Grassroots talent search fundamental to development

Many lovers of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines often wonder why it is that we continue to experience so much difficulty in the recent past in respect of delivering consistently good performances in the sports arena.
They are concerned that our successes in sport at the regional and international levels are all too few and far apart. This does not augur well for the image of the country abroad but more importantly it makes a mockery of our respective national sports associations.
The National Olympic Committee (NOC) in particular continues to be the one organisation that feels the pain when we continue to show poorly at the regional and international competitions. The reason for this is the fact that Olympic Solidarity, the development arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) provides a range of programmes which the NOC accesses annually that are designed to assist the respective affiliates of the organisation in preparing athletes, coaches and administrators towards better performances overall. To the extent that for all of the programmes provided, the number of coaches and administrators trained and competitions accessed, we continue to show little improvement in the competitions, to that extent we are shamed in the eyes of the international sports fraternity.
It is the reason that so much praise was heaped on Maurice King for his silver medal at the Pan American Games in Chicago, 1959, Eswort Coombs for his World University Student Games 400m gold medal in 1995, his semi final berth in the Atlanta Olympics of 1996, Kineke Alexander’s 400m bronze medal in Cartagena, Colombia in 2006 and Natasha Mayers’ gold medal at the Commonwealth Games, Delhi, India, 2010. The years apart tells an amazing story.
What has happened in the other sports? Precious little.
Some years ago the St Vincent and the Grenadines National Olympic Committee started the Grassroots Talent Identification Programme (GTIP) calling on its several affiliates to become involved given the critical role that such a project can have on the genuine development of the sports practised in this country, and more particularly, those sports that are on the Olympic Games Programme.
The GTIP has not yet been adopted by some of the sports associations here and so the full impact is yet to be felt.
Those that have been involved are nonetheless making progress if only because the reach has brought more people into there respective disciplines.
The goal of the GTIP is to bring sport to all areas of St Vincent and the Grenadines such that the respective associations can identify the talented athletes in their respective sporting disciplines.
The fundamental tenet is that children are to be engaged very early in sport. As is the case with other aspects of their education children learn the fundamentals of any sport fastest between the ages of zero to five years. This is readily seen in the sport of gymnastics where by the time the athlete reaches the age of 16 he/she is considered a veteran, almost at the end of his/her career.
The Grassroots Talent Identification Programme therefore seeks to have the coaches
The National Olympic Committee usually requests its affiliates to declare their intention to be part of the GTIP. Following this each of the involved associations is then called upon to identify its Technical Director. This is the person who will undertake responsibility all aspects of the technical development of the respective sports. The identified individual will carry the responsibility of coordinating the GTIP of the particular association.
The NOC has established a National Technical Coordinator who carries the responsibility of facilitating monthly meetings of the respective Technical Directors of the various sports associations involved in the GTIP.
It is expected that the Technical Director of each sport would engage several coaches to be involved in their own component of the NOC’s GTIP. Together they would map out the best strategically beneficial approaches for their own sport in order to reach the most children to introduce the fundamentals.
For the most part the GTIP operates around the country on Saturday mornings but this is not cast ins tone. It is true that Saturdays are perhaps the most convenient for many associations but in some cases Sundays may be better. It really does not matter what day is selected. Of greatest importance is that the associations see the benefits of the programme to the on-going viability of their respective sports and strive to have their technical departments plan, administer and evaluate the work as often as possible.
Importantly, it is essential that because it is a programme that introduces children to the basics of the particular sport the coaches must take care to ensure that the skills being taught are very well executed. If children are exposed to poor skills they would learn them and be poor athletes.
Additionally it is imperative that the coaches involved in the GTIP understand the importance of introducing the basics in a manner that is fun for the children. They must enjoy sport as play. If the teaching is well done, just as in any other subject area, the children will catch on and will also adopt the positive values inherent in the practice of good, clean sport.
Of course, the GTIP is merely the beginning since the talented athletes identified must be taken to another level in the respective sport in order to facilitate the realisation of their full potential.
The NOC has encouraged the establishment of Academies. This is the bringing together of the most talented athletes in each sport. On some occasions the NOC has organised a National Sports Academy where it has brought the talented athletes identified by the respective associations to one location over an extended period to receive some more holistic training. This training includes sport-specific skills as well as communications, nutrition, sports etiquette and dealing with sport injuries.
When the Academies are in session the athletes are accompanied by their designated coaches who conduct the sport-specific sessions. The coaches are therefore in a position to improve the skill capabilities of each athlete in his/her sport and lay a firm foundation for national representation.
The coaches are also afforded an opportunity to build a strong, dynamic team. Being together and learning more about the sport and life is critical to forging unity amongst the athletes of each sport but also between sports.
Experiences thus far
The reality is the several of the associations have come on board with the GTIP. They have however enjoyed mixed results.
Unfortunately the experience thus far is that not all associations are successful in getting the very coaches that the NOC has trained to go into the field to work regularly enough to build the sport.
In some cases the coaches are simply too busy making their own income from coaching athletes to be bothered to give something back to the association and the NOC.
In other cases the coaches are demanding stipends of an order that far exceeds anything they get in their chosen profession and for which they receive a monthly salary.
The NOC receives a limited amount of funding for different programmes. In the case of the GTIP the funding has to be divided amongst the several sports that agree to become involved. This will therefore determine what funds are available for stipends especially since the coaches have to be transported to the selected venues each week.
Some associations call into question the commitment of the coaches to the development of the sport. Many seem to want to do like some of our politicians and start from the top rather than start from the bottom and grow with the experience gained.
Associations here are involved in a constant struggle to get the proper equipment for their respective sports. What is available locally is often prohibitively expensive and what is sent from abroad is often dutiable.
Many of our athletes are training with outdated equipment. They cannot afford the latest. The cost of modern bicycles for road racing competition is beyond the reach of the average Vincentian athlete.
Our government’s lack of interest in sport has allowed them to turn a blind eye to this problem of inadequate equipment. If and when they do something they make much noise about it to score some cheap political points but they are insensitive to the real needs of our sportspeople.
The facilities for people in this country who are keen on making something of themselves sin sport are so poor that it is hardly worth mentioning the way in which we are laughed at in the international arena.
St Vincent and the Grenadines ranks only with Anguilla, Haiti  and Montserrat as the only Caribbean countries which do not have a synthetic track for the athletes to train and compete.
We continue to be embarrassed trying to have our athletes access scholarships. Many can get the SAT scores needed but lack the times because they are achieved on a slow grass surface.
Our footballers like our athletes in Track and Field, have to train on a variety of surfaces often dancing with the animals who use it for feed.
We seem to feel no sense of shame over our poor facilities.
The future
Unless we get serious about developing talent from the grassroots here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we are doomed.
The coaches must work with their respective associations to do more for their respective sports.
National associations must provide the needed guidance to its affiliates so that collectively they can take sport forward.
The government must get serious about the provision of facilities but must involve the associations in the design and location of these facilities.
In a sense, we can only develop sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines if we do it as a collective endeavour.