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What are we developing?

THERE is no doubting that the world has changed; education has changed; parents have changed; so too has sport.

with TIM MIDDLETON

Throughout the world, sport has become a huge business, religion, industry and product, a serious career option, while here in Zimbabwe sport continues to be at the heart of many people’s interests and ambitions.
There is an increase in the number of sports being played with previously identified “minor” sports claiming more of a central place; an increase in the levels of competition at provincial and national level; an increase in the number of regional and world-wide tournaments; an increase in the amount of training required to meet these competitions, with training camps and preparatory tours being required, often organised out of traditional seasons.

An increase in the specialisation in individual sports; an increase in the commitment required of our top sportsmen and women; an increase in the number of “unofficial” sports coaching clinics/camps being run for children in holidays, not always sanctioned by national bodies (or even with their knowledge), often at great expense.

More “sports academies” are springing up offering coaching throughout the year, asking for a child’s involvement at them to be considered as their school “Club” activity (soon it will be as their school Sport activity). At the same time, there is a decrease in the number of teachers qualified (or interested) to coach the sports in schools.

As a result, we are staring at a growing battle between the development of sport at the expense of the development of our children. Schools fight for the all-round, holistic development of the child while national sports bodies are only concerned with the development of their sport on the world stage. If we are not careful, we may see the young people of this land sold out to sport.

Schools have, unquestionably, for a long time played, and continue to play, a massive part in the development of sport in this country — when clubs have closed, schools have continued. Schools coach children in a wide variety of sports from a very young age; arrange and oversee a massive programme of fixtures at school and provincial level; provide coaches from their own ranks, even with the drain of skills and expertise over recent years; arrange inter-provincial tournaments and national trials; provide the selectors, coaches and management of provincial and national schools sides, necessarily so; bear the cost of the development of national sides with staff being away from school for many days, even weeks, often in term-time (thus requiring cover teachers). Schools provide top-class facilities for provincial and national sporting events, usually free of charge.

Schools manage to achieve this, but not without difficulty and challenges. Often fixtures arranged by national sports bodies clash with school fixtures; furthermore, these are often arranged out of season, when schools are running other sports. In addition, national sports bodies rarely seem to pay any heed to the educational calendar (most notably, public examinations). Sadly many national sports bodies rarely consult with schools or conversely acknowledge the contribution of schools in the development of their sports, in terms of time and cost. Coaches appointed by national bodies for representative sides often have no qualification, experience or idea as to coaching youngsters. National sports bodies seem often not interested in a player when someone else better comes along. Sports bodies do not appear to be interested in the ordinary player who just wants to play sport for fun, only the elite players. Sports bodies are not really interested in helping schools to develop sport and children. Above all, though, national sports bodies have sometimes placed unreasonable demands on youngsters, saying they must forego their education for the sake of the sport.

As a result of all this, youngsters face potential burn-out at a very young age through the added pressure put on them through increased fixtures, all-year-round competition, and concentration on one sport. There needs to be engagement and co-operation between schools and national sports bodies to ensure children and sports develop appropriately. The bottom line is this, however: we must not develop any sport at the expense of any child. We must never take the view that “it does not matter — we will just find another one”. These are children’s lives and futures that we are dealing with. They are more important than any sport. That has not changed.

l The writer, Tim Middleton, is a former international hockey player and headmaster. He is currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools (ATS). Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

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