Confronting challenges in sport

Sometimes, instead of getting frustrated at that which seeks to hinder our progress we do need to show a stiff upper chin and confront, square on, the numerous challenges we face in sport.
In this Column we focus on a few major areas and this largely because we have addressed them so often given their importance to where we are now and what we need to do to go forward with some dispatch.
Physical Education
Over the past several weeks and month we have taken time to impress upon the education authorities, parents and teachers the importance of introducing children to physical education at a very early age. This is perhaps the single most important challenge facing the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Since physical education introduces the child to the fundamentals of movement and therefore facilitates coordination it is imperative that parents begin this process in the home in the early childhood years of the new born. Parental involvement in physical education gives the young child an appreciation for its importance in one’s entire life.
Unfortunately too many of our parents have settled for a sedentary lifestyle that leaves them as virtual couch potatoes, a passport to any number of non communicable diseases.
It is therefore important that we continue to appeal to the education authorities to spend some time training early childhood educators and primary school teachers in physical education. By the time the students get to secondary school it is too late to be introducing them to physical education.
The leaders of our education system cannot continue to claim that involvement in physical education and sport is loss of instructional time. They need to send as very clear message to parents in this regard.
If parents are duly apprised of the importance of physical education to discipline, greater focus and increased productivity for their children they would certainly be more favourably disposed to getting their children and themselves involved in a daily diet of physical activity.
There is much that is wrong when we choose to introduce physical education as an examinable subject at the CXC level when it is not introduced to students at the early childhood education and primary school levels.
There is nothing wrong with having our physical education university graduates commence work at the primary school level. Indeed this may well be a good strategy since the children will be better prepared for the subject and engage themselves more deliberately in keeping it as a lifelong aspect of their lives, to say nothing of taking it through to the CXC examinations and beyond.
Our physical education and sports teachers association currently cater to the PE teachers of the secondary schools in our country. One understands this position since PE is not yet compulsory in the primary schools and there are no qualified PE teachers employed at that level in the nation.
PESTA must therefore take on board as one of its functions the expansion of physical education in the education system in St Vincent and the Grenadines. They are the ones to devise the strategy and operational plans on how to spread physical education across the entire education spectrum in St Vincent and the Grenadines and advise the Ministry of Education on their implementation.
As a subject association PESTA has to take on greater responsibility in respect of the development of physical education across the nation’s education system as well as across the society as a whole.
PESTA must engage in research in respect of the effectiveness of physical education in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The organisation must seek out further training opportunities for its members to ensure coverage of all aspects of the discipline.
Members of PESTA must be able to influence what happens with the CXC syllabuses at all levels, inclusive of the primary school. They must influence examinations in physical education even at the primary school level and the CXC exams for moving on to secondary schools currently under trial.
PESTA must also collaborate with principals and other education officials to prevail upon parents to be more knowledgeable and understanding of the role of physical education and sport in their children’s development.
They may be able to have parents understand that the action of stopping children from playing sport because they fail an examination is not right and cannot be allowed to be used as an appropriate form of punishment.
PESTA is supposed to be a professional organisation and must distinguish itself as such. Its members have the capacity to raise the image of their profession. Time is of the essence in this regard.
PESTA is ideally placed to change the way Vincentian society views physical education and sport and must be the leading advocate of these twin disciplines in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Facilities and equipment
Much has been said about the absence of and state of existing sport facilities in St Vincent and the Grenadines over the past several years.
Not much attention has however been placed on the facilities for schools. Sometimes one gets the impression that in the construction of playing facilities schools were not given much consideration.
Even where schools are located close to sports facilities there seems little by way of connection. The schools do not have ready access. The maintenance is always an issue.
The facilities to which schools have access on a regular basis do not have appropriate storage so nothing is kept there by way of equipment, either for maintenance or for training and competition.
Schools are rarely ever consulted in respect of the location, design and construction of playing facilities in this country. Indeed many sports associations, official representatives of their respective international governing bodies, can make the same claim.
The facilities that are acceptable for quality training and competition in St Vincent and the Grenadines can be counted on one hand. This is what schools have to work with. That we have sports each year remains an amazing achievement and all involved in the realisation must be highly commended. They are working with very little to achieve much. The odds are against them.
No one can envy the principal or the PE teacher in the secondary school system today. With scarce and woefully inadequate facilities and equipment some of them still engage their students to participate.
It is unbelievable that there are schools in this country today participating in the annual cricket competition and have neither access to facilities nor equipment. Some schools do not have cricket bats or pads.
Our coaches in the various disciplines need to be more professional in their work. While it is true that the majority of our coaches are volunteers this does not allow them to abdicate their responsibility to be professional at all times.
Our coaches must begin by paying attention to their mode of dress. This seems simple enough but must receive appropriate attention. Coaches are examples and role models for the athletes in their charge and must therefore impress their athletes at every turn with the way they dress. The athletes will begin to follow the example of the coach in respect of how he/she dresses when coming to training and competition.
Too many of our coaches do not seem to know how to speak to athletes.
Athletes are human beings and not animals. They must be treated with respect. They must know that they are loved and cared for by their coaches.
Given the important role that coaches have in shaping our children and youth there much attention must be paid to the way they conduct themselves on and off the field.
In working with athletes one size does not fit all. The coach has to be able to individualise the training programmes of the different athletes in their care. This approach extends to the way with which the athletes are communicated. While some athletes my say nothing to being barked at during training and competition they may not be pleased. They may be afraid to inform the coach of their feelings. This does not help in their development.
Coaches must know the old adage, horses for courses. Each athlete must be treated for who he/she is.
Too many of our coaches cannot get along. This conflict amongst coaches working ostensibly towards the same objective is pathetic and cannot be allowed to continue. The only thing that a conflict approach will yield is the ultimate destruction of the sport.
Accusations are everywhere. Some coaches accuse others of poaching their athletes. Yet others are accused of spiting athletes. Still other coaches are accused of seeking to divide and rule the athletes creating enmity between them even where they are attending the same schools.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a very small country and can ill-afford the kind of conflict between coaches in whatever sport. It bodes no good for anyone.
While coaches have the right to strive after ever-higher levels of achievement with their athletes and so earn greater bragging rights, they cannot at the same time seek to sow the seeds of discord amongst athletes and certainly not amongst coaches.
The time has come to nip things in the bud.
Coaches should seek to work together to achieve the very best results for their athletes and for St Vincent and the Grenadines as a whole. The business of sport begins and ends with the athlete. It is not about the coaches or administrators but the athletes.