Devon Dick | Stop abusing our schoolboy footballers
Medical doctor Paul Wright, speaking recently, argued that our schoolboy footballers are being abused based on the hectic playing schedule. The evidence seems to support that there is abuse, namely, mistreating the footballers physically and psychologically.
There was a football match wherein the great Calabar High was required to play Jamaica College (JC) about 48 hours after playing another match and Calabar lost 6-1. Since JC is not five goals better than Calabar, it could be blamed on the schedule. After that match, Calabar was well rested and beat the best rural area schoolboy team, Clarendon College. Apparently, Clarendon College had not recovered from winning the daCosta Cup a few days earlier. Schoolboy footballers need more recovery time, and time to engage in academic and other pursuits.
Was there an assistant coach who argued that the recovery time of 48 hours was adequate? He spoke like a doctor who had done scientific tests. Even if what he was saying were true, boys have different rates of recovery. On Saturday, there was a leading footballer who was vomiting profusely. Why?
There were teams who played Tuesday and then had to play on Saturday. Even professional clubs find it taxing to play two matches in seven days.
Last year, a Cornwall College old boy who has great facility with numbers, pointed out that Cornwall College played more matches than Arsenal, a leading football club in England. Years ago, Rev Deryck Polack, of blessed memory, highlighted a schoolboy football team which lost points because it did not travel to play a match when there was a storm warning in effect.
We need to protect players and not overwork them. The greatest sprinter of all time, Usain Bolt, was the master of not having a heavy schedule, and look at the results. On average, Bolt ran competitively once a month outside of championships.
Schoolboys should be playing no more than one competitive match per week. High school is not a football academy. The primary purpose is for academic pursuit, developing social skills, producing good citizens to the glory of God. Extra-curricular activities are just that 'extra'.
Furthermore, the abuse was taken to another level last Saturday when Kingston College, a Kingston-based school, played a football match in St James which ended at 9:31 p.m. That is big people time. It means that Kingston College team would reach back home the following day. Concerning safety and security, do these players get a ride to take them to their doorsteps in the dead of the night? It was too much even for Rusea's team to end so late because these youngsters would reach home after 11 p.m. That looks like abuse. By the way, what time the supporters, some of who are schoolers, would reach home?
The concession of allowing five substitutes for schoolboy football instead of three is a clear indication that schoolboys should not be treated as professional footballers. Another concession would be to allow for headgear or banning 'heading' of the ball. Recently, Alan Shearer of the BBC did a documentary looking at the links between heading the football and dementia. The conventional wisdom is that too much heading of a football can have a disastrous effect on a person's memory.
In addition, who gets the prize money? It is not the boys because it would look like child labour. Perhaps it would be better to give them scholarships for their long-term development instead of prize money.
Let schoolboy football be about fun, participation and character. Let the footballers develop technical and tactical skills. Enable them to understand the importance of team chemistry and playing with passion and purpose.
- Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to columns@ gleanerjm.com.