Greater sporting challenges in 2011

We are now into the new year – 2011. The sporting enthusiasts of this beautiful nation are anxious for success in the different sporting disciplines.
Many Vincentians were proud when Natasha Mayers won the gold at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, late last year and would want to see more of this in the year ahead of us leading into 2010, the year of the London Olympics.
Success does not come easy. There are many challenges facing sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines, not the least of which is the absence of any clear sense of direction emanating from the government of the country.
In his remarks at the Annual Awards Ceremony on Saturday 18 December 2010, President of the National Olympic Committee (NOC), Trevor Bailey, indicated that the sporting needs of this country to guarantee success can be summed up as follows: Facilities! Facilities! Facilities!
As the president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cycling Union in addition to heading the NOC, Bailey was spot on. He has a very good grasp of the problems being faced by sporting organisations in this country.
The vast majority of sports practised in St Vincent and the Grenadines are in need fo adequate facilities. This reality will undoubtedly negatively impact the preparation and performances of our athletes during 2011. That is not to say that coaches, athletes and administrators would not strive to do better with what is available to them but rather that we must understand the realities and not allow ourselves to be over-exuberant about the chances of our athletes in regional and international competition.
The promised national stadium now seems as remote as ever before. Indeed, Ces Mc Kie may well now not be able to face the sports fraternity of this country if only because he somehow used the promise of a national stadium as something of a whipping board in the recently concluded general elections to his own success at the polls. Now he is almost totally removed from the process.
The promised indoor sports facility is skewed in the absence of any genuine consultation with the respective sports associations thus far. Politicians are apt to make promises without such consultation and even when they seek to implement many of their promises they tend to circumvent those in the know for the seeming popularity they glean possible through the realisation of the projects.
One proposal is for the National Sports Council to not merely sit with the respective national associations but to actually take the time to listen and plan deliberately for success. The politics must be left out of the equation if we are to succeed.
What is required is an accurate assessment of what can be done with what facilities we have that can at best allow our athletes to reach a level with which we could feel comfortable and which would also allow them to compete favourably in competition.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has been fortunate to benefit from a number of coaching courses aimed at raising the competency of the coaches. Unfortunately in some sports we have been unable to have our coaches achieve excellence.
For all of the criticisms he attracted while holding the top post, Elliot ‘Mori’ Millington remains this country most successful local football coach. Many may not have liked his approach but it worked for him. He consistently complained about the poor coaching the footballers receive at their early introduction to the sport and how that hindered his performance with the players when they got to the national senior team. Millington was on record as having declared that at the senior team level he should not be teaching an athlete how to kick a ball.
The case of Millington is repeated across the country. Some of our top coaches have been unable to have around them coaches who are eager and willing to learn. This creates a huge vacuum whenever one of our better coaches chooses to move on to greener pastures.
It is also an issue that some of our coaches still fail to understand the sociology and psychology of coaching. They literally believe that the best way to develop an athlete is by ‘barking’ after him/her. If this fails in the classroom there is no reason why we should expect it to wok on the field of play.
Some of our coaches seem only too anxious to have their charges believe that success comes overnight. That is a very rare treat. Success comes from hard work over a period of several years.
An athlete’s training regimen for success requires that parents, teachers and coaches are involved in assisting the athlete in sticking to the task as hand over the long haul.
The proper preparation of our athletes by the coaches available to them remains one of the major challenges facing the sport development process in this country in 2011.
Athletes in preparation for any sport need competition. It is proposed that they be exposed to regular competition. Competition allows the athlete and the coach to evaluate the progress of the athlete given the training regimen to which they are exposed.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines there are local competitions but they are often at a relatively low standard. We have watched the performances of the athletes involved in the schools’ Football and Cricket competitions and recognise the problem. The same is true of Athletics, Tennis, Basketball, Volleyball and Table Tennis. Local competitions are not taken seriously enough by the athletes and their coaches, except in very rare cases. This is the reason why our national senior and junior teams do not fare well.
While we may boast of some measure of success here and there they are not sustained.
