Welcome 2017, and already most national sports associations here in St Vincent and the Grenadines have completed and circulated their respective calendars.
2017 promises to be a very challenging year as several international sports federations (IF) have major championships scheduled and Vincentians are keen to participate.
Of course, against the backdrop of 2016 many are hopeful that we can somehow get athletes and their entourage around the world to adhere to the concept of fair play and put the scourge of the use of performance-enhancing substances and methods behind them.
Vincentian athletes would find it an almost impossible task of competing on a level playing field if the more advanced nations of the world encourage and/or allow their athletes to be ahead of the game in the manipulation of substances and techniques to gain unfair advantage on the field of play.
Vincentians are lovers of sport and one would hope that those responsible for athletes’ development take time to reflect on the importance of the individual athlete’s growth and development into whole persons.
It is important to note that in 2017 our young athletes would be faced with many challenges at the regional and international levels.
During 2017 Vincentian athletes in athletics and swimming would compete at the annual Carifta Games. In the case of swimming the competition is scheduled for Nassau, Bahamas while the athletics event would take place in Curacao.
The local swimming association has, since 2016, like the athletics governing body, established the standards for athletes to meet in order to qualify for the Carifta Games. In both cases, the norm is to examine the performances of the top eight placed athletes in three previous editions of the Games. TASVG takes the average eight place performance as its standards.
When one examines the rationale for setting standards in the aforementioned instances, it is possible to conclude that if the athletes do not make the standards it is hardly likely they would suddenly do better at the actual Games.
The same principle is expected to apply to the Commonwealth Youth Games that would take place in Nassau, Bahamas, in July. In this event only athletes under the age of 18 in 2017 can participate.
If the events are relatively close to St Vincent and the Grenadines and costs are therefore much lower than is usually the case, consideration can be given to sending athletes whose performances are borderline. Unfortunately, when the event is being hosted far away and airline tickets are at a premium, it is not possible to give consideration to athletes who have fallen short of the established standards.
Already, based on their competing age groups for the Carifta Swimming Championships 2017, the local association has confirmed that two of its athletes, Shne Joachim and Mya De Freitas, have met the requisite standards for their pet events.
Our young table tennis players, now having significantly more access to playing the game, thanks in no small measure to the work of Georg Silberschmidt, an expert who conducted a technical course here and is in the process of realising a foundation for the sport here. Already we are seeing significant growth and development in the sport in Bequia.
The table tennis governing body here has been able to build on what Silberschmidt has started.
Our footballers have not yet gotten the kind of results we would wish at the youth level in the Caribbean. The potential is there but as yet it has not been appropriately harnessed and developed to effect optimal performance.
Much the same can be said of our young athletes in Volleyball. Once more is seems appropriate to state here the vast potential that exists for the development of strong teams in Beach Volleyball.
Our Junior squash players do very well at the OECS level and have made it to the OECS team for the Caribbean tournaments. However, we are yet to see them go onto the larger stage. It is certainly not for want of talent. 2017 should see greater progress in the achievement levels of our squash players.
This country continues to host an annual ITTF Junior competition. Here again, much like squash, the athletes with potential have not matured into the elite rungs of the sport’s ladder over the years.
The preparation of athletes for selection is the responsibility of the coaches of the nation’s athletes whether in school or in clubs. National associations facilitate the training of coaches to engage athletes and develop them through to elite status.
Unfortunately, some of our coaches expect miracles. They ignore the fundamental fact that it takes six to eight years to produce an elite athlete.
Too many of our coaches seek to make athletes believe that they are at the elite level merely because they have won a few events at home. They often prey upon the innocence of the athletes and their parents raising their expectations to excessive levels unmatched by their training regimen and performances. When some of these athletes do not make the standards and are not selected to national teams the coach, parents and athletes point only at the national association.
Few of our coaches procure their own equipment. They rely solely on the national association to provide these. This is very unfortunate and is reflective of the weak club structures that exist.
A club cannot expect to function by reliance only on the national association to provide all of their needs.
In today’s fast-paced world, athletes in particular types of events are encouraged to purchase their own equipment. These are personal items with which they must be intensely familiar.
Clubs must ensure that over time they purchase equipment for their athletes and coaches to use at their training sessions.
The recent decision by TASVG to use the Olympic Dividend assistance from the IAAF to provide equipment to identified zones through the National Sports Council, is a means of ensuring that a larger proportion of Vincentian athletes are exposed to available equipment under supervised management, controlled usage and appropriate maintenance and accountability.
The decision is also to emphasise field events in areas where the potential is greatest and distractions least.
Frequent visits by field event coaches available to the country should see significant increase in participation in these events and ultimately, yield medals.
Athletes desirous of making the podium at ever higher regional and international levels must commit to the rigorous training that is essential to success. Without this commitment the chances of success are limited.
Parents, teachers, coaches and athletes must also understand the importance of striking the right balance between the academic and sporting interests of the athletes to overall success in life. Care must therefore be taken by coaches to ensure that appropriate time is available for study.
Athletes with potential in their respective sports would do well to prepare themselves for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) held several times in any given year. Good scores in the SAT are essential to accessing athletic scholarships in different sports in the US, once they are accompanied by good performances that prove attractive enough to the different universities.
It is also important that we all appreciate the fact that not every athlete would at the same time be strong academically and this fact needs to be given appropriate consideration by all. However, it is necessary for everyone to understand that sporting careers can end at any point and employment options thereafter must always receive due attention.
It is always important that athletes with potential avail themselves to competition as often as is possible. This is the only way to allow for appropriate continuous evaluation of one’s progress to be undertaken.
Competition at the local level can only take the athlete to a certain point. Competition against others of a higher standard is always a good test for all sportspersons.
There are some competitions where the athlete’s parents, school and/or club must take on the responsibility for the athlete’s participation.
There are other competitions for which the national sports association would assume responsibility.
It is usually the case that the national association supports competition at the highest level that the organisation is invited to, although in some cases the association may place value in developmental competition based in the performance standards attained by the athletes.
Vincentians are lovers of sport and are also harshly critical of associations that are perceived as wasting scarce and valuable resources on athletes that are inadequately prepared. The problem is that our coaches do not always understand this aspect of sport development. In their eagerness to impress the athlete sin their charge they often sell them the idea that once they are training consistently they should somehow be entitled to travel to international competition.
Our athletes and coaches must always conduct themselves as good ambassadors, at home and abroad. At home they are representatives of their families, schools and clubs. Abroad they are ambassadors of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee has entered into an agreement with Soroptomist International SVG, to work with young female athletes in critical areas of personal development. Unfortunately, some coaches seem to think that their athletes do not need such training and do everything possible to avoid having them attend the training sessions. This is all very unfortunate.
Our young female athletes are too important to this country’s future development and must be given every opportunity to understand the process of maturation as women in Vincentian society and how to conduct themselves wherever they go as athletes. That many are exposed to male coaches who frown on opportunities for the personal development of these young female athletes is downright shameful.
The SVGOC and SISVG would continue on the path of offering development opportunities to the nation’s young female athletes in 2017. The country deserves better than we have been doing in this regard.