Roles and responsibilities in sport
The current period in which we live continues to churn up changes in the way we do things at an amazing pace. There are however some things that simply do not seem fair and which gnaw away at the very core of what constitutes organisation.
In these times everyone is knowledgeable about everything and hence there is intense competition in pursuit of what is right in any given circumstance.
The changes taking place in the wider society is made manifest in almost every sphere of life and sport is no exception. Since sport does not receive much attention by the government it therefore means that without appropriate measures being put in place and sustained there will inevitably be chaos.
Who plays sport?
We are perhaps all aware of the history of sport in the English-speaking Caribbean. It was the pastime of the colonials who ruled the society in their own best interest. In that period the local populace were only useful to those who practised sport by being allowed to perform ancillary and menial tasks.
In the sport of cricket, for example, the colonials had the locals fetch the balls when they went into the bushes. They then graduated to allowing them to bowl and field while they literally hit the cricket balls all over the place.
Of course since cricket was the sport of gentlemen the ladies of the colonisers were allowed to wear their finery and be waited upon by the locals while the men played.
The history is the same in every sport practised under colonialism for many ears until the inevitable occurred. The locals learnt to play every sport and began to challenge the established order in sport.
It is interesting to note that over time the locals took control of several sports while others remained a sort of enclave for the successors of the colonials, chief among them were tennis and the aquatic disciplines of swimming and water polo.
While the locals began to dominate the game of cricket the dominant clubs were near-colonial enclaves until very recently in several countries in the Caribbean.
In the Caribbean today the most popular sport in terms of the number of persons practising it is football, followed by athletics, with netball and basketball rivalling cricket for the other positions.
Of the sport practised in the Caribbean, the vast majority of practitioners come from the lower socioeconomic classes in the respective societies. This fact brings with it numerous challenges since for the most part access to funding is the major problematic.
There are some sports in which the participants have immense difficulty in the home. Many come from single parent homes where there is a daily challenge to survive. Food is not always readily available in adequate supply, getting the books for school is a burden. This situation poses a major challenge for the sporting organisations with which they involve themselves.
Interestingly, it is the very social circumstance, poverty and attendant issues they experience that pushes so many children in the direction of sporting endeavour. For many sport has become a means to escape their social and economic realities.
The fact that there are now so many individuals who have become millionaires through their participation in sport is itself a major factor motivating poor children to seek out sport as their major weapon in the fight against poverty.
Equipping sport participants
In the past it was common for participants in sport to be creative.
Pele recounts developing his football skills kicking tins around his home and in the neighbourhood.
In the Caribbean beach cricket often involved a coconut bat and the hardy product of the palm trees on the coastline. Football was often played with anything that was round, from limes to bands of rubber.
The point being made here was that in the past our children engaged in the practice of sport with whatever was available in the environment.
Today however, it is extremely difficult to get our children to be creative in the tools they use for the practice of sport. Parents often reach well beyond their capabilities to ensure that their children get the right equipment with which to practise sport.
There is an often-cited contradiction of parents buying the latest Pro Keds, now among the more expensive brands on the market, while balking at procuring the books that the same children for their educational progress at school.
There is also a new trend. Many coaches and clubs seem to find it appropriate to en courage their athletes to rely solely on the respective national federations to provide them with everything needed to cover every aspect of their involvement in the particular sport.
It is often the case that the athlete is led to believe that the association must provide monies for them to train on whatever basis the coach decides. They also expect that the association must provide them with shoes for training as well as for competition.
It is also often the case that athlete shave come to expect associations to provide them with clothes for their training.
The athlete, often not knowing better often views the association in a particularly bad light when the latter responds in a manner that is not consistent with what they were led to believe by their coaches and clubs.
The relationship between the athlete and the association then becomes very distorted and difficult to resolve.
The real issue is a need for a clear delineation of responsibilities of the responsibilities of clubs, inclusive of the coaches in them, and that of the association.
The role of the club
The role of the club is to facilitate the systematic development of the athletes who become members in order to practise sport.
Clubs are expected to facilitate a development pathway for the athletes who join them. They are expected to adopt a long term athlete development (LTAD) approach that allows for due consideration being given to the type of activities in which they engage the athletes relative to their chronological age, their physical maturity and their emotional developmental status.
Care must be taken by clubs to avoid pushing the athlete too early into exercises and competitions that are well above their developmental phase since tis results in burnout of the athlete before they get a chance to mature.
Some may recall for example amazing achievements of Janille Williams between ages 10 and 16, some years ago. She was hailed as something of a wonder from Antigua and Barbuda. By 18 she was virtually struggling to win an event and by 20 was effectively out of sport.
The club has to engage itself in activities aimed at ensuring that the athletes learn what is required of them as athletes. This means, among other things, getting one’s own clothes and equipment for training.
It is expected that anyone desirous of playing cricket understands that he must have his own pair of gloves and pads. He must have the protective cup and his bat. In these times it is increasingly important that the cricketer gets his own helmet. Of course he must procure the right cricket boots for training and competition.
The club is expected to provide team uniform and access training and competition opportunities.
There is nothing that prevents the club from engaging in fundraising activities to procure clothes and equipment for those who are less fortunate in the organisation. This is as it should be.
Clubs are also social organisations and hence it is particularly important that the leadership facilitates training in social skills such as appropriate manners at different occasions. Attention must also be paid to the emotional development of the athletes in the club, something with which not many coaches are familiar or capable of assessing and addressing appropriately.
Clubs often fail to acknowledge the tremendous responsibilities that befall them regarding the athletes in their charge. They are engaged in the process of personal development and not just getting an athlete to bat or kick.
The role of the association
National sports associations are responsible for the overall development of the sport in a country. In this regard associations work with the clubs that comprise them.
The role of the association is nonetheless very different from that of the club.
The national association has to carry out the mandate, first and foremost of the respective international federation (IF), which sets the accepted standards for the activities under its ambit. It must take its cue for the development of the sport from the IF.
Consistent with the IF’s mandate the national association prepares a calendar of events that schedules appropriate competitions in which it would engage itself at home as well as at the regional and international levels.
National associations structure training programmes for administrators, coaches and technical officials at the club in order to allow the latter to move along the same developmental pathway required for the success of the sport at the local level.
The national sports association usually provides the equipment needed for the sport to be practised around the country. Clubs and their athletes must have access to equipment but always in a structured manner to ensure appropriate access, usage, maintenance and accountability. There must be a system or chaos would reign supreme and soon there would be no equipment for others to use.
It is the association’s responsible to determine the regional and international competitions to which it will send national representatives leaving clubs to request sanction to attend at their own expense others that they may deem important for the athlete sin their charge.
Associations are responsible for the provision of national team uniforms but that does not usually include such personal items as training and competition shoes. Where funds are available or where sponsorship has been procured for teams associations may provide these items but it is not the norm and should not be an expectation either from the clubs or the athletes themselves.
National sports associations must necessarily be involved in a very close relationship with clubs since the former cannot exist without the latter. Neither associations nor clubs can exist without athletes.
Clarity of roles would go a long way towards facilitate the broader national sport development process.
Athletes often get their introduction to sport at schools but are seldom prepared for their involvement in clubs. Many if our coaches pay too little attention to the overall development of the athletes in their clubs. They push them in training in pursuit of success. It is also the case that the coaches see and adopt the success of the athletes in their clubs as an opportunity for chest thumping while ignoring the social and other personal developmental consequences for those very athletes.
Athletes are human beings in the process of development. They each come in a package not always recognised but which is always labelled, Handle With Care.