A sporting chance

I spent almost 12 hours today in and around the National Stadium, leaving the area at about 7.30pm. My daughter was in a four-day swim meet–Wata Walter Rodgers Age Group Championships–which began on Thursday; it included two teams from the Cayman Islands and about nine Jamaican clubs. This was the second consecutive weekend spent mostly in the company of young people spending much of their time participating in competitive sports.

While the swimming was going on, the National Stadium complex was hosting an inter-school track and field event. The outdoor netball courts at the National Arena were also jam-packed with girls playing in this year’s staging of Netball Jamaica’s major (20 teams) and minor (32 teams) league competition. (Scholarships and bursaries were to be awarded to winning players and coaches.) What struck me about all of this was the clear fact that these were children, dedicated to self-improvement (albeit with some parental force in the case of several). They had all committed enormous amounts of time training and practising their sports, and most were going to continue doing so for many years. Obviously, only some of them would be successful, measured by who won–that’s a given. However, they would all have a chance to be successful by winning events, or exceeding their personal bests, or just doing well in whatever terms they chose.

All three venues were packed with parents there to ferry as well as support their children, even though the athletics and netball was mainly high schoolers. So, we had another group of committed people–let’s call them ‘guardians’ or ‘care givers’, who were spending large amounts of time watching and supporting these children.

Whatever the socio-economic base of the children, these were not in any major sense children who had been cast aside or abandoned by adults to just ‘run loose’.

So, I have this group to look at, in stark contrast to a group whom I do not know–so-called ‘delinquent’ children. All the implications of what happens to ‘idle hands’ tend to go towards negative outcomes. Sport is not the answer to social ills, but participation is often one factor in separating children who will steer themselves towards good outcomes rather than bad ones. Any child could find him- or herself tending towards misbehaviour and then its extreme form as crime. But, what happens when you are very occupied? At the very least, you have less time to go astray.

Athletes are not naturally good at academic subjects. As children progress with sport, they often find their time for study is compromised by their need to train and practice. Good organization is essential early on to keep the school workload in check. Some people say that swimmers learn this earlier than other athletes, because swimming tends to be year-round, and often means starting before school and practising after school. Let’s leave that division to one side, for the moment.

Jamaica has a great sporting tradition, so you’d think that we would see few youth problems as that tradition takes hold and sporting opportunities are taken up. But, that’s not been the case. So, I will leave myself the open question: Why has sport not been the safety valve for calming youths in Jamaica? I’m tired, so will leave the topic at this point.