Getting our athletes to understand sport

For many years we have been developing athlete sin St Vincent and the Grenadines, however we have unfortunately not paid enough attention to getting our athletes adequately prepared, regardless of the sport in which we have sought to engage them.
There is a fallacy amongst large segments of Vincentians that the preparation of an athlete involves only the physical training that allows for improved performances. If that were the case, we would not have any athlete that lasts for a significant period of time.
Some of the older coaches who boast a wealth of experience actually hide behind outdated, outmoded approaches, leaving the modern athlete to deteriorate at a time when they should be improving.
We have athletes who perform at one level in a given year and while engaged in more training the following year, fail to meet their achievements of the previous year. Amazingly, however, their coaches often attempt to convince them that they should gain national representation.
In today’s sport there are simply too many individuals who come to the fore trumpeting some past achievements, the likes of which they have been unable to replicate. They survive off their self-delusion of a return to a bygone era of success.
Times have certainly changed and some of these coaches have already been left behind.
Education is a lifelong process.
In sport, everyone is expected to engage in continuous education.
Athletes are to understand that during the course of their lives they must at once develop their education academically as well as in sport.
There was a time when we made the boast that success can only come with education. However, that has been tempered by the fact that several individuals have attained success through systematic cheating of one form or another.
Still, we hope and pray that the majority of athletes are clean and in support of clean sport.
All who claim concern over the development of an athlete, regardless of sport, must encourage the latter to read extensively about the physical, mental and sport-specific developmental stages he/she must experience on the pathway to success. This comes from reading and discussing issues of importance with experienced practitioners.
Coaches who consistently fail to inform their athletes about every aspect of their development, thereby allowing them to understand the changes they are constantly experiencing in their lives, are short-changing the athletes in their charge.
There is no information that is inherently bad for the athlete if it is genuinely influential on his development pathway.
Athletes must be encouraged to seek out information on their sport and allowed to discuss these with all of their stakeholders.
Too often one hears of athletes being unable to state, understand and explain their training programmes on any given day. Many are unable to explain where they are with their development at any given point in time.
Athletes are human beings and since knowledge is power to the human condition, there is every reason that they must be fully informed and genuinely educated in a manner that speaks to the successful development of the whole person.
In today’s world, not everyone is adequately equipped with the requisite pedagogical skills.
Pedagogy is the art and science of teaching.
Perhaps one of the flaws in education is that we assume that everyone who is in the position of an educator can in fact deliver as per the definition of the concept of pedagogy.
We ought to be aware that there are many certified individuals who are nonetheless incapable of teaching; they cannot help others understand the subject manner in a way that allows for genuine education. This is as much the case in sport as in any other field of endeavour.
Many of our coaches are really bullies and this is one of the reasons that many athletes leave sport early.
Some coaches seem to think that the only way to develop an athlete and be successful is by the constant issuing of threats to the young, refusing to allow them to ask questions and at times, even to explain the pain they are experiencing.
The ‘no pain, no gain’ approach has often been taken to the extreme, without due analysis of the negative impact it is having on young athletes.
It must be admitted that in the realm of coaching the single most disturbing problem is the lack of adequate training in pedagogy. Too many of our coaches do not even know how to speak to athletes.
It is an unfortunate truism that in the Caribbean, many of the children who get involved in practising sports are, for the most part, from the lower class, often from single parent homes or from homes where the father is essentially either a strict disciplinarian or a bully. When these children become coaches they continue the bullying behaviour they learnt in their socialisation. The cycle continues almost ad infinitum.
Unless national associations engage in ingoing analyses of the aforementioned phenomena and engage in corrective action regarding training and proficiency in pedagogy applied in sport we are unlikely to have change any time soon.
Prior to engaging in official training for any sort of sporting activity each athlete should have a medical evaluation in order to avoid problems.
During the years of training, medicals must be an integral component of the athlete’s programme.
All too often athletes only access medicals when something goes wrong. This is unfortunate since such a medical could mean a diagnosis that brings the athlete’s career to an abrupt end. On such occasions all that the coach does is to say how sorry he is.
Athletes must understand the important relationship between sport training and their overall health, including mental health.
The athlete must know his body and therefore seek appropriate responses to queries necessitated by changes experienced at the earliest opportunity. Nothing must be left to chance.
Coaches must be aware of the economic statuses of their athletes and their capacity to facilitate the requisite periodic medical evaluations. In such cases efforts must be made to seek assistance to ensure the medical evaluations are undertaken in a timely manner.
Over the years we have witnessed the crass inadequacies in the preparation of athletes in different sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Injuries are quite frequent and many go unattended.
The Sports Medicine Association has been helpful at competitions but this is at the end of the athletes’ preparation rather than an integral feature of the development pathway.
Social development
An often overlooked aspect of an athlete’s development in St Vincent and the Grenadines has been and continues to be the failure to ensure that the individual improves socially.
Any introductory book on sport promotes the positive values attendant to this aspect of life. We speak of building character through discipline, friendship and a strong desire to do one’s best at all times.
The fundamental principles of sport are captured in the concept of Olympism. The Olympic Charter states, “Olympism is a philosophy of life, exalting and combining in a balanced whole the qualities of body, will and mind. Blending sport with culture and education, Olympism
seeks to create a way of life based on the joy of effort, the educational value of good
example, social responsibility and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.
“The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development
of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the
preservation of human dignity.”
With a very weak club structure in sport, generally, those in authority feel that it is not their responsibility to ensure the social development of their athletes. This is a fallacy. As is the case with teachers, coaches and others involved with the preparation of athletes in different sports, there is great responsibility to ensure that positive values are always imparted to those in their charge at every developmental stage.
Athletes must know good manners, social etiquette. They must be taught to become proficient in communicating with others at different levels such that they are not just intelligible but also held in high regard.
Respect for self and all those with whom one comes into contact while practising sport is an important feature of an athlete’s overall development.
There is a feeling in some circles that only the athletes need to be socially developed. The truth is that the coaches and managers must also be appropriately trained socially.
The best athlete is he who is totally rounded in developmental terms. Social development is one of the most critical features of this process.
The athlete’s team
Today’s athlete does more than have a coach. He/she neds an entire team around him/her if success is the ultimate goal.
Today’s athlete’s team or entourage includes a coach, physical trainer, nutritionist, physician, physiotherapist or chiropractor, communications trainer and sport psychologist. Each one of these must strive to be an expert in the field such that the athlete garners confidence in their capacity to work with him at every stage through to ultimate success.
To become an elite athlete takes several years. Unfortunately, many coaches and other members of the entourage often opt for short cuts to success and stardom. This is not the norm and should not be encouraged.
A well-organised athlete development programme is long term. It begins with introducing the athlete to the fundamentals of the sport in all aspects and works systematically, scientifically, through to elite status and finally, in the post competitive period, to lifelong good health and a continuously active lifestyle.
The team members, the entourage, must always be in communication, discussing the development of the athlete, including the athlete in the conversation to facilitate his understanding of where he is at any point in time and what he needs to do to move on to the next level.
The fact is that the athlete is the one for whom the sport is intended. We must always put the athlete first.
Unfortunately, in St Vincent and the Grenadines too many coaches seem to think that the sport and the athletes’ progress are about them. This is a model for disaster.
The time has come for all stakeholders to understand that if we are to produce elite athletes in large numbers commensurate with the abundance of talent resident in our beautiful country, we have to understand all aspects of the athletes in our charge at every developmental stage.