, at a World Class Talent induction weekend in Loughborough.

Thompson and Merry tell BBC Sport what it means to be a mentor and about their desire to nurture the next generation of British stars.

Daley Thompson: The mentor’s role is not technical, we are not setting out to improve athletes’ techniques.

But we are aiming to give some really good youngsters an idea about what it takes to be a professional athlete. We want them to get more out of what they are doing.

It is my intention to show athletes how to get the best out of their training, to increase their intensity and to get them to be more competitive.

Katharine Merry: It is a coach’s job to look at an athlete’s strengths and weaknesses and to work out a training programme which aims to make them peak at major championships.

This scheme is not going to turn every single athlete into a gold medallist

Daley Thompson

Daley has touched on coaching before but I have no experience of that. I see mentoring as using my own experiences to get the best out of an athlete on a mental rather than physical level.

I fully expect to be asked my opinion on training sessions for young sprinters but coaching is not something I see myself doing right now.

DT: Most coaches have not been in the competitive environment and that is something I can help with.

At a major competition you have to go into a cool room, sit with the other competitors before the event - a lot of people don’t cope with that kind of intensity very well. I understand how to get around that hurdle.

The knowledge we are trying to impart is useful if you are a walker, a tennis player or a cricketer because the mental aptitude and skills you need to be successful are the same across the board.

KM: I retired in 2005 and within 24 hours I took the idea for this role to UK Athletics because I was determined not to let all my experience go to waste.

I was on the Great Britain junior team for a record-breaking six years and made the transition from junior to senior.

Anybody between the ages of 12 and 20 is being eyed up as potential medallist for the London 2012 Olympics which means there is even more pressure on them.

I was the fastest girl in the world at 14 so I understand that sort of pressure. I tick all the boxes from wrong to right and I want to pass that experience on.

DT: If I had already been assigned as a mentor to an athlete this summer then I would have seen them perform at some competitions and we would have had a few chats about their aspirations.

Discipline in all areas of an athlete’s life is the single most important thing

Katharine Merry

I would then have made some suggestions about how they can achieve what they are looking for. I will be as accessible as the athletes need me to be.

KM: The role will also be 24/7 for me. I intend to go down to watch training on a regular basis, to be communicating regularly and just letting them know that I am there for them in any aspect of track and field.

It is not a case of UK Athletics putting people in place to spy on athletes and I want to have the coaches on side too.

DT: It is really important for any sportsperson to be comfortable with your body and to get it to do what you want it to do.

But the most important thing is to find kids who are prepared to crawl over broken glass to get where they want to be.

KM: Discipline in all areas of an athlete’s life is the single most important thing.

Athletics is a tough sport and you have to be prepared to put the work in. Even then you might work your backside off for 15 years and only be quite good.

Athletes have to be disciplined on the track, in their nutrition, in how much they sleep, how they conduct their lives and they have to really want to do it.

DT: Yes - but this scheme is not the answer to all the problems that UK Athletics has. It is not going to turn every single athlete into a gold medallist.

Those involved in running athletics have to understand that in order for their business to work they have to go out there and make athletics sexy

They have to go out and trawl the schools for great kids because you cannot make slow people fast.

Thompson works on Sainsbury’s Future Champions scheme

The measure of my success would be some kid standing up and saying they’ve enjoyed working with me - you cannot put that down to a tenth of a second or an extra yard.

KM: I would have loved someone to mentor me when I was younger but you cannot ram something down people’s throats.

I hope this scheme will get athletes to come out of their shell and ask more questions. It is my job to keep them focused because we cannot afford to lose any athletes.

A few words of wisdom - simple things I take for granted after 20 years in the sport - can make all the difference.

Interviews by Sarah Holt