Dropping out of sport

In his address at the awards ceremony for the Trinidad and Tobago Olympic Committee (TTOC) late last month, the organisation’s president, Larry Romany, cited the pending problems for sport in that country given the increasing drop out rate taking place. He was concerned that too many of our young people are dropping out of sport.
The problem identified by Romany is not in any way limited to Trinidad and Tobago. Several other Caribbean countries have long since been expressing the same concern but few have been able to adequately respond to the obvious challenges to which this phenomenon gives rise.
In many Caribbean countries it has been found that girls drop out of sport at an early age. Many seem to get caught up with the boys just after puberty and the rest is history. Many of the girls who drop out of sport early often express concern about their appearance. They seem to suggest that regular exercise in an attempt to be successful at sport would leave them tough and that equates unattractive.
There are others who are encouraged to drop sport because of the importance placed on academic achievement. They are led to believe, and this at times from their parents, that participation in sport is somehow incongruous with academic excellence. This latter approach is not limited to girls, however since some parents convince their boys that they would be losing out on valuable time dedicated to study if they were to get caught up in playing sport.
It is unfortunate that so many parents see participation in sport as taking their children away from their studies. They have no real evidence that the two are incompatible but they nonetheless strive to convince their children that that is the case.
Some parents insist on punishing their children for a weak academic result by withdrawing them from participating in sport. This point gets all the more ridiculous when one observes that among the parents engaging in this type of behaviour are former athletes who would have benefitted from blending sport and academics while engage din their own educational development.
Engagement in physical activity facilitates the development of the ethical perspectives of the participants in addition to promoting camaraderie, appreciation for and understanding amongst peoples.
If parents fail grasp the importance of physical education and sport to the well being of their children then the latter are likely to fall well short of their full human development. That is the predicament that faces our Caribbean in the future unless we readily redress this situation.
The school
We have already addressed on several occasions the unfortunate situation in the education system in many of our countries in the region. Far too many of our educators fail to understand and appreciate the role of physical education and sport to our children’s well being.
Had the Caribbean Examinations Council not taken the lead and introduced physical education and sport as an examinable subject the twin-disciplines would probably never have made it on the curriculum of some educational institutions in the Caribbean. Even though it is now an examinable subject the approach by many institutions is to treat it as we did the technical subjects in years past – an option best suited to those who do not excel in the academic field.
In some countries such as our own St Vincent and the Grenadines the children are expected to start physical education and sport at the secondary school level and can opt out of it after three years. This is pure idiocy and reflects the failure of our educators to do more than pay lip service to the twin-disciplines.
The organisation of school sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines has revealed over the past few years the significant loss of influence of teachers on the students in respect of their participation in the event. Whereas in the past the school sports were seen as a major means of having the students show their loyalty to their respective houses and an overall commitment to showcasing the sporting talent of the institution, today the majority seem anxious to dress up to watch the few participate and wait on the lime that so often follows the event.
Principals around the country can attest to the challenges they face getting students to participate in their respective sporting competitions and the anxiety they so often experience when learning, after the fact, of the students’ capacity to arrange the after party following the conclusion of the annual Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships.
Some schools may well be considering treating the annual sports day as they did with the annual Fair – ending them altogether, if only because of the waning interest on the part of the students.
In the UK, in April 2000 the government published its sport development strategy for the next decade – A Sporting Future for All. In addressing sport in schools it was noted…youngsters with the potential to progress to higher levels of competition can only do so if they have the opportunity to discover and develop their sporting talent at school.
Importantly, it was recognised that for the appropriate foundation to be obtained at school the government must ensure that there exists adequate school sport facilities, equipment and programmes. There is absolutely no reason for us not to see the immense benefits in making sure that school sport facilities and equipment also serve the communities in which they are located.
We are a very long way from that even as our politicians play the proverbial fiddle with ole talk that gets us nowhere. It is neither about getting pips nor winning votes. It is about human development.
Modern technology
Modern technology has been blamed for the increasing dropout rates we are experiencing in physical activity. That may not be the whole truth. As with just about everything there are good and bad sides to modern technology.
Modern technology makes available to those who access it all the information required to justify living an active lifestyle. The issue is that while many seek to use the technology to find out about other things they remain unwilling to use it to facilitate their own physical and emotional development through an active lifestyle.
Modern technology must also be used to guarantee appropriateness of sports facilities in the country. This is particularly important since facilities must cater for the different age groupings in the school and community. They must also take into consideration the needs based on cultural, gender, ethnic diversity and disability.
It is embarrassing to note the extent to which many of our countries in the region lag behind the rest of the world in knowledge and understanding of the requirements of modern facilities and programming.
Of course one of the weakest areas of Caribbean development is research and development. Thereby hangs a tale. It explains the paucity of ideas regarding sport infrastructural development taking place around us.
Improved marketing
Perhaps one of the ways to combat the threat to the sustainability of sport participation in the Caribbean is to engage more deliberately in improved marketing of physical education and sport in our respective countries.
We simply have not done enough and we are paying the penalty in the rapid expansion of the blight of chronic non communicable diseases (CNCD) eating away at our respective populations.
As always we are best at adhocracy. Once we have witnessed the increase in CNCDs around us we hasten to press the panic button.
Those who administer as well as all those involved in sport must extol the virtues of being physically active. A life of physical activity enhances the individual and this must be the critical component in any advocacy campaign.
There is much that we can and must do to spread the word in respect of the aforementioned benefits to society.
We must seek avenues in the media to consistently promote physical activity as integral to fulfilling our potential as human beings.
Some suggest that perhaps the best marketing tool for physical activity is good example. Unfortunately we do not have much of that.
We have many examples of what a sedentary lifestyle does to the individual and it bodes no good for him/her, the family, community and society.
Somehow we cannot afford to lose ourselves. We can and must take control of our well being.
Romany’s point about the dropout rates in sport being bothersome is well taken. It should serve as a reminder to all of us and spur us on to reflection, strategic planning and implementation of the strategies devised.
St Vincent and the Grenadines remains a small society where we should all be able to work together. Unfortunately, there appears to be too many crabs in the barrel all too eager to climb on each other to gain acceptance and take the kudos. This has left us where we are today.
Things can and must change and all involved in sport need to engage in a collective undertaking to sustain sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.