Dismantling the myths of sport

There are times when we almost inevitably have little choice but to expose the myths of anything in which we are involved. This occurs when it becomes more than a little overbearing and threatens the very fabric of our respective societies.
We have all been encouraged to participate in sport because of its immense physical, psychological and social benefits. However, today, we choose to debunk some aspects of sport, focusing particularly on what we choose to refer to as myths because they are so rarely seen in the practice of sport.

One of the primary reasons we encourage people to practise sport is because it engenders camaraderie. One dictionary defines camaraderie as, ‘Mutual trust and friendship among people who spend a lot of time together.’
Generally, we speak about camaraderie in sport as the reality of people with similar interests playing together in friendly competition. They are thought to build relationships in the process of practising sport.
Today’s reality exposes this as one of the great myths of participation in sport.
Players on the same team find immense difficulty adjusting to one another since they are all involved in competition to get selected, in the first place, and retain their selection for as long as possible in the second instance. This therefore leads to a very fierce competition to get to and remain on top. It also means winning the favour of the selectors.
How then is it possible to speak of camaraderie being an outcome of sport participation when every team member is so fiercely engaged?
The reality is that rather than build camaraderie, sport often creates significant divisions among young people.
Because sport is a competitive undertaking it is almost always a matter of survival of the fittest and this necessarily means seeking to prove oneself over and above others.
It would appear from even the most cursory analysis that those who appear to be friends in sport are those who have succeeded in the competitive struggle to win the favour of the selectors. Once they are on the same team they can breathe easily and enjoy their success.
Unfortunately, those who do not make the team are left sulking and there is no consolation in being told by those who were successful, ‘your turn will come’. Many an athlete languished in the shadows and never got that opportunity. Witness the experiences of those who failed to get drafted in one of the professional sports in the US or a Caribbean athlete who did not get through with a scholarship. It is very hard for them to even express best wishes to their successful colleagues.
Even in individual sports such as athletics and swimming, the competition to get selected is often so fierce that amidst the hugs shared between the victor and the vanquished there is the green of envy and jealousy that plays out before the television audience that is not so easily fooled.
Very few athletes have been taught and understand the meaning of being gracious in defeat. Even what they appear to show grace many are actually seething and become very abusive with their coaches following the event.
One wonders what Ms Schipper was thinking when she threw her shoes down onto the track after losing the 200m Women’s final in Rio last year?
What were the thoughts of Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce after being defeated by fellow Jamaican in the 100m final at the same Games?
The conduct displayed by some of the world’s best athletes appear to have very little to do with evidence of having learnt the craft of personal discipline.
Astute analysis of international sport would reveal that the experience so often shown as an example of the capacity of sport to rise above the challenges, of Jesse Owens of the USA and Luc Long of Berlin, at the Summer Olympics of 1936, in the height of Hitler’s reign and insistence on the development of a super race, today stands as the exception rather than the rule.
Sport is often said to bolster cooperation. This must be a major myth, if we are to judge by what is happening in sport today.
Here at home several national sports associations have been trying to get their coaches to work together and have given it up as an impossible dream.
One would have thought that in sport, people are all working towards the same objective, success. Unfortunately, success is relative.
If one coach’s athlete gets selected ahead of that of another coach, the latter is fraught with anger and proceeds to chastise the selectors.
Coaches seem more concerned about the credit that they believe should be accorded them than even that which is reposed in the athlete for his/her achievement.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines in individual sports it is often the case that the coach is even more interested in being seen and hailed as the cause of the athlete’s achievement, completing ignoring the role of the athlete in achieving the success. Perhaps that is the reason that one of our senior coaches continues to have his athletes operate much like Pavlov’s dog and the theory of classical psychological conditioning by having them respond to his whistle rather that develop the competency of knowing their own pace judgement and overall capacities.
Because coaches do not cooperate for the most part their athletes follow suit. They do not work with other athletes.
