International high jumper David Smith talks here about staying sharp and motivated during a demanding year, and shares candid responses along with insightful hints and tips.
David joined Giffnock North as an U11, where his natural bounciness led one coach to describe him as being “like a rubber ball”. Trust a coach to see potential! David is currently coached by Paul Harrison (Birchfield Harriers) with coaches Ken Allan and Fuzz Caan guiding David in his earlier years. Now twice a Commonwealth Games athlete for Scotland, David is also a three-time Scottish National champion and joint holder of the Scottish Native high jump record at 2.25 metres. His PB is 2.26 metres, indoors. As well as proudly competing in Giffnock North’s blue and amber, David jumps for London club Shaftesbury Barnet.
How have you coped with restrictions imposed by Covid?
“I am quite good at putting things into perspective. With Covid I quickly realised there was nothing that I can do to change the situation. I have good days and bad days just like anyone else and that’s okay. I just try to take things day by day. Having training to focus on has definitely helped.”
How is training going in the midst of Covid?
“After the initial outbreak with everything getting cancelled, I decided to keep fit but let my body rest and recover instead of doing an outdoor season. I have been able to train pretty much as normal since October and have had access to an indoor facility in Birmingham. Training has been going well and I’m hoping to do some indoors competitions soon.”
It’s so much harder for High Jumpers and other Field event athletes like yourself. Any training tips and challenges you could share with us?
“Yes, technical events can be very frustrating! With athletes lacking facilities at the moment due to the pandemic, it can seem impossible to train for field events. Although you can’t jump at the moment, it is important to be creative and adapt training. You can still do some of your pop–up drills and you can mark out your run up without needing to have a high jump bed.
When facilities are available again, the best tip I think I can give is not to overcomplicate things, which is a lot harder than it sounds. I have found when I jump it’s better to focus on one technical point and let your body do the rest. Something as simple as keeping tall when running or making sure my first stride is active allows me to execute a really good jump.”
We have a number of young high jumpers. Any special words for them?
“Firstly, to have fun. The reason I do what I do is because I love high jumping. I would also say focus on becoming a good overall balanced athlete.
Try to become a good runner – 90% of high jump is running. Do lots of jumping on both legs and throwing exercises. It will pay off when you get older and have a foundation of different work behind you. Our best female high jumpers tend to be multi-eventers and I think there’s something in that.
Also watch YouTube videos of high jump. Begin to understand the event. Watch the best high jumpers and discuss them with your coach. How do they move? How many strides do they take round the curve? How far away do they take off from the bar?
It’s important to have an idea of what an elite jump should look like and how does that compare to what you’re currently doing?”
You are always pleased, it seems, to wear the Club vest and the Club is very proud of you. Can you say something about that?
“Yes, I am proud to wear the vest. I have competed for Giffnock North since U11. I have come through the ranks and I am now a senior international athlete. I hope when younger athletes see a Giffnock North vest on the tv, they think, ‘I want to do that’, and believe that they can.
What kind of support are you receiving generally and what do you think the club should provide in terms of support to elite athletes like yourself?
“I’m part of the Scottish Institute of Sport. I get physio provided for me which is a great help. I received some financial help from Giffnock North at the beginning of the pandemic which I am really grateful for. At the moment I get no financial support and work part time while trying to be the best athlete I can be.
I feel this is a really hard question and one that I honestly don’t know the answer to. In athletics, the only financial funding for athletes comes from British Athletics and only a limited number of athletes are included on this programme. Therefore, athletes either receive full support or get nothing. There is no middle ground.
I think it would be good if high level senior athletes could receive support from their club to help them to reach the next level – British Athletic funding. It is very difficult to reach this next level when you have to train and work.
Could all British clubs help their athletes who are just below this level to help them reach lottery funding? Or introduce some sort of bonus scheme if athletes make International teams? I don’t know the answer, but it would be brilliant if there was more support for athletes trying to reach that next level. Maybe Giffnock North could be the first club to introduce something and challenge how clubs support their best athletes and create a pathway to lottery funding?”
Can you say anything about your plans for this year? Can you even make any plans?
“I’m training as if everything will run as planned and I am preparing to the best of my ability. If events go ahead, then I will be ready. If not, I will benefit next year from the training I have put in.
I plan to do a few indoor competitions. I won’t have jumped competitively for almost a year. So, it’s important to get used to competing again. If I make the European Indoor Championships then great, but my main focus is the outdoor season and jumping as high as I possibly can. The British Athletics Olympic Qualification standard is 2.29cm and I feel that is something that I can realistically achieve.”
Any message for all the young athletes for 2021 who, like you, have experienced a frustrating dearth of competition?
“All I can really say is to stay strong and things will get back to normal eventually. I know things are really difficult just now in lockdown. Giffnock North is a great club with a strong community and we are all in it together. It would be great to do a high jump session with the jumps group sometime in the future. I am also hopeful that we can have our club awards at the end of the year and be able to celebrate everyone’s amazing performances!”
David Smith: Jumping Through Covid
One of a series, already featuring middle distance runner Erin Wallace and high jumper Nikki Manson. Our thanks to them all for taking time to talk to us, and sharing their responses so openly.