There is only one way to build a long-lasting effective development plan; and it is from the bottom to the top. This is what the Lagos State government, through the Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC), is trying to do by going back to the grassroots and schools to develop sports in the state. The aim is to bring back the long-lost sports culture in schools and local communities in order to allow kids and youths express themselves at a very early age.
“We’re trying to go back to true sports development by creating a cycle where talents are discovered at a very early age, developed through the various processes and age groups in order to get the athletes to their full potentials to represent the state and the country, while we provide everything they need to excel,” Deji Tinubu, Chairman of the Lagos State Sports Commission (LSSC) and Special Adviser to Governor Akinwumni Ambode on sports, said.
All over the world, it is a universal concept that children’s skills and abilities in sports are discovered and harnessed from early school days say mid-primary or early secondary school for better development. According to Athletics Canada Long Term Athletics Development (LTAD) model, research has shown that it takes between 8-12 years of training for a talented athlete to reach elite performance levels. Also, the US Olympic Committee in 2001 surveyed US Olympic athletes from 1988 to 1996 and concluded that it took between 10-13 years of practice or training just to make the Olympic team and between 13-15 years for those athletes who won a medal.
These findings explain why it is absolutely important to start the long-term result yielding process of talent development at an early age, usually as early as 7 or 8 years. For Lagos state, this is one of the major reasons for the numerous secondary school sports championships. The state in the last one year has held secondary school championships in cricket (for boys and girls), hockey, traditional sports, monopoly, relay etc and it plans on organising some other championships in basketball, table tennis etc this year. The plan is to introduce these kids to as many variety of sports as early as possible so that they can quickly decide which one they want to play and begin their development process. The presence of championships every year according to Tinubu, would help schools get coaches and starts preparations for the competitions early enough thus inculcating sports culture in the kids.
The state government also plans to put forward a programme or an idea which would go into the curriculums to ensure there is a structured sports environment within the schools. “It may start with P.E, then in subsequent weeks or terms they engage in different sports to create a variety of sports for the kids. This would also help discover multi-talented kids,” Tinubu said. However, there is an encompassing idea by the LSSC called ‘Sports Connect’ which involves the creation of sports hubs across various local governments in the state. “We’re opening up hubs in different areas where children can go and have entry level introduction to sports, have access to sports and where youths in the area who are interested in sports can also find something to do,” he said.
“We’ve got teams who have gone round Lagos, identified and mapped appreciable spaces either belonging to the local governments or schools. two or three times a week, we’ve got coaches who would go to the hubs and children can come there after school and Saturdays,’ Mr Tinubu revealed. Apart from coaching the kids there are also volunteers or sports enthusiasts looking for an entrance into sports who would be taught by the coaches to become ad-hoc coaches or some sort of sport officers. So when the coaches move on to another area, these ad-hoc coaches or officers take over. After sometime, school competitions would be organised for those kids in school and youth competitions for those out of school in these hubs. There local governments would be the headquarters of the hubs and they would have officers attached to them, ‘but we are waiting for the local government chairmen to settle down from the elections and then we would have an open stakeholders meeting. This is because the LG chairmen are key to this initiative and they would be the major drivers in their respective LGAs,” Tinubu said.
In the developmental phase, the LSSC Chairman said: ‘We’re trying to get proper youth development officers. There are millions of coaches in Lagos but how many have really been trained as youth development coaches or officers? There’s a lot that comes into youth development not just coaching alone. There’s the educational, psychological, emotional, physical conditioning, change of lifestyle, diet, mentorship, counselling etc, So we have to put things in place for a child to reveal their challenges and get solutions to them or for them to see a pathway to excel in sports. This is what the commission is trying to do.
“If a kid that shows potential needs educational help, it is there for them already but we don’t have to go about saying that we have a sport scholarship scheme. But if a student who is promising in sports has challenges, it is for us to sort out the challenges.”
Tinubu also said the state is looking forward to the national youth games where the state secondary schools students will compete at national level to assess how well the coaches and children are progressing. He also commended the efforts of the state football association (FA) and its developmental programs.
“We’re pretty pleased with what they’re doing, I mean, in the last female u-17 if I’m correct; we had 60-70% of the girls from programs the Lagos FA are doing. That’s some kind of successful program. So we’ve got a vibrant FA and we’re pleased. In Lagos, we’ve got nearly everything. We’re managing our transportation and security very well, the economy is thriving. We’ve got nearly everything to be able to host international events. That’s what we’ve been doing in the last couple of months and we’re going to see that grow to a Lagos that truly becomes an international sports hub,” he said.