Don’t complain about bad paths to sporting success, look to Norway
But, as everyone in sport knows only too well, there is no such thing.
There was a lot of talk last week about the failure of the paths in Scottish rugby. A dismal Six Nations campaign by Scotland U20 boys, in which they won just one game, has led to a kind of deep dive into the sport to find out why talent is so scarce.
It’s not necessarily a widespread problem in Scottish sport. This country is already batting above its weight in some sports.
Andy Murray is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. In athletics, there are some runners who can call themselves world-class in the likes of Laura Muir, Jake Wightman, Josh Kerr and Eilish McColgan. And with Olympic champions Duncan Scott, Kathleen Dawson and Katie Archibald, there’s talent in both the swimming pool and road cycling.
But for all the success of these individuals, there is little doubt that Scotland does not have a watertight plan to ensure that we consistently produce top athletes with the regularity we desire.
One look at our men’s football and rugby teams – the sports in which many Scots strive to be particularly successful – bears this out.
Our population is often cited as the reason. But that doesn’t wash up when you compare this country to Norway, which has managed to carve a path across the sporting spectrum as effectively as any other country in the world.
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The list of Norway’s sports champions is amazing. The Scandinavian nation’s past success is impressive, but its current achievements are even more remarkable. From being by a wide margin at the top of the medal table at the last two Winter Olympics, to the production of the Ingebrigtsen brothers and in particular Jakob Ingebrigtsen, who is one of the true contemporary stars in athletics, to the development of two of the world’s best footballers from Erling Haaland and Ada Hegerberg to Viktor Hovland in the top 10 in golf to Casper Ruud in the top 5 in tennis, Norway’s production line is stunning.
This from a country of just 5.5 million people, which is almost identical to Scotland.
So what is Norway doing right and what should we copy?
A large part of their success in winter sports is due to the fact that there are limitless ways to be in the snow.
But weather conditions don’t make a champion. There is a sports culture in Norway that primarily focuses on using sports to promote children’s social development, rather than focusing on winning.
In children’s sports, there is no first to last ranking until the age of 13. There is an explicit understanding that the pressure to win when young and a focus on results rather than fun are detrimental to long-term development.
Contrast that with some of the outrageous screams you hear from adults on the sidelines at children’s football matches in Scotland.
Second, long-term investments are crucial. Yes, Norway is a prosperous country, but just like snow-capped mountains don’t necessarily make ski champions, money doesn’t automatically guarantee winners.
After Norway was dismal at the 1988 Winter Olympics and unable to win a gold medal, funding and support for the sport increased significantly. However, investment was not only concentrated among the elite few; Rather, it has been used to fund grassroots sport, with the obvious implication that a broader base of the pyramid ensures better progression to the top.
The statistics on children’s participation in sports and activities in Norway – 80 per cent of children between the ages of 6 and 12 take part in at least one sport – are impressive.
So while Scotland would need years or even decades to replicate the Norwegian system, if we are to stop bemoaning the lack of an effective way, we must try to make incremental changes.
There may not be a guaranteed blueprint, but we would do well to copy the Norwegian model as closely as possible if we are to improve Scotland’s success rate in producing top athletes.
There’s longevity in sport, and then there’s Rafa Nadal’s longevity.
Last week, the 36-year-old Spaniard fell out of the world top 10 for the first time since April 24, 2005, slipping to 13th in the ATP rankings.
What an amazing statistic.
When Nadal broke into the top 10 as a teenager, Tony Blair was Britain’s Prime Minister, Woolworths was still on the high street and the current men’s No. 1, Carlos Alcaraz, wasn’t even one yet.
For 912 consecutive weeks, Nadal has been an integral part of the world top 10. Its exceptional durability is unmatched in global individual sport.
To put it in perspective, Alcaraz would need to stay where he is until October 2039 to improve Nadal’s streak.
It’s easy to underestimate how challenging it is to stay at the top of a sport for so long, but it’s often repeated by the world’s best that getting there is easy, staying there is much more difficult.
And so, for all of Nadal’s accomplishments, and there are many, his top 10 streak is arguably the most impressive of them all.