Re-thinking the mission of Malaysia's sport associations

    The good news is Malaysia achieved its 7-gold medal target at the just completed Asian Games in Jakarta. The bad news is officials and the public expected more. The low-key announcement of the target signaled a low confidence level before the contingent even left for Jakarta. This particular competition was touted as the final test of the ambitious Podium Program, Malaysia's high performance scheme to raise its standard in international competition. That program will probably be judged as a failure now and high level analysis will try to determine why, and what, if anything, should take its place. If you listen carefully you can almost hear officials asking "What now?"

    The bad news -- recent results from international games, a new government facing economic challenges, and the imminent Podium Program review -- could actually be good news. These issues may just be the 'perfect storm' of events that will jumpstart changes in the Malaysian sport structure. Officials need to look outside the Podium Program at the bigger picture of how sport works in Malaysia. Because of the money and other resources invested in the Podium Program it's an easy target for post-Games analysis but limiting inquiry to just the Podium Program will not yield the answers Malaysian sport needs right now.

    Decision makers have essentially two choices: (1) They can decide that renewed emphasis on the typical sport development go-to's -- schools, talent ID, new leadership -- is a viable option only this time they'll do it better. This, obviously, is not a good idea. Or (2) They can enlarge and formalize the role that associations play in development, and, through practices like making future funding dependent on achieving strategic key performance indicators (KPIs), pass much of the development and performance planning to the sport associations. (A much better idea!)

    The Podium Program has a small footprint that affects few Malaysian athletes and has no role at all in producing new athletes. Nonetheless, it is a vital component in the overall sport structure, but the kind of change Malaysia needs has to be much more wide ranging with more clubs, more coaches, more athletes, if sustained improvement is to be realized. The athlete pool needs to be deeper.

    Embrace a broad definition of sport development

    I wrote previously about how sport development should be defined and how Malaysian sport officials focus too much on the elite level of performance and almost not at all on increasing the size of the athlete pool.

    The number of athletes involved in a sport at all levels has a significant effect on performance at the very top level. Currently Malaysia focuses on elite performance to the point of almost completely ignoring the 'grassroots'.

    Development needs to be defined broadly. The athlete pool needs to be larger, organized, and understood demographically. This is not an easy task and, so far, associations have shied away from any large efforts at increasing the athlete pool in their sports. This is why the ministry should establish KPIs that address development issues, and then hold associations responsible for them through annual funding formulas.

    Associations need to eliminate their 'super club' structures

    Some sport associations have evolved into super clubs by getting all top athletes from clubs around the country to join their own nationalized training programs. These programs typically have top coaches and sport science support from the National Sports Institute or other experts. Athletes participate in these programs on a long-term basis, sometimes for years. The Badminton Association of Malaysia has even gone so far as to coerce players into leaving their clubs if they want to play in high level tournaments.

    Presumably the quality of training in these super clubs is high but these kinds of programs are not beneficial to the long-term health of Malaysian sport for four reasons:

    1. Clubs are the lifeblood of sport development and poaching athletes so they can join nationalized programs cripples the club system.
    2. Super clubs discourage other clubs from participating in national sport endeavors. Clubs and coaches have little motivation to produce top level athletes if they're only to be snatched up by the national association when they reach the elite level.
    3. A super club structure effectively means that there is only one club in the country. In terms of overall development super clubs are a step backward. It may be thought to promote the best training scenario for the sport's top athletes but realistically the return on investment from such programs is limited and conducted at the expense of all other athletes not yet at this level.
    4. Getting out of the training business will free up funds to spend on development programs. Sport associations say that lack of funding is one of the reasons they don't have adequate developmental programs. By ditching the super club model the money saved can be redirected to development.

    The performance of super club athletes is claimed to be a motivating factor for younger athletes so that they will persist in their training and eventually rise to the level where they too can represent the country. This idea assumes that younger athletes have the opportunities to do this; the coaches who can offer instruction, training, and mentoring; a competition schedule that supports development; and transparent pathways for progress. The super club model provides none of these things. In fact it effectively prevents them from happening.

    Sport associations are administrative bodies, they should not be in the business of training athletes. The current evolution of associations into super clubs has hurt club development. Strengthening the club system is critical to future sport success.

    National team qualification needs to be more transparent

    The super club model also clouds the issue of national team selection. How can athletes who are not part of the nationalized program ever be selected for international competitions? Without a clear answer to this question athletes have little reason to focus on their training, and no matter what level they are at presently their motivation to 'qualify' for the Malaysian national team is diminished.

    Because of backroom lobbying, association politics, and opaque funding issues the path to the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, or any large international fixture rests only partially on performance. The rest is determined by factors completely outside the athlete's control. This creates a poor motivational and training environment.

    Obviously it is easier to select athletes in some sports than others. Team sports or sports that are judged, for example, pose unique problems for selection committees. Additionally teams need to be formed well in advance of competitions so that players can develop the dynamic so important to team success.

    Other sports, those measured with time, distance, and weight -- the so-called cgs sports (centimeters, grams, and seconds) -- can be much more straightforward with their selection process. A simple trials competition to select the national team prior to an international games would assure the respective association that the best athletes were selected. This method of talent selection was discussed in a previous article.

    The path to the national team should be transparent and fair. All athletes, whether they are part of a nationalized program or not, should understand what it takes to become a member of a national team and have the opportunity to participate in the selection process.

