Confronting the Challenges of Sport Part 1

This week’s Column is the first of two-parts of the Feature Address delivered at the Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines Award Ceremony on 2 February 2013.
I want to begin by joining with the sentiments with which we started this afternoon’s programme, and that is remembering Stuart Louie; our friend Rudy. Rudy was an athlete in school. He ran. He played basketball. He did everything.
After school he spent a lot of time competing with a number of different groups that established itself in North Leeward. Once there was the North Leeward Athletics Club, the North Leeward Sports Association, then there was the Horsemen, and a whole lot of other groups. He was always involved with them in terms of promoting athletics. He finished one of our half marathons some years ago, and was always instrumental in encouraging young athletes to participate in our sport.
Every National Heroes Day (14 March) Rudy organized a Festival of Sports in North Leeward in the Petit Bordel area. Often times he would come to the Olympic Office and say, well you know, we’d like some help. So could you help us with a few medals. So you give him a few medals. And then he would say, could you help me with a few programmes. So you delivered a few programmes. And then he would call and say, how ’bout some certificates. You then give him some certificates. And he would call back and say, you know I think I need some more certificates.
So you say, Rudy how many more you need? Well actually I think I could probably do with 50, how ’bout making it a hundred. You know we might get about 150.
That was the nature of the individual.
Actually, at his funeral service, the representative speaking on behalf of the St Vincent Brewery (you know he used to be a promoter of other entertainment events) told the story of how they once sent their people after him to collect outstanding monies. Rudy responded, I’m coming in on Monday, I’m coming in on Monday. And so he showed up on Monday in truth, and they say, well OK where is the payment? And according to the Brewery, they saw four of the largest pumpkins they have ever seen in their life. That’s the payment. But that was Rudy. Never seen him angry and you would have heard that said. He was always a barrel of fun.
We in the athletics fraternity were really enthused when we went for the last road race in the LOG Enterprises Series of 2012, from Troumaca bay to FitzHughes, and saw Rudy at the starting line. Literally, it was his last race. That was it. Not long after that he was shot to death.
So we empathise with his family. In fact what we have done, is that we have designated one of our awards from this year going forward, the Talent Identification Award of the Year – the Stuart Louie Award. This is the second such person to get one of our awards named after him. The other is Calvert Woods who died unfortunately several years ago, June 2005, and the award for the Most Promising Athlete has always been named thereafter, the Calvert Woods Award. This is not by way of encouraging anyone of you in the leadership of sports to die, because we will soon run out of awards to name after you. So don’t die! Not yet!
But we talking about Facing Up To The Challenges Of Sport, our theme for this year’s awards ceremony, and in St Vincent and the Grenadines we have numerous challenges that confront us. I want us to deal particularly with our sport, and the challenges that confront us on an almost daily basis.
Physical Education
I want to begin where all sport begins, that is with Physical Education. It is important that we start here because we are missing the boat as a nation in respect with what we do with physical education (PE). Physical education has only assumed importance in this country after the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) decided to make it an examinable subject. Before that it was games. Anyone who did PE was not recognized as a PE teacher but as a games teacher. It was all about fun and games. The science of physical education was of little importance to us as a nation.
But the minute the CXC made it an examinable subject we then put it on the curriculum for the secondary schools. It is the only subject that you can start at the secondary school level without any necessary foundation in the primary school. That is one of the biggest problems that we have with Physical Education.
PE needs to start in the home. And those of you who are familiar with the Cuban model know that. They begin to encourage parents to start their children’s physical education programme in infancy. And the Pre-School has to have some fundamental understanding of what physical education is because a child’s understanding of movement and coordination is necessary at the earliest stages of the child’s life.
The educators among us know that you learn fastest in the first five years of your life. You will never learn for the rest of your life as fast as you do in those five years. That is why parents try to get their children into the water to learn to swim within that period. If you get the fundamentals right in that early period that’s it. You are off to a flying start.
So we don’t do physical education at home, we don’t do physical education in the pre-school, and we don’t do it in the primary school. But we expect that suddenly the children will take a liking to physical education when they get to secondary school, when like some people say, the bones already start to harden, and the brain is already hardening. It is even more difficult to take up something new. And we expect them to learn to do things fast.
I remember ‘Mori’ Millington saying, then as national coach, that he would not be responsible for teaching anybody to kick a ball. If you give him a national team he is not teaching anybody to kick a ball. If you didn’t know how to kick a ball by that time you have no business on the national team. Strategy and tactics, yes, but when you are 20+ where are you going and you don’t know how to kick a ball, you lack the coordinative skills to do that.
So we have a major problem in terms of the foundation for all sport, physical education. And so it is important for us to send a message to the Ministry of Education that we need to revisit our approach in respect of where we are starting physical education in the school system. We need to go further down. We need to have our pre-school teachers learn the fundamentals of physical education and should start the process there. We need to have television programs encouraging parents to begin in infancy to have their children learn the fundamental motor skills. And we move into the primary school thereafter, by having designated PE teachers in the primary schools.
