Replicate high school model of support for transitioning and young elite athletes

Track athletes
Track athletes competing (Photo credit: Nicolas Hoizey)

The majority of Jamaican traditional high schools have strong and phenomenal school spirit that past students have expressed in the support they give to their schools’ sporting teams, in particular the track and field teams. The teams that do consistently well at the annual Boys and Girls Championship (Champs) receive the support of past students. These past students donate money for the provision of nutritious meals at school, medical care, the purchase of gear, equipment, and the upgrade and repair of the sport infrastructure. They also provide money for the living expenses of those athletes that require this kind of support. Many past students, old girls’ or old boys’ associations also secure sport scholarships in the United States for promising young sport persons from their alma mater.

Money trouble

Jamaica has created world-class track athletes with piecemeal support from the private sector and the government. Many of these elite athletes survive by working 9-5, and with the financial support of family, friends and well-wishers. The star performers tend to get lucrative contracts with sponsors, so they are much better off than others. It is now time for the high school model of support for athletes be extended to athletes transitioning from Champs to becoming professionals, and those in the early stages of their professional careers. The fact is that the majority of athletes who participate at Champs have no interest in going professional. The high school model of support can be replicated beyond high school for those few who do desire to become successful professionals.

Replicate the high school model

In the replication of this model, the various high schools should identity the athletes from their alma mater who plan to go professional and provide the financial, nutritional, technical, and life skill support during their transition. This is very important because it is as difficult to move from Champs to professional athletics as it is to move from high school to university. Some of the athletes who fail to transition would have transitioned successfully if they had the support they had in high school. Also, the athletes in their early professional career are at a disadvantage when they compete with athletes from developed countries with abundant resources, comparatively speaking. Therefore, the support from their alma mater should also be given during this critical early period of the athletes’ professional life. The fact that some of our athletes have been consistent world beaters despite the meagre resources at their disposal indicate their awesome patriotism, mental toughness, talent, resilience and grit.

Partner with the phenomenal Team Jamaica Bickle

The not-for-profit organization Team Jamaica Bickle has provided critical support for our young athletes in the United States and is consistently present at the annual Penn Relays in Philadelphia where many Jamaican high school athletes compete and excel. Those athletes competing at the Penn Relays have benefitted tremendously from this generosity. Team Jamaica Bickle should form a strategic alliance with the Jamaican past students, old girls’ and old boys’ associations across the globe to provide Bickle-like support and more to the Jamaican Olympic athletes every four years.

The nature of the support provided by the partners would be different in many ways from that provided to the high school athletes since we are dealing with adult professional athletes. This strategic alliance may seem daunting at first, but it is achievable.  If  there is an active past student association in the host city of the Olympics and nearby countries, they should work with Team Jamaica Bickle to provide critical support to our athletes at the Olympics. If this partnership had existed in 2020 Tokyo Olympics, there would have been no need for Hansle Parchment to depend on a stranger for taxi fare to get to his race on time, having taken the wrong bus from the Olympic village.  We have successfully supported our high school athletes over the years. It is now time to scale up to and give our Olympic athletes who have served Jamaica well over many decades what they deserve.

Christopher A.D. Charles is a psychologist who teaches at the University of the West Indies, Mona.


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