Athletics in our schools – the challenges of early 2012

January sees the commencement of the athletics competition season for the majority of schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
This is one of the times of the year when all students seem all too eager to show some measure of support for sport.
Times have nonetheless changed and many questions are now being raised about the level of involvement of the vast majority of our students in sport.

Schools Games Committee
Since being established along new lines some years ago the Schools Games Committee has been improving in its delivery of sport competitions to the nation’s schools.
For those not yet in-the-know, the Schools Games Committee comprises the following:

  • The Deputy Chief Education Officer (Chairperson)
  • The Education Officer responsible for PE and Sport in Schools
  • Representative of the Ministry of Sport
  • Representative of the National Sports Council
  • Representative of the Secondary Schools Principals Association
  • Representative of the Primary Schools Principals Association
  • Representative of the Physical Education Teachers Association
  • Representative of the National Sports Associations
  • Representative of the Sports Medicine Association
  • Representative of the Ministry of National Security
  • Representative of the Ministry of Health and the Environment
  • Representatives of the national sports associations whose sports are on the annual schools calendar

The Schools Games Committee is charged with the responsibility for the planning, administration and evaluation of all of the sport competitions under its ambit.
In 2010 the School Games Committee established a National Schools Sports Policy, which guides its operations.
There is a sub committee charged with responsibility for each of the sport competitions approved by the Ministry of Education. The representative of the respective national sports association chairs each such sub committee. The rest of the membership of each sub committee mirrors that of the Schools Games Committee.
In her Introduction to the National Schools Sports Policy, Deputy Chief Education Officer, Beverly Neptune, stated,
Globally there has been a paradigm shift in the role allocated to physical education and sport in the holistic development of the individual in society. This shift has resulted from the extensive research conducted by experts in both disciplines. The research suggests that the curriculum for every child‘s preschool through secondary experience should include the opportunity to participate in quality physical education programmes and other health enhancing physical activity. Consequently there have been important policy changes in respect of the role of physical education and sport in the education development strategies of nations everywhere.
The Ministry of Education is committed to supporting a culture of physical education and sport in our education system that incorporates the values of sportsmanship, discipline, perseverance, teamwork, self-confidence and fair play. In this regard, our physical education and sport programmes are geared towards contributing significantly to the holistic development of our young people and focus on students’ participation in a wide range of independent and team activities, as articulated in our National Curriculum and Assessment Framework (2005).
The respective sub committees have to engage in deliberate planning months imn advance of the commence of the academic year in order to be assured of an appropriate place on the annual calendar of the Ministry of Education.
Despite the best efforts on the part of some of our administrators this is not always the case and during the academic year some find themselves at their wits end trying to get the Ministry to approve dates. Of course the Ministry has a responsibility to ensure an appropriate balance between the academics and sport, in keeping with the Policy.
In the case of the Athletics sub committee the dates for the 2012 Inter Primary and Inter Secondary Championships were established before the conclusion of the 2010/11 academic year and circulated amongst the principals.
Meetings of the sub committee began in 2011. Schools were also provided with the dates for the submission of registration forms for the respective competitions. On the basis of the schedule that was circulated schools began fixing the dates for their own sports as well as identified their preferred competition venues.
Unfortunately, in November 2011 it was announced that St Vincent and the Grenadines had been awarded three One-Day Internationals in the series, West Indies versus Australia and the dates were 16 – 20 March 2012.
It took some time before the formalities of informing the relevant authorities took place and the impact was not very good.
At the beginning of this year the National Sports Council announced that Arnos Vale #1 was under repairs and upgrading and would therefore be closed until the start of the One-Day Internationals. Schools were then left scampering for venues for their Heats and Competitions.
In many instances the planning process of the schools were severely disrupted.
Perhaps it would have been much better had the National Sports Council engage the Cricket Authorities, the national sports associations that use Arnos Vale and the Schools Games Committee once the One-Day Internationals were awarded to this country. This would have facilitated an examination of alternative venues and the systematic approach to rescheduling.
Instead what has happened is a rather haphazard approach to what had earlier been well planned.
Pre-season preparation
