Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Verona Antoine-Smith | Did KC’s Harrison really underperform?

Published:Sunday | April 16, 2017 | 4:00 AM

The just-ended ISSA GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Athletics Championships was perhaps one of the best ever stagings. Calabar and Edwin Allen high schools copped the respective boys' and girls' titles. Congratulations to both schools and their coaches.

Speaking of coaches, Kingston College's (KC) head coach, Neil Harrison, continues to be in the spotlight despite his team's spectacular performance at Champs. Prior to the start, there was speculation that his tenure at the school rested on winning the title. With KC placing second, rumours subsequently emerged of him being fired. Although that matter was quelled, Mr Harrison indicated that he has been contacted by seven schools seeking to retain his coaching services. But who is this coach?

Mr Harrison joined the academic staff at KC in September 2014. He currently heads the Department of Physical Education, coupled with the onerous task of head coach for the school. Unlike prior coaches, he is not a KC old boy. He was retained to resuscitate an ailing track and field programme following a horrific defeat in March 2014.

The performance of coaches and their teams is demonstrated in the public domain. However, while a victory or a loss is determined by a simple tally of points, the performance of coaches requires an examination of several factors, both seen and unseen. These include the management of the coaches, delegating, coordinating, etc. , the management of the athletes; and an understanding of the strengths of the opponents. The effect that each of these factors can have on the overall results is debatable. However, at the end of the day, barring a tie, only one team can walk away with the Mortimer Geddes Trophy.

On April 4, 2017, an article published in The Gleaner expressed that KC's parent-teacher association president had indicated that he could no longer support Harrison as coach following this year's defeat. He said: "I don't give the coach confidence; we (KC) can't lose Champs like that.

Frankly speaking, you can't have a team with depth like this and lose Champs."

Indeed, KC did not win Champs, but all things considered, can it be said that the coach underperformed? Let's examine the trend to date. Prior to his retention, KC suffered a sub-100-point defeat to the winners of Champs 2014; then merely seven months into his tenure, this was reduced to a 15-point loss in Champs 2015. Last year, there was a 32-point loss, and a three-point deficit this year, despite amassing more than 300 points. Calabar's 317 points to KC's 314 demonstrates how competitive Champs was. Clearly, athletes from both schools battled to the very end, the 4x400m relay.

In the 107-year history of Championships, no team has ever accumulated more than 300 points without winning the title, so there is no doubt this was an achievement.

 

Post-Champs Review

 

Many teachers, some of whom are KC old boys, were outraged at the PTA president's pronouncements. Surely, supporters can lose confidence when things go wrong; when neither effort nor progress is observed.

But these results demonstrate that KC's track and field programme has been revived. It is organised, and the athletes are well prepared. In no way whatsoever are these results indicative of underperformance that would cause one to lose confidence in, and suspend support, for the coach. For this reason, teachers have distanced themselves from any comment that suggests otherwise. Coach Harrison and his team have the unwavering support of his colleagues.

Just over 50 teachers, inclusive of heads of departments, coordinators, subject and form teachers, expressed their solidarity with the head coach and his entire staff. The general view was that the team and the coaches performed well.

Of course, there was some disappointment in not winning the championship, but the dominant sentiment was a sense of pride and gratitude for their accomplishments.

When asked, "Have you lost confidence in the head coach and coaching staff?" Karyn Samuels-Quallo responded with an emphatic no. She added, "I cannot lose confidence in a coach who has scored 314 points. It means that he was able to motivate the majority of the team members and management to give their best."

 

NO CONFIDENCE LOST

 

Oshane McHugh, an old boy, stated, "He's an excellent coach, one who is fitting for the job." Captain Peta-Ann Gray (Jamaica Combined Cadet Force) stated, "I don't know if I am trained in the capacity of a sports critic, but no, I have not lost confidence in his training nor in his capacity as KC's head coach." Marsh-Jay Dallas-Marshall also said, "No, I am proud of KC's performance. I have seen the progress in the process that he promised would lead to victory." Needless to say, 100% of the teachers who commented expressed their confidence in Mr Harrison's coaching abilities and his hardworking team.

One may argue that teachers are not competent enough to determine what constitutes a good performance of a coach. For this reason, the opinion of an expert was sought. Speaking with Maurice Wilson, technical director of Jamaica's track and field team and senior member of the management staff of G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sports last Friday, he was asked what is the best way to evaluate a coach's performance? He cited the numerical improvements in the team's point standing; the competitiveness of the championship in terms of the spread of points across different teams; the team's all-round improvements in the various events of the championship and managing extenuating circumstances such as injuries etc. He cautioned against using winning or losing as the primary indicator of performance, adding, "No one wants to work in an environment where it's all about winning without regard for the efforts and the improvements that would have been made."

- Verona Antoine-Smith is a teacher in a public secondary school. She holds a master's in educational administration. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and verona.antoinesmith