James Bruce Tomkins was born on 19 August, 1965 in Sydney, Australia. James is an Australian rower and a three-time Olympic gold medallist. We spoke to his mother Jill Tomkins about her recollections on raising an Olympic son.
Observing children at play is a favourite pass time for many mothers. Looking back, are there any behaviours James demonstrated at a young age that could have foretold his future Olympic path?
Jill Tomkins: My husband Bruce and I were always impressed with James’ enthusiasm for sport during his childhood. His commitment and endeavour were obvious from an early age however he was always fair in his behaviour and was a very happy boy. If there was ever something that James couldn’t do he would apply himself until he learned. I remember James watching a tennis match between John Newcombe and Jimmy Conners when he was young; curious as to how the players could make the ball topspin. He asked us “How do they get that top spin on the ball?”. After we explained, he went outside to practice hitting balls against the wall. After two hours he had learned how to topspin!
Discipline, resilience, focus and determination are key attributes of Olympians. Did James naturally possess these qualities as a young child?
Jill Tomkins: Yes absolutely. Once James committed himself to a team or sporting endeavour he was 100 percent committed. He was always prepared to put the time in to get the level of performance that he was looking for. James loved playing sport, and this love made it easier for him to give his full focus.
Sportsmanship and fair play are important characteristics in any sport. How did James demonstrate these values as a youngster and do you remember when he first did?
Jill Tomkins: I remember James as a young boy playing tennis against another boy who was talking a lot throughout the match. I remember very clearly that James walked up to the net after one point and said to this boy, “I’m not interested in that”. He turned around and walked back to the service line and got on with the game. Needless to say, James won the match!.
Supporting a child who shows enthusiasm and determination requires a team effort from the whole family. What advice can you offer to mothers of Aussie kids who dream of following a similar path to James?
Jill Tomkins: Support them all the way! You go on the journey with them because you love them. You should never push them but provide them with encouragement to work hard to achieve their goals. It helps to develop a strong interest in their chosen sport so that you can understand as much as possible about what they are going through.
For Aussie kids, playing with friends and family from a young age is a foundation stone in their development. Do you have any particular stories about backyard games that James used to play for hours?
Jill Tomkins: James grew up in a fantastic neighbourhood which had a lot of local kids who were always keen to kick the football in the garden or street. We were lucky enough to have a pool in our back garden and as a result our house was popular during the summer time! These were happy times in James’ life.
Can you identify any distinct behavioural attributes that James learnt whilst playing as a child that are still obvious today?
Jill Tomkins: A general happiness in whatever he does still shines through!