Policies urgently needed re school sports

Sports in schools and between schools have been a feature of Vincentian life as far back as the education programme started in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Unfortunately, what has not always been in place however is a set of well-articulated policies.
There is now an urgent need to establish a set of policies in respect of school sports.

PE in school
Physical inactivity is one of the most dangerous features of development. Research has shown that alongside claims of development the most advanced nations of the world have recorded significant declines in physical activity amongst their populations.
The shift towards higher levels of dependency on modern technological gadgets has spawned a heady acceptance and pursuit of a sedentary lifestyle that leads to health crises.
It has been noted that “Physical inactivity is a key determinant of health outcomes across the life span. A lack of activity increases the risk of heart disease, colon and breast cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, osteoporosis, anxiety and depression, and other diseases. Recent studies have found that in terms of mortality the global population health burden of physical inactivity approaches that of cigarette smoking and obesity (Lee et al., 2012).
Kohl et al describe the current global situation regarding physical inactivity as a pandemic.
The time has long since come and gone since the world has recognised the importance of physical education to the development of the individual human being.
One source stated. “…In addition to long-term health benefits an emerging literature supports acute health benefits of physical activity for children and adolescence. Physical activity in children is related to lower adiposity, higher muscular strength, improved markers of cardiovascular and metabolic health, and can improve mental health by decreasing and preventing conditions such as anxiety and depression and enhancing self-esteem and physical self-concept.”(Educating The Student Body, www.nap.edu).
It was also noted, “More physically active children demonstrate greater attentional resources, have faster cognitive processing speed, and perform better on standardised academic tests.”(ibid).
It has been noted however, that while the scientific evidence supports the very strong case for physical literacy, physical education and physical exercise to be among the foundation pillars of a child’s education, “Policy pressures, such as a demand for better standardised test scores through increased classroom academic time (instructional time in SVG), further challenge the role of school physical education in providing physical activity for youth.”( ibid).
This latter issue had reared its head all too often in St Vincent and the Grenadines and we have sought to address this on several occasions in the forum.
Our stance is that the claim that physical education and sport participation constitute a loss of instructional time is without merit. No consideration is given to the positive values attendant to physical education and sport and even less to the fact that the individuals are readily exposed to a broader understanding of life than their non-participatory counterparts. Global research provides ample evidence in support of our position.
Not enough attention is paid to working physical activity into the curriculum of the nation’s educational institutions at every level, regardless of subject area. Additionally, we really must insist on physical education being fully integrated into the education programme of this country and that it is a compulsory subject for the nation’s students.
Over the past few years there has been much interest generated in the concept and practice of safeguarding our children in sport.
“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…Child safeguarding is about keeping all children safe from harm, abuse, violence, exploitation and neglect. Having effective child safeguarding measures in place means that your organisation or club is proactively working internally and externally to ensure that children are kept safe.” (sportanddev.org).
Safeguarding in sport is much more than child protection because the latter stays focused on those individuals who have already been identified as being at risk.
The international media have been replete with gory details about the nature and incidence of actions by coaches, instructors, role models, peers and avid supporters that unfortunately scar the individual for life.
The pressure that coaches and peers put on children under the age of 18 to conform to their own wishes and practices often negatively impact the child. It is often the case that the children are made to fear informing their parents, teachers and counsellors about what is being done to them.
Here in St Vincent and the Grenadines we witness evidence of the foregoing taking place on a daily basis. Some parents do not take the time to pay attention by discussing their children’s sporting and other physical activities with their own children, leaving them exposed and scarred, psychologically, for life.
There are now international safeguards for children in sport and the first order of priority that is proposed is the urgency of ensuring the development of a national policy on the safeguarding of our children in physical activity and sport. This is a most important step that the Ministries of Education, of Youth, of Community Development and of Sport must collaborate on here in St Vincent and the Grenadines with immediate effect.
School first
There has been, for many years, an unwritten understanding that once a child is of school age and is attending a school that the school comes first. Over the years this understanding has been challenged but never before as it is today.
The anxiety of many of the coaches of sport, regardless of the discipline involved, has led to many of them calling upon athletes in their clubs and teams to be loyal to these institutions first, leaving the school as almost inconsequential.
The time has come for the Ministry of Education to put in place a national policy that insists on the school being first in the life of the child during his years of schooling.
It is unacceptable that a coach can by-pass the educational institution, curry favour with a child’s parents and influence the parent and the child to scoff at the institution and its role in his development.
PE teachers have complained to their principals on several occasions of students who insist that their club/team coaches insist that they must not participate in this or that activity for the school because it conflicts with what they are doing at the club/team level.
While there is need for full recognition of the rights of the child under the United Nations, it cannot be right for coaches to deliberately contradict the education institution without collaboration.
Unless there is good reason the child, while a student at the school, should be encouraged to fully participate in activities that are part of their educational formation, Physical education and sport must be seen as integral to their holistic educational development.
While coaches are exposed to some sport psychology in their training it is nothing more than a one-hour module at best and does not merit serious consideration when it comes to the role that some of our coaches seek to play in the development of many of our athletes. Often times it is the case that they do more harm than good.
It is not at all surprising therefore that there are some coaches who insist that the personal development programme started by the National Olympic Committee and Soroptomist International SVG, specifically targeting our young female athletes, are not needed by these girls. They argue that they already know how to conduct themselves and all the requirements of social etiquette. They therefore compel their athletes not to attend, to the detriment of these athletes.
Age manipulation
It is an unfortunate reality that there are some athletes who show up to compete for their schools registering in the wrong age-group. I tis usually the case that the athlete is registered for a sport competition in an age-group lower than his actual age.
The policy of the Ministry of Education is that the registration form for participation of a school in any of its sports competitions must be signed by the principal or head teacher of the institution. This means therefore that the responsibility for providing accurate age information rests with the leadership of the school.
Because of the absence of a fully computerised database of all students at all of the nation’s education institutions that can be readily accessed it has been the case that students compete in age-group competitions using an incorrect age registration. This, simply put, is cheating. It is giving an unfair advantage to an individual over others in the same competition.
The time has come for the Ministry of Education to put in place an unambiguous policy in respect of cheating in sport.
If the Ministry of Education’s policy regarding cheating in academic work is abundantly clear, then the same should be the case regarding cheating in sport. In the case of the latter consideration has to be given to extending the disciplinary action beyond the athlete since the cheating would have been rendered possible either by the deliberate collusion of the teacher and/or the principal/head teacher, both of whom would have been involved in the registration and participation of the individual student in the wrong age category of the competition.
National Representation
One of the contentious areas in our education system relates to national representation by both athletes and officials in our education system.
The national sports policy (seemingly useful to those in authority only at some convenient points in time) holds that it is an honour for someone to be selected to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines whether at home or abroad. This is akin to being elevated to ambassador status.
It is therefore very unfortunate when someone is selected and finds some measure of difficulty in being released either as an athlete or as an official.
It appears that not enough consideration is given to the overall impact the honour has on the holistic development of the individual selected.
The matter of loss of instructional time must be reviewed and matched against the commitment of the individual to the work required at the educational institution; the preparedness to put in the extra work needed to keep pace with his/her academic responsibilities.
The suggestion that training be left only to the vacation period is without merit. This negates the very concept of education that we are supposed to be promoting. It also assumes that to engage in sport during the academic year translates into a failure in respect of education.
There has to be a greater understanding of education, of the role of our physical educators and teachers in the education of our teachers and above all, an appreciation of the extraordinary commitment that our educators have to the holistic development of the nation’s children.