Missing the goal

Published: Friday | December 6, 2013 Comments 0

By Orville Higgins

Over the last few days, there has been a raging debate about whether St Elizabeth Technical (STETHS) is being a little too extravagant by appointing Wendell Downswell as technical director (TD) for their school football programme.

Those who oppose the idea feel that having a coach, plus a TD, for a daCosta Cup team is overkill, and feel that STETHS is taking the thing a little too seriously, for what is really nothing but an extra-curricular activity. The title of TD , they claim, creates the impression of a professional organisation which should not be what schoolboy football is all about. They feel even if Mr Downswell was going to help out, he should never charge for his efforts, and should really be volunteering his time.

Those of that mindset feel it's simply a waste of money, even though the STETHS principal, Keith Wellington, was at pains to point out that Mr Downswell is not asking for a lot and sees it mainly as his way of giving back to his alma mater.

I go the other way. I feel STETHS is doing nothing wrong, and, indeed, I feel more schools should follow this example. For the record, STETHS have gone to three of the last four daCosta Cup finals, winning two, and have now swept the Ben Francis Cup four years in a row. The evidence would seem to suggest that the method is working, as STETHS are clearly one of the most consistent schoolboy football teams in the island in recent times. For this reason alone, knocking STETHS for what they are doing seems pointless and hollow.

This debate, though, is not to be seen as merely one about football in schools. It ought to be seen for what it really is - a debate over exactly what is the purpose of schools. More than 200 years ago, Sir William Curtis postulated that schools should be about reading, writing and 'rithmetic (later to be famously dubbed, the three Rs). That statement may well have been appropriate in 1795, but we have to understand that schools and societies have evolved past that.

The problem is when we start being myopic enough to think that education should essentially be exclusively about academic pursuits.

The best definition of education I know is that it must be seen as "a form of learning in which the knowledge, skills and habits of a people are transferred from one generation to the next through teaching, training or research".

Two hundred years ago, sport was not seen as one of the skills or habits we wanted to pass on from generation to generation, for the simple reason that sports never occupied that prominent a position on the ladder of social importance. That is no longer the case. Sports is now a viable career option and one of the fastest-growing industries in the world.

Schools, if they are to be carrying out their core function, should assist the pupils who attend in being prepared for the society of which they are a part. Since sports is now an accepted part of the society, in Jamaica and across the world, a school is indeed derelict in its duty if it doesn't offer students exposure to the very best in sports education, in the same way it places an emphasis on other areas.

In the same way, every high school should have the very best labs for those who want to take up a career in science, or the very best academic teachers for those who want to pursue a career in academia, or the very best drama teachers for those who want to pursue a career in the arts, so should a school have the very best coaching system for those who want to take up a career in sports.

Sports must not be seen as any less important than anything else that is taught in high schools. Once we accept that sports is now a growing and vibrant career option, we will not see football, for example, as a mere extra-curricular activity, but as a genuine path for youngsters to pursue in schools.

STETHS are doing nothing wrong by trying to offer to prospective student players the very best coaching structure they can provide, and if they feel a TD is part of the structure, they must be commended.

Orville Higgins is a sports journalist and talk-show host at KLAS FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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