There is hardly an instance of selection of athletes to represent a country at regional and international competitions that does not lead to criticisms from one quarter of the population or another.
It really does not matter what sport is involved the outcome is the same. There are always pundits who seem to think of all the possible reasons why this or that athlete should have been selected over and above another.
One interesting feature of many of the criticisms is that for the most part they benefit from hindsight.
Many national sports organisations engage individuals to serve on a selection committee.
The national sport association, in determining who it wishes to invite to serve on the selection committee would take into consideration their knowledge of the particular sport, their appreciation for analysing performance and the capacity to make a determination as to the suitability of the athletes to particular events in specific competitions viz-a-viz the standards set by either the national association and/or the respective international federation (IF).
These individuals are expected to be objective in their analysis of the performances of the athletes when considering the selection of a national representative team.
Generally, the persons invited to serve on selection committees ought not to have any vested interest in terms of open support for a particular athlete, school or club.
It is usually the case that the members of the selection committee are provided with all pertinent information on the athletes who are performing during the year and the standards/criteria as determined by the national sports association involved.
Selection committees are often given the latitude to call coaches of athletes under consideration if there are queries about performances or any other aspect of the athlete’s performances, training regimen and fitness levels deemed beneficial to arriving at decisions relative to their selection.
Decisions of the selection committee are to be submitted to the national association whose executive has the right to call for explanation/justification of the selectees and their allocation to specific events and eventually endorse the decision.
Over the years individuals serving on selection committees of different national sports associations have been the objects of very harsh criticism from people who have never taken the time to ask of them the rationale for their actions. They have also been derided from several quarters as uninformed and ignorant, prejudiced and downright wicked.
The task of a selector is a most serious one but very few members of the public ever take the time to analyse the awesome responsibility placed upon the selectors.
To many of the critics it is only important that they have reason enough to feel that some other athlete(s) should have been selected to justify the way in which they criticise the selectors.
In several instances national sports associations have found it challenging to get individuals in society to serve as selectors. Not everyone in society is willing to undergo the harassment that selectors receive especially from individuals who should be aware of what is involved in the selection process and the extreme pressure under which selectors have to operate.
It is always easier to be an armchair critic.
Our region is not known for investigative research and development and our country much less so.
Coaches are perhaps keen on having their athletes selected to represent the country. This is understandable since every coach sees selection of his/her athletes to national teams as evidence of his/her work in the field and an endorsement of the approach undertaken in the preparatory exercise.
Coaches are also apt to see selection of their athletes to national teams as a significant boon to their own training programmes in terms of individuals coming to them for training as opposed to going elsewhere. It is therefore a means of developing their respecti
ve clubs and attendant programmes.
It is an unfortunate truism that coaches often use a variety of mechanisms to encourage athlete sin training under their charge. Among these approaches is the coach telling the athletes that he/she has the influence to get them selected to national representative teams and to particular competitions in any given year. While this is often used as an incentive it never dawns on the athletes involved that the coach is not a selector and even he/she were the decision is not solely left with him/her.
Athletes are often disappointed when they find that a season has come and gone and they have not gained national selection. Because of the way in which they were led to believe that they were working hard enough and should have been selected they turn to blame the selectors and the administrators of the sport. Some athlete develop a kind of hatred for the selectors and administrators of the sport that they take with them through to adulthood at which time they may eventually see the error of their ways and how they were misguided in their earlier reaction to not having gained selection.
Some athletes leave the sport never to return given their frustration at having been guaranteed national selection from one source but seemingly denied it at another.
Coaches anxious to get and retain their support have often misled parents. The parents are often not around to see the athlete perform and usually take the word of the coaches. The disappointment of the child leads the parents to join forces with those anxious to bury the members of the selection committee under a deluge of stinging criticisms.
The fact is that coaches often feel compelled to win the confidence of the athletes they train but do not always find it critically important to be honest with the athletes. They fear losing their athletes to other coaches or to other sports. This is a travesty and does nothing for the athlete in the long run.
Few coaches give consideration to the responsibility place don the shoulders of the selectors. They sometimes encourage the athletes to be disparaging in their comments about selectors and administrators.
One of the reasons that it is never prudent to have coaches with vested interests included among selectors is their tendency to lose focus and give pride of place to the selection of athletes in their charge, blinded by their own subjectivity.
Teams can only be selected on the basis of performance – an objective criterion.
Selection is not based on favouritism. It is not based on friendship. It is not based on one’s class or status position in society.
Selection must always be a fair, transparent process and selectors need not be fearful once they adhere to these fundamental rubrics.
Selectors must know what they are looking for.
In those sports where standards are established either by the local and/or international bodies the task of the selector is rendered much easier. It is either the athlete makes the standard or does not.
When no one makes the established standard the selectors may recommend athletes for selection based on the fact that they may have been close enough to the standards to warrant being given the opportunity on the basis that with further training he/she may get past the standards either just prior to or even at the particular competition. In such cases the national association may engage in cost benefit analysis. Is it worth it to have the athletes on the team?
Some coaches argue that while the athlete may not have made the standard he/she should still be allowed to travel because they are certain that under the pressure of the competition the athlete would rise to the occasion. More often than not this never happens in fact.
There are also instances where selectors are asked to place their selections in order of priority even when several of them have made the established standards. This allows the association to be guided by its available financial resources when it simply cannot afford to send everyone who has qualified.
National associations often insist that selectors observe athletes’ consistency in respect of their performances so that they are not satisfied with one-off performances. There must be evidence that the athlete has proven him/herself to be capable of repeating the performance that makes the standard enough to warrant consideration for national selection.
Selectors also take into consideration the reports of the management of successive teams that have been sent abroad. It is important for them to know how the athletes performed under the competitive environment abroad. Were they able to give of their best or were they cowed into submission leaving them below par?
How did they react to the presence of others from larger and more advanced countries?
Were they over-awed by the professionalism of their opponents or their size and performance record?
These are very important questions for selectors to ask on reading reports of team management.
It is never easy for an individual to decide on acceptance of the responsibility of being a selector of national teams for any given association.
Being a selector is a thankless job that attracts derision from athletes, coaches, teachers, parents as well as ardent supporters.
It seems necessary for associations to spend time educating the public about the role of selectors and the fact that for the most part persons who have agreed to this undertaking are serious about conducting themselves in a professional manner.
Perhaps if more of us were to place ourselves sin the shoes of the very selectors we so readily criticise we may just begin to understand how challenging a task it really is. Perhaps then we may begin to spend more time empathising with them rather than calumniating them for their decisions.