While Israel's hopes for an Olympic medal have been dashed, one Israeli is still very much in the running for a medal. David Blatt, the American-Israeli coach of the Russian national basketball team, is one win away from earning a medal for himself when his players take on Spain tonight in the semifinals.
Blatt has coached Russia since 2006, winning the EuroBasket championship in 2007.
He told Haaretz yesterday that if he wins a medal, Israelis can certainly consider it one for the nation - not entirely, but definitely more than just a little. He said he is undoubtably a product of the Israeli sports system because he played his professional career here, coached several years in Israel and lives here.
Blatt says there is a message underlying the fact that he is succeeding where other Israeli athletes aren't - that coaches and the systems standing behind the athletes are no less important than the athletes themselves.
He says that when you invest resources and think about a plan of action you have to take into account the importance and status of coaches. He says he has been stressing this point for years: If you want to raise a good kid, find a good parent and if you have a good parent in Israel - of which Israel has plenty - then give that parent what he needs to raise the kids properly.
Blatt says he has worked in recent years with several basketball networks for kids and has met a lot of superb coaches, but when he sees what they earn, what they have to go through, what they have to deal with and the support they get then he understands that there is a serious problem here.
While Blatt says there are plenty of great coaches, the quantity of good athletes depends on the sport. "Let's be honest," he stresses. "There are sports that are appropriate for our people and there are other things that aren't."
He says you don't have to be a genius to see that. We'll never win the 100 meters and probably not win soccer gold in the near future, he says.
The differences between the Israeli, Russian and American systems which Blatt knows best starts with the culture of sport, according to Blatt. In Lithuania, for example, the country is not much bigger than Israel but in basketball it has a history and culture of athletes providing examples and inspiration for all children who want to play. In many cases, he says, there is also a larger selection of athletes. He also says physical, anatomic and genetic factors inarguably play a role in many of our sports.
Blatt says he does not know enough to say whether discipline is a problem. Anecdotally, he says he met judoka Yael Arad, who won silver at the Barcelona Games and is now a commentator at the Olympics, and found her to be extremely disciplined.
Sports Minister Limor Livnat is in the process of appointing a committee to investigate what needs to be done differently to improve Israel's sporting performances. Blatt's advice to her is simple: Invest in coaches. He says coaches should be sent all over the world to observe and learn, to gather as much information as possible about how to work. He also says the state should start investing in coaches at an early age.
Coaches also should be given the resources and support to foster athletes, says Blatt, who adds that his solution is not a comprehensive one.
Most important, he says, is finding good parents. He says it is connected both to learning various branches of sport as well as education. He says children should learn to grow up both in their home and in their sport the way athletes should be.
"They should take Yael Arad's poster and put it in the home of every child," he adds.
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