Athletics – a new approach that returns to basics

Inter-Sec Heats AVSC Mar 18 2010 431Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) has commenced the new year with a new approach to what is being done. The approach is to promote the sport as an essential ingredient of community development and the hallmark is professionalism.
Sport development in the Caribbean has been for too long distanced from community development even though in the past the two were inextricable linked but without official recognition that this is what was taking place.
Executive composition
For the first time in history a mixed gender sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines has as many as five women and one alternate among its composition. This represents a significant step forward for women in sport and augurs well for the future of sport in this country.
It is generally felt that women on executive committees tend to work diligently and consistently.
At a time when many sports associations in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the wider Caribbean lament the growing phenomenon of declining numbers of girls and women in their respective sport it must be heartening to have as many as five women stepping forward in the leading sport for individuals is a major achievement.
It should also be noted that TASVG is the only national sports association in St Vincent and the Grenadines and the Caribbean, which has stipulated in its constitution a place on its executive for the following:
Athletes Representative – elected by the athletes only – who heads the TASVG Athletes’ Commission
Coaches’ Representative – elected by the coaches only – who heads TASVG’s Coaches Commission.
Technical Officials Representative – elected by the technical officials only – who heads the Technical Officials Commission
The reason for inclusion of the foregoing on the TASVG executive has to do with a sense of genuine participation by the primary stakeholders in the sport.
If we insist that athletes are the reason or the existence of the sport then it is necessary that they have a voice on the executive so that they are kept informed by their own representative of all that is happening in the sport.
Sport as community development – The TASVG Approach
The Athletics World Plan has as its primary focus making the sport the leading one for individuals in the world. TASVG, as an affiliate of the IAAF, is necessarily committed to maintaining that focus.
At the local level, TASVG’s 2014 – 17 focus is to improve the number of consistently performing elite athletes in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
With Chester Morgan established as the organisation’s Technical Director, the intention is to return to the basics, the fundamentals of the sport of Athletics. This means returning to the communities and rebuilding the base of the sport at that level.
The base level of the structure of the sport of Athletics’ pyramid is the community where the objective if mass participation in physical activity. Since Athletics is the foundation of all sport then the base level could involve individuals who may eventually turn to other sports as they develop in life but that really does not matter. What matters is that the foundation is laid and TASVG could benefit from retaining many more athletes from this base level than is usually the case, merely by driving the process in a professional manner.
At the same time the approach will involve the application of the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) strategy.
Specific Objectives
TASVG has established several specific objectives.

  1. To develop athletics in communities beginning with:
    1. Layou
    2. Union Island
    3. Sion Hill
    4. Sandy Bay
    5. Stubbs

It is clear that TASVG cannot be everywhere at once. It is important therefore, as a point of departure, to focus on a few communities, benefit from extensive monitoring and evaluation during the first year, make the necessary adjustments and perfect the approach before extending it to other areas/communities.
In each case TASVG has already identified the lead coach(es) to facilitate the work needed to attain success.

  1. To facilitate the development of functioning community-based clubs in each of the five aforementioned areas by 31 December 2014.
    1. Constitution
    2. Executive
    3. At least two meetings

This second objective poses a major challenge but is extremely important. It is also consistent with the thinking of establishing multisport community-based clubs around St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a strategy that other sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines could support and allow for a harmonisation of effort in this regard.
This approach would allow for better utilisation of resources available within the identified communities and yield better results.

  1. To identify, train, and support at least three functioning athletics coaches per area for the year
    1. Working with athletes on a weekly basis
    2. Prepared to engage in continuing coaches’ education

The success of the plans regarding the establishment of community-based clubs would necessitate talent identification at several levels. At the level of coaching it is important to identify persons with the capability and stimulate their interest in becoming coaches for the community-based club.
TASVG would necessarily have to provide appropriate training for these individuals relative to its short, medium and long-term goal posts.

