I spent a lovely Wednesday afternoon this week at Yardie Sports’ Women In Sports Conference in the company of a few distinguished women.
To my left were administrators Molly Rhone and Marva Bernard, who are collectively responsible for harnessing the talents of some of Jamaica’s most promising netballers over decades. Bernard and I engaged in a discussion about support for women in sports, specifically as so many of her girls were in attendance, heaping praise on the netball administrator for going above and beyond to ensure they were taken care of.
Bernard believes that support is critical for winning athletes and has prided herself, over the years, on going above and beyond to ensure that her girls remain focused on competing while she does the rest. In her own words, “If you lose focus as an athlete, you come second”.
To my right, and in full agreement, was Jamaica’s World Athletics Championship bronze medallist, Rushell Clayton. Clayton was part of the most exciting 400m hurdles event at the Championships, which saw newly crowned World Athletics Female Athlete of the Year, the Dalilah Muhammed, shattering her own world record.
The University of the West Indies graduate immediately drew reference to my Gleaner column of last week where I highlighted the importance of sports psychology. She agreed, and instantly heaped praise on Dr Aggrey Irons, who she credited as an essential part of her support system.
“I had injuries, which led to depression and a lack of motivation for me,” she said. “I was out of it and my then coach Fitz Coleman suggested I speak with Dr Irons. From then, I’ve been having productive sessions with him.
“There are stuff I may not want to say to people and when I go in and drop my bag, it feels like a weight off my shoulders to just express myself. For me, it’s more of a self-confidence thing. He helped me through my challenges in school and helped me to find my “why”.
Clayton had, in sharing this, touched on two essential elements for success in sports, support, and motivation. Also, a part of that support system is her agent Dalton Myers and her coach Okeile Stewart.
“My coach is like my best friend. I’ve known him since 2011 and we have a great working relationship,” she said. “I can talk to him about anything and he always says his programme is not written in stone, so he occasionally adjusts it based on where I am mentally.”
Clayton lined up to some serious competition in Doha with the likes of Americans Mohammed and Sydney McLaughlin in her event. I was curious as to what motivated her to medal.
“I’m from a small rural community in Westmoreland called Bath Mountain, and I see myself as responsible for going back one day so I can help it to become a better place,” she said. “I actually went home the weekend before I left for the World Championships and that was my biggest motivation. My humble beginning keeps me going. I want to motivate other girls from rural communities as well”.
Motivation and support
And that motivation and support from women specifically, with our unique challenges, Clayton sees as fundamental.
“For females, I think it is helpful when other women support us,” she said. “I remember about three years ago, I sat in the National Stadium and a female journalist asked me, off air, if I was going to “look a work” now that school was done. It was a very demotivating question. I also use that as motivation, but support does go a far way.”
Also part of the discussion was Jamaica’s female football programme which, in my view, has taken 10 steps backwards since our FIFA Women’s World Cup debut in France last year. Reggae Girl Chris-Ann Chambers lamented the lack of financing, and with no professional or permanent women’s league, our footballers do not have the necessary tools for building on their recent successes.
Looking at 27-year-old Rushell Clayton, who aims to make her first Olympic team this year, I can’t help but think of Jamaica’s first female gold medallist, Deon Hemmings, who also competed in the 400m. Incidentally, Hemmings was 27 when she won gold in the 400m hurdles at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.
Tanya Lee has over 10 years’ expertise as a Caribbean sports marketer and is also an athlete manager and publicist.