Making good on the opportunities from sport

Usain-Bolt-Puma-Pardaphash-95744Over the past several years we have witnessed a significant surge in the numbers participating in sport around the world. This has led to sport and physical activity becoming one of the fastest growing sectors of the global market.
Brand Bolt, is one of the finest examples of how a Caribbean athlete can become a global icon in his own right and take an entire nation to greater global recognition in his wake.
Of course, before Bolt we have had individuals who have made it big in sport such as Dwight Yorke and Brian Lara. We have also witnessed the fortunes of Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo and a slew of cricketers from the region who have moved from once complaining that the West Indies Cricket Board was asking them to play too much cricket in a single year to playing all around the world in different leagues in the same year. The income levels of some of our players are such that they are constantly seeking out new engagements.
In today’s world the opportunities for athletes are immense and there is every reason to believe that Vincentians can. Like their counterparts elsewhere in the region and indeed the world can access these opportunities. It takes discipline and commitment.
Sport and academics
In previous articles we have consistently argued that it is a fallacy to believe that sport detracts from attention to one’s studies.
We have great examples of athletes in different sporting disciplines who have been able to successfully address their academic and sporting development harmoniously. Much of this really depends on understanding a number of important things.
The home
In the first instance everything begins at home.
Parents are the first ones to witness and encourage the child to be physically active. Coordination is particularly important of the child is to develop ease of movement in a consistent manner enough to lay a proper foundation for involvement in sport.
It is also the parents who must engage their children in play. They should be there with them, being an active part of their early physical and mental development. All too often parents seek out programmes of physical activity and sport that others organise to involve their children. In some cases the parents utilise these programmes as a form of day care. They are not themselves directly involved in playing with their children in activities of a physical nature.
Because St Vincent and the Grenadines is yet to grasp the fundamentals of physical culture, many of our parents are the ones to blame for the poor coordination skill competencies of an increasing number of the nation’s children.
It is the parents who are also responsible for the early educational development of their children before the direct involvement of teachers.
Where parents do not take the time to read for and with their children from an early age there is reason to believe that the latter will lack interest in the activity. Not surprisingly therefore Vincentian children, like the majority of children across the Caribbean, are poor readers, a problem manifested in the declining performances of our students in English at the CXC, CSEC, CAPE and university levels.
Parents who fail to engage their children in early learning are more likely to find that the latter have difficulty attaining good results at successive later educational levels.
Research has shown that children of parents who do not take time to guide them educationally from an early age, who fail to attend meetings with teachers and parents at schools their children attend, who do not monitor their children’s performances in the several subject areas and who cannot themselves understand the subjects being taught their children at school enough to help them or seek out appropriate help, are more likely to underperform in school-work than those whose parents are conscientious enough to get it right from the very beginning.
Parents cannot and must not abdicate their responsibility for the development of their children. They must forever be an integral part of their children’s upbringing to the point where the latter can make decisions and take responsibility for themselves.
The blend of academic work with physical activity and sport must therefore begin in the home.
The school
The school is an extension of the home/family in many respects and the link between the two institutions must be carefully sustained.
Parents are expected to establish close relationships with the teachers to be able to keep abreast of the children’s performances at each stage while at school.
Teachers are responsible for imparting knowledge and skills to students in keeping with modern trends in society while at the same time ensuring that there is some consistency with what parents want for their children. This is the reason that attendance at parents-teachers’ meetings are so critically important for the appropriate development of the young student. Such meetings and school open days offer opportunities for parents to interface with teachers and school authorities in the presence of their children.
Parents must encourage their children and the teachers to help then collectively and collaboratively establish the parameters for striking the correct balance between physical activity, sport and academic education.
There is no good in parents literally leaving the education of their children solely to teachers. That does not work. Education is a joint endeavour.
Children must be encouraged to see the importance of being strong and healthy to their academic education. This is what will drive them to continue being physically active all their lives since such an approach is critical to a healthy lifestyle and enhanced productivity in every field of endeavour selected.
Schools have developed a keen interest in the image that society has of them. Some are therefore decidedly focused on academic excellence while others opt for making a name for themselves in sport and/or culture. One has only to listen to the comments of principals and head teachers following the release of national and regional examinations to glean which ones are committed to academic excellence.
Some schools understand very early that sport excellence can give them a national image.
Few schools strive after a health balance between physical activity, sport and academics.
Interestingly, there are some schools that would readily claim that a significant number of their students simply do not have the foundation to do well academically and that their emphasis on either sport or culture reflects a deliberate attempt at preparing them for other career options in life. Unfortunately, there are many schools where the emphasis on physical activity, sport and culture constitute the preferred option that fail to appreciate that performance is still linked to a broad education.
The best athlete in whatever sport or cultural activity is the one with a grasp of the subject matter.
There is no sport that one can play well if one lacks an educational understanding of its requirements. One must always be able to engage brain.
It is unfortunate that so many parents in the Caribbean are disposed to seeing a contradiction between a child’s involvement in physical activity and sport at school as detracting from the academic development of their children and once a performance decline is observed the first reaction is to deny the children continued involvement in sport.
Good educational performance is an important asset in accessing sport scholarships. Universities demand some basic requirements from overseas students and schools must assist coaches and clubs in encouraging athletes to focus on earning scholarships through the happy blend of academic and sport performance.
The club
Clubs and teams involved in sport do not always seem to give due consideration to the role of academic education in the life of the athlete. It is this phenomenon that has led to the extensive research that has been undertaken in the recent past to address what is today considered the career pathway of the athlete. There is, after all, life after one’s sporting career is over. Athletes must prepare themselves for retirement from sport and the continuation of life.
While the club is desirous of getting athletes to perform better with consistency it is also imperative that they guide the athlete through an understanding of and appreciation for their personal development.
We have had the spectre here in St Vincent and the Grenadines of an outstanding student athlete who, having attained nine subjects at CXC was encouraged to return to secondary school rather than move on to tertiary level education. It appears that the main purpose was not due consideration of the best interests of the athlete but instead, a selfish interest on the part of the coach to have the educational institution benefit from sporting success utilising the talent of the individual. There is much that is morally wrong with that kind of behaviour. The coach may well have been seeking to impose the practice and culture of another society on our own.
The athlete, blessed with both sporting talent and a sound academic base, is the one to have suffered and has as yet been unable to access an athletic scholarship.
Coaches are sometimes so anxious to build their own public images that they forget that the athlete sin their charge have parents and ambitions to become better persons with a sound balance between their academic and sporting education and development.
While it is true that coaches are an important part in the development of the athlete there must always be a dynamic relationship with parents and teachers relative to the athlete’s potential in different aspects of life.
Too many athletes have lost out on their academic development.
A few athletes will go on to become professional athletes and earn a livelihood in their competitive years enough to allow them to be comfortable with their families for the rest of their lives.
Coaches and agents are increasingly using athletes to enhance their own financial interests. They are in an industry here they can justify receiving the 15% from the athletes’ career earnings each time the latter are successful. Many are keen on identifying the talented athlete and accessing opportunities abroad more for themselves than the best interest of the athletes in their charge.
More interest must be shown in assisting athletes in crafting and pursuing clear career pathways that guarantee their sustainability lone beyond their competitive years.