  1. To conduct at least one programme to train technical officials

It is also important that the sport in the community is adequately served with technical officials who are trained in the rules and regulations governing Athletics. Thewse are the persons who would be expected to guide the community-based clubs in understanding and appreciating the rules of engagement regarding the sport.

  1. To identify and train administrators in each of the identified communities

Community-based clubs would need administrators. These persons must know what is involved in providing leadership of the club and therefore be eager to receive training for what is involved.
Administrators must understand the critical features of establishing constitutions and the nuances of club formation and leadership. TASVG would provide the training needed in this regard.
The remaining objectives for 2014 include:

  1. To conduct at least two development sessions in each of the identified areas
  2. To train at least 20 persons in First Aid/CPR in each identified community by end of year
  3. To conduct at least one community-based athletics event
  4. To participate in at least two TASVG national events
  5. To acquire a stock of equipment and resources to facilitate the project
  6. To conduct at least one workshop on the use of local materials for the project
  7. To engage in quarterly evaluations of the progress of the projects

Support Structure
One of the shortcomings of clubs is the failure to ensure that there is an appropriate structure for its sustainability and success. In this regard it is proposed that key persons are identified in each of the five selected communities. They can be drawn from businesses in the community, Police, health care officials, churches, youth groups, schools and other established organisations in each community.
Clubs are not teams. They are institutionalised organisations with a structure and support mechanisms. This is the reason that clubs must move beyond being a coming together of athletes who are primarily interested in participation in competitions.
There must be clear lines of leadership in the areas of administration, coaching and officiating. Care must be taken to cater for all aspects of the club’s interests. The needs of athletes must be understood and mechanisms put in
The foundation of Athletics is not restricted to what is normally associated with the elite athletes. Activities that engage people in movement are of critical importance at the foundation stage.
We have always had community-based activities which have served as a start for many in sport but which, unfortunately, we have allowed to slip into abeyance.
TASVG proposes to reintroduce activities such as: Rounders, Skipping, Hop Scotch, Lime and Spoon, Morale, Tug O War, Tag, Obstacle events, Tire Races and Pitching Marbles, among others, at the community level. This is consistent with the overall desire to get Vincentians generally more active. We were all decidedly more active in the past but this has been overtake and replaced by a more sedentary lifestyle where people drive to the nearest point rather than walk. Even climbing steps is now perceive das too demanding a task by many Vincentians.
Female involvement
Evidence shows that there is a decline in female participation in sport generally. This is not only in St Vincent and the Grenadines but also in the wider Caribbean and globally. Girls and women are significantly more distracted away from sport and physical activity than boys and men.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines females dominate between the ages of 7 – 14 years but there is a drop off after entry to secondary schools. There needs to be dedicated research on the problem of female drop off in sport in this country to identify causes and develop approaches that would lead to effective change.
Girls and women must be specifically targeted in the new approach if it is to succeed in broadening the base of participation in Athletics and ultimately in sport, more generally.
The aforementioned TASVG approach does not have to take place in isolation nor is it intended to replace existing clubs.
The reality is that several national sports associations, understanding the existing state of sport in the country and the dominance of transitory teams rather than permanent clubs, could work in tandem, collaborate, to facilitate the creation of community-based multisport clubs around the country.
Many of what boasts of being clubs in St Vincent and the Grenadines today are really clubs. They need to examine themselves and determine whether they would stay as teams, become genuine clubs or become part of the strategy to establish community-based clubs.
The idea is that at the end of the day sport is placed at the service of community development.
Sport has the capacity to bring the community together and from there, can lead to community rehabilitation, unification and development. This is the reason to ensure from the very beginning that key people in the community, the schools and churches and all parents are to be involved. Once the aforementioned takes ownership of the club they can assume ownership of their community as a collective, working collaboratively in their best interest.
If we can get our communities internally united and working for genuine development there is every chance we can make a difference in our quest for genuine national development.