Starting the process right in St Vincent and the Grenadines

There continues to be much discussion on the way in which we approach sport development here in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Too few among us still believe that sport is mere frivolity and refuse to engage in serious analysis of the historic development of this important aspect of life.
Where once people engaged in sport merely to entertain themselves there is now so much as stake that we now hear about the business of sport.
Today the number of career opportunities existing in and around sport is growing at a very rapid pace and if we are not careful we could get left behind.
The achievements of Usain Bolt have allowed an organisation in Jamaica to emerge, which caters to the many aspects of being a world champion. The organisation addresses his communications at all levels, his legal contracts with different institutions around the world inclusive of competitions, public relations engagements, sportswear and ear phones, to name but a few.
Bolt’s entourage has grown immensely.
But how do we get to this stage?
How do we ensure that we can produce athletes in different sports who can attain the elite level and sustain their presence there for some time enough to facilitate their livelihood after they have left the sport?
The answers to the aforementioned questions lie in the way we get started.
Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD)
Canada believes in science-based work. The country’s approach to development is based on sound research.
Some years ago the Canadians developed the LTAD as the new approach to getting national sports associations to understand that sport development means getting the process started right. They also found it necessary to create important linkages between the child’s chronological age, physical development and emotional status.
The Canadian researchers were well aware that there is a significant difference between the pace of physiological development between girls and boys and this is given appropriate weighting in the LTAD.
The Canadians define LTAD as follows:
The Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) model is a framework for an optimal training, competition and recovery schedule for each stage of athletic development. Coaches who engage in the model and its practices are more likely to produce athletes who reach their full athletic potential.
Accordingly, there are nine stages in the LTAD model:
Active Start – 0 – 6 years M/F}
FUNdamentals (Fundamentals #1) {6 – 9 years – M; 6 – 8 years – F}
Learning to Train (Fundamentals #2) {9 – 12 – M; 8 – 11 – F}
Training to Train (Building the engine) {12 – 16 – M; 11 – 15 – F}
Learning to Compete (Challenge of competition) {16 – 18+ – M; 15 – 17+ – F}
Training to Compete (Heat of the battle) {18 – 21+/- M; 17 – 21+/- F}
Learning to Win (Consistent performance) {20 – 23+/- M; 20 – 23+/- F}
Winning for a Living (Performance when it counts) {23+/- M; 23+/- F}
Active for Life (Dealing with adversity) {Males and Females of any age}
Here at home there is a certain level of resistance to having parents learn about physical activity for themselves and their children between birth and age six. We do not engage pre-school teachers in learning about physical education and sport. The think seems to be that the children need no guidance.
It is important that we appreciate the fact that in the same way that we insist on pre-school teachers being educated in respect of the different areas of teaching at that level so too they must be educated about physical education and sport and the importance of these twin-disciplines to the holistic development of the children in their charge.
The pre-school sets the stage for the later development pathway of the child and determines whether he/she goes on to full-fledged competitive engagement or to a life based on physical activity for health and general well being.
The Canadians argue …Establishing a core set of motor skills early in life enables children to gain a sense of achievement and establish a positive relationship with sport and physical activity. Successful and positive experiences with sport at a young age, coupled with the acquisition of transferable sports skills, will enable children to become proficient in a number of different sports
What is started at the pre-school is just the beginning. The process must continue if the child is to be given a fair chance at development relative to physical education and sport.
The Canadian LTAD puts it this way At the early stages of development, it is imperative that sport development programs are designed around critical periods of accelerated adaptation to training. These periods of development represent the time when children are ready and able to develop fundamental sport skills and abilities such as running, jumping and throwing. In addition they are able to improve their speed, agility and balance, which are related sport skills that will serve them well in track and field as well as in other sports.
Children who do not develop their fundamental motor skills by age 12 are unlikely to reach their genetic athletic potential. A lack of fundamental motor skills may mean the difference between a day on the couch versus a day at the soccer pitch or the difference between a gold medal performance and a 16th place finish at the Olympics.
Consistent training
There is a tendency in St Vincent and the Grenadines to want results from a few weeks training which begins in January of each year. That is a model for disaster and the reason why not many Vincentian athletes at home last very long or attain much success.
There must be a long-term development strategy for each athlete.
The Canadians state …The multi stage approach employed by the LTAD model draws attention to the length of time required to develop an elite athlete. Research has shown that it takes between 8 and 12 years of training for a talented athlete to reach elite levels. This has been summarized by the “10 year or 10,000 hour rule” and equates to approximately 3 hours of practice each day for 10 years.
There is no short cut and those who have made it are living proof that regardless of which sport the approach has to be the same. One has to be in it for the long haul.
We no longer see our playing arenas filled with athletes learning the craft of their respective sports. We may find only a few at a time. Small wonder then that the different national associations lament the fall-off in participation rates across the country.
Happily however, in the sport of athletics participation rates are climbing and significantly so. There are now seven clubs in operation with more looming on the horizon, spurred by coaches who have an interest in utilizing their skills for the advancement of the sport and the development of athletes.
Parents must be appropriately advised of the importance of consistent training accompanied by a healthy lifestyle for their children involved in sport.
While every child will not emerge as an elite athlete on the world stage the approach goes a long way in determining who does and who does not attain this level of performance proficiency.
Parents have to encourage their children to eat right at all times. They must encourage their children to get proper rest at nights.
Above all, parents have a critical role in encouraging their children to establish the right balance between their academic and sporting development. This point cannot be overstated.
Parents always want to know that training programmes for sporting success do not compromise their children’s education. They want to be sure that their children’s educational development is not hampered.
Training for sporting success can go hand in hand with academic success. The two disciplines require consistency and commitment.
Coaches and coaching
PE Teachers who have completed coaching certification courses are now much better equipped with the tools of science relative to their respective sport and so are better able to take children along the developmental pathway.
They have a better understanding of the importance of adopting the sport science approach to their work in sport, regardless of which discipline is involved.
Sport or exercise science has been defined as a discipline that …applies scientific principles to understand factors associated with sporting performance or health and well being …a multidisciplinary approach is used to acquire an integrated understanding of the effects of physical activity on the body.
It is this multidisciplinary approach that sets the stage for the unparalleled development pathway that we now experience in sport across national boundaries.
Just as other disciplines have benefitted from scientific inquiry so too, finally, sport has been included on the list and the athletes are the major beneficiaries.
Without an appreciation or the fact that sport today is a field of scientific endeavour our coaches would lag well behind their counterparts across the globe in respect of development of the athletes with whom they work regardless of the sporting discipline involved.
We are told that the evolution of sports science witnessed scientists with training in psychology, nutrition, biomechanics, molecular biology, genetics and immunology have applied their specialized skills to exercise and sport with the goal of improving performance, reducing the risk of injury or promoting health.
Loughborough University in the United Kingdom, offers a degree programme in sports science that features biomechanical, pedagogical, physiological, psychological, and sociological influences on human performance during the preparation for, the participation in and the recovery from sport and exercise
It is therefore imperative that our coaches in St Vincent and the Grenadines read to expand their knowledge base, register for online courses to enhance their competencies and become lifelong students of sport science.
National sports associations must expend more effort in the educational development of their interested and working coaches. They must also forge teams of professionals from the different disciplines involve din sport science to engage in research on physical activity and sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines and how the environment, approach to nutrition, physical development and maturation all work on the Vincentian athlete. This will allow for local adaptation of the LTAD developed in Canada and now widely used around the world.
The time has come to put an end to the guesswork, hit or miss approaches. Our sport development strategies must be firmly grounded in sport science.