Wed | Jun 20, 2018

Dalton Myers | Sports psychologists and the athlete

Published:Saturday | May 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Calabar High supporters cheer on their stars at this year's ISSA/GraceKennedy Boys and Girls' Championships at the National Stadium.

Often, we remember that high school or university classmate we had who most thought would have been the best at his/her sport. If we reminisce about his/her talent, we start with a smile, maybe a laugh, and then shake our heads at how far the current reality is from what was expected. This athlete could be from the ISSA Manning or daCosta cup, Boys and Girls' Championships, cricket's Sunlight or Headley Cup, or any inter-collegiate competition.

The sporting calendar is now closing for many student-athletes. Those at the high school level are now thinking about scholarships to universities overseas or at home.

However, many will get the opportunity, and another talent could go to waste, unless we put support systems in place. One aspect that is needed for athletes is access to sports psychologists.

Sports psychology is becoming a main feature of sports in Jamaica. It comes at a cost as highly trained professionals are also investing in their area. For most athletes who don't get a sports scholarship, dealing with that rejection can become a serious issue and could also potentially lead to mental illness concerns. Sports psychology can help to prevent athletes from reaching that state of mind. It can also help athletes to mentally prepare for training and competition as well as balancing sports with everyday life activities, especially with limited funding.

Some athletes will get support from friends and families, but there are no structured systems in place for most athletes to get financial support in sports locally, outside of clubs and tertiary institutions. The athletes' welfare support system and the Ministry of Sports' insurance programme have assisted track and field athletes over the years; however, when you look at the many talented athletes we produce each year, there needs to be a more structured programme to help them.

 

Support systems

 

Without help from various stakeholders, some will struggle with the expenses associated with honing their skills - medical, nutrition, accommodation and housing - all issues these athletes will face unless they can get support from a formal system such as a club or an educational institution.

While most high school student-athletes get significant support from alumni associations, once they graduate that support isn't accessible in most cases as it moves on to another student-athlete in the high school. Invariably, some get frustrated with the lack of funding and emotional support and quit the sport after a short period. Obviously, alumni groups will want to continue helping those in the respective school since there is more return on investment there.

Another issue is the many student-athletes who accept scholarships overseas without proper guidance. Some of them do not read the fine print and often realise belatedly that they still have huge financial obligations when they go overseas. The financial difficulty that is associated with 'part' scholarships then creates such a burden for them and their families that it affects their academic and sporting performance.

Some haven't even been able to complete their tertiary education due to such financial obligations. Finally, there will be those student-athletes who get all the financial help (scholarship or otherwise) but still struggle to make the transition for different reasons. It also depends on the sport and where they decide to take up their offer. Personally, I think some athletes should stay and train locally while an overseas environment might suit others better.

Making the transition for many athletes will not be easy. It will take time and patience. Some will not make it, while some will need additional support. My challenge is that in Jamaica, we are very quick to condemn and negatively criticise an athlete who doesn't make that immediate transition from high school to college or professional levels. We often do not recognise that while some have wasted their opportunity, in many cases, the environment and financial challenges, as well as lack of emotional support, can create issues for others.

As several student-athletes graduate from high school this year, let us give them our support in whatever way possible as it can be a very long road to success.

- Dalton Myers is a sports consultant and administrator. Email feedback to daltonsmyers@gmail.com