By Harry Edwards
Over the past years, there have been more and more opportunities coming the way of student athletes in St. Vincent, and especially in track and field. We hear of students going away to study in Jamaica and in the United States, some on part scholarships and some on full scholarships. We see the success stories of the male and female athletes from St. Vincent who are competing all over the world.
Many young people currently running in their schools locally, hope to make the CARIFTA standard and to represent the country and ultimately to go abroad on scholarship. To do this, local coaches and track clubs work with our young athletes. Coaches have a great deal of power. The relationship between a coach and his or her athlete is built on trust. Many of the athletes who take up track scholarships do so on the advice of their coaches who helped the athletes to get to the finish line. Parents and family members also believe in the coaches to help their children to take up these scholarships.
Looking on from the sidelines, and listening to the stories through the grapevine, some of them horrible, about the treatment received by athletes who have left St. Vincent with the hope of running and studying abroad, the question is this: who is guarding the guards? What happens when a coach promises to help a student athlete to find support, and then he or she fails to hold up their side of the bargain?
Make no mistake about it, there are students who have been left out there on partial scholarships without financial support to complete their studies and to live abroad, who relied on the good word of popular coaches that they would get the help to cover the unpaid parts of the scholarships. These athletes went abroad, and found that, in spite of what was promised by their coaches, no financial, emotional or moral support was forthcoming. And, because they did not want to hurt their families, these athletes have remained silent, and suffered through the years, while the clubs that boasted that they left on scholarship, have no means of being held accountable for any unfulfilled promises or agreements made with the same athletes they mentored. In truth, these clubs continue to boast of their accomplishments. In the meantime, the athletes are left demoralised, owing the schools tuition fees with no way of getting those fees paid, not to mention lacking the motivation to keep running.
So here are some tips for you student athletes especially you on the track who are being encouraged to seek scholarships for further studies and track and field opportunities abroad. And also, for you parents who believe wholeheartedly in the coaches who tell you that they can help your children get to the next level. Here are some cold hard truths and guidelines for you as you seek to help your student athletes succeed.
1. Know what is being offered and covered by the scholarships, and what is required for your child to enrol in the programme. When people hear the word scholarship they believe all expenses for their children will be paid. Half scholarships and bursaries do not mean all expenses paid and someone will have to pay those sums.
2. Track and field clubs in St. Vincent and the Grenadines do not have funding available to maintain your children financially when they are abroad. When a coach says he will “help” your son or daughter, don’t assume that means he will source the additional funding needed for your son or daughter to study and compete in track and field. Ask for a budget and understand that the club can’t cover those additional expenses.
3. Success on the track requires more than the ability to run. Students who are track athletes require additional support, in the form of physiotherapy support, not to mention dietary supplements, vitamins, medication and supplies along with good nutrition to help them run well, and to help with recovery if they get injured. These supplies and services require additional money not covered in scholarships, and they may not fully be covered, by the schools they attend. These will also not be provided by the clubs they run and train with locally.
4. If your daughter or son is being scouted by schools in other islands and by colleges in the United States, communicate this to all the entities that help with track and field in St. Vincent including Team Athletics SVG and the National Olympic Committee to start and also talk to the parents and their children currently on scholarship to see how they are getting the finances and other expenses covered.
5. Don’t believe the hype. Many clubs online with social media presence paint a good picture about how they operate and the things they do, but look behind the pics and videos, and ask questions. Are they registered? Do they have records available for you to see of your child’s performances? Do they have doctors and physios and gyms attached to their clubs? Do they have sponsorship? If you don’t know, find out because a lot of what is presented online is a smoke screen.
6. And most of all, talk with, and listen to your children. Ask them questions and ask the coaches questions. Also speak with people in the schools and if other children who from St. Vincent attending those schools, find out who they are and get information from them. Also, if your child is already in a school abroad, the important person to contact is not their former coach here, but the coach who is coaching them now. There is no real connection between coaches after your child leaves St. Vincent, so depending on their Vincentian coach to know how they are doing abroad will not always get you the answers to your questions.
A word to the wise, all that glitters isn’t gold with some of these track and field clubs. And one in particular, is probably the worst in terms of leaving their athletes out there to struggle without support. The club puts nothing down on paper. All promises are verbal. The coach encourages his athletes to take up half scholarships with regional colleges and then leaves them out there to sink or swim. Some of them end up drowning.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].