Active 2014

Tony has an eye for new talent

AS talent manager at SportScotland's Institute of Sport, Tony Stanger is charged with finding and nurturing up and coming athletes.

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Tony Stanger  in his SportScotland office and, below, playing for ScotlandPicture:  Nick Ponty
Tony Stanger in his SportScotland office and, below, playing for ScotlandPicture: Nick Ponty

For a man who famously scored the winning try for Scotland in the 1990 Five Nations match against England, Hawick-born Tony knows a thing or two about success.

Ask him who his role model is and Tony doesn't have to stop to think about it: it's his former university classmate Chris Hoy.

When the pair studied together at Moray House in Edinburgh, Chris wasn't a Sir and his sporting achievements lay ahead of him. Tony always remembers his friend's focus and determination.

"Chris wasn't necessarily a superstar junior, he just got that little bit better year on year," explains Tony.

"He's such a nice guy and everything everyone says about him is absolutely true.

"I saw his work ethic, saw his belief, saw his understanding of what he needed to do.

"He should be a real inspiration, not because of what he has achieved but because of what he did: he studied full-time and got a good degree but also did all his training, travelling up and down to Manchester, spent lots of hours on his bike.

"He made those choices.

"He had 100% belief that he could be good enough."

If you are looking for a definition of talent, that pretty much sums it up.

According to Tony, being born with a natural talent is a bit of a misnomer.

It takes hard work and training to be the best - and that is a mindset that can be learned.

We are sitting in Sport-Scotland's offices overlooking Glasgow Green and Tony is explaining why his work with the parents of young athletes is crucial.

In workshops up and down the country, Tony doesn't talk to sport-loving children - he focuses on their parents.

"Ultimately we'd like to have more world class performers, but we have to understand how we get to that, they don't just appear out of nowhere," says Tony.

"It's a long journey, it takes time to be good at anything.

"The people who go on to be very good are not necessarily the real superstars when they're younger.

"What can happen is that people can maybe get a bit discouraged, think 'I'm no good at this' and end up dropping out of sport.

"We need to make people understand that message. The parents' workshops are crucial because, who is the one group of people who are with an athlete on every step of that journey?

"It is not the coach or the teacher but the parents."

Regular workshops are held around the country, visit www.sportscotland.org.uk/sisport/expertise/talent/ to find out where the nearest one is to you.

A presentation, that takes about an hour, explains to parents how central their role is in their child's sporting development.

The psychology of sports science is explained in a simple manner, with lots of discussion and plenty of opportunities to ask questions.

"Being a parent is not easy, but supporting the ups and downs is really important," says Tony, adding that his work involves getting more people to the very top, but he understands to do that we must keep people in sport and keep them participating.

There's always a crossover stage, where it's fun but they want to be serious about it now, what do they do to train more and be committed to it?," he asks.

"Too many people drop out before they get to that stage and can make that choice."

Tony understands that the road to building a pool of talent is very different in Scotland, compared to America or China, for example. With a smaller population, we can't rely on their natural selection system.

"We don't have a big talent pool and could decimate it straight away by saying the wrong thing to people who are maybe not as good as somebody else at the moment," says Tony.

"It's really interesting work, because the sporting governing bodies tend to select people based on current performance - those who can run fastest, swim fastest.

"It has been a challenge but everyone is listening now and saying, we recognise that is not the most effective way and we need to do this in a different way."

Tony's work is based on psychologist Carol Dweck's theories on growth mindset individuals, people who embrace challenges to learn to overcome setbacks, listen and learn from feedback and take ownership of their own development.

These are life lessons we could all benefit from, he believes, and he practices what he preaches at home with his own three children, Rosie, 15; George, 13; and eight-year-old Jack.

"Whether it is a problem related to their school work or sports they participate in, I always ask: how can I use what has happened to help them understand more about this process they're going to go through about getting good?

"If a setback happens, that doesn't reinforce 'I'm no good at this'. It didn't work, so do you have to change something? I try never to give an opinion, just to ask a question: why did you think that happened? What would you do differently?"

Indeed, it is something we could all learn much from...

Visit www.sportscotland.org.uk/sisport/expertise/talent/

angela.mcmanus@eveningtimes.co.uk

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