Coaches and our sporting youth

During his presentation of the feature address at the recently concluded awards ceremony for Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, Lennox Adams, a former president of both the athletics governing body and the National Olympic Committee, reflected on the stance adopted by some of today’s leaders that our youth constitute a lost generation.
Adams rejected the notion that our youths are lost. Instead he focused on the fact that with the immense potential possessed by our youths they do have the capacity to take this country well into the future through their involvement and successes in sport.
Adams insisted though that the youths are not alone in shaping the future. There are parents, teachers and coaches in addition to the communities in which they live.
In this Column we examine the coaches and the role that they must play in the development of our nation’s future.
Indeed it is timely that we address this issue now since today marks the beginning of the Training of Trainers Workshop for the Caribbean Coaching Certificate Programme (CCCP) – that has been taken over by the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) – at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex. The Workshop concludes tomorrow, Saturday 21 January.
Training coaches
Long before the National Olympic Committee began offering technical curses to the governing body for sport in this country many of the national associations conducted training of their coaches with resources made available for them by their respective international federations (IF). Many still receive assistance from their IFs today.
National sports associations here are well aware that while athletes are the core segment of their sport the coaches are essential to their development. Athletes need coaches to prepare them, taking them through their respective stages of development.
While some IFs have long established coaching certification schemes that take coaches from the basic through to the elite levels this is not the case for many of them. This has been a problem and many of the latter are only now getting themselves in order to match strides with the rest of the international sports community.
Since the NOC affiliated to the International Olympic Committee in the early part of 1987, national sporting organisations whose sport is on the programme of the Olympic Games gave been able to access technical courses for training coaches. Thus far the St Vincent and the Grenadines NOC has trained hundreds of coaches in this country. The problem has been getting them out in the field to work in a consistent manner.
Many IFs invite the coaches we have trained to engage in advanced courses to ensure that they benefit from the developmental pathway, not in their own interest but in the interest of having the respective sports grow and the athletes better prepared for success.
Working in the field
Some readers may have grown tired at the number of occasions on which this particular topic has been addressed in this Column. The reality is that it has to be mentioned until such time as we are satisfied as a nation that the coaches we have trained are engaged in consistent work in the field preparing athletes with the information they have garnered over the years.
In the different sports for which technical curses have been held less than 10% of the coaches trained are working in the field in a consistent manner.
Some have told us that they need remuneration. They did not pay to be part of the training programme to access the certification obtained. Some coaches are in sports where the parents can afford to pay for the coaching received by their children on a daily basis. Unfortunately the more popular sports attract children of an income level that prevents their parents from paying any sort of recompense, for the most part. This is a major problem in this country.
National associations do not possess the wherewithal to pay coaches for training athletes. They have enough problems simply trying to survive and facilitate participation in regional and international competitions.
Unfortunately some of our coaches do not understand this reality and stay away.
Yet others indicate that their family commitments prevent them from being able to commit to coaching. The problem here is that it would certainly be helpful to the family if the coach encourages them to be part of any training programme so that it becomes a family exercise. They can still agree with their respective associations to give a limited amount of time to working in the field or with a few athletes only. This is a small commitment and would certainly assist in keeping the sport alive and the athletes on the road to success.
The fact is that we have already trained enough coaches over the years to more than adequately service the nation in the vast majority of sports practised here.
Coaches’ rivalry
One of the most disturbing aspects of coaching in St Vincent and the Grenadines is that of the intense rivalry that exists between coaches.
One would have thought that having been trained in the same sport coaches would be anxious to work together for the overall development of the athlete and the sport. Unfortunately this is not always the case. Indeed it is not the case in most sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines and it negatively impacts the sport development process across the board.
Attempts at establishing coaches’ associations have proven futile and the reason is rather simple. The coaches seem to have immense difficulty working together. Even as they commit to working for the sport they engage in serious conflict over the different athletes involved in the sport. It revolves around who gets the credit for the achievements of the athletes.
Interestingly, this was one of the issues raised by Lennox Adams while addressing the TASVG awards ceremony on 7 January 2012. Adams cited the problem of conflict between coaches and lamented the fact that too many coaches spoke of ‘my athlete’ instead of ‘our athlete’. The practice of virtually hoarding the athlete to oneself often destroys the very athlete one claims to be assisting. This is the case especially where there may well be other coaches whose inputs from time to time may cause significant improvement in the analysis of the athlete’s training and performance regimes and hence facilitate adjustments to the programme being followed by some other coaches.
While it has become fashionable at the elite level for athletes to boast of having their personal coaches we are certainly not at that stage here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. It seems important for our coaches to come together in their respective sport groupings and collective engage in the development of plans for the development of the sport, providing the national associations with valuable inputs for further training, the procurement of appropriate modern equipment and the determination of the best competitions to suit the athlete along the way.
As it now stands some coaches seem to hoard their athletes and encourage them into the belief that only he/she can take him/her to this or that particular competition. This done, if the athlete does not gain selection by the national association, the coach seeks to further encourage the athlete into believing that the organisation ‘does not like you’. This leaves the athlete pitted against the association and the identified selectors. In some cases the athlete leaves the sport altogether.
Coaches Code of Conduct
Coaches need to be guided by some fundamental principles. In their training many have been exposed to some sort of ethical guidelines many of which are already codified.
The Coaches Code of Conduct adopted by Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines, for example, begins as follows:
Coaches are key to the establishment of ethics in sport. Their concept of ethics and their attitude directly affects the behaviour of athletes under their supervision. Coaches are, therefore, expected to pay particular care to the moral aspect of their conduct.
Coaches have to be aware that almost all of their everyday decisions and choices of actions, as well as strategic targets, have ethical implications.
Many of our coaches in the different sporting disciplines tend to ignore the importance of what is stated above. The intent of the aforementioned quote is very clear and important for successful coaching.
The Code further states:
It is natural that winning constitutes a basic concern for coaches. This Code is not intended to conflict with that. However, the Code calls for coaches to disassociate themselves from a “win-at-all-costs” attitude.
Increased responsibility is requested from coaches involved in coaching young people. The health, safety, welfare and moral education of young people are a first priority, before the achievement or the reputation of the club, school, coach or parent.
Too often coaches tend to forget that they have to adopt many roles in the field – coach, brother, sister, father, mother, counsellor and confidant.
Some athletes come without adequate resources and coaches have to pitch in with their own in an attempt to guide the athlete through to the realisation of his/her full potential.
Indeed, the following are some important aspects of a code of conduct for coaches if they are to be faithful to their mandate:

