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A bright future?

By George Bovell

If our society’s future lies with our youth, then it is really in the hands of our coaches and teachers.

If we really are a progressive society and truly value our future, a future filled with high hopes of becoming a developed nation with a better quality of life for all, then we should therefore value our coaches and teachers.

Regrettably, despite what you may think, we don’t. Allow me this page to explain and propose a solution.

Yes, I went to University and have many interests, but I have realised that I will probably never know as much or have such a deep understanding about anything else in life as I do about the very esoteric art and science pertaining to the sport of swimming.

I have been learning from the best and am way past Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule (a theory that reckons the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practising a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours). Many of the greatest coaches in the sport of swimming were once top swimmers, and naturally I am often asked if I intend to be a coach. The sad truth is that I know that being a coach in Trinidad and Tobago is a very difficult way to make a good living.

We are living in an increasingly materialistic society driven by the need for instant gratification. We want stuff, and we want those things now. Our materialistic, skewed view of reality places higher value on things than knowledge or experience. Perhaps that is because we are constantly watching a box of flashing lights that is showing us what we need to buy to be happy, or reading magazines of consumerism disguised as health, fitness or fashion.

For whatever reason, more than most other places in the world, the average Trini’s value for stuff over experience and knowledge drives us to spend our disposable income on material things like clothes, electronics, cars, toys etc. rather than experience and knowledge in the form of travel and self-improvement. Everywhere I go in the world, even here in T&T I meet travellers, very interesting people from places like Spain, Australia, Israel, New Zealand and Scandinavia. These people are from developed, civilised societies that value experience and knowledge over stuff and are living minimally, out doing fun interesting things and seeing the world. It is because of this lust, respect and value for knowledge and experience that they choose to spend their money on travel and self-improvement. Take a look around. When did we become such brainwashed consumers?

Now, because of the value placed by our society on things, we tend to attribute a higher social status and afford more respect to the people who are accumulating houses, cars, clothes, boats, electronics—in other words, stuff—and define them as successful.

The definition of success is accomplishing an aim or a purpose. Every one of us needs a purpose to give our life meaning, to provide us with a sense of fulfillment, and happiness. Naturally we all aspire to be successful, and because our materialistic society in T&T defines success as getting lots of things most aspire to this skewed definition. We end up focusing our careers and life paths around this misguided aim. Here in T&T, most often the best and brightest go on into positions and careers that meet our society’s definition of success, getting lots of stuff and sadly neglecting their true passions while thinking they are happy.

With knowledge and experience ranking as low as they do in the view of this society, who in the their right mind would define success as the accumulation of knowledge and experience instead of stuff and aspire to the professions of coaching and teaching? Only the very few die hard, passionate people, that’s who. This cultural attitude has created a dearth of good coaches and teachers, and has had a profound impact on our society as a whole. The few good coaches and teachers that we do have in no way receive fair remuneration for their invaluable services, which exacerbates our problem by creating added discouragement to pursue those careers.

Juxtapose this with the way that other societies value their coaches and teachers. I have been fortunate enough to compete and train in countries all over the world. In China, the eastern former socialist countries and even Cuba, a good coach is exalted and is given the utmost respect, something akin to the position of a general. After all, they are responsible for national pride and international respect in peacetime.

In Japan, I have seen this respect evident by the parents and pupils bowing graciously to the coach and meekly submitting to his will for just a stern nod of acknowledgement.

Many of us follow football. How are coaches and managers like Sir Alex Ferguson treated? In the United States top coaches of all sports at Universities and professional teams are celebrities and are paid extremely well. Australia, New Zealand, and the Scandinavian countries along with Cuba are per capita among the most successful at the Olympics. It is no coincidence that these societies which value coaches also have education systems that are consistently ranked the top in the world.

The repercussions of T&T’s misplaced value system, sadly, are clearly evident.

Our society’s desire for things and its past neglect of the disenfranchised youth is now coming back to bite us in the form of our terrible, pervasive crime problem.

All of our most successful athletes are in part successful because they either got the opportunity to hone their talent and skill abroad under foreign tutelage from societies that value knowledge and experience in systems such as the NCAA; or have been fortunate enough to be coached by great foreign coaches from those societies, here for example, by Cuban coaches that have been brought down by the government. Although coached locally by Dr Ian Hypolite, even Jehue
Gordon has received help here from a Cuban coach. As I found out the hard way while studying at University abroad, it is naive to fully expect a foreign coach to prepare you to beat his countrymen at the Olympics. Our national football team has been most successful when coached by foreigners such as the Dutchman Leo Beenhakker.

As I said above, we want our future to be in good hands, so to speak. It will be hard to change our society’s value system, but perhaps we can put the solution in alignment with our current skewed one to make a start. I propose we fix the problem by paying our coaches and teachers more, so that these necessary professions become respected ones that our best and brightest may aspire to.

Right now, our success stories are rare, precious and finite, but consider that one great coach or teacher is worth many successful athletes and students.
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