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Let’s catch them young!

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By Yemi Olus

Last week, I was opportune to spend two days watching students from more than 50 secondary schools in Lagos compete with each other at the Teslim Balogun Stadiumduring the 2nd edition of the Channels Track and Field Classics.

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The excitement in the air was palpable, and just watching these kids display their skills or the lack of it on the track brought back fond memories of my childhood, because my love for sports was ignited right from my primary school days when we used to participate in Physical Education classes and the usual inter-house sports. We all looked forward to those times because it was also an avenue to escape from class and just play for as long as we were allowed.

Back then too it was normal for schools to have playing grounds and fields with enough space to run, play football or partake in any other physical activity that caught our interest. It was the same thing at home as we had enough space to indulge in as much physical activity as we had time for, such as riding bicycles, climbing trees and so on.So engaging in physical activity was a normal part of growing up back in the day.

It is no coincidence that a lot of our Athletics greats were products of school sports: the Mary Onyalis, FalilatOgunkoyas, DejiAlius, Glory Alozies, Yusuf Allis, Henry Amikes, Osmond and Davidson Ezinwa, and a host of others. Each of the above-mentioned individuals went on to dominate their events at the national and global level.

These days, I see a lot of schools springing up all over the place without proper facilities, and with cramped buildings, leaving little or no place for the students to engage in physical activity. How then do we raise future champions for our country?I believe that it should be made mandatory for every school to have playing space for its wards, and for sports to be made an integral part of the curriculum for primary and secondary schools.

In the words of Dr.OluyomiOluwasanmi, the Director, School Sports Directorate of the Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC), “Apart from talent discovery and the empowerment School Sports provides, it is also a platform to reduce juvenile delinquency.” Indeed the benefits of catching them young far outweigh whatever perceived concerns there may be.

Last week, it was enthralling to watch the boys and girls compete in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 100mHurdles, 110mHurdles, Shot Put, Long Jump, High Jump, 4x100m and 4x400m relays. For some of these students, this was their first time of participating in events like the throws and hurdles, yet they braved all odds to make their efforts count.

So many promising talents were unearthed, having been provided a platform to showcase their gifts and potential. Imagine the level of progress theywill attain if they are properly groomed and trained by the right coaches.

Take for instance 17-year old OlaoluOlatunde of Temple Secondary School who won the Boys’ 100m, 200m and Long Jump with 10.96sec, 22.16sec and 6.49m respectively. Or the lanky 15-year old Victoria Ejembi of Federal Government College Ijanikin who on her first attempt at doing the Long Jump, won the event with 5.00m? She also finished 2nd in the Girls’ 100m and 200m respectively. Muhammed Kabiru of State Senior High School placed 2nd in both the 100m and 200mand also scooped Bronze in the Boys’ Long Jump. There was also the talented AlaerePeterside of Chrisland Secondary School who won the Girls’ High Jump event with 1.57mand also claimed a Silver medal in the Long Jump with a leap of 4.89m.

I can go on and on about the many gifted athletes I saw, but then these questions got me thinking: what is next for these youngsters?Will there be more competitions to help them improve, because of what importance is the talent if there is no platform to showcase it? Do we have a structure in place to monitor their progress and ensure that there is a smooth transition into the national youth teams? Are scouts and coaches of the Athletics Federation present at events such as these to identify young boys and girls who have shown great promise, and who have the potential of making it big in Athletics?

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Going by the population of our country, we are meant to be dominating every event, but that’s only if we are willing to put in the work and shun our culture of cutting of corners. If a country like China has found a way to use its population to its advantage as seen by their participation in almost every sport at the Olympics, why can’t we do same? It’s time to get back to the basics.


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