Credit must be given to Rawlson Morgan, Michael Ollivierre, Godfrey Harry, Rosmund Griffith, Alrick Wright, Wollis Christopher and Walford McKie for their systematic approach to preseason preparation of their athletes for this year’s competitions. Some interesting work was also don in the Southern Grenadines in the pre-season as well. One can certainly expect significantly better performances from the students who have been working with these coaches since August 2010 in preparation for their respective schools championships as well as the Inter Schools Championships.
Harry has been working in Kingstown and his focus has been on preparing his team for the Penn Relays, which they first attended in 2011.
Happily the pre season did permit use of the facilities at Arnos Vale by those wishing to do so. However, it is fair to say that at the time neither Arnos Vale # 1 nor # 2 were at their best condition though this should not have negatively impacted the pre-season work of the athletes involved.
It is unfortunate that some of the schools did not engage in the kind of pre-season work expected of them if they are to mount serious challenges to last year’s winners.
Competition between schools this year would be most interesting. Many surprises can be expected and the gap between them should be much closer than was the case last year.
The Thomas Saunders Secondary School (TSSS), this country’s first educational institution to participate in the Penn Relays has committed to returning this year with an even larger contingent than was the case last year. However, here at home the institution can expect major challenges in the Inter Schools Championships if only because it has raised the bar with its Penn Relays visit last year.
Harry is sure to impress on his athletes the importance of retaining the standards set last year even as the challengers lift their respective approaches in an effort to be more competitive and steal the TSSS’ thunder.
TSSS can expect major challenges in individual events moreso than hitherto.
It is unfortunate that so many of the schools would not have access to Arnos Vale before the Inter Schools Heats. The larger field at Arnos Vale and the better surface allows for better performances from the athletes.
The inaccessibility of the nation’s premier sporting surface for the first three months of the competitive season would negatively impact the overall preparation of all of the athletes and certainly dampen their Inter Schools performances.
In terms of their preparation for this year’s Carifta Games they would certainly be bothered to the extreme. The same must be said of the preparation for the Penn Relays.
Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines has nonetheless put in place some events aimed at allowing the organisation to give the athletes opportunities to showcase their performance levels such that a Carifta and CAC Juniors Training squad can be identified for possible selection and so too potential athletes for the World Junior Championships.
Interest and participation
Over the past several years we have witnessed a significant decline in the number of students participating in their own schools’ Athletics Championships. This is unacceptable.
Of course there are many reasons for this and they must be faced with determination by all involved.
I tis clear that with the tremendous growth of the Information Communications Technology (ICT) children ar readily attracted to using their fingers more than engaging in full-body physical activity such as physical education and sport. They are into sedentary lifestyles quite early. This is unhealthy even if it facilitates other interests on the part of the students.
Parents are themselves so caught up in making ends meet and also competing with their children for the latest ICT gadgets they have no time to encourage their children in sporting endeavours.
Girls and boys are now prone to entering into romantic and sexual relations at a much earlier age than hitherto and this cuts short their interest in physical education and sport. By 16 some of the girls find themselves wanting to sit in the stands with their boyfriends rather than be engaged in competition on the field. Principals are hard-pressed to get students to participate even in their own sports far less in the Inter Schools Championships.
Another cause for concern is the eagerness of some parents to punish their children for weak academic performances by taking away their involvement in sports. This too does not help the child and certainly negatively impacts the sustainability of sport.
Finally, some coaches deter students from participating in sport by their attitudes. They literally ‘bark’ at their students leaving them fearful of failure. Indeed those students who seem slow to catch on in this or that drill are often ridiculed to the point of dropping out. Others desirous of joining the training walk away in disgust.
Some coaches are still at the stage of ‘win at all cost’, an approach that destroys rather than build. Once the athlete gets an opportunity he/she runs as far away from the sport as is possible, regretting the day he/she ever got involved.
Athletics is a most interesting sport and delightful when the competition is keen.
We have the potential and a cadre of coaches who, despite their differing approaches, commit to working in the field. Many more should be out there working to help develop the vast potential in our country.
The challenges are not insurmountable. It does however require tremendous commitment on the part of parents, teachers, coaches, administrators and the Ministries of Education and Sport if we are to succeed.