STEPHEN Maguire talks a good game when it comes to the subject of emotions.
The director of coaching at Scottish athletics says it will be his job to keep everyone else’s in check in Glasgow this summer but the biggest task may be keeping control of his own.
With a new job at British Athletics pending for the Northern Irishman, the Commonwealth Games will be his swansong north of the Border before he assumes his new role as head of power – sprints, sprint hurdles and relays at the UK body and he insists it will be tough to say goodbye.
He was with the British team in Germany last weekend for the European Cup and is taking in the trials for the European Championships this weekend but he says that his focus is still firmly fixed on the Commonwealth Games and helping the home performers to as many top performances as possible.
“British sprinting is quite exciting and I’m excited about the job,” he says “It was a good opportunity for me to be in close proximity to those guys and I was involved in a few meetings but if I were to take my energies away from what needs to be done here now, I’d be getting carried away. I made the mistake when I came into Scotland that I got emotionally too involved. I love the place and Scottish Athletics are trying to do the right things properly. I’m very emotionally invested in the athletes and their coaches and I know it is very clichéd but it was a very difficult decision to leave. But I need to be careful because I need to be grounded and matter of fact as we come closer. I’m going to have to be the person who has the difficult conversations with coaches about planning and where it is at and where it needs to be. We have been having those conversations since I came into the job but you can lose medals at this stage if you get carried away or caught up in the media and sponsor stuff. There has to be a balance and the message to athletes is that, if they do well in Glasgow, things will change. They need to keep their eye on the ball, on training and attention to detail.”
As some of the marquee names in the Scottish team head towards the Games with a build-up pockmarked by setbacks and uncertainty, Maguire says some will find their top performance on the day and some whose dream cannot be matched by reality. But he has warned the Scottish public that no one will take to the Hampden stage and give anything less than the very best they can muster at that moment.
Lynsey Sharp has had a year beset by troubles, Eilish McColgan has struggled with illness since returning from her winter training camps and is still carrying a niggle that has hampered her preparation over the steeplechase barriers. Eilidh Child’s speed is better than ever but that has forced her to tinker with her stride pattern, something that denied her the expected victory in the European Cup last weekend. In Chris O’Hare’s case, the step up from collegiate athlete to one with Commonwealth aspirations has caused its own issues.
“Eilidh’s a world-class athlete and she’ll get it right when it counts,” says Maguire. “Chris is in uncharted territory because until now, his focus was always on June and the NCAA [National College Athletics Association] Championships. That was his bread and butter then. Now, he has had to flip his season. First and foremost he needs to get rid of the injury.”
Having picked up a hamstring injury in Oslo, he is sitting out the UK Championships to give him the best preparation possible for the Commonwealths. “If he gets rid of that the confidence will start to flow,” adds Maguire. “I fear for them all. When I was a coach, the scariest part was the pre-season where if you picked up anything like a cold it could set you back.
“I think what the public are expecting is that all our athletes are the best they can be but it’s my job to be a bit worried about that. I’m pleased that any mishaps have happened far enough out from the Games that they can get things together when it counts. That’s the nature of world class athletics. I always use the analogy that if you look at a men’s 100m final, every one of them is carrying something. There’s not one of them 100 per cent fit. So mentally and strength-wise it’s about how you prepare for that.”
But, he is a realist and knows not all will go to plan. He also worries about the impact of social media, with the twittersphere offering cause for some to get carried away with the notoriety and praise and others to be swamped by negativity. But the experiences of Winter Olympians like Elise Christie have placed Team Scotland on high alert.
“I know from our sport’s perspective that there are people at Commonwealth Games Scotland monitoring these things and they will be throughout. That has to happen. But all I have seen in Scotland is positivity and I think that message we want to get across is that no athlete in the world goes out to perform poorly, particularly Scottish athletes at their home Commonwealth Games.
“They really, really want to go out and put on a good show for themselves and the nation. They won’t intentionally let anyone down. I’m not naïve enough to think that all the 58 athletes are going to have a perfect performance, but that’s the nature of elite sport. Some of them will have absolute disasters but they won’t have set out to have an absolute disaster.
“They have all prepared and worked hard to be the best they can be. That’s a big part of my job, to make sure things are put into perspective.”