As I grew up I had to deal with several labels, and still do. I was born in Jamaica, but spent most of my life outside, mainly in England. I speak English with a flat British accent. In the eyes of many people who meet me that ‘makes’ me British. I usually get my hackles up straight away and retort “I’m Jamaican.”
Jamaicans know that the motto ‘Out of many, one people’ has true meaning, even though some of us may not like to deal with what that currently is. We know that colour is hardly what it’s about; neither is ethnic origin’ neither is gender. It’s really about your heart and your spirit. Jamaica has a lot of people who were not born there and embrace the country and its culture with fulsome love.
Children are often very good indicators of some basic truths. Parents will know that children ‘make friends’ easily; we also know that children love to belong–to someone or to something. Those of us who believe that children often stray if they do not have structure around them, tend to want our children close by (belonging to their family, say), or involved in clubs (belonging to other people and groups and organizations). We usually see the benefits of this early, but also know that the benefits can be long-lasting.
My daughter belongs to a swimming club in Jamaica; she joined soon after we arrived on the island last June. She started training with them and spent much of the summer ‘meeting new friends’. The club has two main training bases: one is about five minutes from our home and also across the street from a dear cousin of mine, who cooks to make eyes water; the other is at several sites in Kingston, each about 15-20 minutes drive from my daughter’s school. She chose to train with the multi-site group because it included her new friends; convenience was not in her considerations. I did not mind, because I also liked the group of kids and their parents. The two training groups blend when the club has meets, and they combine to be a real team.
Fast forward. The team is in Orlando, FL, to compete at a meet organized by a school in that area. The team has done this kind of thing before, and I imagine it was successful in many ways. This time, the team has reached out and included some swimmers from other clubs in Kingston. We’re all staying in a vacation resort complex, with rooms that are like little apartments, some adjoining. It’s all cozy and getting more so as we eat communal meals prepared by some of the parents. There’s nothing like having to wade through 20-30 people to get your food to make everyone friendly. The kids are bonding nicely and parents are getting to know each other better as we travel around and have to chaperone more than our own offspring. The competition started yesterday afternoon, for the older kids; the whole team gets into the water from this morning through Sunday afternoon. Wish us well.
But, that bonding is not my main focus. I was in a mall yesterday with the team and then at the poolside in the afternoon. My daughter–the ‘import’, let’s call her, was sporting a black flat bill cap with ‘JAMAICA’ on its front.
She had come to represent, and was doing so proudly. At the pool side, I noticed several of the kids wearing T-shirts that had some kind of Jamaica motif on them. As the races started and one of our team was in the water, one of the boys whom I’d thought was rather quiet jumped up and started clapping and yelling “Come on…We need to be really Jamaican here!” Several of the children jumped up and started to run along the side of the pool yelling too: “Go! Go!” The other spectators did not seem to be bothered by this. The children had done what they one had suggested: they showed who they are and from where they’d come. No boasting, just pride and pleasure.
Sport, especially at the higher levels, is really about getting to know yourself. You have to examine your ego, your strengths, your weakness; knowing how to control your emotions, your demeanour; balancing your life’s activities, especially the academics and the sporting. Many children come up short because they have physical skills but never master the emotional side of being a good athlete: they get extremely nervous when competing and cannot control those nerves well enough to perform at their best, so their solid training doesn’t translate into great performances. That can be a downward spiral, as poor performances leads to lack of confidence, which leads to more poor performance, etc., and can end with a child quitting. My karate coach once said he’d been told that a black belt was just a white belt (beginner) who never gave up. Great athletes develop way of coping that mean they never give up, sometimes even after all has been lost: “There’s no way that I lost that!”
Some child athletes get their strength and coping skills from their parents or coaches or both; some don’t get anything positive from either or both. They may get negatives from one and positives from another. It’s a complex chemistry. However, my experience is that positive parents tend to gravitate towards positive coaches or coaching, and the blend tends to be happy and accommodating and supportive OF THE ATHLETE, not the adults. I wont go into the vicarious living of adults through their children 🙂
When I watch, in my role as parent, I have a thin line to avoid crossing because I am also a coach, though not necessarily in this sport or of these children. I try to stay in my place. But, I am always on the look out for the signs that the emotional side of an athlete is fraying on ‘game day’. We all have nervousness; I was told it showed we cared. We have to harness it, though. Some have to throw up or suffer diarrhea, or break out in hives, or sweat profusely, or chatter incessantly. There are many signs. Some of the signs are well-known to the athlete and their peers; some are well-known to the parents and coaches; some are hidden. Some like to pretend: they fake fear of opponents as a way of putting themselves as underdogs and then doing well and seeming like ‘giant killers’–it’s an ego booster. Some like to brag: usually, they ‘can walk the walk and talk the talk’; they are winners par excellence. Some fear losing so badly that it can cripple them or they channel that into excelling (Nadal is one of the best modern examples). Some have to ‘get out of themselves’, doing seemingly goofy things and being a little extrovert–it’s diversion. Whatever, it is, it’s there.
Sometimes, however, the best way is to ‘drape yourself in the flag’, including showing your national colours however you can.
You are who you know you are
I’ve noticed that when given a chance, athletes will love to represent who they feel their nation is. “We are the best!” “Let’s show those [fill the gap with a nation] what we can do!” It seems normal, really, that you should try to draw strength from a collective, and often the best and biggest is your country. It need not be done with brashness, as is often the case now in international competitions. But, it is done. Humming your national anthem, if it is not played. Acting ‘like’ whatever your country represents. In this case, I was seeing lots of ‘let’s be Jamaican’. All pride, no shame. It was really inspiring. It was maybe too subtle to be offensive, even though it was noticeable. We are a small group set amongst other teams. Dare I say, once again, “We likkle but we tallawah!”