The athletics season has started and the several schools around the country are busy organising and administering their respective annual track and field championships. Everywhere we can see athletes in preparation for their respective competitions.
Teachers are anxious to the athletes belonging to the houses they are responsible for would give of their best and so attain bragging rights for the remainder of the academic year.
But teachers, head teachers and principals are not the only ones seeking to ensure that their annual track and field championships are a success. The parents are also keen on the competition and many come out to cheer their children and the houses they represent.
It is most interesting to see parents donning the colours of their children’s houses. On that one day at least, they are all cheering and shouting, spurring their children on to success in the sporting arena.
For many however, the preparations have come much too late.
Track and field competition requires an extensive preparation period. For those athletes who have coaches and astute physical education teachers the preparation starts in late August or early September and runs through to December. This is the conditioning phase of an athlete’s preparation for the competitive season.
In the conditioning phase the athletes are allowed to run distances much longer than that in which they would compete. They focus on getting themselves in shape by gaining endurance in this phase of preparation.
Coaches often use a variety of means of getting their athletes conditioned. Some may choose to use the playing field on some days while on other days they may get in some runs on the dead sand on the beach. On another day they may choose to do some roadwork and on yet another day, elect to engage the athletes in running up hills.
The good coach also inputs some speed work in the conditioning phase to remind the athlete of the importance of this to their overall performance.
It should be noted that those athletes who have chosen field events must also engage in a conditioning phase. They too must do endurance work. However, they must also train in a variety of scenarios and using different weighted implements.
Coaches must enlighten parents and athletes of the importance of adequate preparation in the early months of the academic year relative to getting good results by way of performances in competition.
In late December or early January the athletes are placed in the precompetitive phase of their preparation. If the season is short then this may not be possible in the way in which it should take place. However in this phase runners do some over-distance work to get see where they are with their preparation. Field event athletes also use implements of different weights in competition at this stage.
They do not usually engage themselves in competition in their specific events at this phase. It is all about getting ready.
When the competition phase arrives the athletes would have been adequately prepared for the rigours, which usually involve going flat out to optimise performance whether running, jumping or throwing.
The third phase is the competitive phase.
The first two phases would have prepared the athletes for this one and it is expected that they would showcase their talents to the full.
The glitz and the glamour of the finals of the annual track and field schools’ athletics competitions remain unsurpassed as a sporting spectacle I St Vincent and the grenadines.
The past five editions of the finals at the idyllic Arnos Vale Sports Complex have, in large measure, been the work or craft of the Athletics Sub Committee.
The coloured track has allowed even international viewers to somehow believe that St Vincent and the Grenadines had finally gotten a world-class eight-lane athletics arena.
The painting of the name of the event on the grassed surface, the plants along the home final 60m stretch and also around the awards podium, together with the banners of the sponsors and supporters, all combine to create a festive, electrical and almost-magical atmosphere within which every athlete feels comfortable enough to want to deliver personal best performances.
The use of the Finish Lynx photo finish and timing system as well as the Meet Manager, has allowed the Athletics Sub Committee to improve the quality of the competition. Athletes and patrons alike are always eager to know who achieves what performance during the competition. The results management and timing systems allow for real time results and all interested persons appreciate this whether they are at the competition arena, listening to the radio coverage or watching via live streaming.
For the past several years the track and field officials, many of them from the Department of Sports, have displayed an ever-impressive approach to their assignments on the field of play enabling athletes to be afforded opportunities to do their best.
The agreement with LIME for live streaming of the event has made it possible for the Vincentian Diaspora to enjoy all aspects of the competition. This new dimension has placed added pressure on the organisers and athletes to do better each year.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and intriguing aspects of the annual championships’ finals has been the adherence to time. Indeed some have felt the need to put in writing the fact that they have been simply blown away by the level of efficiency and time management that are displayed at the finals.
The Police have been particularly pleased with this aspect of the finals as well since it is possible for them to sweep the entire Arnos Vale Sports Complex early enough to get all patrons out of the arena before darkness takes over.
The decision of the Athletics Sub Committee to recommend and have taken on board by the SGC prize monies for the winning schools has been an important innovation. Schools can therefore use the funding to purchase the requisite track and field equipment to help build better programmes at their respective institutions. The competition has benefitted tremendously from this feature.
The involvement of the head teachers and principals in managing the awards ceremonies at the competition has allowed for increased interest and participation of an order hitherto unknown. Students are proud to be presented with their awards by their principals and head teachers and this forms part of the legacy of the annual competition.
The health challenge
The competitive phase is the most dynamically challenging for the athletes. First there is their individual school’s athletics competition. Then there are Heats for both the primary and secondary schools. Finally, there are the finals.
Let us add to the foregoing the fact that some athletes, because of their maturity, their experience of longer training and performance levels, are called upon to participate in several events so that the school could win the championships.
Parents often get so caught up in the furore that they do not take into consideration the immense pressure placed on their children in order for the school to achieve success. They often turn a blind eye to the number of events their children are being asked to contest.
It is the athlete that has been taken through the different phases prior to competition that would perform consistently and best at the events in which they engage themselves.
The athletes who have difficulty completing an event or who collapses well before the finish line in competition are invariably the least prepared. These are more likely to make their way to the tents provided and managed by the Red Cross and the Sports Medicine Association.
It is true that younger children are always running about and display so much energy. Not surprisingly therefore at the 2014 Inter Primary Schools Athletics Championships (IPSAC) there were four (4) recorded cases of ailments among athletes, two boys and two girls. Compare this with 47 cases amongst athletes at the Heats for the Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (ISSAC), 29 girls and 18 boys. Significantly 18 of the cases were for cramps.
The finals did not reveal anything significantly different. At the IPSAC finals there were 13 cases, six boys and seven girls. At the ISSAC competition there were 39 recorded cases with 20 of them being cramps.
At the conclusion of the competition, during its review, the Athletics Sub Committee agreed the following recommendations on the advice of the Medical grouping, for submission to the Schools Games Committee (SGC) of the Ministry of Education:
- The Ministry of Education must continue to press for an ambulance to be made accessible on the days of competition.
- Schools must continue to be informed about the concerns of health and education officials regarding the health and well being of their athletes especially in the areas of proper nutrition and hydration during their training and on the days of competition.
- There must be greater effort made to impress on schools the fact that some students are simply being asked to do too many events on the days of the championships.
In respect of the last recommendation it is believed that the time has come to ask schools to consider the health and wellbeing of their athletes. While we can understand a school wanting to win the cost to the physical and mental wellbeing of the athletes involved are worthy of consideration.
There are some athletes at each year of competition who do a minimum of six events during the entire competition and in each case they are expected to excel. Little attention is paid to exhaustion or dehydration or sheer tiredness.
At what price the school’s victory?