One of the main indicators of the health of sport in any given country is the way in which that country understands, works and cares for its grassroots, the people who are just starting out – our future champions. Grassroots sport is not only about physical training but is also a way of giving young people valuable life lessons which in my opinion, is fundamental to the progress of society.
In Spain the current situation of grassroots sport is, to say the least, complicated. As a result of the successful strategies put into practice for the Barcelona Games in 1992, for a number of years Spanish sport had what could be called a “golden age”. However, these days are long gone and now we are faced with a different situation altogether. The progression from amateur to elite, high performance sport is increasingly more difiicult. This is due to several factors, not least, the severe economic crisis, as well as bad management by different federations at the early stages of training who often demand an extremely high performance while the athletes are still way too young. Added to this, the unhealthy liefestyle of the population at large has resulted in an epidemic of obesity in our children. This means that the all important jump from amateur to professional athlete can seem at times impossible.
As for adapted sport, working at grassroots level is even more fraught with difficulties, particularly in small towns where many parents “hide” or overprotect a child with disabilities, hoping to shield them from any purported distress, which by and large does not exist in sport, except in a few instances which have no place in the world of sport.
Inclusion in sport, from the grassroots to elite sport, should be promoted in a coherent, logical way. There is no point in creating non-competitive teams so as to include children with disabilities, since to eliminate competition is to “decaffeinate” sport .
Every child should be encouraged to take part in healthy competition. We should help children of all abilities find a sport that they enjoy. Furthermore, when a child has a disability, trainers and monitors must ensure that he/she can join a sports club and be treated in exactly the same way as an able -bodied child – looking for his strengths and promoting his talent like every other memmber of the group.
Let us try to make grassroots sport a place where young people can learn values and life lessons. Let’s try to ensure that all children, those who make it to high level sport and those who don´t, carry with them a backpack full of values that will help them on their way both in their everyday lives and their sporting lives. In this way, everyone will reap the benefts of sport.
Let us try to ensure that our grassroots sport is an opportunity for personal development and education, both academically and also at a sporting level. By doing this,all children will have a brighter future, both those who do not make it to the higher reaches of sport as well as those who do. After all, successful elite athletes also need a career to follow once their sporting one is over.
But, above all, let us treat budding athletes as what they really are: children. Only then will we make grassroots sport a factory of real champions.