IT is spring and a week has passed since the Easter Sunday celebrations in the quiet and serene city of Des Moines.
The season of Jesus Christ's resurrection seems an apt time to be here for the nine-member Malaysian delegation who are on a youth sports management exchange programme
A week into the 17-day programme, it seems abundantly clear that Malaysia’s sports youth development is certainly in need of a rebirth.
Since Easter, the team had visited the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU), Valley High School (Urbandale), Iowa Soccer Association (Des Moines), International Wrestling Institute and Museum (Newton), Ankeny Parks and Recreation (Ankeny), Boys and Girls Club (Des Moines), YMCA and YWCA (Des Moines) and Iowa State University (Ames).
These groups cater to all ages, gender and income groups. They have diverse ways of promoting sports at grassroots level but they do share one thing – they are committed, skilled, knowledgeable, competent and passionate about their sport.
Their focus is not all about winning and losing but to cultivate a sports culture and allow the youngsters to enjoy the sports.
They have eager volunteers, devoted parents and a caring community lending a hand. It's all about “the more, the merrier.” It's about getting children into sports and then, from this huge pool, finding the nugget that would one day be the polished diamond.
Malaysia sorely lacks these.
Iowa State University associate professor Dr Richard Engelhorn had done some homework on Malaysia before meeting the group.
He pointed at an article he had found in a Malaysian website. It read: “We are finding for a youth team in Selangor, Malaysia ? we are 14-year-old boys ? we have started playing soccer since seven years ago ? we hope to get the opportunity to play in any youth club in Selangor.”
Selangor is one of the richest states in Malaysia. Yet, apparently, there are children who are deprived of a chance to play because they are not in any elite programme, not in a school’s top team or even a club.
Engelhorn says: “You can find your star athlete only if they have the opportunity to play for fun. By not having these kids playing, a potential player may be lost forever.”
In Iowa, the boys and girls club and the YMCA and YWCA are the non-profit organisations that provide avenues for sports enthusiasts to play games after school while the Ankeny Park and Recreation have a youth sports complex, for children aged between six and 11.
Malaysian national sports associations have always complained about a lack of funding but in Iowa, none of the successful schools, clubs, and colleges are totally dependent on government funds. They get the bulk of their money for their activities from ticket sales, member’s registration, fund raising and students who contribute back to the school after graduation.
There have been cases of teachers back in Malaysia who go the extra mile and use their own pocket money to groom athletes, parents who make sacrifices for their children to excel in sports and there are sports associations who have great interest in youngsters.
But, for the large part, most state sports directors and school officials are kept busy entertaining top brass, basking in the limelight and deflecting blame.
Without a sport culture, Malaysia will not see fresh talent coming through the ranks. There is indeed a need for a resurrection.