    The sport hierarchy in Malaysia must appreciate the motivational aspect of making these processes transparent. Sport is a meritocracy and selection processes should be put in place that reinforce this.

    The future of Malaysian sport lies with the sport associations. Any national review of sport structure and policy should aim to strengthen the associations and begin to insist that sport development become their primary mission.

    --------
    Bill Price (price@sportkid.asia) is the owner and Chief Data Scientist at Sportkid Metrics.

     

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    Fear of missing out is hurting youth sports - 23 October 2018


    Deliberate practice vs. late specialization - 24 September 2018


    Is talent identification even possible? - 17 September 2018


    Who won the Asian Games? - 10 September 2018


    Re-thinking the mission of Malaysia's sport associations - 03 September 2018


    Using maturity offsets to determine age at peak height velocity - 27 August 2018


    The youth sport talent illusion: How we confuse early-maturers with good athletes - 13 August 2018


    The tip of the iceberg: What are we seeing when we watch elite sport performances? - 30 July 2018


    7 things youth sport coaches should know - 25 June 2018


    Who is responsible for athlete performance: Athletes, coaches, or committees? - 18 June 2018


    Creating a culture of achievement in sport - 05 June 2018


    Sport development in the headlines (sort of): Is Malaysia really serious about revamping their sports system? - 28 May 2018


    Who won the Commonwealth Games? A points analysis of the Gold Coast games - 23 April 2018


    Kaizen: Improving sport administration will improve performance - 02 April 2018


    What can Malaysia learn from Norway about sport development? - 05 March 2018


    More efficiency tips for coaches: Dealing with more than one email address and other communication ideas - 26 February 2018


    Efficiency tips for coaches: What can you do to work more efficiently? - 19 February 2018


    LTAD: Training to compete - 22 January 2018


    Sport clubs are the lifeblood of national sport development. They need help from sport associations to do their job. - 15 January 2018


    Sometimes taking risks is the only way to improve: Take a chance! - 18 December 2017


    How we calculate age in youth sports can have benefits and consequences - 11 December 2017


    What is bio-banding? Can it help reduce the relative age effect in sport? - 04 December 2017


    Understanding the role that intrinsic and extrinsic motivation play in the athlete development process - 20 November 2017


    Great expectations: Expect more, get more! What we learn from raising the bar in sport performance - 14 November 2017


    Why process is far more important than outcome in a learning environment - 25 September 2017


    Sport associations are embracing physical literacy training - 18 September 2017


    Creating a true sport development system in Malaysia - 11 September 2017


    Who won the SEA Games? - 04 September 2017


    KL2017: Reporting individual sport results deserved better planning - 29 August 2017


    Can we please forget about ways to identify talent and just work on getting more athletes? - 07 August 2017


    Using the team selection process to boost motivation and increase athlete participation - 24 July 2017


    LTAD: The Train to Train stage - 10 July 2017


    LTAD: The Learn-to-Train stage - 26 June 2017


    Athletic training for youngsters - 12 June 2017


    Visualization and imagery in sports - 05 June 2017


    Young, single-sport athletes suffer more injuries and do not reach their full potential - 29 May 2017


    Transformational vs. transactional coaching - 23 May 2017


    Will they come back tomorrow? The most important KPI for youth sport coaches - 08 May 2017


    Advice to parents of young athletes - 01 May 2017


    Is VIP leadership of sport associations a good idea? - 22 March 2017


    What happens after an athlete's initial introduction to sport? - 27 February 2017


    "Where do athletes come from?" A paper presented at the Kuching sport psychology conference - 16 January 2017


    Understanding sport talent pathways - 09 January 2017


    Make 2017 the year of the growth mindset - 02 January 2017


    Teaching physical literacy skills in youth sport practices - 12 December 2016


    Developing sport from the ground up: How does the process really work? - 06 December 2016


    Pay for what you want: Why less government funding may be the best strategy for sport development - 21 November 2016


    The 10,000 hour rule: "Not for the faint of heart nor for the impatient" - 14 November 2016


    Parent involvement in their child's sport participation sometimes backfires - 07 November 2016


    How to do the measurements for determining peak height velocity (PHV) - 24 October 2016


    A foreign coach is not always the answer - 17 October 2016


    Tips on creating an effective coaching environment - 10 October 2016


    Peak height velocity and aerobic development: Using simple measurement data to inform training decisions - 26 September 2016


    Early sport specialization is still not a good idea - 19 September 2016


    What kind of data do we need to develop sports? - 13 September 2016


    The attrition and transformation models of sport development - 05 September 2016


    Solve for <x> - 29 August 2016


    Artificial elimination of athletes from training and competition hinders sport development in Malaysia - 15 August 2016


    Time is the most important factor in talent development - 01 August 2016


    What if opportunity never knocks? - 13 June 2016


    The long-term athlete development framework offers youngsters a chance at sport success and an active and healthy life - 06 June 2016


    Early sport specialization is not a good development strategy - 30 May 2016


    What does a declining population mean for sport? - 2 February 2016


    Coaching 'flow' - 11 November 2015


    The coach's role in creating a deliberate practice environment - 02 November 2015


    When should athletes specialize in a single sport? - 11 September 2015


    Physical literacy: The Holy Grail of health, wellness, and sport development - 1 September 2015


    Revisiting the 10,000 hour rule: Practical thoughts on talent and practice - 10 August 2015


    The power of 'not yet' - 20 July 2015


    Let's stop trying to identify sport talent and start developing it - 22 June 2015