SVG at the Windward Islands Schools Games 2017

Tomorrow the curtains come down on the annual Windward Islands Schools Games (WISG) hosted here in St Vincent and the Grenadines. For the local team the results were very mixed and so the sport-loving Vincentian public the usual response can be expected. Many are disappointed at the fact that even while playing host we do not seem to be sufficiently competitive in all of the sports on the programme.
The sports contested are Athletics (male and female), Basketball (male and female), Football, Netball and Volleyball ((male and female).
What then are the critical factors that impact our athletes’ performances?
Can St Vincent and the Grenadines do better at these Games?
There was a time when, following the conclusion of the annnual Inter Schools Netball and Football competitions in the first school term in St Vincent and the Grenadines, national school teams were selected to commence training, with a view to participating in the annual WISG.
The national schools netball team was allowed to participate in the annual National Championships organised by the governing body of the sport in the country. This approach meant that the players would have developed strong technical and social bonds that the team coach would use to ensure that the players are at their peak performance by the time the annual WISG comes around. It was also anticipated that football would have adopted a similar approach.
It is the view of the author that this should be the approach taken by all of the sports on the WISG programme.
The national schools volleyball, basketball and athletics teams must come from the respective inter schools competitions.
Early selection would allow for the enhancement of sport skills, improved social collaboration and the construction of important bonds between the selected players and the coach. It also allows for the coaches to get to know the many nuances of the respective players and how they can be helped to become better at what they do.
The Vincentian team suffered in the preparation for the WISG 2017 because basketball did not really have its regular inter schools competition. The Basketball Sub Committee has found it a major challenge to get participation of the nation’s secondary schools to increase, in the recent past. Only a very small number of schools seem sufficiently interested in playing the sport at the competitive level whilst at school.
It was in the last few weeks before the commencement of WISG2017 that there was a schools’ basketball competition. However, this competition, because it was deemed necessary to objectively select a team to represent the country at the Games, used the three-on-three format, while the WISG competition followed the more traditional event.
Competition must be part of the team’s preparation if we are to improve our individual as well as collective performances at the WISG. It seems clear that there is not enough competition for the potential athletes within the school system in St Vincent and the Grenadines. Following the conclusion of the respective inter schools competitions there needs to be a concerted effort made to build a strong team.
Cooperation amongst associations is necessary if we are to succeed in changing our fortunes at the Games.
It is understood that some athletes excel at some sports much more so than others. However, for the national team at the games to succeed there has to be an appreciation for the fact that athletes have to help out others if we are to prove proficient in all of the sports on the programme.
Method of team composition
One of the most important factors impacting the overall results of Vincentian athletes at the annual WISG is the method used to select the team.
The maximum number of athletes each country is allowed stands at 62. Each team is then allocated eight persons to serve as administrative, technical and medical personnel.
The composition of the team is far more difficult that when it concerns an individual sport if only because the respective sporting disciplines each seek to have its strongest team on display.
The teams sports all seem to benefit from the allocation of more specialist athletes than track and field athletics.
Truth be told, athletics gets what is left after the other sports receive their allocation.
For the Games that we are currently hosting, athletics received a mere six specialist athletes of the overall team size of 62 athletes. This has essentially been the norm.
The current system of team selection is decidedly flawed and must be more favourably determined.
Grenada, for example, allows athletics to have eight male and eight female specialists. This is the largest allocation to athletics in the respective national teams involved in the WISG. This is because Grenada recongises the strength of athletics in the country as well as in bringing points to the broader team, carrying them to successive victories in the annual event.
In our case, several of the other sports get more specialists but do not always enjoy the benefit by way of significantly enhanced performances and ultimately, final position on the overall results board.
Additionally, it is often the case that some athletes do not want to engage in sports other than their own. They wish to stick to their particular sport because of their proficiency in it. This approach fails to recognise that the team size does not allow for every sport to have a full slate of specialists given the overall team size.
Teams are supposed to be balanced but some recognise that they can gain optimal points in some sports and so give those a higher number of specialists, often to the detriment of the other sorts or a particular sport.
The foregoing challenges must be adressed but are exacerbated by additional issues, such as when a particular coach decides to wothdraw his athlete(s) from the athletics team, as has also become normative in the recent past, there is little chance that we can expect better performances from what’s left.
St Vincent and the Grenadines now boasts significantly upgraded facilities for some sports. Other sports remain in need.
It was most instructive in the athletics competition that the two countries with synthetic surfaces for the sport of athletics – Grenada and St Lucia – emerged at the top of the heap in this aspect of the WISG2017.
The message is clear.
While we understand the politicians’ desire to have a grandiose stadium, what is currently needed to bring us up the ladder in the sport around the region is a simple synthetic surface and Sion Hill, with its location nearest to the largest population cluster at the school level, seems ideal.
Our athletes are significantly disadvantaged in this sport, even in the face of the obvious issues of the inability of several coaches to work together in the nation’s best interests.
Development requires more than the mere construction of sort facilities, literally, hither, thither and yon. There has to be cooperation between the governmental authorities and sports associations regarding the construction of these facilities.
One has only to review some of the upgraded facilities to notice that they have not had technical inputs from the respective national sports associations.
National associations must also ensure that the respective sports are played around the country and not in a limited area. Opportunities must abound such that interest would grow and performances rise in standard.
The national sport policy’s commitment to the development of commmunity sport centres has certainly not materialised and from the looks of things, would not be in place any time soon. This severely limits the systematic development of sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We can have all of the facilities in the world but if they are not developed with the cooperation and support of the national sports associations; if they are not constructed in areas of population clusters; if they are not expertly managed and programmes developed to make optimum use, then all will come to naught.
Thanks to the National Olympic Committee this country has no shortage of coaches. What we do have is a major problem in some organisations where coaches have no desire to work with each other.
Over-inflated egos are destroying sport in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
We have coaches who deliberately strive to have greater control over their athletes than their parents.
It was only a few years ago that a parent had to inform the coach that the athlete was not his daughter but hers and therefore, it was she, the mother, who was making certain that her daughter was available to compete for St Vincent and the Grenadine at the annual WISG. The coach involved had done much to persuade the athlete to act otherwise.
It is preposterous that any self-respecting coach would deliberately stand in the way of an athlete’s opportunity to represent St Vincent and the Grenadines at the WISG. Not surprisingly, it is such coaches that exert such pressure on athletes to allow them to be the sole determinants of when and where they should go to school when scholarship options are on the table.
If athletes are spotted at the respective inter schools sports, regardless of the discipline involved, they should be eagerly brought to engage, very early, in the preparation for their future in sport.
The WISG is an important step in an athlete’s career pathway in the Windward Islands and we must all commend the respective governments for their contribution to working with CBN and WINLOTT to realise this event, annually.
Coaches must come to an understanding of and appreciation for the importance of this annual event to the young students in our countries.
They must therefore work together to facilitate optimal preparation whilst remaining consistent with the long term athlete development strategies, to give our students the opportunity they deserve to be part of the sub region’s sporting history.
Certainly we can do better as a nation but it would take much more from our coaches to resist the temptation to place ego first and instead, respect the value of our students and give them the best possible opportunities to harness and embellish their sporting talent.