Important changes needed in sport

The story of Vincentian sports remains a major burden on the hearts and minds of those who believe that we can do more.
In a recent conversation it was stated that the sportspeople in St Vincent and the Grenadines today are nowhere near those of the past. Reference was made of the approach to sport back then and how parents and communities were integral to the growth and development of sport and those who engaged in it.
Many Vincentians remember the exploits of the St Vincent Grammar School when it participated in national competitions, so outstanding were the athletes as a result of the overall commitment to excellence in every field of endeavour at the institution.
Vincentians love to recall F O Mason’s feat of clean bowling the legendary Frank Worrell for a duck here in St Vincent and ‘Bunny’ Baptiste’s defeat of the Jamaican Olympic sprinter at the Victoria Park.
Not too long ago, Alfie Roberts played for the West Indies and later, Mike Findlay, Winston Davis, Ian Allen, Cameron Cuffy and Nixon MacLean. Today it seems so very long that we have not had a Vincentian even challenging for a place on the West Indies team and the cupboard seems bare.
In the field of Netball this country was once among the most feared in the region and the footballers swept aside several of the region’s best between 1979 and 1981.
Everywhere in St Vincent and the Grenadines youngsters and the elders gathered on a daily basis hungry to utilise every area that could accommodate some form of sport. The Grammar School concrete Cricket strip was forever occupied.
The problem is to determine precisely what has gone wrong.
It may appear strange and certainly ironic but the primary cause of the change in our approach to sport may well lie in the phenomenon called development.
Despite the nonsense that has been pervading the airwaves for the past several years the reality is that between 1984 and 2000 there was significant growth in St Vincent and the Grenadines. This growth impacted everyone. We witnessed the untrammelled growth of the Vincentian middle class as the services sector enjoyed the bulk of the benefits that emerged.
Vincentians gained access to better salaries and this translated into a generally higher standard of living. The nation’s housing stock increased, the quality and cost of homes rose sharply and the contents of the home became far more varied than hitherto. With the Japanese sales strategy in respect of used vehicles and the government’s openness at the time anyone the car stock also increased significantly.
Television etc.
In our pursuit of higher standards of living we allowed the television o invade and take control of our homes without recognising that for the most part it curtailed significantly the conversations amongst family members. When the shows were most interesting it became a forbidden thing for any family member to break the silence as everyone’s attention was focused on the screen.
For the children the television became the primary distraction competing for their attention and time. Rather than go out to play on afternoons children gravitated towards the television set.
The increasing range of options on television particularly the growth in the number of entertainment channels targeting youth meant that fewer students took an interest in any form of play at all. The music channels with engaging videos added to the interest in television.
The arrival of the computer and its declining costs that guarantee greater access to Vincentians have also impacted the way individuals spend their time. The internet and its many attractive options – music, movies and the social networking sites like Face Book and Twitter – have colluded to grab hold of the youths to such an extent that they become first choice well ahead of sport.
The cell phone mania and the constant upgrades in terms of what is accessible to any individual in possession of a phone have again done much damage to sport by holding the interest of the students and this at a much earlier age than one would have expected. Children at the primary school level are into texting for the better part of their free time. We are also well aware of the problems teachers have in getting the students not to engage in texting others during classes. Thanks to the cell phone and the range of technological gizmos Vincentian students are today exercising their fingers more than anything else.
The net result has been a major shift from the outdoors to the indoors for students. The impact of the consumerism of North America on Vincentians fuelled by the inputs of family members abroad and the frequent trips to them has been a growing loss of interest in sport at the participation level.
Parental interests
Parents, benefitting from increased take home pay and caught up in consumerism found themselves having little time to take their own children to the playing field or to any sporting arena.
The link between the parent and child working together to have the latter learn a sport and engage in it to a level of skill proficiency soon became a very rare occurrence in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Only a few remained committed and these encouraged their children to strive after excellence.
In some cases the parents see the child’s involvement in sport as a form of day care. This is especially so on Saturday mornings when some parents drop off their children and return for them when they have been informed that the sessions have been completed.
Parents today seem to take little interest in the achievements of their children in the sports arena. They are only too anxious to stop them from engaging in sporting activity should there be any decline in their academic performance. It is assumed that sport takes away from their primary focus during the school years – academics.
Despite the evidence around the world of the growth in obesity and the many illnesses that can be avoided or minimised through a healthy lifestyle underscored by participation in regular physical exercise and sport, parents continue to resist the various sporting associations who seek to encourage them to have their children play sport.
Despite the evidence of young people who have accessed scholarships through sport and maintained excellent academic performances; despite the evidence of the growth in professional sport as a career option that opens up a whole new way of life for so many, too many Vincentian parents still see sort as distraction.
The accessibility of more Vincentians to vehicles has meant that the children go virtually everywhere by car. There are declining numbers of children walking to school. Parents can always find a reason why the children should not walk.
The children have lost the capacity to walk or run from home to the sport venue and back as happened in the past. Everything is now done using modern means of transportation.
Children who are allowed to play sport are often brought to the venue by car and taken back by the same means.
The school
The school, the nursery of all sport is something of a mixed bag here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Some principals are not at all keen on sport. Others are but do not possess the drive that is required to have their PE Teachers work with coaches to develop the children’s potential in sport.
The Ministry of Education’s programme in respect of PE and Sport is still very much in its infancy. There are not enough qualified PE Teachers in the system and those that are there are not sufficiently collaborative with national sports associations to enhance the overall sport development process.
The PE sessions at the school do not appear particularly planned and is woefully biased against sport. The programme should really be PE and Sport as a subject and not just PE. There has to be an understanding that PE is the basis for sport participation. The PE allows for an understanding of movement and this implies coordination, which is so critical for optimal performance in any particular sport.
The crowded school calendar does not allow for the honing of skills in the available time allocated to PE. This aspect of the child’s development has to be done outside school hours. Increasingly teachers are not favourably disposed to engaging in extra curricula activities.
There are parents who do not want their children to even engage in Physical Education (PE) at school. They see this as creating a problem since the child has to change clothes, get sweaty and return to their school clothes following the PE session.
Changes needed
The foregoing suggests that unless we make some radical changes to the existing system we are likely to remain a decadent lot in the arena of sport.
Natasha Mayers’ gold medal victory at the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in India may well be an opportune occasion for us to effect the change that is needed in our approach to sport.
The point of departure must be the home. The family must be encouraged to be more understanding and appreciative of the value of PE and Sport to their own and their children’s development. They must strive to encourage a happy blend between physical activity, sport and academics.
The Ministries of Education, Sport, Youth and Health must all work collaboratively with national sports associations to facilitate greater national awareness of the value of PE and Sport.
National sports associations must offer coaches to work along with schools, clubs and community groups to harmonise efforts towards the development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
The media must be a full partner in the broader sport development process, helping build the awareness amongst our peoples.
The government and private sector must be more open to the benefits to be derived from sport in this country and facilitate the development process.
We can either move forward together or continue on the road to stagnation.