Coaches and our inter schools sports

Many often reflect on time at school as offering them the best and most memorable years of their lives. Great things many remember about their school years are the opportunities afforded them to participate in sport.
Education is about the development of the human personality and the twin disciplines of physical education and sport constitute an important component of this.
Unfortunately however there are some who never get to play sport regardless of how much they desired to learn and yet others who were driven to competitive excellence as perceived by their physical education (PE) teachers and/or coaches – two extremities in the education system today. The fact is that competition has become so much a part of our daily lives that we deny many youngsters the opportunity to learn and practice a sport on the one hand and readily ruin potentially good athletes on the other.
The Olympic Charter, the constitution of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), after years of establishing and sustaining the global Olympic Movement, in its fourth principle states:
The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practising sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play. The organisation, administration and management of sport must be controlled by independent sports organisations.
The fact that in several of our schools here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we deny many children the opportunity to learn and participate in sport is indeed discrimination and should be stopped. It is not to be accepted at any level of our education system.
Too many of our teachers responsible for physical education and sport seem to focus on winning. In this regard they may well have an ally in the Ministry of Education that has very little in place to monitor and evaluate the extent to which this is a commonly despicable practice that pervades and negatively impacts the system.
There is another ally to be found in the Physical Education and Sports Teachers Association (PESTA) that is guilty of too heavy a focus on the competitive aspect of their work and less on the development of the person that is every student in their respective educational institutions.
Principals at the pre-school level have been doing a much better job at an inclusive approach to play than is the case at any other level of our education system. They always seek full involvement and incorporate the parents of the children as much as possible. In this regard therefore they appear far more responsible in their understanding of the important role of having all their students play together in an atmosphere of fun and fair play that occurs at any other level.
The one and critically important drawback at the pre-school level is the absence of appropriately trained physical educators. There may be many reasons for this. Some pre-schools cannot afford specialist physical educators. Others may not consider it sufficiently important. Yet others may simply not be sufficiently aware of the role of physical education to the child’s rounded development at this early stage, failing to appreciate that this particular aspect of his/her development is as critical as the rest of the education being undertaken at the institution during this phase in his/her life.
So it is therefore that while the pre-schools engages the child in play they do not facilitate deliberate education to allow the optimum benefits that could and should be derived from such practices.
Once the child gets into the primary school the change in approach is phenomenal. The Kingstown Preparatory School (where Ian Sardine is located) apart, none of our primary schools has the benefit of a physical educator. It is the norm to identify a teacher who is given the responsibility for engaging the students in sport, as opposed to play. Physical education is not the term used even at this stage.
From the very first term the children are told that they would be involved in football and netball competitions. With less than a month to prepare teams the teacher responsible for sport takes the children onto the playing arena to quickly assess their skill competencies in the different sport. Those with no knowledge are immediately marginalised, too scared to get involved in what amounts to trials for selection at least to a training squad.
Those who dare to participate and are found wanting are readily cast aside, leaving only those perceived as ‘good enough’ to allow a team to be realised. This is repeated for all of the sports for which the primary schools are involved in competitions.
For the remainder of the primary school sojourn the discarded students are never taught to play the different sports.
The same practice occurs at the secondary schools even though we now have physical education on the syllabus and physical educators on staff.
At the tertiary level consideration is only now being given to having some from of physical education and sport programme taken seriously.
We are forced to conclude therefore that in St Vincent and the Grenadines there is gross discrimination at our educational institutions in so far as participation in physical education and sport are concerned.
What is worse is that when after completing their formal education careers some individuals take an interest in practising some form of physical exercise for their health and general well being they are often watch with much surprise and often derided for not getting involved at a much earlier stage in their lives.
The blend
The IOC defines the concept of Olympism in the first of its Principles as follows:
Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
We need remind ourselves that the modern Olympic Movement emerged out of a concern for the well being of youth in society at a time when it was clear that social degradation had forced them into a perception of delinquency, crime and violence as a way of life.
It was also true that at the time the Greeks had come to their own recognition that sport, an integral part of their history and socio-cultural ethos, had all but disappeared with the termination of the Ancient Olympics. They felt that successive generations were missing out on an essential ingredient of being Greek.
The idea was that sport at whatever level should seek to blend education, culture and sport. They must be inseparable components of the development of the whole person.
The failure of many of our educators to fashion a programme that promotes the values attendant to participation in physical education and sport significantly affects all of St Vincent and the Grenadines. We see physical education and sport as new trivia, a form of recreation that we watch for the fun of it.
Many parents resist any attempt by their children to take sport seriously while engaging in educational pursuits. Many see them at variance with each other, in the process stymieing their broader development and robbing the society of better prepared personnel.
Successful coaches at the high school level are those who have a student-centred focus rather than a focus on winning at any price. Principals and school boards should judge, assess and reward high school coaches based on the successful implementation of certain educational outcomes related to citizenship, life skills, learning, sportsmanship, etc. The emphasis should be on helping students recognise the proper attitude toward competition and winning which are in line with the educational mission of competitive high school sports helping students to get set, get ready and go for life.
The foregoing quotation came from Lascelve ‘Muggy’ Graham, in an article published on 25 February 2012. Graham is Jamaican.
Graham’s point ought to be taken very seriously here in St Vincent and the Grenadines as well. The desire for immediate gratification amongst some of our physical educators and coaches does not permit due consideration to be given to the important role that participation in physical education and sport lends to the cultivation of good citizenship in our country.
Many physical educators and coaches are in it for themselves, not for the athletes. Had this not been the case they would have spent far more time addressing the imparting of life skills to their charges and encouraging total participation without rancour or reprisals. Instead they hound students to stay away from the sport if they came to the institution without the fundamentals and bully those who show some talent to such an extent that some parents have had to approach the school to request leave for their children to have time to study.
The challenges faced each year at the primary and secondary level to ensure that cheating by way of false age categorisation does not take place is a case in point. This has forced the Schools Games Committee to declare that effective the current academic year any school that has knowingly entered a child in the wrong age category would be disqualified from the competition once the information has been brought to light.
The strong desire to win at all cost has been a factor that leads some teachers to encourage students to participate in competitions even though they have not been in training, leaving the authorities with major fears on competition day given the large numbers that end up in the hands of the sports medicine personnel.
There is also the case of teachers and coaches impressing young students of their abilities and virtually guaranteeing them national selection. This is a ruse often used to pressure the athletes into accepting higher training loads even as the teacher/coach ignores the basics of long-term athlete development. When the athletes are not selected the national association is apportioned blame by the teacher/coach and who then takes time to convince the athletes under his/her charge that this is the only possible explanation. The athlete then targets the association as the culprit inhibiting his/her progress in the sport.
Teachers/coaches have a great responsibility to students to be up front and honest at all times. This is one of the primary reasons parents must involve themselves in reading about the importance of physical education and sport in their children’s lives, encourage them and accompany them as often as possible when participating.
The bigger picture of contributing to the development of the whole person and a genuine citizen of St Vincent and the Grenadines must always be in focus. Failure to do this would lead to the continued acceptance of a philosophy in respect of physical education and sport that denies too many of our people participation in the twin disciplines of physical education and sport, leaving our nation the poorer.