Barbados’ junior athletes returned home yesterday after competing in the 46th edition of the CARIFTA Games in Willemstad, Curaçao. They brought with them 12 medals, evenly represented in gold, silver and bronze. It was a noticeable drop from the 20 medals that they received in Grenada last year and in other recent CARIFTA outings.
The young men and women who represented Barbados should be commended for giving of their best and the hope is that they will redouble their training efforts to do even better in the future. But the question must be asked – based on the results – whether our athletes’ best was good enough at this level, and whether the powers-that-be are doing enough to assist them in raising their ‘best’ to the standard of other territories such as Jamaica.
Barbadian athletes at their early developmental stage are potentially comparable to those churned out as a matter of seeming routine by Jamaica. But there is an obvious gap between Jamaica and the rest of the region. The results at the junior and senior levels support this notion emphatically. The task for our sports administrators therefore is to tap into what is needed to be done to bridge that gap. The sentiments of Barbados’ coach in Curaçao, Adrian Thorne, are instructive.
“All-round planning is needed from the coaches in Barbados to bring a strong team next year and we need to plan in order to get to the top level. Everybody just has to be in agreement to what we are doing also. But we need to take it and push it through because we have a lot of good youngsters at home that need to be pushed through certain programmes to get to this level and even the world stage,” he stated.
Mr Thorne went further. “We need to get our sprint programme in order. BSSAC [Barbados Secondary Schools Athletics Championship] and CARIFTA are two different things. BSSAC is not the same as this level [CARIFTA] and we have to recognize that and plan BSSAC around CARIFTA. The Minister of Sports said something that he is planning to do for the athletes so I hope he follows through with that. I am hoping that these programmes follow through, we need to do, it is not just lip talk, we need something to happen,” Thorne stressed.
His impassioned plea highlighted three main points. Barbados possesses the talent base; there is a need for better planning; and the time for paying our athletes lip service has long passed. Mr Thorne is not the first to have pleaded a case for our athletes. We have had words of wisdom in the cause of our athletes coming from the likes of former Olympian and sports administrator Noel Lynch, iconic sports administrator Kathy Harper-Hall and Olympic bronze medallist Obadele Thompson, among several others, all with their hearts in the right place.
But is anyone listening? And if they are, who among them are willing to invest the time, and especially the money, in propelling our youngsters into the top echelons at both the junior and senior levels. Over the years we have had a few – just a few – who have come through our system and made it to the world stage. But an argument could be made that they made it in spite of our system.
There is a perception – real or imaginary – that the focus on athletics in the island is confined primarily to the Hilary term. This is not to suggest that our young men and women do not engage in athletics in the Michaelmas or Trinity terms. But athletics take on added meaning in the second term of the school year. Though the primary function of the school might be said to be the provision of an academic or technical education, we do not believe that greater focus on athletics outside the second term would detract from this class work.
Indeed, a case could be made for our elite junior athletes to have a year-round programme of strenuously graduating training over a longer period of time leading up to the major regional athletics meet. There is too much of a lull after CARIFTA. When one takes into consideration that a small percentage of a school’s population makes it onto the track and field, identifying and harnessing that small group of students cannot and should not be too onerous a task.
Government, and especially the private sector, must also be willing to pour more financial resources into getting our youngsters better prepared. And this preparation comes in many forms: exercise and training equipment and facilities; health and nutritional supplements; funding exposure to quality overseas meets; accessing top fitness trainers and coaches; coaching our coaches; access to sports psychologists; provision of technological aids for reviewing and planning purposes. The list is ever evolving.
At the start of the day running is running; jumping is jumping; throwing is throwing; leaping is leaping. But at the end of the day, that which is done to and with the human body and mind is what separates the victors from the also-rans. We can do a lot better to assist more of our young people to travel first across that finish line. There is no shame in fostering a culture of winning.