In the countdown to Mother’s Day, it’s fitting that Tokyo Olympian Mackenzie Little, the 2023 world championships bronze medallist for javelin, recalled a family anecdote her mum shared with her before she left Australia to compete in one of her sport’s premier events.

When Little was invited to make her Diamond League debut in 2021, her mother explained the special significance of her daughter competing in the Paris edition of the series.  

“She said: ‘actually, that’s kind of really special because I remember being up at three in the morning breastfeeding you, watching Paris Diamond League,” Little revealed in her five-part NSWIS Lights Up documentary series which can be viewed at NSWIS Lights Up.

However, Little – who is a doctor at Royal North Shore Hospital – insisted it would be a mistake to interpret her revelation as a sign that she comes from a family that’s fanatically focussed on sporting glories and winning medals.

“It makes us sound like a really kind of intense athletics focused family,” said Little. “I wouldn’t say that at all. I actually have really appreciated the fact that my parents have never pushed me in any way for athletics.

“They say for a competition: ‘go do your best . . . have a good time, don’t get injured, and come home.’

“They’ve just been so supportive of any level as far as I wanted to take this thing and that’s . . . you know . . . it’s really nice that I can kind of sit there and just say ‘I’m having a good time’. I can drag them along to the odd Olympic games and they’re just going to be supportive the whole way. There’s never a disappointment with anything.”

That approach of ‘just doing your best and enjoying the experience’ extended to the future Dr Little’s studies and schooling.

“I always kind of wanted to do well at school,” she enthused. “I always felt that was important, and I was genuinely interested in it – especially the sciences.”

 “I think my parents – in a similar way with athletics – they didn’t ever force me to do anything. For them, they kind of always said that their focus was also education . . .  a good investment long term: that’s your life and that’s your career because at the end of the day sport isn’t guaranteed and although nothing is, I guess, for us, it was always really important to have that side.”

Not surprisingly, the support Little – who played the trumpet – received from her parents helped mould her strong views about children being allowed the opportunity to explore their interests and talents.

“I feel very strongly about the fact that when you have multiple elements to your identity and your life when you’re playing music and sport and studying and you have a healthy social life and the kind of support you get from your family as well kind of all comes together into a very well-rounded, resilient person and I’ve absolutely seen that in periods where that’s balanced, I’m thriving the most.

“Early specialisation . . .  I think . . .  I can actually be such a detriment to sports and the athletes themselves. And so, a lot of times when other athletes and families message me and say: ‘You know, I’m 12 and I want to be a javelin thrower, and that’s all I want to do.’

“Sometimes my response is: ‘You know, feel it out. I think the reason I was so good at javelin in Year 12 was because I was playing soccer three times a week, my fitness was really good, my agility was really good from that, and I was playing water polo and so my arms getting that kind of variety and I think that makes you a much better athlete.

“I actually feel quite strongly that kids should be kids and should try lots of things and be open minded and that’s when the opportunities kind of come up and I think to put all your eggs in one basket early can lead to over-training and injuries, so it helps with burnout as well.”

Daniel Lane, NSWIS

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