Why have standards fallen..

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08/11/2005 at 07:33
Great thread, and frankly don't know the answer, but I believe it to be the culture prevalent as BR amongst others have eluded to, with a lack of emphasis on sport for youngsters.

Can't remember who posted it earlier, but part of the reason I gave up athletics when I left school (early-mid 80s) was that despite running 2.15 for the 800m I struggled to figure in the top 3 at sports day - that and the lack of enthusiasm from Medway AC to any newcomers.
08/11/2005 at 07:46
As a father of a 15 year old (a time when you are probably deciding what to do with your life) I think there may be another factor. In my daughter's year the best athletes (and some are obviously destined for elite standard) are tracked on to professional rugby (we are in Gloucestershire). I think the same thing happens with professional football in other places.

Dare I say that for a young teenager distance running may not seem as glamorous?
08/11/2005 at 10:06
I think with football you are probably already in the system long before you reach 15 - not sure when they can sign forms (14 maybe) but certainly by 11 the best players are linked to clubs, and outstanding kids could easily be tracked from the age of 7 or 8. Bit of a tangent but I think it's dangerous to think you can predict a kid will become an elite standard athlete - I've played plenty of football with lads who were on the books with league clubs, a lot simply don't progress. Similarly with cycling - I train with a guy who was the national junior 10 mile TT champ - OK so he's still pretty good but nothing outstanding.
08/11/2005 at 10:07
I should add that i was playing football for pub teams - so you can see these lads must have got worse with age if anything!
08/11/2005 at 17:24
B Rubble, but in Gloucester you have Dave Farrows group (and without courting too much controversy) which contains some of the very best young athletic talent in the UK.
09/11/2005 at 13:33
There seem to be numerous different strands going on across this thread.
The one that began it concerning the decline in standard of a particular local road race might be a bit misleading. This doesn't necessarily indicate a decline in standard - it could just as easily be interpreted as the decline in status of the particular local road race - maybe events like BMCs o the track are where the best of a regions MD/LD runners go to face off rather than local road races.

The decline in 20th/50th/100th in national rankings and the dropping of standards for GFA are however more accurate measures of the decline that still need explaining.

I'm not sure that it is true to say that club runners set themselves lower standards becausethey think that 4hrs is now a good marathon time rather than 3hrs. Those at the sharp end, aiming for the 2:30 type times strike me in their attitudes as those most committed to constant improvement rather than feeling satisfaction at their lead over the majority - they move from achieving one target to wanting to set a new one. Outsiders may see anyone doing sub4 as "really fit" but does this really affect attitudes within athletic community?

Whether they still suffer from lack of competition in their environment is another matter. I'd like more people around my standard to push me but we are relatively few in my area. Of those who I could train with, we all have different ways of training - eg some guys won't come to track because of a history of injuries and prefer to train off road or we aim at different distances. I'm not sure doing a type of training geared to someone other than myself just in order to be pushed by them in training would have helped me improve more than I have by prioritising what I need in the way of elements in my training (although within that I appreciate it when I have someone to push me.)

While this may not have a great effect in hindering/helping individual club runners improve through training, the point about participation at the important age for training to have an effect, rather than having large numbers of vets in the sport is valid. If there are fewer young competitive runners, you will produce fewer elite times and sub-elite times - however smartly/intensely the individual runners are training.

09/11/2005 at 13:33
The question of weight is an interesting one. It maybe a hindrance to those who come into the sport late with a sedentary background and carrying extra pounds, but to those who start young, and from whom the majority of elite and sub-elite are drawn, the very fact of doing sport at a young age probably means the weight of your average youngsters in athletic clubs varies a lot less from 20 years ago in comparison with that of the general population. So is it that important with regard to the elite level?

So what plays into lower participation levels at the key ages? Bryn's post suggests it's not in the youngest age groups that the problem lies, but more in the U17 through university phase. Why does athletics have such a high dropout rate. Is it schools sports falling away at this age as league tables drive need for results at GCSE/A level? If so, why are other sports not affected? We have had two of our most successful post-war Olympic games in Athens and Sydney. England sides have won the Ashes and Rugby World Cup.
Is it then the competition from other sports? I once heard Brendan Foster mention how popular Athletics at Gateshead was when guys like Cram and himself were running and that the leading local football sides on occasion moved their games to Friday night to avoid competing - an idea that seems laughable now. Do the multi-talented individuals choose other sports at 17/18? Does this explain why this decline seems predominantly male (popularity of rugby, football etc with men) and we have women's teams that perform well at World XC etc. Alternatively, is this male decline linked with increased familial responsibilities as Popsider and BR hinted at?

