COVID 19 presents 2nd chance for grassroots sports development

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Coach Terry “Chino” Chinnery, works with a young player on the proper way to hold a bat and swing.

By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway

COVID-19, like Hurricane Irma, has given Sports Administrators who are leading sporting organizations across the territory, a second opportunity within three years at developing grassroots sports, which are nonexistent in several sports.

Have our sports administrators seriously considered the impact of Hurricane Irma in particular on youth development and how this will affect the BVI with competing at a regional or international level in the future? 

This article provides a reflection of sports development over the last 50 years, the current state,  the redevelopment of sports and steps for the way forward. 

Background Synopsis

Between 2020—2029, several of the territory’s sporting associations—from Athletics to Volleyball—will be marking their 50th anniversary during this decade, as the 1970—1979 period marked the greatest era of sports development in the BVI.

During that time, associations became affiliated to their respective international governing bodies, opening the doors to competitive opportunities regionally and internationally. Sports were played in communities, in particular Cricket, Softball, Netball and Football to an extent. Youths were engaged in sports and the BVI High School Inter-House competitions, provided a farm system for talent development as many boys and girls—coming out of their communities—went on to play in various leagues and represented the territory in Softball and Netball in particular among team sports and track and field. 

Over the last 50 years, when there were less opportunities for our sportsmen and women as there are today, there was a structure in place that saw youngsters breaking into team sports in particular. Teams were community based with such Softball teams as the Byrds (Sea Cows Bay, Atoms (East End-Long Look) Blue Wings (Baughers Bay) for example, earning titles for their communities. 

In 1982, the transformation of the sport came when the E. Walwyn Brewley Softball Park—formerly the Old Recreation Grounds—was lighted and games were played at night. There were no longer double headers. 

By 1987, Softball had become the territory’s most successful team sport and narrowly lost to  Cuba, 4-3 in the bronze medal game, during the Pan Am Games in Indianapolis, Indiana that year.

Since then however, Softball has been on a steady decline with 1993 being the last time a team would compete in one of the eligible games, the CAC Games in Puerto Rico. Pitching which is at its core, was never developed following the success of the 1987 team, as sports had earlier moved away from being community based to being centralized in Road Town.   

After the 1992 season, the BVI Netball Association—founded in 1972—and went on to play in several Caribbean Netball Association tournaments, went dormant. 

As recently as 2004 when the Multipurpose Sports Complex opened, Basketball suffered a serious fall off in attendance and excitement as opposed to when games were played outdoors. 

What has developed in team sports in particular over the years, is the win at all cost mentality. With teams playing games in Road Town, teams began eventually accepting players on their rosters who were not from the community from which the team came. Eventually, long standing team names faded and in the process, there was no youth development. Although the BVI Basketball Federation was founded in 1974, there have only been feeble attempts at having a women’s league.

Current state

Competitions fields in Capoons Bay, Sea Cows Bay, Road Town, Baughers Bay, Greenland and on Virgin Gorda, aren’t being used by our sports administrators for youth development at any level in team sports, save for the attempts of the BVI Football Association. For the long term development of sports, this must change as hundreds of boys and girls aren’t even actively engaging in sports, for the sheer love of it. How the “the one” from other sports be found when they’re not engaged? 

Redeveloping sports

Hurricane Irma and now COVID-19, has provided a ripe opportunity for sports administrators in team sports in particular, to develop grassroots programs for the survival of their respective sports. 

In many circles, one can hear “there’s talent here.” That begs the following questions:

Where is this talent? How is it being identified? How is it being groomed and nurtured?

Where is it on display without grassroots programs and active primary and secondary school leagues? Who’s identifying this talent and what criteria is being used? 

Some questions to be answered 

Where does the BVI want to go in sports? What’s the territory’s vision for sports? What umbrella body is responsible for ensuring the overall execution of sports and its development? What skillsets are needed from our sports administrators? What are the development plans of each of our sporting associations and are copies of this plan available?

Our elected sports administrators are directly responsible for the development of their respective sports—from the cradle to the grave. Both Hurricane Irma and COVID-19, presented opportunities for reflection, discussion, and planning the way forward—especially now that scholastic opportunities are available to out sportsmen and sportswomen and opportunities for pro and semi pro contracts in several team sports.

Our sports administrators must be awaken from their slumber. In team sports in particular, they must move from beyond the low hanging fruit of organizing a league. Each sport is crying out for grassroots development. Will our sports administrators capitalize on the second golden opportunity presented within the last three years?   

Youth Olympic Games Model 

In 2010, the International Olympic Committee introduced the Youth Olympic Games in which the BVI has participated in every edition. The model—which was presented to associations during a BVI Olympic Committee General Assembly during my term as BVI Athletics Association President in 2012—showed how it can work, starting from 2013. The YOG targets athletes up to 18 years, with varying age groups for each sport. Track and Field for example, the age is 16-17. Athletes between 10-14 on Clubs were identified and pooled for the event. The program shows a 6-7 year spread between identification and development.

What would sport across the territory be like seven years later, had sports administrators bought into the idea presented in 2012 which track and field commenced in 2013? For starters, there would have been grassroots programs across the territory targeting boys and girls in all team sports. The focus of that 2013-2018 Track and Field program named Project Podium, was to win at least one medal in an area where the BVI had never won a medal within five years. 

Results showed that between 2013-2018, six medals were won in five different areas and 2019 saw the first Pan Am Games medal.

As noted above, there must be a vision for BVI sportsand the sports administrators willing to execute it with definite goals in mind. If this doesn’t happen, team sports in particular across the territory, will digress to where it was in the early stages of development 50 years ago. 

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