Outside of Prep School do you know of any other school where somebody was assigned for PE at the primary school level? That’s the problem that we’ve had. So that is a critical challenge and we can resolve it if we adopt a policy that facilitates the fundamental change that we are recommending here.
The second issue is parents. Parents have control or are supposed to have control over their children. But parents do not always encourage their children to practise sport because they see it as contradicting their commitment to have their children study. So it is either or. And anytime you do anything that relates to physical activity or sport, they start telling you that it is taking too much of your time. Anytime you seem to show some slackness in your schoolwork, the first thing they punish you with is, No more sport. We are not buying any more shoes for you. No more sports clothes. Stop play sports.
So, if a parent does not have an understanding of the value of sport, for physical wellbeing; that sport is as much an important component of the education programme and process as is Maths, as is Science, as is Geography; then we have a major problem. We can resolve it by encouraging parents to pay some more attention to the role of physical education and sport in developing their children.
While it is good for us to talk about the way in which physical education and sport helps in combatting non communicable diseases – hypertension and a number of others; while it is nice to talk about it, that cannot be the reason why we want people to play sport. We want them to play sport because it is part and parcel of their all-round development. Education is about the total development of the individual and that is why it is important to emphasise the role that it plays in the development of the human condition. That is what it is about.
We need to encourage our parents to take some time to understand it and here the principals and teachers in our schools are important in helping to sell that message to parents. But alas we have a problem there too. Because not all principals have the enthusiasm that we would like for developing physical education in school not all of them seek to encourage their students to become part and parcel of a sport programme that ultimately will redound to the benefit the country.
Some principals are not interested, and some teachers are not interested. How many teachers are prepared to go the extra mile and say, well since you are representing the school and you are a little slow in your work we will put in some extra work with you, because the school is benefitting from your commitment to sport and your participation in it? Not many. Some will do it. And there are principals who will encourage their teachers to do it. And that’s commendable. But it is not enough.
We therefore need to work with our Principals’ Association and our respective Teachers’ groups to become more organized in terms of getting their awareness level up in respect of the role of sport and physical education. The Physical Education and Sports Teachers Association – PESTA – needs to recognize that it can in fact make a significant contribution to the development of physical education as a discipline in this country. It must see itself not just coming together to talk about the way in which the schools must participate in sport, but the way in which sport and physical education must be developed in the country, and provide advice to the Ministry of Education in respect of where we should be going with these twin disciplines.
Mr. Trevor Bailey mentioned the issue of facilities. Well it is no secret. Squash has a home. Cricket has a home. Some people tend to feel that cricket has several homes. Tennis has a home. Swimming has a piece of a home and that’s because whoever was responsible for the construction of the pool (it was intended to be 25m) did some gymnastics and they ended up with 24m something. The World Short Course Championships are conducted in a 25m pool but we have managed to shorten the Short Course. Happily, that is being addressed. But at least they have something they can call their own.
Football has a goal project that allows them to have an Administrative Centre and an attendant field for practice, but the rest of us, we don’t have anything. We have to survive. But we can survive and we have been surviving. That does not however prevent us from continuing to raise the demand for a home. We need a national stadium in this country. We believe that athletics is and will continue to be the number one sport for individuals in this country.
If Mr Joachim has his way as President of the Swimming Association they will rise to number two, but they are not going to go any further than that. Athletics will remain the number one sport for individuals.
But we have to be smart and we have to work together to facilitate that. At the local level we seem to be doing all right. But those who use the Arnos Vale surface know that since we prepared for the Cricket World Cup in 2007, it is more sand than dirt and therefore sprinters in particular have a tremendously difficult time doing fast times on it. It is as if you are forever doing beach training. So we have to contend with that and so they are at a significant disadvantage. It has not however meant that coaches have not been working to try to get their athletes to run faster, but there is an understanding of the difficulties posed as a result of inadequate facilities.
We have worked out a system with the National Sports Council that allows us access, but whereas we can have a calendar prepared in September for the entire year through to December, cricket cannot tell us, even from the West Indies Cricket Board level, when they will have cricket. But whenever they have cricket there is no athletics at Arnos Vale.
Unfortunately, some have had to use the St Vincent Grammar School. I say unfortunately, because if you try to do any serious athletics work on the Grammar School Playing Field you would be a regular visitor to Dr Sealey and Denis Byam. You will have hip problems, back problems and other parts of your anatomy will be in serious pain.
So we have major problems with our facilities but we have to work to try to address them as best we could. That means with every opportunity you get as an athlete, as a coach, as an administrator, as a PE teacher, every opportunity you get tell them we need a stadium. Tell them until they fed-up hearing it and perhaps give it.