For the past several months we have engaged in strong advocacy for physical literacy. We have been doing so because we genuinely believe that physical literacy is as critical a part of the development of the whole person as any of the other components advocated by human development agencies.
There is a sense in which those who did not participate in the 18-month programme on physical literacy and long-term athlete development (LTAD) have missed out on an excellent opportunity in respect of understanding and appreciating the complexities involved in the systematic preparation of individuals for life-long fitness. They would also have missed out on the scientific approach to taking an individual from birth through to elite status instead of the haphazard and often hit-or-miss approach to achieving success in this undertaking.
There is now greater resolve on the part of the Ministry of Education, National Reconciliation and Ecclesiastical Affairs to establish as of policy, physical education in the elementary schools of the nation.
Physical educator, Technical Director and lead for LTAD in athletics, Chester Morgan, has already produced draft curricula for Pre-Schools and Elementary Schools. He has actually engaged in the revision of the PE curriculum for the secondary schools extensively reviewing the form by form activities suited to the Vincentian context. Hi work can be used as the point of departure regarding the establishment of a more comprehensive Vincentian approach to physical literacy, physical education and sport that would yield immense benefits to all of our country.
Indeed, Chester Morgan’s work can form a basis for the development of a cadre of individuals in the country willing to engage in ongoing research and development appropriate to our culture, inclusive of the foods we have available to us.
In respect of the LTAD projects undertaken by the different national sports associations in St Vincent and the Grenadines the programme now shifts gear into the implementation phase. What has been researched and developed as new national LTAD programmes must now be systematically phased in consistent with the latest scientific understanding.
The success of the programme is not how many coaches were involved in the earlier research and development phase but how many are willing to learn from what has been developed and are prepared to implement the new strategies.
Each national sport association would have to show that the investment was not in vain but that it is being used to usher in a new, scientific and dynamic approach to physical literacy, physical activity and sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, stated, “Sport is increasingly recognized as an important tool in helping the United Nations achieve its objectives, in particular the Millennium Development Goals. By including sport in development and peace programmes in a more systematic way, the United nations can make full use of this cost-efficient tool to help us create a better world.”
Development is about people. It has to do with the quality of life of the people.
It is unfortunate that for many people development is equated with the economic performance of a country.
While there is often a link between a country’s economic performance and development there are countless examples of countries that have shown strong economic performance yet failed to allow this to be a major impetus towards genuine development.
It is therefore not surprising that many countries that are often characterised as developed are also well known for the pockets of poverty and underdevelopment in their midst. This arises from the fact that development is lop-sided. Some benefit more than others from whatever economic largesse emerges within the country.
Physical literacy is now deemed an integral component of genuine national development just as numeracy and literacy.
In sport, too many coaches start working with children making assumptions based on perceived proficiency in the specific sport on the very first day. They immediately claim talent and rush headlong claiming to possess some sort of talent identification system.
The unfortunate aspect of this reality is that such coaches are guilty of leaving out of the process countless children who may well, with proper introduction using the LTAD model, eventually emerge as or far more proficient than those identified on the first day in the programme.
Existing talent identification programmes are falsely described as genuinely developmental. Instead, they can best be described as exclusive. They deny numerous children the opportunity of systematically learning a sport.
Sport is intended to be inclusive, not exclusive.
Physical literacy is for all, not the select few.
There are no shortcuts to genuine development.
Our parents and teachers must be brought to an understanding that physical literacy is to be introduced to children following birth. It must be part of their formation as members of the family, community and society.
The International Working Group on Sport for Development and Peach have cited eight major areas in which sport can bring immense benefits. These are:
- Individual development
- Health promotion and disease prevention
- Promotion of gender equality
- Social integration and the development of social capital
- Peacebuilding and conflict prevention/resolution
- Post-disaster/trauma relief and normalisation of life
- Economic development
- Communication and social mobilisation.
Wilfried Lemke, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Sport for Development and Peace, observed, “Sport has a crucial role to play in the efforts of the United Nations to improve the lives of people around the world. Sport builds bridges between individuals and across communities, providing a fertile ground for sowing the seeds of development and peace.”
Sport therefore works in tandem with other agencies in realising important sustainable development goals.
“Child safeguarding in sport and in sport & development is a set of actions that help to ensure all children participating in sport have a positive experience” (sportanddev.org).
Parents, all too often, abandon their children to coaches, treating training programmes as a sort of day care facility. This is unacceptable.
While physical educators and coaches are trained personnel it is not always the case that they perform their responsibilities in a manner consistent with the expectations of the parents of their children.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines some coaches lack the requisite communication skills and use the old, outmoded fear-driven approach to get children to do what they ask of them in training sessions.
Fear is not an acceptable method in the learning process.
Some transform the children in their clubs and other institutions into human equivalents of Pavlov’s dog, demanding a sort of blind psychological response to every command even when this is merely a whistle.
Parents, lacking the capacity to engage their children in effective communications hardly recognise when their children are being pressured to perform by their PE teachers and coaches.
Safeguarding is not only about trying to get the technical personnel to desist from unsavoury touching and the like.
Safeguarding extends to all aspects of the life of the child.
Parents must ensure that the provision of gifts of one sort or another – shoes, training gear, etc. – are not a ruse to ensure compliance with conduct that may otherwise be deemed unacceptable.
Safeguarding includes the bullying that so often happens with coaches and their charges.
In contemporary sport it is advisable that parents engage their children in knowing precisely what activities have been planned and implemented at every stage in the child’s life. They must request the programmes so that they can understand, appreciate and evaluate them and their effectiveness on all aspects of the developmental life of their children.
Safeguarding is about ensuring that children are not over-trained, stretched to levels beyond their developmental ages. It is also about ensuring that children have adequate recovery periods.
Parents and children must always discuss the impact of training and competition on their studies and be prepared to make adjustments that are deemed necessary.
Make them whole
Physical literacy, physical activity and sport are important features of the holistic development of the individual in society.
In St Vincent and the Grenadines we now have an excellent opportunity to redress the historical wrongs in respect of the way we did things in the past regarding introduction, developmental pathway, elite status and fitness for life.
Some will, of course, maintain their old ways, having convinced themselves that they worked in the past.
Others, we hope, would move forward with the latest scientific discoveries regarding physical literacy, physical activity and sport. This is the change we need.