April 13, 2024

Communication Skills of Kenyan Athletes is strategic to our National Interest

Communication Skills of Kenyan Athletes is strategic to our National Interest

Developing the Communication Skills of Kenyan Athletes is strategic to our National Interest

The 2015 Boston Marathon is coming down to the wire, Caroline Cherotich, Mare Dibaba and Buzunesh Deba are racing towards the finish line and anyone of them can win, then past the last bend Mare slowly pulls ahead, Deba falls behind and now it’s a race between Caroline and Mare, almost close to the final Fifty Meters, Cherotich suddenly displays a burst of energy, its unbelievable that she has just run 42Km but with the ultimate price looming up ahead and history beckoning, there’s no stopping her, she now pulls ahead and crosses the finish line, its another win by a Kenyan athlete in a major marathon and the world joins her in celebrating the victory.

Then comes the moment many are awaiting; a chance to speak to the world and frame her victory in a manner only champions can do. The interviewer asks her questions and the 2015 Women’s Boston Marathon champion struggles to proffer relevant answers. To be fair to her, she does a much better job than her compatriots who have won major races during the months preceding her victory, but a key aspect which came across during the interview was her deficiency in responding to questions and framing her content within the lens of her current triumph. 

In the past four decades the ability to effectively communicate has been a challenge to thousands of elite Kenyan athletes and it has locked them from the numerous opportunities that athletic stardom accords others especially their competitors from the western hemisphere. Some of these opportunities come in the form of corporate endorsements, paid sponsorships to serve as spokespersons for various global causes and of course highly paid speaking engagements. Considering that Kenyan athletes will continue to dominate the tracks, this current state of affairs must change; it’s of the essence that the communication skills of our athletes is beyond reproach.

In order to understand the reasons for the current state of affairs and to propose useful interventions, let’s take a trip to the home of competitive running in Kenya. Athletics is synonymous with the North Rift region, in fact it is estimated that there are fifteen thousand athletes’ in the North Rift and that 75 percent of Kenya’s athletic earnings come from this region. In 2012,eighteen men out of the top fifty earners in the world and eleven out of the top fifty women were from the North rift. (These are earnings calculated at over $500,000 during an athlete’s competitive lifetime) In addition to this in 2012 during the Olympic games, athletes from the North Rift won five Gold Medals.

The great interest in athletics in the North Rift all started when the IAAF liberalized its amateur rules in the mid 70’s and a few Kenyans began to earn big amounts of money in Europe, Asia and the United States. When the earnings started filtering back to Kenya, it had a galvanizing effect on thousands of young Men and Women, who saw an opportunity to gain unimagined riches and they began to train with ferocious dedication. In addition, the availability of U.S athletic college scholarships and the increased prize money and appearance fees had the effect of boosting interest and participation throughout the Rift Valley. The young athletes would depart the North Rift region as young and inexperienced villagers and after a few races come back as millionaires.

The fact that so many of the young athletes who eventually became world champions had limited education and exposure prior to their ascendancy onto the world stage was a major contributing factor to their poor communication skills. Their sudden social and economic progression did not correlate with the Communication Skills required at such elevated levels and this factor was mentioned as a major aspect ultimately limiting the growth of their personal brands. In the long run it negatively impacted on their earning potential in comparison with their competitors from Western countries. Many analysts in the sports world unanimously agree that if the communication skills of Kenyan athletes improved, the boundaries of their possibilities would be greatly expanded.

This is why I’m proposing that in 2022 the National Government, the North Rift County Administrations and the Kenyan Corporate sector must take deliberate steps to help Kenyan athletes build their communication skills, it’s simply in our National interest to do so. Here’s why!

Kenyan Athletes have been the best ambassadors for our country; they are recognized as heroes in many world capitals where they have won numerous races. This positive representation by our athletes can be harnessed by the government in two ways; the athletes fame can be leveraged to highlight Kenya’s Tourism Sector and secondly the government can assist them to grow their incomes which invested in Kenya will certainly impact on the economic growth.

Kenya’s struggling tourism sector can benefit by ensuring that whenever the athletes win, the resulting media interest is well managed and the athletes can invoke strategic talking points aimed at highlighting key attractions and generating interest among potential tourists. For example, they can frame their victory interviews into compelling narratives fusing their amazing life stories, with their journeys that normally begin right from the attractive highlands in the Kenyan rift-valley onto the training camps in the North Rift and with adequate communication training even manage to plug Kenya’s overall tourism attractions.  This can extend to the numerous ceremonial award speeches whose potential reach to a huge worldwide audience in a coordinated, eloquent manner can have much more impact than the expensive Public Relations and Media Advertising the Ministry of Tourism runs annually.

Secondly in terms of the athletes having an impact on the economic growth of Kenya, its of interest to highlight the fact that research has revealed a direct correlation to an athletes overall brand value measured in paid endorsements and their communication competency. According to Track Profile, during the years 2005-2010, $46,000,000 or (Ksh 4,278,000,000) total prize money per annum was awarded and Kenyan athletes received not less than 25% of that total each year. That amounts to approximately $11,500,000 or (Ksh 1,069,500,000)) each year, and this does not even include appearance fees and sponsorship contracts that are normally kept confidential but in many instances have much higher value than the prize money.

According to Road Race Management's ranking and money list, the 2010 awards amounted to $7,452,227 and Kenyan runners accounted for approximately 50% of the total prize money. These figures don’t include appearance fees and sponsorship contracts either. To contextualize the effect these amounts have had back in Kenya, we can look at the town of Eldoret, which headquarters the North Rift. It has experienced a property boom with growth rates of almost 8%, which is twice the national average and the constantly changing skyline shows the continued investment by athletes in the towns commercial real estate. Seems like the athletes’ contribution to the Kenyan economy cannot be ignored.

It is therefore apparent that if we increase the brand value of our athletes through investing in improving their communication competencies, the country stands to gain more dividends due to their increased earnings. But even as the government invests in communication skills training for athletes, the Ministry of Sports must also work other aspects like negotiating tax exemptions on the winning fees, appearance fees and endorsements with countries where the athletes compete, as is already happening with stars like Usain Bolt who only competes in countries like the UK when the government offers tax exemptions. 

The North Rift County Governments must also deliberately invest in the communication skills of the young aspiring athletes who practice and reside in the numerous training camps in the region. By improving the communication skills of the young athletes prior to their introduction onto the world stage, the County governments can be sure their investment will pay dividends in future. To make this reality the County Assemblies could pass legislation, which allocates a training budget for the athletes while they are resident in the training camps.

And finally the corporate sector with firms in the Financial Sector, the Nairobi Securities Exchange, Insurance, Construction and Luxury car retailers should all invest in the Communication skills training of the elite athletes. They are directly involved in the financial management or investment holdings for the athletes. They stand to benefit when the athletes are eventually able to earn more money due to their improved communication abilities.

As a Speech Coach and Communication Consultant who has periodically worked with athletes, I recommend two ways in which the Communication skills training can be conducted. 

Training Seminars or workshops could be incorporated into the other regular programs within the residential camps for the young up-coming athletes and for the professional athletes, a month long One-on-One Speech Coaching program which will train them on aspects like Mastering interview skills, Proper diction for English language presentations, Dealing with nervousness among other topics will suffice.

Even as we convey our congratulations and express our pride in our athletes who dominated the 2022 International Marathon Circuit, it is clearly in our National Interest to invest in the communication skills of our greatest ambassadors. The time is now!

Mr. Paul Achar is the Chief Executive Officer and Lead Communication Coach at Jade Communication Limited