Many individuals give themselves over to a life in sport. From very early, they are involved in training with a view to learning the requisite skills, train consistently and compete in local, regional and international competitions, representing their respective countries.
Often, athletes make a career out of their involvement in sport.
The practice of sport is a most challenging undertaking and we often undervalue those who choose to do so. Many athletes lay a heavy price for their decisions to make a career out of competitive sport. Many also do little by way of ensuring that during their active careers in sport they are ever mindful that there is life after sport.
As with society itself not all athletes are of the same socio-economic standing.
Upper socio-economic status athletes
Children of the upper and upper middle socio-economic statuses are prone to engaging themselves sin sports that are usually associated with their standing. They are generally better off financially and do not have to rely on the national associations to provide for them. They are the ones who would readily procure their own clothing as well as training and competition necessities. They are also capable of paying their way to local, regional and international competitions.
It is also the case that the parents of these athletes have a tendency to so engage themselves sin the associations and their activities that fund-raising is relatively easy and the financial standing of the organisation is almost always strong.
Further, sponsors, because their managers and board members are from the same social status groups, tend to be eager to assist, at times, even without having been asked to do so. They seek to be present at these activities to lend their support in other ways as well.
We must admit that children of the upper and upper middle classes and statuses tend to be more aware of the importance of striking and maintaining a very healthy balance between their academic wok and their involvement in sport. Their parents, being better place din the society, ensue that this balance is an integral part of the children’s development.
Where there are any deficiencies the parents readily get the requisite assistance to facilitate the systematic growth and development of the children.
Research has shown that in society, children of the upper and upper middle classes generally perform better in their education development than their counterparts from the lower classes. Their parents are often more educated, attend meetings with the teachers to discuss the progress of their children and are more capable of understanding, making the time and helping their children with the school work.
The point being made here is that children of the upper and upper middle social classes are almost always at a distinct advantage over those from the lower classes and statuses in both the academic realm and in the sport of choice.
It is therefore not surprising that the children of the upper and upper middle classes make clear choices in the sport they practice and opt to see as a career pathway.
Poor people do not play golf. They simply cannot afford it. This is just one example.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, some sports can afford to require monthly payments for the training of athletes and be guaranteed a good clientele while others dare not even consider payment of fees as an option.
It is common knowledge that football, athletics, basketball and to some extent, cricket, tend to garner adherents from amongst the lower classes of society in the Caribbean.
Those who have been involved in coaching for these sports would acknowledge the tremendous challenges that the athletes who want to practise these sports experience, generally. Many come without the requisite gear – shoes, socks, shin guards – largely because they simply cannot afford them.
In athletics most of the athletes start off running bare-footed. The cost of the track shoes is near-prohibitive for many. The absence of shoes renders extremely difficult competing in the field events.
It is almost normative that in some of the sports dominated by athletes from lower class backgrounds, the physical education teachers, coaches, schools and clubs are the ones that use their resources to ensure that some of them are adequately outfitted with the requirements for proper training and competition.
It is also often the case that coaches become stand-in parents, guardians, counsellors, best friends for athletes. Athletes sometimes complain that they feel more comfortable with their peers in training than elsewhere.
Caring for the athlete
Who carries the responsibility of caring for the athlete?
The answer is really just about everyone involved in the life of the athlete.
The very first responsibility lies with the parent(s). it is at home that the seeds are sown in terms of care for the child. As the child grows through to maturation the active involvement in his/her development is essential to determining who he/she becomes in the long run.
It is unfortunate that some parents use coaches and training sessions as a sort of day care. They drop off their children, show little interest in knowing what the child does during the training and what he/she is supposed to do following training; what they must eat, how much sleep they should get. Fewer still seek to monitor closely the balance between academic work and their sporting activities.
Many parents opt to enforce a cessation of all sporting activities once a child does not perform well academically at any given point during their school career. Rather than seek to discuss with teachers and coaches the factors responsible for the academic performance some parents simply assume that the only causal factor at work is sport. Hence they deny the child the opportunity to practise sport.
It is unfortunate but the reality is that often children show up for training without having had a proper meal. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that this does not happen? Some seem to think that this should be undertaken by the teacher or the coach.
In the recent past concern has been raised about the matter of safeguarding the athlete since it is now common for some adults to prey upon the unsuspecting young athletes. Some of our coaches appear unwilling to address this matter although it continues to grow in importance at the international level.
As it now stands many of our coaches in different sporting disciplines are the ones who expend their own slender resources to help athletes. Unfortunately, all too often, this assistance is at times used as a weapon to cajole athletes and their parents into working only with that particular coach. This is grossly unfair and ultimately may lead to some athletes abandoning sport altogether.
Athlete career pathways
Many athletes complain ab out having committed to a career pathway bit remain short of funding to do all that is necessary.
What is the truth.
Elite athletes find a career pathway in their sport of choice. Sponsors readily gravitate towards elite athletes and provide them with financial support as well as training and competition gear.
A country that has developed elite athletes would find that the sponsors that go after their athletes would also seek to sponsor the national governing body for the sport and at times, even the National Olympic Committee.
National associations are never adequately financially viable to be able to provide national athletes with the kind of funding they would require to focus solely on practising a sport for successive years. Athletes who are so desirous often receive such funding from their respective governments.
Some of our national associations struggle to raise the funds needed to send teams to represent the country at regional and international competitions. It is therefore impossible for them to be able to fund ongoing training unless assistance is obtained from elsewhere.
Some national associations have been working with coaches at home and abroad to access scholarships at colleges in different colleges. However, regarding access to US colleges it is imperative that our students are successful at the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Some teachers here offer classes for the SAT. Unfortunately, not many of the athletes show enough interest in the exams and some do not do well enough to receive consideration for scholarships.
Those athletes who do not access scholarships and remain at home have to find a job in order to survive since national associations cannot fund them. They then find it extremely difficult to work and train as not many employers are disposed to allowing time-off for athletes to train even if they are selected to represent the country at the regional and international levels.
Not long ago a minister of government complained about the frequency with which some athletes were requesting leave to represent the country in sport competitions. Similar concerns have been raised in the public sector which should ideally be guided by the National Sport Policy of the country. The same occurs in the private sector. This approach makes it extremely difficult to convince athletes at times that what they are doing is in fact national service that is appreciated by the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Athletes who are at home would like to be able to see themselves as Pursuing an athlete career path. The demands on them are really great. While a few may from time to time earn some revenue from their competitions this is not usually the case.
Some athletes believe that the country should somehow help them to earn a living from their participation in sport. Is this realistic in a small society such as hours? The jury is out on this.
Then there is the matter of having been appointed a sport ambassador. This does not translate into a career and certainly not a constant source of income.
There are some athletes who believe that they should be financially compensated or provided with some tangible reward for their years of valued service to the country in sport. Is this unreasonable? Here again the jury is out.
The fact is that in a country characterised by a small, open and highly vulnerable economy the capacity of the government and the private sector to facilitate financial compensation or athletes who have not pursued a career beyond an active life of sport, is a major challenge if not near-impossible.
Perhaps the biggest challenge for all of us is how can we find meaningful ways of assisting our athletes in need both during and after their competitive years.