Tina Clayton at Champs 2019 - Jamaica high school
Tina Clayton at Champs 2019

I have heard the argument that athletes from the consistently winning top-three boys and top-two girls schools participating in the Jamaica high school athletic championship tend to disproportionately transition far less athletes to the senior ranks than those from the other schools. I find this argument overly simplistic. The believers of this reasoning assume that high school performance always equal talent.

Kids develop at different times and ages. Coaching differences can be a reason for differences in performance. Of course, at times overzealous or impatient coached put high performing kids on an advanced program, which fast-forwards performance and less improvement, if any, at the tail end.

World Athletics (formerly IAAF) ended the world youth competition because many of the top youth did not transition to top junior. The world youth competition was about athletes from all over the world. The top performers were coming from all corners of the globe. The lack of transition had nothing to do with a similarity between other countries’ high school systems and Jamaica. Also, when looking at the data, most top world under-20 (formerly world junior) performers do not transition to dominate the senior level.

Should we conclude that the lack of transition from youth to junior to senior on the world stage is because the world athletic system at the junior level mirrors Jamaica’s high school athletic system? Cuba has a development system that consistently produces top-quality senior field events performers but never on the track in the way Jamaica does. Why? Is this because their high school did it to them? Jamaican high school athletes’ performances have been consistently world-class at the youth and junior level because of the competitive system they are in. This does not mean Jamaica is blessed with most of the world’s best talent year in and year out except for three boys’ schools and two girls’ schools.

Funny enough, someone told me a story about a question he asked one of the top senior coaches in history. The brethren said he asked the coach about a particular athlete and his response was, “you cannot use high school performance to judge talent”. For me, most times the athlete that came on late is a better predictor of the future than those who dominate early. There is a reason why so few win 100m in every class in Jamaica high school competition – Donald Quarrie and Dexter Lee for the boys and Aleen Bailey for the girls.
World athletics found the transition rate unacceptably low and put an end to world youth competition. Lest anyone misunderstand, they did not do it because of Jamaican high school athletes’ transition or lack thereof. This argument about the top three boys and two girls athletic performing schools doing worse than the other high schools in transitioning athletes to senior level has been going on for a while. Many hold this belief. There may be some that got messed up by their coach, but to make a blanket accusation of schools is a fallacy based on the belief that most, if not all, high school performances equal talent. Another assumption the believers of the high school causation effect make is that all, if not most, high school athletes’ improvement is or should be linear. Thus the top high school performers should transition and be the best seniors.  There are multiple variables to cause an athlete to reach senior stardom. Talent is one of many. Moreover, not many persons can spot world-class talent before maturation.

With the ISSA Grace Kennedy Boys’ and Girls’ Championships starting on Tuesday, April 5th, 2022, go and enjoy the great performances coming from all age groups and schools. Just be mindful that the vast majority of top performers will not make it to be future greats. This has nothing to do with what school the kid is attending. For every event there are only eight lanes on the world stage, so remind them to strive to be great student athletes and not just great athletes. For sports in general, the success story is miniscule when compared with the failure numbers.
*** The views expressed in this article are those of the author (Robert Taylor) and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, trackalerts.com.
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