  1. Coaches must respect the rights, dignity and worth of each and every person and treat each equally within the context of the sport.
  2. Ensure a safe environment by selecting activities and establishing controls that are suitable for the age, experience, ability and fitness level of athletes.
  3. Avoid comprising the present and future health of athletes by communicating and cooperating with registered medical practitioners in the diagnosis, treatment and management of athletic injuries.
  4. Educate athletes about the dangers of drugs and performance-enhancing substances and methods.
  5. Accept and promote athletes’ personal goal and consult with and refer to other coaches and sports specialists as opportunities arrive.
  6. Communicate and co-operate with the parents and families of athletes who are minors and involve them in decisions pertaining to the athlete’s development.
  7. Coaches must place the well-being and safety of each player above all other considerations, including the development of performance.
  8. Coaches must adhere to all guidelines laid down by their respective governing bodies.
  9. Coaches must develop an appropriate working relationship with each athlete based on mutual trust and respect.
  10. Coaches must not exert undue influence to obtain personal benefit or reward.
  11. Coaches must encourage and guide athletes to accept responsibility for their own behaviour and performance.
  12. Coaches must ensure that the activities they direct or advocate are appropriate for the age, maturity, experience and ability of players.
  13. Consider the academic pressures placed on student-athletes and conduct practices and events in a manner that supports academic success.
  14. Coaches should, at the outset, clarify with the athletes, parents and teachers exactly what is expected of them and also what they are entitled to expect from their coach.
  15. Coaches must co-operate fully with other specialists (e.g. other coaches, officials, sports scientists, doctors, physiotherapists) in the best interest of the athletes under his/her charge during competition.
  16. Coaches must always promote the positive aspects of the sport (e.g. Fair Play) and never condone violations of the Rules and Regulations, behaviour contrary to the spirit of the Rules and Regulations or the use of prohibited substances or techniques.
  17. Coaches must consistently display high standards of behaviour and appearance.
  18. Coaches must not use or tolerate inappropriate language.

Our talented youths in this country need proper coaches. They need committed coaches and they need coaches who take the time to understand them in order to better prepare them for their own future and successes.
Our coaches are important to the genuine development of St Vincent and the Grenadines.