Facing the challenges of a scientific approach to sport

Vincentian swimming medalists
Vincentian swimming medalists

The recent performances of Vincentian sports personnel in international sports competition has once more brought into focus the need to comprehensively analyse the issues impacting them.
Vincentians love sport and are anxious to bask in the glory of success whether at the individual or team level. Unfortunately, at best we have flashes of success at the sub regional level and the odd positive result at the regional and international level. This is certainly not inspiring and must be decisively addressed with some dispatch if we are to turn things around.
We are proud of those who have mounted the podium at international sporting and often bemoan the failure of some of our talented athletes and teams to make that final thrust to earn a medal.
Possession of talent and strong desire to succeed do not by themselves yield the success the athletes and the Vincentian populace want. We have to do more, much more.
We need a sustainable approach to sport development and this must necessarily be scientific. Without this we are going to remain dependent on the hit or miss approach.
The old approach
The old approach to developing sport has been largely dependent on the individual.
Many Vincentians can recall the days when children played with each other on a regular basis. There were not many distractions at the time. Most people had radios, not televisions and the practice of sport was a great pastime. The playground was therefore a hive of activity on a daily basis following the conclusion of school and almost all day on weekends.
It was common too for the children to be inspired by the older ones in their respective communities who played sport and eagerly awaited the opportunity when encouraged to participate alongside those they admired.
There was no formal learning of the craft. People simply followed what they saw the older ones do on the field of play. Those who had lived abroad and had some experience brought what they knew to the others.
In the old days, exposure meant much to the development of sport and sustaining interest.
Another important feature was reading whatever sport information came into the community.
Sport was a community experience. Sporting activity brought out the community as this was a social occasion and one that generated much by way of discussion and sharing of ideas on performance.
Parents were proud of their children even though many saw sport as a frivolous activity and not to be allowed to compete with one’s academic development.
Importantly, at school, the more exposed teachers were eager to encourage participation in sport.
It is therefore not surprising that in the old days our athletes were engaged in many different sporting activities at the same time. It was commonplace to find athletes who were proficient in athletics, cricket and football, all at the same time and there was no one to insist that this hindered their abilities in any single one of them.
Whatever coaching existed came from the exposed and interested teacher and older, more experienced practitioners of sport.
As the society developed and technology allowed for experiencing what was taking place in the international community, things changed in respect of the practice of sport.
The importance of coaching was gradually understood even though it took some time before interested persons and local coaches were exposed to formal coaches’ training by the respective international sport federations.
Over the past several decades we have witnessed the conduct of numerous coaches’ development courses as well as programmes for technical officials and administrators of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There is no sport practised in this country today that has not had the benefit of opportunities for the training of their key personnel in the aforementioned fields.
Unfortunately, despite access to training at different levels we still experience limited movement up the totem pole in sport at the regional and international levels compared to some of our neighbours in the Caribbean.
What is it that we are not doing?
Earlier this year the St Vincent and the Grenadines Olympic Committee (SVGOC), was part of a grouping of six Caribbean Olympic Committees invited by the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees (CANOC) to be art of a pilot project on learning about sport for life (S4L) with special emphasis on Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD).
The project is conducted by the Canadian Sport for Life (CS4L) Society whose experts are sent to conduct education sessions in each of the countries involved, the Bahamas, BVI, Haiti, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The fundamental underpinning of S4L and LTAD rests on the concept of physical literacy.
Physical literacy has long since been in the lexicon on health and physical wellbeing. However, unfortunately, it has not been given the attention it deserves until very recently.
According to Keegan, Keegan, Daley, Ordway and Edwards…school physical education is not about playing sport, nor is it about simply building cardiovascular fitness or accumulating a minimum amount of time spent in class. Physical education should produce children who are physically literate – with physical literacy incorporating:

  1. a) motivation to be active and use one’s body;
  2. b) the ability to move effectively and efficiently and interact with the physical environment successfully;
  3. c) the ability to perceive, process and reason in the physical domain;
  4. d) increased confidence and self-esteem in relation to physical tasks and challenges;
  5. e) the ability to both express oneself physically and perceive physical cues in others, leading to improved communication and empathy; and
  6. f) an appreciation of the value of being physically active, moving effectively and the knowledge that underpins these abilities.

Physical literacy then is integral to the holistic development of the individual. With this as the new point of departure our preparation of children through physical activity would inevitably lead to a better approach to participation in and the striving after excellence in sport.
The attempt at getting Vincentian sports associations fully involved in the new approach has not been what is considered desirable.
One would have expected a certain eagerness on the part of the associations to benefit from exposure to the expertise, information and comprehensive training involved in understanding and working with physical literacy and LTAD. That has not been the case.
Some associations appear not to have had any interest at all. Others have had only a few participants. Generally, many of the coaches that should be eagerly lapping up the information and aid in the preparation of a Vincentian LTAD project for their respective sports for the short, medium and long terms, have failed to even show up for many of the sessions. They have not shown any interest in participating in the webinar education sessions where discussions engage the participants in a broadening of the content of both physical literacy and LTAD.
The reality is that there are associations and coaches here that have not shown any interest in an expensive undertaking aimed at advancing their knowledge and skill competencies in a manner that is designed to forge a development strategy for their respective sports.
Is it that they already know what they need to know?
Is it that they are afraid of advancing their own education at home?
Whatever the reason the reality is that those not involved are short-changing the athletes and organisations with whom they work.
In every field of endeavour research is rapidly changing the way things are done. This is called progress.
Where our coaches and associations fail to engage themselves in their own education and knowledge base they are least likely to advance the sport in which they are involved. They remain marking time while the world moves by in their respective sport.
We appeal to all associations and coaches not yet involved in the project to seize the opportunity afforded them here at home for them to advance themselves and enhance their skill competencies.
The nation needs people with a disposition for continuing education to lead the sport development process.
The choice before us is simple. We can either agree to educate ourselves and advance with the times, spurred by scientific research and innovation from practitioners or we can stand on the spot, satisfied that what we have been doing in the past is sufficient.