• Is international success possible for Turkish athletes?

Is international success possible for Turkish athletes?

Is international success possible for Turkish athletes?

18 Feb 2021

Changing people’s perception and perspective of sports in Turkey is as difficult as expecting at least half the population to speak English.

One would ask if this is possible, of course it is, but it takes a very professional and dedicated team, a very rigorous program, a lot of patience and a lot of money.

If I was asked, I would say, give me a long enough stick, and I can move heaven and earth.

But let me be clear, the subject of ‘international success for athletes from Turkey’ is one of those issues for which, although I can write about and express my opinion, I am not very hopeful.

Let me start by describing how sports in Turkey is perceived by ‘someone at the heart of sports’…‘

First, a glance at families…

In this country, parents and schools (they are also families, right?), have neither a culture of nor respect for sports, through which they could encourage their children to participate.

In any case, most of these people have not properly watched a game, let alone being involved in any kind of sports, apart from kicking a ball on street corners.

Unfortunately, because of our miserable parenting style, the psychological formation of young people with regards to individual sports in our country is equally traumatised. Since Turkish parents, regardless of their financial means, cannot instill confidence in their children in order for them to be able to achieve something on their own, there exists an unyielding barrier standing before us with respect to the problem of personality.

A sense of discipline or effort, which would urge families to support their athlete children to maintain their regular training, and for these families to gently push their children is pretty much unheard of in this country.

For our people, the understanding that sport requires ‘determination’ and ‘perseverance’ from its players is believed to be limited to a vision of the football field on television or from the bleachers. Isn’t that sad?

And of course there is another important fact: in Turkey participation in sports costs dearly, and many families don’t have the necessary resources. That’s another reality of our country.

Shall we also look at the managers?

The people we call ‘managers’ in our teams are usually elected or appointed by the federation and regional administrations. Since most of them become managers through nepotism or as a result of financial interests, its rare for these managers to possess in-depth knowledge or expertise of the particular discipline of sport they are managing.

While tragicomic, a combination of bribery, nepotism, jealousy of athletes and the never-ending ‘will they tread on my toes’ fear, make up the framework of sports management in Turkey, and deem it ‘an impediment rather than a supportive force’.

And those who train …

The competency level of coaches is at a rock bottom. Many of them are has-been athletes, failed individuals without careers or those who have been banned because of disciplinary action. Even worse, they are buffoons who think they have hit the jackpot through sheer luck. That’s why they ‘teach’. Lest we forget our coaches, who are relatives of the managers…

These people don’t have the capability of conveying knowledge even if they have it. They have either not received any training in teaching or they have these pseudo-coaching certificates, which ‘we would be better without’.

In Turkey, there are coaches who disobey one of the two main codes of honor in sports, and who get off unabashedly scot-free.

I would rather not share how the relationship between a coach and his/her athletes is described in our country, but suffice to say that it would be considered on the border of ‘perversion’ in developed countries…

Coaches in our country are also unaware of a culture of equality between athletes. Not to mention the coercion, insult, and brute force…

And don’t forget the liars, and the cheaters… Shall I continue?

I have seen coaches deceiving families by organizing ‘make-believe competitions’ and fake Balkans championships or by saying ‘your son/daughter has made it to the nationals’ to rip them off, and I still see it. So many children are conned along with their parents, thinking they are national athletes. Fool’s gold…

Moreover, since those who are referred to as trainers in our country do not belong to any particular school of training, they are clueless when it comes to being part of a particular ‘school’.

What about the athletes?

There isn’t a culture of sports. There is no sense of discipline. The desire to ‘make it’ in life via the particular sports they are involved in has not at all occurred to them.

No sense of personal hygiene or personal care. And, only half measures in terms of nutrition. May God help them…

The second code of ethics in sports is also in a sad state in our country. The use of performance-enhancing drugs, knowingly or not, is unfortunately something that continues to embarrass us on the international arena of sports.

The topic of materials, facilities, travel and competitions is a whole other ball of confusion.

Of course, almost all of these four categories can be associated with money. Now, ‘materials’ and ‘facilities’, ‘the capacity to travel’ and to ‘participate in lots of competitions’ are all directly related to money.

I will stop beating around the bush, and get right to it.

There are no materials, no facilities, not enough training grounds and not enough opportunities to compete.

Only by competing a lot can these children learn about losing, respecting the winners and focusing on winning. They should learn that winning is only possible by working hard. They should learn that champions are also human beings who eat, sleep and breathe like us. They should learn how to lose, to set goals and to have idols. And finally they too should be able to use this experience to move onto the ‘league of champions’. 

Speaking of working hard, let’s not forget to say a few words of wisdom about our athlete friends ‘who think they have made it’…

Although rare, sometimes our talented guys do make it on the fields because of their talent but this time a predictable state of mind rears its ugly head on the field…

Work ethic: First of all, these friends want to achieve success with their talents alone. They don’t believe in working really hard, they don’t know how to work; they don’t want to work, and instead keep on telling themselves “I’m already good”.

