Tribute to School Teachers: Celebrating the Star Makers

Everybody loves a winner. With the commercialisation and globalisation of sport, winners in sport are celebrated and provided with VIP status almost everywhere they go. They provide souvenir sports apparel and autographs to almost everyone from state presidents to the multitudes of ordinary admirers.
In this euphoric celebration of success, sports leaders, admirers and sometimes the stars themselves forget where they came from. Sport development success and excellence are processes and not events, long and tedious ones, for that matter.
Along the road to success, there are school sport teachers and coaches who play a critical role in skills development, nurturing of talent, mentoring, support and encouragement.
I sometimes wonder how many celebrated sports stars take time to re-trace their steps and go back to their sports teachers in primary or secondary school who provided them with an opportunity to develop their skills and launched their journey to stardom. Even the national sports associations and National Olympic Committees (NOCs) rarely take time to establish the history of their stars and invite the people who have built the foundation for the successes of the stars they have jurisdiction over. Sometimes, even parents are also forgotten in the mad rush to bask in the glory of the success of the sports celebrities.
According to sport scientists and the Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) approach, it takes between eight to 10 years to produce a truly world-class sportsperson. This means that in the sport development and success equation, we cannot afford to lose focus on the primary and secondary school teacher/coaches. This is very crucial as in most African and especially Southern African countries; there is no robust community club system to provide alternative sport development paths to the school system.
National sports authorities should, therefore, invest funds in the training and development of this important human resource in the sport development continuum. This investment should not be an afterthought or an act of charity on behalf of national sports authorities but a strategic decision guided by a long-term vision for the development of every sport code or system.
Together with promoting academic excellence, teachers should also be encouraged to promote sporting success and excellence among their school pupils and students.  In order for teachers to play an increasingly important role in the development of sport, they also need to be respected for their professional contribution, which is usually provided in a voluntary capacity. Sports teachers are some of the most strategic volunteers in any sport system. They spent a lot of time with the children and are trained in methodologies that can help to bring the best out of children in education as well as various other life endeavours, including sport.
Sports teachers should be provided with incentives such as training courses, international trips with national junior teams as well as exchange programs with their counterparts from other countries. Building the capacity and competency of sports teachers to deliver development programmes pays dividends not just within the school system but also within the community. This can help reduce juvenile delinquency, petty crime, teenage pregnancies, alcohol and drug abuse, which are some of the challenges that confront most communities in Southern Africa.
Sports teachers should also be recognised in national and regional sports awards to encourage them to work more with children and youth during official working hours as well as during their spare time. Simple awards, in the form of certificates and shields go a long way in motivating them and reinforcing faith in the system.
Another important contribution to the effectiveness of teachers in sports development is the provision of adequate sports equipment. Since what central and local governments provide can never be enough, national sports authorities and associations should also work with corporate sponsors to adopt primary and secondary schools, especially in the less privileged urban and rural areas with regard to provision of sports equipment and uniforms. The provision of sports equipment in schools helps to motivate not just the teachers/coaches but the children and youth.
Media houses also play a critical role in the recognition of sports teachers. It is obvious that coverage of elite or high performance sport sells newspapers and magazines. It also increases popularity of broadcasters but it is also equally important to provide media coverage for grassroots initiatives, projects and programmes that help to improve the lives of individuals and communities at local level.
In terms of wider public health issues, school sports teachers also help young people to adopt active and healthy lifestyles, thereby reducing incidences of youth obesity and sedentary living.  This also helps to combat prevalence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cardiac complications.
There is no doubt that quality teachers provide quality education and sports programmes. They constitute the epicentre of all things positive and also, unfortunately, sometimes, negative developments in the lives of young people.  
The hard work in grooming future world-class sportspersons is mostly done by teachers. They lay the foundation for everyone else to work on. Just like in the construction business, a flawed foundation can result in a tragic collapse of a building. Teachers are the real star-makers and they do deserve respect, which they seldom get in most sports systems. Hopefully, this will change in the future.

May 2013
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