Some athletes have been convinced that they belong to a club and must keep themselves apart from those of other clubs. What this does in a small country like St Vincent and the Grenadine sis create significant dissonance between athletes.
When these athletes gain national selection, the management team have no end of problems trying to get them to work together in the common national interest. The athletes often have no understanding of this concept – national best interest.
National sports associations are supposed to be working in the collective national best interest as well. However, the desire to outdo one another has militated against the collaboration that should characterise the broader national development process.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is a small country with limited resources as well as an open, highly vulnerable economy. This reality should be enough to compel national sports associations to work together. Unfortunately, that is not the case.
Older Vincentian sports enthusiasts are well aware of the multiple sports that some very talented individual athletes were capable of mastering. This is still possible. Unfortunately, today’s sport leaders have been convinced by their coaches that this is not at all possible and is inconsistent with contemporary thinking. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
We must learn to share resources. We must invest in the technological capacity to investigate the biomechanical suitability of our athletes to particular sports and combination of sports.
As it now stands, we neither believe in nor inculcate and promote a sense of cooperation in sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Another much-touted benefit that can easily be trounced as a myth is the claim that participation in sport promotes discipline.
The thinking behind this claim rests with the fact that to be successful in any sport requires the application by the athlete of personal discipline. The idea is that the practice of such discipline should engender greater personal discipline in the normal, everyday life of the individual athlete.
The reality is that this does not usually happen, with the exception, perhaps, of the martial arts sports, given that they are disciplined activities in and of themselves with an incredibly long tradition.
Many of our athletes do not apply the discipline of having to train hard consistently to attain success to the other aspects of their personal development.
Teachers complain of the numerous challenges they experience in getting student athletes with some talent and achieved success to stay focus on their academic work. It is this reality that has led parents and teachers (including those who were successful athletes in their heyday) to use, as a method of disciplining their children, the cessation of all sporting activities once the latter appear to be under-performing in their academics.
It is also the reason for the current conundrum that has educators and Ministry of Education authorities in St Vincent and the Grenadines and elsewhere decrying involvement in physical education and sport as “loss of instructional time”.
One of the reasons that discipline for sport preparation and competition does not filter through to one’s personal life is because parents and coaches do not really believe that it is possible. Very few coaches in St Vincent and the Grenadine stake enough of an interest in the rounded development of the athlete. They are not vocational educators. Most are, like many teachers of academic subjects, in it for the money. They cannot get any other job so teaching is the only viable option at this time. With such an attitude PE teachers and coaches simply do not pay enough attention and fail to work with parents to help the student athlete through to the realisation of his/her true potential as a human being.
One of the clearest examples of the lack of discipline transfer from sport to life in manifested in physical appearance of several of our former athletes. Many, especially female athletes, struggle to keep fit as they grow older.
Sprinters have a tendency to get overweight immediately after their retirement from sport.
Unless national associations employ former players/athletes to serve as coaches, many adopt a sedentary lifestyle and allow the pounds to colonise and dictate their girth.
Vincentians are often amazed at the number of former athletes who have lost even the urge to exercise, commit to writing about the development of sport during their times or eager to leave some sort of rich and interesting legacy for tomorrow’s Vincentian children.
Indeed, the lack of discipline amongst former athletes and sport technicians and administrator is evident in their unwillingness to see sport as having any significant role in the broader national development process.
Amazingly, it is most interesting that here as much as across the Caribbean, former athletes who have ventured into the world of politics, consistently fail to show that they have learnt anything about personal or work discipline such that they bring these to bear on their administration. More often than not they prove to be colossal failures.
The theory of sport allows for a tremendous amount of literature to be written about the benefits to be derived. Unfortunately, in St Vincent and the Grenadines, we have much more evidence that allows us to explode many of the positive features as myths. This is not to say that we cannot turn things around. All it really says is that we are yet to seriously investigate and analyse what we do in sport in order to realise its undoubtedly immense potential for all of St Vincent and the Grenadines.