Evaluation and Introspection: Performance improvement in sport development

 

The year is grinding slowly but surely to its end. The coming year promises to be an action packed one for sport. As Africans, we are remotely interested in the Winter Olympics that will be taking place in the Russian city of Sochi in February 2014. We have no winter sports to talk about!

However, with the FIFA World Cup scheduled to take place in June 2014 in Brazil, all eyes – in  terms of African attention ‑ will be firmly focused on the African representatives at the event, which are, Algeria, Cameroon, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Nigeria. In terms of multi-sport major games, the Africa Youth Games to be held in Gaborone, Botswana, the Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, as well as the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, will provide thrills and memories for sports lovers all over the world and Southern Africa, in particular.

With the youthful populations in the sub-region, it only makes perfect sense to develop and promote sport as part of general public health and elite development. 

In this connection, while the national football teams and their mother bodies are licking their wounds and preparing for fresh battles to come, the Southern Times Sports Forum is of the strong view that group therapy in terms of evaluation and introspection could go a long way in addressing key challenges that the “beautiful game” faces in Southern Africa. There is a dire need for football authorities to share ideas, information and experiences as to how they can improve performances in the future, given that qualification rounds for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations as well as the 2016 Olympic Football Tournament are just around the corner.

To this end, comprehensive re-assessment and review of programmes and projects should be done in order to radically change the way football has been developed and managed in Southern Africa. 

The tendency for each football association or national sports authority to wallow in self-pity and frustration, withdraw or retreat into some little corner to lick its wounds should be resisted at all costs. The London 2012 Olympics were largely disastrous for most Southern African countries. The year 2013 did not bring much relief!

The problems that are facing Southern African countries are the same. They are very much related to the lack of vision and direction in terms of project and programme implementation. It is not that Southern Africa lacks the resources to facilitate performance improvement in high performance or elite sport. It is rather a problem of focus and prioritisation in utilising available resources to put the various countries in a position of advantage, to compete effectively at continental and world levels.

Sometimes evaluation and introspection entails retracing your steps to recollect your best and proudest achievements. It is not like Southern Africa has not achieved anything glorious in the past. Rather, the region has achieved a great deal across a wide range of sport codes. 

The problem is that past successes quickly went to the heads of both players and officials. We forgot what it is that made us successful in the past.

Now that we are in the doldrums, especially when it comes to football, this is the perfect time to review our strategies and technical approaches for most sports codes in a calm and collected manner with a view to re-energising our future campaigns and surprise a lot of rivals.

In European football, the English FA has realised that it is falling way behind the leading lights such Spain, Germany, Holland and Italy. 

There is a lot of soul-searching currently going on with a view to re-position English football as a genuine contender in European and world football. Good luck to them!

It is not just a question of resources. You cannot throw money at all problems. 

Yes, resources can be of great assistance but they are definitely the only consideration when it comes to the jigsaw puzzle of sport performance. 

The same applies to Southern Africa. We might have comparatively better resources than a good number of our competitors on the continent but we are being out-fought, out-witted, out-run almost in all major competitions with the exception of cricket, rugby and swimming where the rest of Africa is not so well endowed or keen to participate.

Our development programmes are no longer churning out world-class youngsters with skills, guts and determination to succeed at the highest level. 

These are issues that need to be addressed systematically and not be glossed over with flowery reports and nationalistic plans that are developed in vacuums. Governments of Southern Africa and private companies are investing colossal amounts of money into football development and yet our countries are no match for the likes of Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ethiopia and Senegal. 

Southern African countries struggle at Under 17, Under 20 and Under 23 levels against continental opposition. This spills over to the senior national sides. If Southern Africa hopes or dares to dream of success, it must address the grassroots fundamentals first.

There is no need to be groping in the dark about something so obvious. Furthermore, there is no need for expensive sport development consultancies that will only serve to generate glossy reports of what even a primary school child knows the simple fact that there are no comprehensive grassroots sport development programmes. 

These programmes create rigorous competition right from the ward, village, town, district, province and ultimately reaching the national level.

Evaluation and introspection should entail plans of how more children and youth should be encouraged, firstly to participate for fun, health and enjoyment and thereafter to compete seriously if they so desire. 

Southern Africa has to regain the combative spirit that once made its teams feared on the continent. For example, the Brave Warriors of Namibia have qualified before for the Africa Cup of Nations tournament. 

They did not exactly cover themselves with glory but they got there.

 The same applies to Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique.

Only two countries, Lesotho and Swaziland, have not qualified for this continental show-case for African football. The two countries cannot blame their small populations either or their economies because Cape Verde has a much smaller population and is lot poorer than them!

This brings us back to the issue of critical evaluation and introspection. 

Southern African sport must seriously look at itself in the mirror in order to effectively plan for the future.  We cannot go ahead to make resolutions for 2014 and beyond that are devoid of reality. 

Just food for thought!

December 2013
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