The St Vincent and the Grenadines Netball Association (SVGNA) hosted the 26th annual Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) OECS Under-23 Netball Championships during the past week.
The competition as keen but the Championships suffered from good crowd attendance.
It is important therefore for us to analyse some of the critical factors that has led to this stage.
Netball has had a very good history in St Vincent and the Grenadines. At one point the national team was amongst the most feared in the game around the Caribbean.
When it was common practice to select a West Indies or Caribbean team following the annual Championships of the Caribbean Netball Association, this country was sure to have several of its top players included in the listing.
Importantly, the development of the sport of Netball started in the schools.
The work of Hermina Cambridge in the development of netball in the nation’s schools remains legendary. Her indefatigable commitment to and imparting of knowledge and skill competencies to all with whom she came into contact in building the sport constituted the backbone of the sport for many years.
The Department of Sports also facilitated the continued commitment of personnel to work on the sport.
The Ministry of Education has never faltered in encouraging the organisation, administration and delivery of annual netball competitions amongst the nation’s schools. Admittedly, the primary school students have only been treated to a sort of annual netball festival rather than the type of competitions associated with the secondary schools.
Gloria Ballantyne OBE was a very strong leader of the netball fraternity and her consistent and persistent drive for success powered the SVGNA to ever-new heights for many years.
Some may recall that when the SVGNA celebrated its 50th anniversary the national Championships for that year featured a record-breaking 52 participating teams. This was seen as the ultimate in terms of the nation-wide popularity of the main sport for girls and women in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
It must have come as a surprise to many who have been accustomed to the popular years of netball in this country that at the opening of the 26th annual ECCB OECS Under 23 Netball Championships on Saturday last that the patrons were not large enough to fill a single stand at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
There is little doubt that the participating teams were somewhat astounded to find that in St Vincent and the Grenadines of all places interest in netball has dropped to such a low level.
The reality is that for the past several years we have witnessed the decline in the numbers playing netball in this country. This is manifested in the decline in the number of teams participating in the annual Championships.
Participation in the annual Industrial Tournament has also declined significantly.
Attendance numbers have dropped and like local and regional cricket, there is a handful of loyal enthusiasts of the sport who are always in attendance at every level that the sport is played competitively.
Generally, there has been a significant drop in the participation of girls in sports and physical activity associated with physical literacy in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This is amazing since it comes at the same time that the Ministry of Education offers physical education as an examinable subject at both CXC and CAPE.
Rosmund Griffith, in a study into the participation of girls in sport in schools above the Rabacca River revealed several factors that impacted this phenomenon. The situation continues to the present time.
Many of the nation’s schools have found that participation by girls in order to allow their respective house to at least earn some points has declined significantly. At their respective school sports they are finding more girls as spectators than participants.
One consequence is that a select few athletes at schools are being over-burdened with having to contest too many events in the same competition, a factor that could easily negatively impact their physical well-being and overall health.
More contemporary analysis would yield the fact that the concept of physical literacy does not yet have much currency in St Vincent and the Grenadines, even amongst many of the nation’s physical education teachers.
The lack of understanding of physical literacy across the nation means that parents are unaware, for the most part, of the importance of physical activity in the lives of their children from birth through to adulthood.
Unfortunately, the promotion of education and more particularly a so-called education revolution fails to locate physical literacy alongside literacy and numeracy as fundamental to the holistic development of every child in the nation. This is strengthened by the failure of having physical education as a professional feature of the education of the nation’s children at every level, from kindergarten through to university.
Academics versus sport
The vast majority of the nation’s educators have an ingrained belief that sport and academics do not go together. Rather than attempt to understand the necessary relationship and the impact that the striking of the right balance between the two has on the human condition, our educators berate the loss of instructional time that occurs if a child engages in sport while at school.
Girls in particular are often the first to fall victim to this archaic philosophy that thrown sporting activity onto the backburner of a child’s development.
Early sexual activity
In the recent past our society has witnessed the early onset of sexual activity by girls. This is a taboo subject and hence many have been fearful of citing it as a critical factor in the shift of girls away from sport.
Young boys and older men have taken to encouraging young girls to meet their requirements for cell phones, jewellery and cosmetics along with satisfying their sexual desires and experiences.
The distractions offered by modern technology with its rapid-fire changes/advancements proving ever more attractive and appealing have targeted girls and women away from sport as a critical component of their well-being.
Additionally, many young girls are caught up in the belief that participation in sport leaves them too muscular and therefore unattractive to their male counterparts.
Another critical factor impacting the participation of girls in sport revolves around leadership. Here we are not only referring to administrators but also to parents, coaches and technical officials – all key stakeholders in sport.
Administrators cannot assume that the same approaches to administration of the sport that worked several decades ago are still relevant and would necessarily yield the same results.
The youths of this generation are differently motivated and their aspirations and interests are not what we saw of past generations. It is therefore necessary for the stakeholders to spend more time understanding the social dynamics that impact the individuals who they are trying to attract to sport and physical activity.
In today’s world there is a preponderance of information on all aspects of sport and the benefits to be derived from engagement of children and youth. Unfortunately, many of our stakeholders do not seek to involve themselves sin accessing the available information.
Not many coaches take time to understand the factors impacting the development of the children in their care far less those who they would wish to see compete because of their perceived stature and often presumed talent.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines our coaches are only now being exposed more deliberately to an understanding of the process of long term athlete development (LTAD) and it is unfortunate that the older coaches are burying their heads in the sand rather than seek their own intellectual advancement by engaging in the re-education that this necessitates. In so doing they further distance themselves from the requirements of a changing generation of children and youth.
Netball, like so many of our other sports requires a deliberate review of the development strategies at work. The leadership must engage the stakeholders to critically examine the organisation and the factors that have led to the decline in numbers at every level – athletes, coaches, administrators and technical officials, if the organisation is to rebound to the heights formerly attained.