The world of sport has been undergoing change for as far back as we could remember. We can argue that sport is in a state of perpetual change. At different points in time the factors impacting change in sport may be far removed from what obtained previously. Of one thing we are always certain and that is change in the wide and wonderful world of sport.
There are those who would suggest that there are always major challenges confronting sport. In the Caribbean we are not always in a position to adequately deal with the challenges posed to us in the wider global sporting community. Somehow we seem less prepared than our counterparts elsewhere in the world. To some it seems that we remain backward compared to the rest of the world.
The evidence suggests that in the Caribbean we are experiencing declining numbers in terms of participation in sport. This is true of almost every sport practised in the region.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines the situation is perhaps much worse than what obtains in the Caribbean.
Netball for example, long considered the purvey of women in the country, has experienced significant fall-off in terms of participation in the sport. This goes down to the primary school level and runs through the entire gamut.
Cricket has reached a stage where the cars at the respective venues on a weekend actually belie the number of persons in attendance at matches around the country. What obtains is really the fact that almost each player has a vehicle and attends the match with it. The 28 or 30 cars at the venue is really a reflection of the players and officials involved in the particular encounter.
Athletics faces a similar reality. Even where it is realised that running is fundamental to almost all outdoor and several indoor sporting activities athletics is often not considered a viable option by many of today’s children. Participation at the various secondary schools’ sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines today reveals a sad shortage of numbers, especially among the girls. Indeed what is happening now is that the cheerleaders’ competition at the schools’ sports are more apt to attract greater numbers in terms of participation than the athletics competition, which constitutes the core of the event.
While it so often appears that football does not suffer from the same plague in sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines, the reality is indeed the same. When one examines the various football competitions around St Vincent and the Grenadines we would readily realise that several players defy the best intentions and rules of the governing body for the sport and play in different leagues and competitions during any given season. This gives the impression that the numbers are growing when in fact they are not.
In recent years sporting authorities almost everywhere have targeted the rise of technology as the villain in the demise of interest in physical activity by our children.
Many cite the growth in the video games industry as the prime target occupying the interest and enthusiasm of the children. The parts of the body most exercised are the hands as the children avoid having to go onto a playing field, opting instead to stay in the classroom, working their hands at the various technological gizmos.
The unparalleled rise of the cell phone and with it the capacity to attract the children into sending text messages to each other almost all day, calling friends and engaging in all sorts of new and exciting games has changed the world as we had come to know it over the years.
Teachers and parents now complain that the children now show less interest in moving around during the recess period. They are too busy playing computer games on an ever-growing number of smaller computer games.
The net result is a significant decline in the physical activities undertaken by children. What is surprising about this is that in this country we have taken the decision to have physical education in our schools though only up to the early forms at the secondary level. Beyond that it is a matter of individual choice.
It is therefore not at all surprising that in St Vincent and the Grenadines today local competitions are no longer as attractive or competitive as previously and for the most part our national representative teams do poorly at regional and international competitions.
The reality is at best our national representative teams perform mediocre at the regional and international level.
It is a sad indictment of the state of our sport that when St Vincent and the Grenadines was engaged in a regional football encounter at Arnos Vale there were many football enthusiasts who did not attend. When asked about their absence from the game the response was the same in each case. They did not know who was on the team. It is not that they did not have the names of the members of the team. The point these diehard enthusiasts of the game were trying to make was that they did not have anyone on the team with whom they could identify. They did not see any stars.
Over the years there were always players who stood out enough to engender the in keenest of interest of the enthusiasts of the game in the country. Today the enthusiasts rebuff the Football Federation for what they perceive to be a lack of any systematic approach to the development of the game. Sadly the Federation has been unable to mount an appropriate response. The results of games played at home and abroad tell a story that suggests support for the stance adopted by the diehard enthusiasts.
In many of the sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines today it is a truism that many of the so-called oldsters still impact the game. Admittedly there are young people coming into the respective sports though not in the same numbers that existed hitherto. However we must admit that today’s younger athletes do not seem to have the same level of commitment, enthusiasm for the respective sports, the tenacity to recognise their strengths and weaknesses enough o encourage them to develop their game to the point of excellence.
This Columnist recalled previous articles that focused attention on the fact that while playing home several years after returning to St Vincent and the Grenadines, ace Tennis coach, Nigel Liverpool, was able to stay at the base line and defeat all of the younger talented players year after year in the national championships. His reading of the game was so much more advanced than his local opponents. His vast experience and exposure assured him of a more competitive approach to the sport.
In Athletics in this country today, Pamenos Ballantyne continues to be the best at everything from 800m through to the marathon, which is 26 miles 385 yards. While we commend the achievements of Ballantyne and his continued commitment to training well above what the rest of the athletes in this country seem prepared to undertake it is also significant that he rules the roost even as he ages. He is no ‘spring chicken’, yet he is our most reliable distance running athlete. Despite the best efforts of the authorities and even of Pamenos himself there has not been any athlete who seems prepared to engage in the consistent training regimen undertaken by the Sandy Bay athlete.
The annual Rotary Club Softball Championships, which just concluded its 12th anniversary, reflects the sad state of affairs in the sporting arena in this country. The fact that the National Sports Council with the likes of Ian Allen, Lance John, Bill Edwards, all athletes who have served St Vincent and the Grenadines and Windwards in cricket some time ago could dominate the several editions of this event is an indictment of what is happening in this country. Some have even played at the level of the West Indies team, a fact that event saddens the situation.
We have reason to believe that the oldsters who are still involved in football and several other sports often display more skills and commitment to the strategies of the respective sports than their modern counterparts whose seeming eagerness is almost always accompanied by sheer arrogance and seething ignorance more reflective of gangs than sporting organisations.
Coaching in decline
There is also the matter of the decline in committed coaches.
Coaches are more than teachers. They are expected to be almost surrogate parents, teachers, friends, counsellors, brothers and sisters. Not many people in today’s St Vincent and the Grenadines seem prepared to adopt this role as a volunteer. Indeed, some are not prepared to adopt these multifunctional roles even with financial compensation.
Some sports sociologists would suggest that people have become more material oriented in contemporary society. Others suggest that selfishness has attained new levels in society.
Our more experienced coaches have consistently complained that they do not understand why it is that in an ear where there are so many opportunities for careers in sport people seem afraid of stepping forward to take on the responsibility of coaching our nation’s children.
This country’s first and only International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Coaches’ Instructor, Gideon Labban, has repeatedly suggested that the children are almost always enthusiastic about participating in sport. They are always willing to learn new skills and practice them. He notes however that there does not seem enough people around who are willing to take the time to help the children sustain their level of enthusiasm for the respective sports. Thus children’s appetites are aroused when experts introduce them to the respective sports but this wanes considerably once these coaches cease to be present. The follow-up does not take place and the children become very frustrated. The net result is a situation that is worse than if the children had never been introduced to the sport. They now despise the very sport to which they were introduced.
Over the past several years Labban has experienced tremendous challenges in the development of sport in this country. While committed to the sport of track and field athletics he nonetheless interfaces with the several sports practised in this country and has a wealth of experience in analysing the reality. Committed coaches are in short supply in the midst of growing numbers of children in need of physical activity, Labban observes.
Should people realise the enthusiasm of our children to want to participate in sport we can probably stem the tide of the impact of technology making ‘couch potatoes’ of so many.