Where are our sportswomen?

There is a very important question plaguing Vincentian society today. Where are our sportswomen?
Interestingly this question is even being posed in respect of the sport of women in this country – Netball.
There are many sports enthusiasts here in St Vincent and the Grenadines who quickly point to the veritable absence of female athletes in several of the nation’s sports.
Many observe that in the past there were more girls and women actively involved in sports than is the case today and this includes the schools. I tis now common to find that there are more girls watching their own school sports than there are on the field as active participants.
At the annual Inter Secondary Schools Athletics Championships it is common to find hundreds of female students all dressed up as if involved in some fashion show rather than eagerly participating in the on-field activities in support of their respective schools.
What then seems to be the problem?
Can we redress the current situation?
Parental influences
Sociologists often claim that socialisation begins in the home. Eminent sociologist, Talcott Parsons, insisted that the home is where primary socialisation takes place. Generally it is argued that what a child learns in terms of behaviour in the formative years – 0 – 5 – would impact him/her for the rest of his /her life.
The influence of parents on the lives of their children has been chronicled in the literature. Many of the parents do not however engage themselves sin appreciating that an active lifestyle that is holistic in its approach must include recreation and sporting activities.
It is the parents who first must introduce their children into an appreciation of the value of physical activity, especially physical education and sport in their lives. It is the failure of many Vincentian parents, including, rather unfortunately, some who were themselves outstanding sportswomen and sportsmen, to engage themselves with their children in early childhood to sports.
It is most interesting to note the extent to which some parents merely rush to the doctor to get some document that they can take to the school to convince the principal that the child has some debilitating illness that prevents him/her from participating in sport.
It is also amazing to witness on Saturdays the number of parents who merely drop off their children at a sports venue where they are being introduced to the fundamentals of a particular sport and return when the sessions are completed to take them home.
An increasing number of parents seem to ignore the child’s participation in sport. They do not even ask the child how he/she is doing in the particular discipline.
There have been cases here where the child has been engaging in sporting activities without the full =knowledge of one or the other and at times even both parents. The latter often learn of their child’s involvement in sport either from friends, other children or if the child brings home an award for his/her sporting exploits.
Education first
Many Vincentian parents desire to see their children do well in respect of their education. They would expend whatever resources are available to them for their children’s educational advancement.
Unfortunately many parents tend to encourage and insist upon their children’s engagement with their academic education as though this is the only component of the child’s development. They are all too eager to resist any attempt on the part of the child to become involved in sport.
Anxious for their children to be better off in the society later in life than they themselves some parents decry any involvement in sport by their children. Even where the child attempts to play at home he/she is literally bullied into ‘taking a book’, study something’ other than be allowed to play.
Some parents unfortunately through lack of knowledge suggest to their children that play and engagement in sport are synonymous with poor academic performance. This is purveyed even in the face of countless examples of outstanding sportspeople here and abroad who have done very well academically.
Unfortunately they fail to understand and appreciate that there is a direct relationship between physical well being and mental well being and that a healthy, active child can engage in more studies for longer periods than an unfit and perhaps obese child.
This Column has recorded several individuals who have achieved the balance between their academic and sporting development. Alfie Roberts, Andrew Cummings – now a prominent lawyer, Lennox Adams – now a medical practitioner here, Eversley Lindley, Nickie Peters, Jean Huggins are but a few examples.
Parents often fail to engage Physical Education teachers and coaches relative to the role of physical activity and sport in their children’s holistic development.
It is also common to find parents using abstinence from sport as a form of punishment for their children.
Once the child does not meet the academic expectation of the parent in any given examination the punishment is to remove all access to participation in sport. If the child does something wrong at home or at school, the parents appear only too eager to shut off access to sport for a period of time as a major form of punishment. They often do not realise what this does to the child’s emotional development and the relationship between them and those very children.
Parents are far more protective of their girl children than their boys and hence all of the foregoing in respect of their failure to facilitate the sporting involvement of their children is particularly applicable to their girls. For many parents girls are to be taught how to be homemakers and to become wives rather than sports personalities.
Girls are encouraged to come home early and the exemption to this is only when they are either involved in extra classes for their academic development of engaged in some school activity that has some academic benefits attached.
Physical development
Contemporary St Vincent and the Grenadines is at a stage in its overall development where the middle class is growing at a very rapid pace. This means that people are more comfortable and eagerly adopt a more sedentary lifestyle seeing it as a feature of development.
Statistics are however indicating that there is a tendency towards obesity amongst children to say nothing of the nation’s adult population.
Unfortunately there is a fallacy in vogue that seems to suggest to young girls that involvement in sport where they become athletes would lead to significant changes in their physical structure and they would become less attractive. Some claim that the girls would get ‘hard’, ‘muscular’ and ‘unattractive’.
Unfortunately this view is widely circulated amongst girls themselves. The influence of the peer group in this regard is phenomenal.
As is the case with some parents the girls often lose sight of the bigger picture in terms of the immense benefits to be derived from involvement in sport.
Early sexual activity
Today’s Vincentian society is a grand mix of cultural influences the most dominant of which is not authentically Vincentian. Rather, we are inundated with the culture of North America and more particularly of the United States of America.
Our girls are not exempt from the cultural influences that are projected onto our society via the internet’s facebook, youtube and twitter, the music videos which are becoming evermore explicit in their near-erotic content.
The boys and men in our society are themselves so heavily influenced that they in turn seek to deliberately influence the girls in the society.
It is therefore very noticeable that even when girls show an interest in sport they are soon enough advised of just how ‘well’ they look and are eagerly drawn away from sport to sexual activity.
Evidence seems to suggest that the age of initial sexual activity among Vincentian girls is declining such that some have begun this activity while in the Primary school system and others in the early years of their Secondary school career.
It is almost a given that sexual activity is rife amongst girls at our tertiary institutions regardless of age.
Early involvement in sexual activity unfortunately acts as a deterrent to the continued involvement of girls in sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
There is a significant drop-off in the participation of girls in sport after they reach the age of 14 and 15.
The dress code of even some of those who continue to train and compete in sporting activities tells much about their primary interest. Some are tardy in returning home on evenings following official training sessions in this or that sport leaving parents particularly concerned as to their activities.
Misunderstanding available opportunities
It is unfortunate that many parents, teachers and friends fail to read enough about sport and its rapid development to glen a better understanding of the increasing opportunities for personal, professional careers in sport in today’s world.
Sport is a science and the requirements for advancement are as rigid as is the case in straight academic disciplines.
One would hope that with the growth in recognition of Physical Education and Sport as an option on the curriculum of our schools there would be greater interest shown by parents and teachers in having our girls pay more attention to physical activity.
Virtually every sport practised in this country is now anxious to involve girls and women at different levels in their work. There is no shortage of opportunities in any sport here.
The National Olympic Committee (NOC) has established a Women and Sports Commission to facilitate greater work among Vincentian society to encourage the participation of women in sport. This is in consistent with the experiences of other countries involved in the International Olympic Movement.
Rosmund Griffith (Athletics) and Khalique Bailey (Table Tennis) both chose as they primary focus when doing their advanced coaching programme in the USA via the NOC, to work towards significantly increasing the number of girls and women involved in their respective sports. Football is placing increased emphasis on girls and women and seem anxious to have females in the schools involve din the game.
Work is being done but woefully inadequate.
The time to redress the situation of declining involvement of girls and women in Vincentian sport is now. Tomorrow is already too late.