Bryn further hinted at problems with age group training not being geared towards long-term progression. My own experience though is that not all youngsters are turned into speed demons with no aerobic endurance. I could pick runners in my club like that but equally others who run 3k times that their 800/1500 times wouldn't indicate as possible.

Finally, I'd disagree that TV coverage is a great problem. There is greater availability now of Grand Prix/Marathon/road race coverage than ever before. Many people say that this is largely on niche channels rather than widely available, but this is true of athletics in all countries. I'd challenge anyone to give an example of any free to air broadcaster that covers Athletics better than the BBC in Europe or America and there is no resulting British dominance from this pretty decent coverage by Auntie.

09/11/2005 at 13:34
Stuff to be thinking about at any rate...
09/11/2005 at 14:30
What a great and interesting thread. Along with all the other factors that have been mentioned, I do think that there are socio-economic elements to the decline in standards of long-distance running (marathoning in particular).

Those who peaked in the early 80s would likely have been growing up at a time when (as well as getting out and about on bicycles, playing outdoors and probably walking to school) women tended to stay at home and raise the children. Financially this was possible because housing prices were lower and mortgages were generally sustainable on one salary. Men (and it was mostly men) were able to devote more time to training because their wives took a large proportion of the responsibility for childcare and managing the home.

Fast forward 30 years or so and it's likely that to be able to afford the mortgage, the majority of couples both work full-time. To manage this whilst raising a family and running a home requires greater time commitment from both partners and this means less time to train. Couple this with other factors mentioned - more sedentary lifestyle generally, weight issues, greater kudos and earnings potential for talented youngsters of other sports such as football or rugby - and it perhaps shouldn't be any great surprise that the 'golden age' is past not present.
09/11/2005 at 15:25
Fair Points HC. The race in question was the now defunct Tadcaster 10. I nevertheless think the general trend downwards is true. I was talking to a couple of decent vets from Hartlepool recently who were astonished at the decline in road racing in the last 20 years.. 'I used to run 32:** for 10k and finished 20th in those days' was a typical remark.

BTW are you still running for the Acorn club?

Another interesting perspective Minks, who will be staying in when you two become a threesome? {o:
09/11/2005 at 15:29
Yes I am still running for Acorn on the roads and Rowntree on Track/XC. May be my last year in York coming up though as I'll finish my MA in September next year and work may well take me elsewhere.
09/11/2005 at 15:33
Who do you run for by the way Wardi? I get the impression from your posts that you're in York/N.Yorks area as well? Do I know you but not know your forum name?
09/11/2005 at 16:08
Wardi, if and when we become three I have made it quite clear that running will be my hard-earned 'me time'. How this will be fitted in is something I haven't dared ponder on as yet! Better to wait until it happens I think ...
09/11/2005 at 16:32
Minks.. my clubmate Joanne has a 2 year old boy. She has great support from her hubby & Mum & Dad with babysitting duties, she needs it as she runs her own business! She managed to squeeze in enough training last winter to post a 3:14 at FLM at age 40 so I suppose she is proof it can be done! She tells me her racing weight is 7st 10ish. After the birth she was horrified to find she was carrying nearly 3 stone over! Most of this was water retention, the rest gradually disappeared over about 6 months training. The things you have have to look forward to {o:

HC.. I run as a vet for Tadcaster Harriers. I think I know you from the York SRL races, I normally finish around 30th place. I decided to show willing today, bus to work in York, run home tonight.
10/11/2005 at 09:52
Thanks Wardi, you've managed to both cheer me and horrify me at the same time! I'm cheered by the thought that it's possible to achieve a good marathon time even when juggling the responsibilities of work and childcare (as long as the support network is there, of course). I'm horrified at the thought of gaining anywhere near 3 stone in weight! My normal weight is 7st 2lb - I'd look like a barrel if I got anywhere near 10st, especially as I'm only 5'1"! And the thought of it taking 6 months to get rid of it ... doesn't bear thinking about!!

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