The Sports Examiner: Lest we forget what sport and winning are really about, a refresher course from legendary British track coach Frank Dick

Famed British track & field coach Frank Dick, from the "What Winning Is" video from 2016 (Screenshot from the video posted by RossHighSport)

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We are less than a month from the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games, where about 3,000 athletes will gather and we will celebrate mostly the gold, silver and bronze-medal winners in the 109 events on the program.

As if they were all that mattered.

True, the top eight finishers in each event will get a certificate and all of the athletes will get some sort of participation medal as a souvenir of being at the Games. But at the start of a new year, it’s worth being reminded once again of the value of sport itself and the lessons sport teaches us.

Frank Dick is one of track & field’s legendary coaches, serving as the national director of coaching for UK Athletics from 1979-94, a period in which British athletes enjoyed enormous success. He has served as the President of the European Athletics Coaches Association, as a member of the IAAF Coaches Commission, and Chair (and architect) of the IAAF Academy.

For the Rio 2016, he was the High Performance Director for the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (SASOC) where the Olympic team equaled its all-time high in medals won with 10, previously achieved in 1920 and 1952!

On New Year’s Day 2022, Neil Graham, the Head of Game Development for Scottish Rugby tweeted a Frank Dick classic, a three-minute overview – given trackside and off the cuff – about what winning really is, originally posted on YouTube in 2016.

It’s been seen hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter, but it’s worth repeating in print (and even then, it’s worth seeing the clip):

“You know, 100 years ago, I was a Scottish national coach and I used to go round the tracks in Scotland, working with coaches. And every now and again, a little girl from this town or that town would turn up and you hear a little voice.

“And I’d be working away and here’s the voice going, ‘Mr. Dick.’ Well, with a name like mine, you don’t turn around too fast because you don’t know what’s going to be said next, you know?

‘Mr. Dick? Mr. Dick?’ Yes. ‘Will you coach me?’

“Well, yeah, but not at the moment because I’m working with these people.

“‘Will you coach me later?’ Yes, fine. ‘When?’

“Look, when I’m finished with them, I’ll come and work with you. ‘Why is that?’

“Sit down, in the stand; when I’m finished with them, I promise I’ll come and work with you.

“‘Promise?’ Yes. ‘See you.’ Fine.

“Now after I finish working with you, I’ll work with her. She’s nine years of age and she wants to go to run 100 meters. And I worked with her for a few weeks.

“She lines up with another seven kids. On your mark … set … bang. Runs on the track, hurls herself at the line. Eight out of eight in 18 seconds and comes back, ‘Oh, Mr. Dick, I was last.’

“No you weren’t. ‘Yes I was.’ No. You were 18 seconds ‘What do you mean?’

“Well, you’ve smashed the 20-second barrier and I had you down for 19 seconds. You’re a whole second faster than that. You know what this means?


“This means it’s your lifetime best performance, your own personal world record!

“‘Really?’ Yes.

“In some ways, you’re a first. ‘What do you mean?’

“You’re the first athlete I’ve ever coached who’s run 18 seconds for the 100 meters. Now listen, in a few weeks time, she’s got another race. What does she think winning is now?

“If she does 17.9, she’ll grab a flag and she’ll run around the track, because that’s what winning is.

“Winning is being better today than you were yesterday, every day. And if she keeps working at that, in a few weeks time, she’s fighting with other kids to get to the line. And you might think to yourself, well, surely winning now, Frank, is beating them.

“Not if it’s in 19 seconds. It’s not or we’ve killed our definition. The reason you go into tough arenas in life is to be challenged to perform better. You cannot perform better if you’re not challenged.

“Listen, you don’t learn to climb mountains in life by going round them or asking somebody for a ladder. You learn to climb mountains by climbing mountains, by seeking out the really tough challenges, because that makes you perform better. When you keep on going at that, one day, you’ll be a one and only.

“But the truth is, she always was, is, and will be.”

We celebrate the achievements of athletes we admire and imagine the effort and dedication it took to get there. But we too often forget the formative role of coaches, one of the most important teaching relationships that boys and girls have in their entire lifetimes, as encouragers, trainers and role models, and needed companions in the journey of growing up.

Frank Dick, now 80, continues to remind us of what winning really is, on the track and off. And it’s worth remembering during the Winter Games next month. Go ahead, watch it again. It’s absolutely worth it.

~ Rich Perelman

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