'No money can buy the joy one gets from coaching' - Johan Brits as Bowers gets ready for World U20's
When it comes to producing world class junior athletes, few do it better than Johan Brits. Based at Vereeniging Gymnasium in the Vaal, Brits has groomed a number of junior champions including 18-year old Jason Bowers who will be representing South Africa at the World Athletics U20 Championships in Kenya this week. Bowers who is the reigning SA 1500m and 3000m junior champion says for him running is more about enjoyment than it is about winning.
"I began working with Oom Johan in Grade 8," he told #TheTopRunner about his beloved coach during a visit to his training session. "I was also playing soccer at the time, so I actually quit running. But he came to me and begged me to continue with athletics because he said he saw a lot of talent in me. I rejoined his group and I was selected to run at the SA junior championships where I took second place in my age group. After that I just continued training and the rest is history," he explained.
It's history in the making for a young man who is enjoying a fantastic 2021 that has seen him set personal bests over 800m, 1500m, 3000m and 5000m. It's left pundits asking about the secret to his success. Bowers gives credit to his coach whom he describes as very strict.
"Coaching has always been my passion, right from my school days," said Brits who initially made a name for himself as an ultra marathon coach after guiding Lucas Nonyana to a fifth place finish at the 2009 Comrades Marathon. "I learn a lot from other coaches. It's also a bit of trial and error which gives me a winning formula in the end," he said.
Ultimately though, Jason believes that it's the family environment created by Brits that is the driving force behind the group's success. "Our training group feels like a family. I enjoy it a lot," said the man who is part of a stable that won 25 medals at various SA junior championships in 2019 and also includes three reigning national junior champions.
But in the absence of his training partner 800m SA junior champion Renier de Villiers, Bowers will be Brits' only athlete in Nairobi this week. de Villiers who ran a scintillating 1:45.95 over 800m in March, is out of the competition after almost losing his toe to a broken bottle in a freak accident. And with the pressure mounting on the juniors to put right the mistakes of the seniors who failed to win a medal at the recent Olympic Games, Brits thinks he's athletes can perform because he constantly teaches them about the importance of self-belief.
"Teach kids to believe in themselves," is his advice for other coaches working with juniors. "That is very important. How can a parent believe in a child when he doesn't believe in himself? That's why there should be continuous motivation. It is a wonderful emotional rollercoaster to work with these kids. No money can buy the passion and the joy one gets from coaching. It's indescribable."