If our athletes have difficulty achieving success at the regional level it is all the more likely that they will suffer the same fate at the international level.
There are two major multisport Games pending for Vincentians – the Pan American Games scheduled for Guadalajara, Mexico, in October 2011 and the London Olympics in the summer of 2012.
Pan American Games
St Vincent and the Grenadines is on record as having won two medals at the Pan American Games.
The first was a silver medal won by Maurice King in Weightlifting (60kg) at the Pan American Games of 1959 in Chicago, Illinois, USA. The records will show that King is recorded under Jamaica. However, the truth is that at the time the West Indies Federation was in existence and there was one NOC for the region.
The second was a bronze medal won by Eswort Coombs in the 400m at the Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1995.
The Pan Am Games 2011 will take place, much like the Commonwealth Games of 2010, in October, when many of the top track and field athletes are into the conditioning period in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Despite this reality however it is important for St Vincent and the Grenadines to be well represented.
Natasha Mayers and others would want to ensure that they make the established standards first to get to the Pan Am Games.
Home-based athletes will have to work extra hard if they are to make the standards.
In the case of the Pan Am Games and the Olympics the standards determine our participation.
Already Basketball, Rugby and Volleyball have fallen through the cracks having failed to qualify in their respective competitions.
The other sports, including Football, have still to participate in their respective qualifiers. Swimming and Athletics have individual standards and so the athletes have until one month prior to the Games to meet the requisite standard.
London 2012
The Olympics are considered the cream of all sporting spectacles as Beijing attested.
The fact that England and more particularly, London, is home to successive generations of Caribbean migrants makes the London 2012 Olympics all the more interesting.
Vincentian athletes, home-based as well as abroad, are all desirous of making the standards so that they can take their rightful place alongside the best in the world in London.
The NOC has begun a Programme dubbed, The Road to London 2012. Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines has been working with its athletes and coaches over the long haul in anticipation of a strong presence at the Games in London.
We have all agreed that sport is now big business. This is true is all aspects.
Today’s athlete requires access to good facilities, top quality coaching, frequent competition of a progressively higher standard, proper diet, sport psychologists and sports medicine personnel, if he/she is to come close to success. The best athletes in the world acknowledge that the foregoing is essentially their own recipe for success in sport.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we scoff at an athlete’s request fro financial assistance in order to improve.
The recent case of Natasha Mayers is instructive.
Mayers’ response to the money she received from the National Olympic Committee (NOC) is understandable although thoroughly misguided. The NOC receives funding from Olympic Solidarity, the development arm of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for specific projects. Mayers is well aware of the reasons why she is unable to access an Olympic Solidarity scholarship. She may benefit from some funding available from the Pan American Sports Organisation (PASO) for preparing for the Pan American games and the Olympics of 2012 but the funds have to be shared amongst the several disciplines eligible to participate in the respective qualifying tournaments for the aforementioned Games.
Generally, governments of countries that place value on sport would facilitate a programme of financial assistance to their elite athletes. In the Caribbean this is the case in Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Bahamas and Jamaica. In some of these countries the government makes the funds available for the athletes following the satisfaction of criteria established by the respective national associations and the NOC. It is never a case in the Caribbean where the NOC has the resources from Olympic Solidarity to meet the expenses of preparing an elite athlete of the order of Natasha Mayers, Kineke Alexander, Adonson Shallow or Pamenos Ballantyne, to name a few.
We are fortunate in some sports to have athletes benefit from access to better facilities abroad. This has proven an important factor in some of our sports. In the past this helped our cricketers, Tennis players and track and field athletes. Those abroad have also benefitted from better coaching and more regular competition that has challenged them to hunger after success.
The opportunities for scholarships still exist but we seem to lack the commitment required. Our athletes do not appear sufficiently hungry to advance to the highest level in sport.
Unfortunately for us the successes of Adonal Foyle, Sancho Lyttle and Sophia Young have not sufficiently sunk into the psyche of the average Vincentian athlete.
There is therefore much work to be done if we are to rise to the occasion and combat the negative criticisms levelled at our athletes and coaches for consecutive failures at the highest level. It requires the best efforts from all of us.