After London, what?

The London Olympics 2012 was the 8th consecutive occasion on which St. Vincent and the Grenadines participated in the world’s most prestigious sporting spectacle. The best achievement to date remains the performance of Eswort Coombs of Chateaubelair who reached the semi finals of the 400m at the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.
It took another eight years for Natasha Mayers to qualify for the second round of the 100m in Athens, Greece. In both Beijing and London none of the athletes made it past the first round.
At our first Olympics, the team comprised track and field and boxing athletes. Barcelona and Beijing saw our team with only track and field athletes. In Sydney, Athens and London we had track and field and swimming athletes.
St Vincent and the Grenadines can safely admit to being highly dissatisfied with the country’s participation at the Olympics. Much has been said about the factors negatively impacting these performances. Here we examine a few factors that could impact change in the future.
Talent Identification
Time and again we have stated without fear of contradiction that St Vincent and the Grenadines is possessive of talented people. For us therefore greater emphasis has to be placed on developing more scientifically based talent identification programmes.
Too many of our coaches seem to want athletes to fit into the events they like or are proficient at coaching instead of exposing the athlete to a range of options and more systematically assess his/her capacity, adaptation and potential for this or that sport and/or event.
The National Olympic Committee (NOC) has, for the past several years, facilitated several national sports associations in the conduct of what is called, the Grassroots Talent Identification Programme (GTIP). This programme offers coaches a small stipend to give of their time and coaching skills to introduce children to the different sports practised in the country for the purpose of identifying talent. The NOC has argued that since it facilitated the training of so many of our coaches that they should give something back.
Unfortunately some associations have never really come on board with this initiative.
The GTIP has nonetheless produced some measure of progress. The young Volleyball team that has been making strides at the sub regional level is a product of the GTIP. The same can be said of several young people involved in athletics today.
The Football Federation had its own talent identification programme and several young players have emerged and moved forward.
Given that it takes several years (four to six) to produce an elite athlete in most sports, the GTIP is particularly important. There has to be on going monitoring and evaluation of the programme to determine the level of progress and return on investment on the part of those leading the talent identification programmes. It cannot be business as usual.
No organisation, in these harsh economic times, can be wasting scarce financial resources. Unplanned talent identification programme can yield nothing.
If we are to be successful in sports in the future we have to revisit the talent identification programmes introduced in the various sports and plan for the future.
Another critical pillar of success in sport in the future is coaching.
Much has been said about the state of coaching in this country.
Here again, there is no shortage of trained coaches.
Since 1988 the NOC has been training coaches in every one of the Olympic sports. The important question is why aren’t many of them coaching today?
Rather interestingly, those who seek to offer an explanation for the absence of so many of our trained coaches in the field are often the ones who are coaching and often presume to know the reasons.
Talented athletes need coaching. However talented an individual athlete may appear, without good coaching he/she cannot have sustainable success.
While we have several coaches who avail themselves to assist with the preparation of athletes there is a clear lack of cohesion among them, doing a grave disservice to the respective sports in which they are involved. Many are not eager to work collaboratively for the good of the athletes of this country. This gives the lie to their much-vaunted commitment to the country. In many cases it is not even about the athletes in their charge. Instead it is often about self-aggrandisement.
The reality is that we need good coaches. Good coaches need to establish programmes for the long-term development of the athlete and not just the immediate competitions. Coaches must work over time to build the athlete up to the elite level. There is no sense in attempting to fast track the athlete. Instead, coaches are expected to engage in realistic assessment of the athlete along the pathway. Consideration must be given to the athlete’s chronological age, training age, psychological status and physical well being. It is about a scientific approach and not the hit and miss that we have grown accustomed to.
Too many coaches seek to have athletes believe that because they are in their charge they are guaranteed selection on national teams. This is wrong and often gives the athlete false hopes that could easily lead to an early end to his/her career.
Associations have selection committees and while coaches may not always agree with the selection process they do not have the right to then tell athletes that the individual members of the committee do not like them or are prejudiced against them.
If we are to succeed going forward the coaches have to be professional. This is not achieved by claiming to be professional but rather by the way one goes about one’s duties in coaching.
