Developing young athletes in SVG

“Physical activity, and sports in particular, can positively affect aspects of personal development among young people, such as self-esteem, goal-setting, and leadership. However, evidence indicates that the quality of coaching is a key factor in maximizing positive effects (GAO, 2012).
“Organized sports activity helps children develop and improve cognitive skills, according to a study of that tracked kids from kindergarten through fourth grade (Piche, 2014). Physical activity in general is associated with improved academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores. Further, such activity can affect attitudes and academic behavior, including enhanced concentration, attention, and improved classroom behavior (GAO, 2012)” – cited in
The foregoing conclusions are not new. Those who have taken the time to study physical activity and sport ought to be well aware of the findings of numerous researchers around the world.
It remains an incredible reality however that in St Vincent and the Grenadines little attention is paid to scholarship in the field of sport. Perhaps this should not really surprise us since the same can be said of the entire Caribbean.
We ought not to be surprised therefore that across the entire English-speaking Caribbean we can hardly find research undertaken in respect of physical literacy, physical activity and sport.
Many of our coaches seem to dread engaging in continuous study on the aforementioned interrelated subjects, choosing instead to remain locked in the past or committed to a sort of hit or miss strategy.
Caribbean reality
Roy Mc Cree and others have pointed to the very limited publications that have emerged from the English-speaking Caribbean.
CLR James may well have opened the door when he wrote Beyond A Boundary, which chronicled the ways in which some of the cricketers of his day utilised their involvement in the sport to make a significant contribution to the struggles of the peoples of the Caribbean for independence from the colonisers. Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd produced a number of books on the sport of cricket in vein similar to that of CLR James.
Michael Manley did a book on cricket as well.
Michael Anthony, renowned Caribbean literary figure, produced, The Games Were Coming, and Cricket in the Road.
The reality in the English-speaking Caribbean is that there is very little researched work on physical activity and sport and how it has impacted the Caribbean man.
Some scholars are now calling on the universities in the Caribbean to expend some resources on the inculcation of serious scholarship to sport studies on the Caribbean.
Perhaps if we had engaged our scholars in sports research we would have had a more reasonable approach to the sport development process all around and less of the top of head arguments being presented by the political leaders at present.
Indeed, it defies logic that our Caribbean political leaders, rather than seek to engage our scholars in meaningful research on sport appear eager to showcase themselves as sport scholars in their own right, ignoring the fallacious nature of their conclusions about the approaches to be taken to bring success back to West Indies cricket.
It is also unfortunate that our coaches, technical officials and administrators also ignore the importance of engaging themselves in research and continuous education in sport.
The successes we have attained in sport in the Caribbean to date have not, for the most part, necessarily been the result of the application of scientific methodologies bred out of research.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines the situation is incredibly and pathetically worse. Only now are serious attempts being made to become more scientific in our approach to facilitate research and continuous education.
The current programme of the National Olympic Committee on physical literacy and long term athlete development is intended to ensure a sustainable approach to the development of Vincentian athletes. Unfortunately, too many of our leaders have opted out of participating in this important developmental option.
There are some very unfortunate approaches evident in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
To begin with there is no national policy that insists on certification and training of our physical trainers. Some have obviously pursued international training and certification on their own. Others have not done so.
There is need for a policy to speak to ensuring that persons who conduct physical training at different levels, whether as keep fit organisers, gym instructors or coaches, are adequately qualified. Additionally, there should also be a policy that insists on re-tooling following periodic evaluation.
The belief that once trained one can continue with the same knowledge and methodologies forever is outdated and often leads to an annoying incompetence.
What is easily recognised, for example, is that some athletes show early improvement. This may not have anything to do with the quality of training. Instead, it may result from the fact that for the first time the individual athlete has been on any type of programme. What emerges is a sort of natural progression.
When the individual reaches a stage where a scientific approach to his/her training is required to guarantee improvement one finds a decline in performance.
In some sports declining performances are relatively easy to identify as opposed to other sports.
Where times and distances are constantly measured the changes in performance is obvious. For example, in swimming and athletics, when an athlete is one year older and exposed to continued training yet does not even meet the achievements of the previous year without injury or illness of any sort, it is clear that the training is at fault.
In team sports, technicians must constantly monitor and evaluate the level of skill proficiency in respect of the positions played. This is much more difficult that in the case of the aforementioned sports.
Some of our coaches simply have too many athletes in their charge and since they do not wish to have anyone work with them, lack the capacity to allocate each athlete the individual attention that is required for growth and development in the sport.
Unfortunately, many of our technicians in sport do not engage in adequate analysis, especially of their own athletes. They often instead convince their athletes that they deserve selection to national teams even though they are under-performing. This is a crass disservice to the athletes.
No pain, no gain
There are some coaches and sport technicians who seem convinced that the most effective route to success is the ‘no pain, no gain’ methodology. This is utter rubbish. It has never really worked even though some coaches swear by it.
This approach thrives on having the athlete show a capacity to carry heavier workloads until they can bear no more. Coaches using this method enjoy hearing the athlete cry out for pain or vomit after an intense workout.
Athletes engaged in this type of work often find themselves threatened with expulsion from the club or school team because they are to weak and childish.
Unfortunately, many parents do not monitor their children’s development enough to recognise the impact of the heavy workloads and the immense potential for serious and long-term injury.
Many a potential athlete have left sport altogether because of exposure to this ‘no pain, no gain’ methodology.
Incidentally, it is this desire on the part of some sport technicians to have their athletes show all-too-rapid physical development and enhance capacity to work heavier loads at each training session that has led to the extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs.
In some instances, coaches encourage their athletes into excessive use of creatine-based supplements that are designed to help with heavier workloads for power and ultimately, speed.
The desire to have one’s athletes and/or team win at all cost often justifies the means used to attain objectives.
One size fits all
Another unacceptable approach that is very common in St Vincent and the Grenadines is where the sport technician fails to create individual-specific programmes for their athletes.
No two individual athletes are exactly the same and so the sport technician must of necessity ensure that he/she establishes a database on each of the athletes on his team or in his club.
There are often fundamental differences among athletes, dependent on such factors as chronological age, training age, emotional age, to name a few.
Coaches who fail to carefully monitor the progress of each athlete and his/her responsiveness to specifically designed programmes run the risk of over-training or undertraining them.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines, we lack the capacity to undertake scientific analyses of our athletes. Coaches simply operate in fundamental assumptions regarding the suitability of an individual to this or that sport and/or event within a particular sport. Having made the decision in respect of sport and/or event they then push the athlete to the limit, often with little regard to the consequences.
Redressing the imbalance
Too many coaches engage in posturing. They do not take the time to analyse their work and even less in sharing ideas with others, regardless of sport.
The time has come for our sport technicians to return to the classroom.
In today’s sporting environment no man is an island. The development of sport requires a sharing professionals, ideas and approaches.
No coach can afford to build a team without the support of sport sociologists, sport psychologists, nutritionists, physiotherapists and physicians. They must work in tandem to ensure that the athlete is healthy and the preparations for competition are carefully and scientifically planned and implemented.
It is unfortunate that in St Vincent and the Grenadines our sport technicians have consistently rejected efforts ate collaborating enough to develop an appropriate national body that allows them to benefit from their shared experiences.
Until such time as these technicians understand the changing nature of the science of sport, band themselves together, engage in research and development, we will forever remain at the bottom of the ladder with sporadic achievements that we mistake for success.