Schools athletics takes centrestage
On Tuesday 3 March 2015 the Schools Games Committee (SGC) of the Ministry of Education officially launched the annual Inter Primary Schools Athletics Championships (IPSAC) and Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships (ISSAC) at a brief press conference at the office of the Carnival Development Corporation, Victoria Park.
The conference comes in the midst of the preparations for the respective Championships whose finals shall take place on 24 and 25 March 2015 at the Arnos Vale Sports Complex.
The ISSAC has been on going consistently for several decades. Unfortunately the IPSAC had been stopped for a while and has only recently been re-introduced under a new format.
In 2014, the IPSAC rivalled the ISSAC in terms of attendance. What was particularly interesting in the attendance at the IPSAC was the presence of numerous parents of participating schools, many of whom came bearing placards that carried supportive slogans for the institutions with which they associated themselves.
Obviously teachers and parents are desirous of having their children given good performances at the IPSAC and ISSAC. How possible is this?
The majority of students attending primary schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines do not have access to physical education yet they are asked to participate in sport.
Physical education introduces the child to the fundamentals of movement allowing them to learn coordination.
When a child learns coordination of his/her body one would readily observe a certain measure of self-confidence and self esteem. Children feel very proud of being able to move to different instructions and rhythms because it is part of making them whole persons.
Once children know and understand the fundamentals of movement they are able to participate in sport with a certain facility. They can more readily acquire the fundamental skills associated with the different sporting activities. This is the reason that at an early age the child is introduced to a variety if sports because they require different movements and the use of different muscle groups. At this stage in the child’s development there is an avoidance of specialisation except in regard to some very special sports.
Early specialisation can often lead to boredom and burnout on the part of the young athlete.
Given the absence of physical education on the curriculum for our primary schools the majority of students have no formal movement from physical education to sport. Indeed they have no idea of the relationship between the two disciplines – physical education and sport. Some come away with the impression that the two disciplines are one and the same just called differently.
Many of our secondary school students do not get into sport. This is increasingly the case in the recent past as in so many of our schools the number of the student population participating in the inter-house sport competitions are decreasing rather than increasing.
The fear of being laughed at is real at the primary and secondary school level but it is much easier to hide in the latter.
Teachers at the secondary school level are so often focused on winning that they simply ignore those students who do not show a facility with the dynamics of a particular sport. They focus on those who appear to know some basic skills and appear confident enough to be trained. These are the ones who gain selection to house and school teams and receive the support and accolades of the staff.
Unfortunately, parents and teachers do little to encourage the children who do not show early aptitude and they are lost to sport forever. This is what obtains at all levels of our education system. That is our reality today.
Thus it is that while we are lauding the official launch of yet another edition of IPSAC and ISSAC we lament that fact that we are not getting even 50% of the school-age population to participate in the annual competitions.
Facilities & equipment
Students across St Vincent and the Grenadines do not all share the same level of access to facilities and equipment that can be considered adequate to their needs. This is a significant challenge for the students and the schools they represent.
Arnos Vale #1 has by far the best surface in the country. However it still creates a problem for sprinters in particular given the depth of sand under the grassed surface that compels athletes to use long spikes that do not make for best results.
Across the country schools have access to a variety of surfaces on which to train and hold their competitions.
In several instances the playing surfaces are uneven and not well grassed. Many students cannot prepare themselves properly for running on these surfaces. Some fields can barely hold a 200m track. Some so not have the capacity to hold a 100m straight.
Interestingly, when TASVG could not access Arnos Vale #1 or the Victoria Park on Saturday 28 February 2015 to host its scheduled Mini Meet, the vast majority of physical education teachers and coaches alike did not think the surface at Arnos Vale #2 suited to athletes in preparation for the IPSAC, ISSAC and the Carifta Trials that are pending. They did not have their athletes participate. Some may suggest that they were right to do so. They did not want to risk injury.
Not many physical education teachers and coaches have the capacity to get their athletes to train at Arnos Vale #1 on a daily basis. It is a costly exercise for the parents of these athletes and also for the coaches and teachers involved.
Many students do not have the requisite equipment. Rural schools are often at a disadvantage in the jumping events and some of the throws. Most do not have a jumping pit for the long and triple jumps events and fewer have access to a proper landing mat and uprights to conduct training sessions in the high jump.
Most schools have no equipment such as starting blocks, the ball for the Shot Pt and Discus.
Many students do not have proper running shoes. At the Heats for he IPSAC and ISSAC the majority of students ran barefooted.
Amazingly however, some athletes have been able to deliver quality performances despite the circumstances under which they train. They try to make the best of what is available.
Over the past two years the SGC utilised the same format for the IPSAC as it has been using for the ISSAC. That is to have one day of Heats for the girls and another for the boys and then one day for the finals. Unfortunately the immense increase in participation by the nation’s primary schools in IPSAC warranted a change of strategy. It was agreed to have the primary schools divided into zones and hold zonal competitions in order to arrive at the finalists for the competition.
It was also agreed that all zonal competitions would be held at the same venue thereby levelling the playing field, as it were, for all participants.
There is every reason to believe that the competition at this year’s IPSAC and ISSAC would be as keen as ever if only because the students are so anxious to give of their best.
From the Heats conducted thus far the primary school students have shown greater eagerness, determination and resilience than many of their secondary school counterparts. The Red Cross and sports medicine personnel have had far fewer students to deal with at the primary school level of competition.
Primary school students who either fell or missed the initial handing over of the baton or who were well behind their peers in receiving relay batons continued running with great gusto than did their secondary school counterparts, most of whom either stopped altogether or merely went through the motions.
The IPSAC and ISSAC finals for 2015 are scheduled for 24 and 25 March respectively at Arnos Vale #1. It is expected that the best performers would be those who were training consistently since last September when the conditioning phase for track and field athletes began. They are the ones who would be in best physical shape. Whether they are psychologically prepared for the big day is another matter and their physical education teachers and coaches would be challenged to ensure that they are so prepared.
Many of our students are also trying to prepare themselves to compete at several regional and international competitions for which standards have been set. Of course consideration must be given to the aforementioned conditions that impact their preparation.
The challenge is that our sport loving population have little patience with our athletes. They want results each time a national representative team leaves local shores to compete at the regional and international competitions. Theirs is not a concern about the quality of the facilities and equipment shortages here. As far as they are concerned if our athletes are not up to the level required then we should not participate.
Sending athletes abroad merely for exposure has a significant cost attached and coaches, physical education teachers, athletes and parents must all understand this. It is therefore important that all stakeholders come together to understand and appreciate the importance of working towards the acquisition of an appropriate facility for track and field athletes. A facility that is adequately equipped to facilitate significantly improved performances at home and abroad.
Is this possible? It is if there is a genuine will to put in place a national stadium.
For what it’s worth though, IPSAC and ISSAC 2015 will again be an excitingly thrilling experience. Being there would serve the athletes very well.