The Dutch have a saying that I really like: “When talent stops working, working takes over.

Being full of oneself: Secondly, since these guys are too big for their boots, with no small thanks to the encouragement of their friends and families, they go out on the field with their heads high and leave admitting defeat because they are indeed “all bark no bite”.

Then start the excuses. They don’t say, “I couldn’t make it” or ask, “where did I go wrong?” as self-criticism or think about ways to ‘make up for their shortcomings’, and instead act like nothing is wrong. And that’s how it goes on and on…

I hear you say, what about the other issues, what about materials, facilities, travel, and competitions? All of these require money…

Before I move on to my suggestions, let me briefly touch upon the problems regarding the relatively expensive sports disciplines… Disciplines such as horse riding and motor sports.

Of course, these disciplines also have problems akin to the relatively less expensive disciplines.

But disciplines such as horse riding or motor sports where the stakes are around millions of dollars, require horses, automobiles, services, grooming, veterinarians, spare parts, saddles, horseshoes, food and fuels that cost upwards of an arm and a leg.

The training facilities for these sports in Turkey are either too limited or too scarce or they are over-capacity that it is not possible to be utilized with the necessary focus or deliberation for proper training.

The athletes have the freedom to travel and compete with their special passports, but what about their racecars and racehorses?

No athlete or exporter should encounter the issues that athletes do when they are trying to travel abroad with their horses or racecars. An athlete should not know about these issues, let alone facing them. Athletes should be able to focus solely on their training so that they can be successful, right?

One feels like sending the horse off to the slaughterhouse and being done with it while trying to deal with the customs procedures for traveling abroad with a horse.

Ignorant, indifferent, intolerant, jealous, and corrupt managers are of course happier in these disciplines due to the extortionate amounts of money involved. These are disciplines where managers can have their cake and eat it too.

I’ve done enough criticism, now let’s talk about how we can make it better…

– For each discipline, a ‘dream team’ should be established. If possible, this team should consist of a top manager from outside of the discipline in question, staff members who can reflect on and be able to advise on that discipline, and of course practitioners and trainers.

– A trial run should be done with five or six disciplines.

– A PR exercise should be undertaken in order to build awareness about ‘the culture’ of sports in families, potential athletes and educational institutions (P&G’s “Thank You MomOlympic marketing program was a brilliant example of one such effort).

– An awareness of sports scholarships should be created at all schools. Specialization in at least one discipline should be compulsory for all existing or newly established universities (they provide permits before placements for the so-called universities, and it’s truly heartbreaking). High schools should also try to excel in sports and specialize in specific disciplinees in addition to their academic ambitions.

– These schools should be required by the state to train world-class athletes (regardless of the discipline). If they succeed, the school should provide ‘incredible, momentous’ financial support to these schools, children and their families. The state should work to achieve an unprecedented reputation and revenue from this successful child, while the child and his/her family must pursue this dream with everything they have like their lives depend on it. (E.g.: the high schools and universities in the United States).

– The opportunity to train with local or foreign trainers, who have achieved international success, who have tasted victory, who have reached the pinnacle, shaken hands, bumped fists and have competed with other world-class athletes should be provided.

– Coach training should be the sine qua non of sports education. Issues such as competence, school of thought, equality, morality and knowledge transfer should be firmly established.

– Plenty of training and competition opportunities both nationally and internationally and plenty of exposure to different environments for the athletes will make this ‘dedicated’ pursuit even more rewarding.

– ‘Talent testing and selection laboratories’ should be established in as many provinces as possible. These centers should provide children and their families with the necessary information including functional, pedagogical, motor skills, physical, psychological, and physiological requirements for different disciplines of sports and make recommendations accordingly.

– Athletes should be provided with the personal development opportunities that allow them to excel. One-to-one sessions and/or seminars should be organized on hygiene, psychology, sports ethics, general culture, language etc. The goal should be to instill self-confidence in these athletes.

– Issues regarding lack of facilities and equipment should be resolved at once with government subsidies and sponsors. I am certain that the sponsors who feel the change will start providing proper support and reap the benefits too.

– And it is extremely important, imperative in fact, that the managerial structures are reformed. If the people currently in charge cannot be discharged, then they should be rendered redundant in due course.

In conclusion…

The disciplines that have been selected as pilot projects will be revolutionized and will soon begin to bear fruit. It is only natural that the teams will gain more experience and knowledge along the way. Success will spread exponentially and the targets will be achieved slowly but surely.

If we were to ask “When will we make it?” with reference to an esteemed columnist who I hold dear, the answer is: when the reason we seek to go to international championships is to come back home with medals rather than waving our flags and taking selfies on paid-for trips abroad, then we will be on the road to making it.

What I have written so far …

Will they be implemented? Nope.

Can they be implemented? I would do it.