Mark English: Youngsters shouldn’t ‘specialise’ in sports too early

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MARK ENGLISH ALWAYS kept active in his youth and has encouraged the participation in a range of sports for children for as long as possible.

English will compete at the Olympic Games this August in the men’s 800m.

It was only while in transition year at St Eunan’s College that English turned his mind solely to athletics.

English had played Gaelic football for Letterkenny Gaels and lined out in the Donegal Under-13 final of 2003 and in those days he also played for Ballyraine United Schoolboys under John O’Doherty.

“I was always active and I wanted to play more sports,” says English.

“My sisters have always said that I was a competitive child.”

Brian McCormick February 2016 (1)

His talents were obvious, but it was only in the All-Ireland schools Intermediate Boys 800m race that he made his mind up to give athletics a serious go. He finished second behind Brian Kelly that day. “If I didn’t get a medal, I’d probably be playing Gaelic football as my first sport now,” he says.

“I dropped all the other sports, not because I didn’t love them, but because I felt then that they were counter-productive for my athletics development. I always felt that athletics helped the other sports, but they didn’t help athletics.”

In 2014, English won bronze in the 800m at the European Championships and in 2015 he was the silver medallist in the 800m at the European Indoor Championships.

The Letterkenny man, now running under the UCD AC banner, believes his own story should inspire children not to specialise at an early age.

He says: “At that age I didn’t necessarily see myself being an athlete in a few years’ time. I had a lot of interest in other sports.

“The key was in not specialising too young. I was lucky, too, that I had no injuries. I raced against guys who were very talented, but who got injured at 17, 18 or 19 and never got to realise their potential.

“No pressure should ever be on any youngster to choose too early. They should be allowed to progress naturally.”

Sports writer from St Johnston, now based in Letterkenny, with ten years' experience covering sport in Donegal. Was a nominee for NUJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2010. Honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage on the sport.

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