SVG and international sport competitions

natasha_medalIn reviewing this country’s participation in competitive international sport we can lay claim to some measure of success albeit few and far between.
In 1959 at the Pan American Games in Chicago, Maurice King won a bronze medal in the weightlifting. This was the country’s first major sporting success at the international level.
George Manners won bronze at the 9th Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, Scotland, competing in the 90Kg category in weightlifting.
Frankie Lucas of New Montrose claimed a gold medal in boxing in the middleweight division (75Kg) at the 10th Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1974.
Manners had of course achieved medals while competing for England in the Commonwealth Games of 1962 and 1966.
It was not until 1995 that another of this country’s athlete, Eswort Coombs, mounted the podium at a major international sporting event, when he placed third in the 400m at the Pan American Games in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1995. Later that same year he won gold in the same event at the World University Games in Fukuoka, Japan.
It was not until 2002 that a Vincentian athlete proved a match to the best athletes in the world. In that year, Natasha Mayers, placed fourth in the 200m and eight in the 100m at the 17th Commonwealth Games held in Manchester, England.
In 2006, Kineke Alexander won bronze in the 400m at the Central American and Caribbean Games in Cartagena, Colombia.
In 2010, at the 19th Commonwealth Games, Mayers placed third in the 100m only to move up to second same evening following the disqualification of the winner for having false started in the event. A few days later, the Commonwealth Games Federation announced that the original second placed athlete who had moved up to gold, tested positive and Mayers was awarded the gold medal.
Kineke Alexander copped bronze at the Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, in 2015, in the 400m.
In individual sport competition, Clarke of Arnos Vale won gold in the Pan American Karate Championships, while Coombs won gold at the Central American and Caribbean Athletics Championships in the 400m while Kineke Alexander did likewise in the 200m.
The foregoing achievements reveal the starling reality that with the exception of Clarke in Karate, all of the others have done the vast majority of their training while living abroad. Lucas and Manners were living in England while Coombs, Mayers and Alexander lived in the USA.
With the exception of Maurice King in weightlifting and Clarke in karate, no Vincentian athlete in any sport has trained at home and reaped any measure of success at major international competitions and none at international multisport Games. This therefore begs the question, why? Why is it that home-based Vincentian athletes have been unable to make it big in international competition and how can this be changed any time soon?
It may also be appropriate to ask why have more Vincentian athletes living and training abroad been successful at the international competitive level?
The making of an elite athlete
Distinguished coaches suggest that it takes about six to eight years to make a potential athlete into an elite one with any chance of success in international competition.
Physical literacy
Those Vincentian coaches and administrators who are currently involved in the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) project in association with the Canadian Sport for Life Society (CS4L), now have an appreciation of the foregoing conclusion of international coaching experts.
The new approach begins with an understanding of and implementation of physical literacy. This concept is what gives us an appreciation of the fundamentals of wellness for life through physical activity. This is what makes physical education and sport meaningful to the life of an individual.
Not all individuals would become elite athletes however, as we pursue the LTAD pathway each individual would find his/her particular place along the continuum.
Preparation Team
Once an athlete has successfully come through the train to compete stage of the LTAD model, he/she has the capacity to attain elite status given access to a number of critical factors. The first important factor at this stage is access to a training team that should include a highly experienced and competent coach, a physiotherapist and/or chiropractor, a sport medicine specialist, a nutritionist and a sport psychologist.
The team must engender confidence in the athlete in respect of his/her potential for success given the preparatory exercises through which he/she would be taken in training.
The athlete must have confidence in the training team at all times.
Together the team and the athlete must be in constant communication so that the athlete is free to ask questions about aspects of the training that he/she does not fully understand. The communication must always be honest.
The team must work diligently with the athlete to monitor responsiveness to the training at every stage in any given year. Targets must be established, monitored, evaluated and where necessary, systematically revised.
The athlete’s preparation must therefore be scientific such that every aspect can be reviewed to determine shortcomings and the application of remedial work.
The coach is critical in the team. It is the coach that prepares the athlete’s daily programme.
The coach is responsible for the periodisation programme of the athlete in his charge. He begins with an annual programme that details the requirements of the athlete for each part of the year. This programme is then broken down into monthly, weekly and daily programmes.
No coach worth his salt can fail to prepare the foregoing programme structure. This is what allows both the athlete and the coach to know where the athlete’s performance capability should be at any given point. Any person who claims that the athlete must not know the programme he/she is on at any point is not a coach.
Adequately equipped facilities are essential to the successful development of elite athletes. We are here not just speaking about a gym and training venues but also about appropriately trained, competent personnel to use the available facilities.
Team members must guide these personnel in their use of the facilities to get the very best preparation of the athlete.
Today’s gym must be hi-tech and the operators must be competent.
Training facilities must be of a high standard allowing the athlete to adequately prepare for the challenges to be faced in competition.
Competition facilities must also be very good, meeting all international federation (IF) standards thereby simulating the scenario of established elite competitions.
The elite athlete must have access to high-level competition as frequently as determined by his/her training team.
The training team must work with the athlete to ensure that there are adequate periods between competitions for recovery to take place.
Additionally, the coach identifies the appropriate competition for the athlete at any particular stage of any given year, carefully determining which are the athletes he/she should compete against during the course of the year.
Most national associations insist on participation in national championships as a major criterion for gaining national selection for major regional and international competitions. This is of course where appropriate facilities exist at home. This gives the local population to see first-hand the preparation of the athlete for high-level competition.
Following national championships the coaching team works in collaboration with the national association to determine which competitions are best suited to the athlete in order to have him/her peak for the particular international competition(s) in any given year.
Financial support
The preparation of an elite athlete cannot be attained without adequate funding at each step of the way.
Most parents cannot afford the financial requirements.
The athlete initially depends on parents and national associations. In small, poor countries with open, vulnerable economies underscored by a small private sector neither of these can really take the athlete anywhere near his/her elite competitive level consistently.
It is therefore imperative that the coaching team help the athlete to attain the support of international sportswear sponsorship. This will go a long way in meeting many of the expenses incurred including the fees for agents and all members of the team. Such is the requirements of contemporary competitive global sport.
In many societies that have a grasp of the role of sport in its national government support for elite athletes is an imperative, not a matter of choice.
We cannot possibly hope to make headway and compete favourably with the rest of the world in international sport competition if we do not make this a national imperative.