SPORTS fans can usually recall the exact moment they celebrated their favourite sportsperson or team’s victory, just as they can share the agony that comes when their heroes fail to hit the mark.
Be it a triple-axel jump or sublime footwork that leads to a winning goal, it is all over in the blink of an eye for the spectator.
But the feat is always the result of the athletes and those around them persevering over the years, sometimes decades.
The comparison may seem a little dramatic but this is not far from reality, as we are not always aware of the things that happen behind the scenes over a long period of time. Whether watching it on television or at the stadium with thousands of others, or participating in a sporting activity, sports has the power to shape lives.
It can inspire the young to represent his or her country one day, help secure a scholarship for a brighter future, make a political impact on post-apartheid South Africa and bridge relations between the People’s Republic of China and the US – the examples are plentiful.
I am no expert but after a few years of covering the community sports beat and getting to meet the many characters involved, I believe that the path forged by champions begins with the people around them as they grow up.
It is the parents, teachers in schools, coaches and sports association administrators who give their free time with no promise of remuneration that are the unsung heroes in those early stages – or the grassroots – that make the most meaningful impact.
Parents, coaches and teachers sometimes toil day and night, incur expenses, travel far and eat less than they normally would because they believe in the cause.
The fact that they spend weekends travelling to and from training or competition venues before going back to the daily grind the next day is something I have deep respect for.
Some have even dedicated their lives to the betterment of our youth and athletes and do not expect glory in return.
A coach once told me that he would wake up at 4am on Satur-days, ride his motorcycle an hour to Bukit Beruntung and teach boys how to play football for a few hours and then buy them some food because they were from low-income families, as a way to keep them out of trouble.
I have joked with a number of volunteer coaches who go the extra mile that they are crazy and the response I get is almost always the same – genuine laughter followed by something along the lines that they are doing it because they love it, even though it is time and money spent on someone else’s child.
“There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing them grow, ” said a volunteer coach.
“My wife doesn’t call me crazy, but she nags me about it every time, ” was the favourite answer from another coach.
Administrators and non-profit tournament organisers constantly worry about raising funds to run development programmes or tournaments, as their funds are barely enough to cover rental for facilities, never mind the unnecessary politics in sports.
These challenges may not be new, but in this day and age where there are so many distractions, the figurative pie has become smaller and that is why it is important to get the support to raise the sporting level.
Sports can also teach our youth lessons that simply cannot be learned in the classroom, which pays dividends as they grow up.
Facing adversity, finding one’s limits and learning to manage failure properly are just a few of the lessons.
On the flip side, there are bull- headed ones whose only interest is to chase results and live their dreams through the children, going about it in a way that is unsustainable and borderline dehumanising for the child.
I have seen coaches and parents berate children under the age of 10.
Shamefully, this has happened in a place where principles and values are held in higher regard than results and where adults are explicitly told to lead by example.
There will always be rotten apples among the bunch.
Nevertheless, there are also former athletes, school alumni, non- governmental organisations and even corporations that understand the value of sports for youth and choose to give back to the community, whether through fund-raising for tournaments or organisation of training clinics, with no hidden agenda.
These are the earth-movers of the sporting world who give willingly without asking and I salute each one of them.
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