Sports

Under-16 Athletes Barred From Higher Age-Group Events By National Federation To Prevent Burnout

The decision was taken after the Athletics Federation of India found in an internal study that only four out of 133 athletes who contested World/Asian Youth Championships continued to compete at the senior level

AFI's annual general meeting on Saturday, December 2, 2023.
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Under-16 athletes will no longer be allowed to take part in higher age group competitions in order to save them from overtraining and burnout, the national federation decided on Monday. (Sports News)

The issue of overtraining and early specialisation of young athletes in one particular event leading to their burnout has been a hot topic being discussed in the AFI circles for the past few years, and the national federation took a bold decision to ban U-16 athletes from U-18 events during the first-day of its two-day Annual General Body Meeting here on Saturday. 

"There will be no under-16 athletes taking part in the Under-18 competitions and senior level," AFI Planning Commission chairman Lalit Bhanot said. 

The decision was taken after the AFI, in an internal study, found out that only four out of 133 athletes who represented in World/Asian Youth Championships continued to compete at the senior level.

"Overtraining of young athletes can have negative and detrimental effects on both their physical and mental well-being. This practice, often driven by an excessive focus on a desire for early success, can compromise the athlete's long-term development," he said, and cited the example of Bhudhia Singh.

"Such athletes show some good performance initially but due to overtraining they cannot sustain their performance later on. Their best performance is never repeated once they enter the mainstream.

"We have to stop it, we can't make children keep on running. Coaching was different earlier, coaches would push children more and more before burnout. We are following the results of research, the muscles become imbalanced. The old coaches have some issues."

The AFI, however, decided to send a team for next year's Asian Youth Championships but limited the participation to few events, considering that scrapping the youth competitions altogether may lead to youngsters shifting to other sports.

"We will send a team for 100m, 200m, 400m and not for middle and long distance. We will also send in long jump, high jump but not for triple jump as it gives pressure on the joints. We will also not send athletes for hammer throw," Bhanot said.

"We wanted to stop sending the team to the Asian Youth Championships but later thought some youngsters might not take up athletics and they may shift to other sports."

World Athletics scrapped World Youth Championships a few years ago in view of possible burnout of young athletes due to early specialisation.

Stricter Selection Criteria For Paris Olympics Approved
The AFI also approved stringent selection criteria for next year's Paris Olympics, bringing in a provision of an athlete needing to equal the mark of 16th place finisher in the Tokyo Olympics if he or she has to be considered. "The government has approved these (guidelines)," Bhanot said.

"It is necessary for an athlete to achieve at least 16th place performance of the last Olympics held in Tokyo in 2021 apart from achieving the qualification standard," according to the AFI guidelines.

As in the earlier norm, it is mandatory for an athlete to achieve the qualification standard fixed by World Athletics and to be in the ranking as per the WA ranking system to be selected in the Indian team.

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The Inter-State Senior Athletics Championships to be held from June 27 to 30 next year in Panchkula will be the final selection trials for the 2024 Olympic Games.

It also said that the qualification standards achieved in any recognised competition will be considered for the purpose of selection only if the athlete is sent by AFI to participate in such competitions.

"The athletes can be exempted from participation in the final trials to be held from 27-30 June 2024 in case an athlete is invited to participate in the Diamond League or is sent by AFI to participate in some competitions in order to achieve the qualification standard. The list of such athletes will be displayed on the AFI website no later than 15th June 2024," the federation said. 

"The exemption can be granted only by the selection committee at the request of the athletes or the coach while giving the justification for such
exemption."

AFI president Adille Sumariwalla hinted that athletes who are sent under TOPS Scheme would be covered within this criterion.

The AFI selection committee has the right to reject the name of any athlete who has achieved the qualification standard fixed by the World Athletics on account of failure to participate in the final selection competition (Inter-State Championships) and other parameters. 

"Sometimes athletes qualify early and then later (closer to Olympics) they cannot even come near that mark. Indian athletics is rising and more athletes will qualify for the Paris Olympics and we have set some standard (benchmark). So, we have framed the (stricter) guidelines," Bhanot said.

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"The idea is that going there in the Olympics means performance. It is not just participation, we have to show performance. If we make the guidelines stricter, the athletes will show better performance."
     
Customised Training For Paris Games
"There will be customised training for every single athlete. We have created a base with a set of domestic competitions, beyond that how many want to take part in international events can be decided. If someone does not want to go abroad, you have got this set up of domestic competitions," Bhanot said.

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