We have mentioned before that caching is a noble profession. It requires significant contribution of one’s time and energies.
Our coaches have to read more and be in sync with the latest scientific developments in the various sporting disciplines.
Collaboration amongst our coaches can yield tremendous success. We just have to do it right.
Personal development
Many of our athletes are taken for granted. We do not take enough time to assess them.
Many Vincentian athletes come from homes characterised by domestic problems. Some have serious economic issues.
It is amazing, the number of socio psychological issues with which many of the nation’s athletes have to deal on a daily basis.
At times it is difficult to understand the fact that so many of them still do well in sport.
This country boasts not a single sport psychologist, a necessity in today’s world of sport. Many of our coaches are ill equipped to address the range of socio-psychological issues carried as baggage by the majority of our athletes.
Planning for success in sport in the future must mean the inclusion of programmes that directly target the personal development of the athlete.
We are perhaps too quick to condemn athletes without an appreciation for the critical issues impacting their lives.
Our athletes must be comfortable psychologically, if they are to make headway enough to compete favourably. For the most part our athletes are not going onto a level playing field when they go to compete at the regional and international levels.
Unfortunately, the public do not have an interest in much more than results and this helps in the destruction of the athlete at an early age.
Similarly, our athletes must be taught how to communicate. Athletes are representatives of their respective countries and whenever they are interviewed we do need to feel proud of what we hear. Unfortunately this is an aspect of athlete preparation not taken seriously enough by those who take on the responsibility of developing athletes.
Support mechanisms
Athletes need funding to get themselves well prepared. This is a fact of life of athletes that is not always understood and appreciated. They really do need adequate support mechanisms.
Without financial resources athletes cannot eat well and therefore cannot train well. Even at the early stages of talent identification, some children cannot participate with any measure of consistency because of their home situation. They must eat well and many cannot afford to do so.
It would amaze some Vincentians to learn that we have athletes who have nothing to eat before going to train. Coaches often have to dip into their pockets to assist athletes and on some cases when this is done the parents, having even greater need, take the assistance away from them.
Our athletes must be on a programme of continuous assessment in terms of their health such that they could undertake the established training loads. Many athletes need nutritional support.
An important area of concern here for the past several years is the need for physiotherapy and chiropractic care, both of which are not exactly cheap. The inadequacy of many of the surfaces on which our athletes train are such that the athletes are never far from injury – a frightening reality. Some athletes hide their injuries until it is too late. This may case some to drop out of sport and detest ever having gotten involved.
Regular medical check ups are an essential component of getting an athlete moving along the continuum from talent identification through to elite status yet many cannot get this in St Vincent and the Grenadines as a result of the costs involved.
Many of our athletes cannot afford the requisite equipment for their evens. This limits their capacity to train for competition.
Perhaps it is the lack of so many requirements that leave our athletes so vulnerable. Some come to rely heavily on the coaches more for the assistance they receive than any other single factor.
It must be said that some associations try to help but their own limited funding leaves their assistance much to be desired.
It is common knowledge that athletes have to engage in regular competition. This showcases the progressive status of the athlete at any given time.
We have seen many of our athletes dominate at home yet falter badly at the regional and international competitions.
If the athlete has been working with a coach his/her growth in the sport can only be adequately assesses in competition.
The demands of some international and continental organisations in terms of participation in their competitions are such that local associations have to make choices. In some cases the demands cannot be avoided and the associations must be represented or pay a heavy price, as happens with Football and to some extent, Athletics.
Finally, athletes must have access to good quality facilities. As mentioned earlier some of our facilities are the reason for many athletes leaving sport instead of staying with it.
While we can always point to countries where the facilities leave much to be desired the fact is that in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have no real guarantees of any quality facilities for some sports. The politicking gets in the way all too often.
There must be a determined effort made to get proper facilities if we are to lift the performance standards of our athletes.
Indeed, facilities are as an important an element in the overall success of athletes from this country at all levels as any of the foregoing.
As a nation we can do much better than we are doing currently.
The time has come to resist the temptation to play politics with sport and get down to understanding that the vast sporting potential existing in our beautiful country remains largely untapped. This done, we can begin to kick start a new initiative to get a programme going in terms of Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).