Tough or Touchy-Feely? Experts Debate Future of Estonian Sports Programs ({{commentsTotal}})

After top skating coach Anna Levandi expressed her opinion in a piece in daily Õhtuleht saying Estonian sporting strategy should toughen up on athletes, athlete and sports psychologist Jorgen Matsi hit back, saying more cooperation and counseling is needed instead.

Figure skating coach Levandi, who trained Estonia's most successful athlete at the 2014 winter Olympic Games (Viktor Romanenkov, 24th place), told Õhtuleht Estonia is too rigid in its opinion of Russia, which is "all bad," and Finland and the West, which are "all correct" on every topic, but Russia is leading in figure skating and Estonia should copy the Russian model.

She said it is down to hard work and the last three Estonians to qualify for the Olympic Games in figure skating are all from the Russian school of sports, adding that the next generation has weak nerves when it comes to actual competitions and they practice for practice, not for competitions.

Matsi said in his blog that a tougher approach, including coaches shouting at young athletes to build up stress tolerance and alienating parents, both ideas suggested by Levandi, could backfire, as athletes could burn out such as was the case with Romanenkov, who came dead last in the men's figure skating final in Sochi, saying he was too nervous to perform at his usual level. Matsi said sports psychology is the answer, and athletes should be taught to control their emotions.

He said small countries such as Estonia cannot afford sport systems where only the strong survive and the weak are cast out.

They both agreed on the topic of special schools for athletes, assembling more specialist coaches in one place, separating top athletes from amateurs and allowing coaches to work without the pressure of having to fill training group member quotas.

Talented athletes grow on a strong basis of recreational and amateur sports, Matis said, adding that the athletes competing for places between 10th and 20th should still be acknowledged as they have worked hard. Levandi agreed, adding that those athletes usually have little state financial support to make the next step in development.

Calls for analysis and restructuring of the Estonian Olympic Committee's sports strategy were made after the 2014 winter Olympic Games, where only four Estonian athletes managed to make the top 30.

Estonia won no medals in the first three winter games after re-independence, but then won three in 2002 and three medals in 2006, followed up by one silver in 2010.

In the past month, two top Estonian athletes, both aged 24, announced retirement, one linked it directly to a lack of financial backing.