With former footballer Aaron Wainwright and ex-basketball regular Tomos Williams excelling for Wales at the Rugby World Cup, multi-skilling is all the rage. Owen Morgan speaks to Welsh Athletics’ Fyn Corcoran about the benefits of being Jack or Jill of all trades.
Fyn Corcoran wants to give Welsh children the opportunity to run, jump and throw from an early age – and carry those skills through life.
Welsh Athletics’ new National Talent Development Coordinator for jumps and combined events doesn’t just want to develop the next generation of heptathletes, like world champion Katarina Johnson Thompson, or decathletes such as Wales’ own three-time Commonwealth Games competitor Ben Gregory.
Corcoran also wants Wales’ youngsters to carry on enjoying and developing fundamental life skills through sport.
The Rhymney Valley Athletics Club member is himself an example of the benefits of being exposed to a wide range of sporting and physical activities.
As well as representing Great Britain at the decathlon, featuring in four European Cup combined events competitions – once as team captain – he is an accomplished footballer and rugby player, who played both sports to a high level alongside his athletics career.
He says: “All the successful multi-event athletes I know are multi-sport.
“Kevin Mayer, the world record holder for the decathlon, if you look at his social media he is always playing basketball and other things.
“Doing multi-sports just builds a more robust child, a more robust person, all the way through from when they’re kids, all the way up.”
Corcoran is hugely passionate about giving youngsters the opportunity to develop and enjoy as many skills as possible.
His enthusiasm is infectious and he says “Mainly, it’s about giving kids the opportunity to carry on running, jumping and throwing as long as possible in their development, not necessarily just in athletics, although we are in an athletics environment, but it’s also for life.
“These are evolutional skills – run, jump, throw. It’s part of our human evolution, the ability to do those things, and kids aren’t getting the opportunity to do them after a certain age.
“I played football for as long as I could, I played for county junior and senior teams. Then I played football at university for the first two years and then I went with my wife to Australia when I was in my mid 20s and considering the Commonwealth Games.
“So I was training at athletics hard, but I still played football for a team out there in Australia for a year, so I kept all that going.
“I played rugby all the way through, to the same standard as football really, and then played a lot of sevens after university, I went to the Dubai Sevens three or four times, the Portugal Sevens, New York Sevens.”
Within athletics, Corcoran wants to create a pathway to give aspiring youngsters further opportunities to continue to compete as combined event athletes as they move up through the age groups, rather than specialising on one event too early.
The level two coach and coach tutor says: “There is very little combined events competition opportunity for our under-13s to under-20s.
“So, key for me is going to be providing those competition opportunities. At the moment we haven’t got those combined events athletes because there is nowhere for them to compete.
“It doesn’t have to be a whole decathlon, it can just be three quick events in a couple of hours and that’s engaged everybody.
“Just providing that opportunity for them to come along for an afternoon, do a high jump competition, do a shot and an eight hundred or next time we’ll do hurdles discus and something else.
“These can be small multi-events competitions. If something goes badly, it doesn’t matter, just move on, do the next event. You are always going to go home, hopefully, happy because something’s gone right.
“So, with running, jumping and throwing being so fundamental to all of athletics, it seems a massive miss that these competitions don’t really exist at the moment.
“We are getting children coming in from under-11s, which is where they are encouraged to run jump and throw, and they get streamlined into an endurance group, sprint group, or a throws group and that’s it.”
Corcoran says Welsh Athletics has already started putting plans in place to try and encourage multi-talented athletes to adopt a combined events philosophy.
“It’s my job to provide opportunities,” he says. “We’ve had a couple of development days just recently in Swansea and Cardiff. We had four events to come and try, practice, so it was all levels for 10-year-olds right up to 20-year-olds.
“There were people from across the spectrum of abilities, so every session was differentiated to ensure everyone was challenged and everyone left smiling, which was the main thing.
“It’s not just about performance – athletics shouldn’t just be all about that. It’s a big part of it, of course, you’ve got to aspire to be the very, very best, but I always say you can learn lessons on the track that you can’t learn anywhere else in your life.
“You’re standing on the start line, on your own, you’re in front of everybody. You’re scared, because you’ve got to run as fast as you can, everyone’s watching you. The more nervous you are before, the better you feel after.
“You can’t get that feeling in many places these days. That prepares you for everything . . . for job interviews, for anything in life. It’s a shame that more people don’t realise how important these types of skills are.
“They are skills that athletics teaches you – hard work, determination, all the usual stuff, and working as part of a team.
“And what happens when it doesn’t go right, that’s probably most important lesson, what happens when you have a bad run, how do you get out of that?
“There’s always ups, don’t just worry about the downs. The downs teach you good lessons, but there are definitely going to be more ups than downs.”