The world is full of examples of individuals who have dared to be different. At the time of being different these individuals may well have been considered insane but certainly deviant. Yet, in several instances the changes they dared to initiate have eventually become mainstream.Despite numerous examples around the world people who dare to be different are still viewed with caution, if not derision.
In the world of sport we must be open to change for failure to do so would run the risk of our respective societies being left in the quagmire of decadence.
Earlier this week, Monday 22 and Tuesday 23 February the St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee joined an ever-increasing number of sporting organisations around the world that dared to be different in its approach to the inculcation of a culture of physical literacy.
The Olympic Committee is partnering with the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees, Olympic Solidarity, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Olympic Committees of The Bahamas, Haiti, British Virgin Islands, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago in a pilot project introducing Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) founded on the main pillar of physical literacy. It is an undertaking that at once brings together education, health and sport to fashion a more rounded individual as well as a healthier, better educated and physically active society.
The facilitator of the first of five workshops on LTAD was one of the founders of the Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) project, Richard Way.
Participants were drawn from national sports associations ministries of government, the media and community organisations from around St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The traditional approach to the sport development process has been and continues to be in many countries, including St Vincent and the Grenadines, one of exclusion.
There are many Vincentians who have gone through their entire school career without ever having learnt to play a sport. That is because the norm is for the teacher/coach is so overtaken by the desire to win that he has little time to really engage students who want to participate but do not have any previous experience or fail to display any aptitude for the particular sport.
Despite the old models showing that the base of the sport development process is mass participation the reality is that it is only so in so far as the numbers who participate at the very beginning are larger than those who will eventually become elite athletes. Coaches often cannot wait to get rid of those who do not show the potential to become elite athletes, thus the process of excluding athletes from sport and physical activity along the way.
The individuals who are excluded, for the most part, end up with little interest in physical activity and sport unless, of course, they are forced to engage in exercise by their physicians.
Too many teachers/coaches in the Caribbean determine in their own wisdom that athletes who display some potential early in life should be forced into specialisation before they are ready for it. They assume that proficiency in a sport equates readiness for early specialisation. That is not necessarily the case. This explains why so many athletes burn out early and leave the sport, never looking back. They hate the sport that spoilt their chances of success.
Let us note here that gymnastics requires early specialisation. In the case of gymnastics the age of 18 is considered old and transforms the individual into veteran status. But there are only a few sports like that.
In athletics, unless the athlete is really quite special, it is not common for super stars in the early teens to stay on and become champions by the time they are into their twenties. It is therefore not surprising that so many children rated too early as stars end up lost to sport as they mature.
Another aspect of the traditional approach to sport development is the eagerness of coaches to lay claim to the success of athletes in their charge. They often thump their chests for the success of the athlete when in fact the athlete may well have had the talent and they merely facilitated this. Compare this to the vast majority of athletes with whom they work and who do not amount to much. Is this the result of the others not having the capacity or is it instead that often times the coaches do not re-tool often enough or fail to engage in understanding the dynamics of athlete development?
In the traditional approach parents and teachers are often left out of the process. The athlete is literally taken away from the parents who are seen as lacking knowledge in sport and therefore becomes something of a humbug to the coach. This is an unfortunate reality in sport in the Caribbean and even here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Not surprisingly therefore parents see coaches and training of their children more as a form of day-care for their children.
In the traditional way of doing things we simply assume that the gymnasiums that open up here and there have adequately certified individuals as trainers in them. That is not always the case. There is no national requirement for establishing a gym or any guidelines from any national institution in respect of the qualification of the trainers attached to these institutions. It is the individual trainer that is left to determine whether or not he wishes to gain official certification outside the country since there is no certification institution in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Daring to be different
The new approach begins with getting across the message to the entire society that physical literacy is an important aspect of the life of every one of its members. It is not the athlete or the potential athlete that must become physically literate. It is all of us.
Physical literacy is what gives every individual the confidence and desire to be active throughout his life.
Physical literacy is as important to the human condition as literacy and numeracy. That is the message of S4L.
If we are able to successfully spread the message of physical literacy such that it takes root in this country and becomes an integral component of Vincentian culture we will have a significantly healthier, better educated and more productive nation.
The different approach uses the LTAD model which takes into consideration the chronological age of the athlete along with his training age and emotional status in order to determine where he should be at any point in respect of participation in physical activity and sport. This approach does not rush the individual athlete into early specialisation but acknowledges that there are ways of measuring when an individual ought to be doing what type of physical activity and/or sport.
The LTAD model allows for every member of the society to fit into the process and puts an end to the guesswork that so often dominates the way we do things.
The different approach allows those who go into the sport area to be guided, not by a single coach who claims to know it all, but by a team. This team comprises a physical trainer that address the weight training requirements, a nutritionist that guides the eating behaviour of the athlete, the coach of the specific sport, a physician that assess the athlete and a sport psychologist that informs on the emotional status of the individual.
The team approach is what makes for successful athlete development. It moves away from the traditional approach where the athlete only sees a physician after something goes wrong.
We do not have sport psychologists in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Indeed the country is woefully deficient in psychologists more generally. Perhaps it is because of how we have socialised our children into thinking. There may well be a perception that one only needs a psychologist when mental problems are evident.
Unless we shift to the team approach coaches and clubs would remain deficient and the hit or miss norm would continue to hold sway.
The recently concluded session hosted by the St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee is an opportunity that has been grasped by several national associations, organisations and individuals.
The programme would last through to May 2017 during which there would be four more visits by experts in the field of S4L and LTAD and eight Webinair seminars. The groups involved would work on several projects during the life of the programme. It is the hope of the organisers that at the end of the programme there would be clear LTAD pathways for the sports involved as well as some specific programmes aimed at facilitating the harmonisation of approaches by the leaders of education, health and sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The process has begun with much interest and enthusiasm.
It is left to all participants to work diligently to engage as many people as possible in the following months to realise the successful transformation of the way we do things in
Physical activity and sport for healthy living in St Vincent and the Grenadines.