School sports crucial for success

Editorial, Normal

The National, Tuesday December 1st, 2015

 IF Papua New Guinea’s sports revolution is to truly take off and produce the champions and top shelf performances that the people crave for then just having the facilities and good coaching is only part of the answer.

Having a sound foundation is key to producing a generation of athletes that will have not just the physical attributes in terms of fitness and skills to compete with the world’s best but also have the ingrained desire and attitude needed to make the leap from the average to the elite.

The 15th Pacific Games held in July was a triumph for the country on several levels. The success of the event showed that PNG is capable of meeting international standards when it puts its mind to it.

The athletes responded to the Government’s unprecedented support by winning 88 gold medals and finishing on top of the medal tally at Games end. Mission accomplished. Everyone gave each other a deserved pat on the back for a job well done.

But now that the facilities and technical expertise has been set up, the focus should be on building sports from the ground up.

There is still so much to do in terms of strengthening sports and developing the next crop of athletes and stars.

One of the most obvious ways to doing this is by tapping into schools. 

Schools have regimented systems that train students to follow rules and to work as a team while pushing individuals to excel.

It is a natural transition from classroom to play ground.

As examples in Australia and New Zealand school sports play a large part in the curriculum. 

It is not just seen as a recreational activity inserted in the education process in order to satisfy some key performance indicator or requirement.

It is the starting point for many elite sports men and women.

The late Jonah Lomu started his career playing rugby union seriously when he attended Wesley College. 

One of rugby’s greats got his start and developed his passion for the sport at school. Where else was he going to pick up the code with a passion to play if not at school?

There is something to be said for properly organised and run school sports. It is safe to assume that most of New Zealand’s elite rugby players are where they are today because of the start they got initially in their formative years.

In PNG, unfortunately the school sports system is not as well-orgainsed across the board.

While various sports run their junior programmes, these competitions are usually run according to the code’s calendar and administrative plans.

This week the PNG Under-20 Pukpuks are in Fiji competing at the Oceania Rugby Junior Trophy. 

The team was thrashed 63-0 by host Fiji in their opening match last Friday. One of the biggest disadvantages that the national team had going in was that most of the players have played little schoolboy rugby.

It is a fact that there is no established school rugby competition in Port Moresby. And this has been the case for as long as rugby has been played in the nation’s capital.

The closest the PNGRFU has come to having something resembling a school competition was the Pacific  In Union programme which teaches the basics of the sport to both boys and girls from the 12 years and up.

As for having a serious school competition to cater for Grade Eight to 12 players, the best secondary school students can hope for is to join a club in the city competition. 

Even rugby league struggles to run schoolboy competitions that run parallel with the city grade competitions. 

According to a source in the PNGRFL, one of the draw backs to focusing a lot of time and energy to running school competitions is that not all the talent is in the schools.

“There’s a lot of talent out in the settlements, villages and in the suburbs and these kids don’t necessarily go to school so while having a school competition is a good thing, we need to think about those outside of the system,” the source said.

Regardless of the unique situation PNG is in, there should be a strong push by the Government through the Education Department to have school sports as an integral part of the curriculum. 

This can and will complement the “sports revolution” the state is set on starting post 2015.