A knack for empowering young athletes – Ninvalle focused on development on International Men’s Day

Director of Sport Steve Ninvalle

The name Steve Ninvalle is quite a popular one among Guyana’s sport fraternity. Even more so, Ninvalle is widely known in the Caribbean Region for his strong advocacy in the sport of boxing.

Working his way up from a sports journalist to now holding the position of Director of Sport (DoS) in Guyana, Ninvalle’s personal growth is remarkable; however, his care for the development of young athletes is another of his most prominent features.

On the occasion of International Men’s Day, this publication sat down with Ninvalle, who currently wears many hats, to get an idea of his thoughts on the celebration of the contribution of men worldwide.

The day is, in fact, something that he is receptive to, noting that it is great that men can be celebrated similarly to their female counterparts.

“I think it’s extremely important. I think it’s (fair) that we find ways to celebrate what men do. And when I say what men do, I mean what good men do. I think (that) for some time, they seemed to be a void of good men in the parenting department, and that has magnified itself, and we see it coming out of some of the children and the attitudes of children and what they do. So, allow me to applaud all men who have been trying their best, putting their best foot forward in being good parents and good partners and good fathers, you know, and good grandfathers. You know, it’s important,” the Director of Sport shared.

Ninvalle, who is a father and husband, does a lot of juggling of his roles and responsibilities, considering his job description. In addition to those athletes whose careers he attempts to guide, the Guyana Boxing Association (GBA) President highlighted that great relationships with children are integral to their development, even if you have to be their friend on a few occasions.

On that note, the sports administrator lamented the stigma that is attached to the notion of ‘mental health awareness’, opining that it can be the difference between an athlete medaling or not.

“Well, I think there needs to be a balance. But my children, they benefit from having both parents in the same home. That is not the key crease right across the board. What is important is that, as parents, we serve as guides, and not persons who just pass instructions. It’s also important to have, for want of a better word, to have an open relationship with your children,” Ninvalle stated.

“It’s important for them to be able to speak to you as a friend and as a father or as a parent. I think with those being the foundations, then you will have children who are good citizens, and that’s basically what we are about,” he explained.

He went on to add about his personal experiences, “We (Ninvalle and his children) have conversations that sometimes people may (wonder) ‘Is this really a father or your friend?’, but at the end of it, it’s always respectful. We are respectful to each other, and I think that, keeping that up will make sure that they go into society and become good parents too, and be able to pass on that baton that we would have given them: of being structured; being rounded; and being respected, respectable and good persons.”

During his time in sport, the current GBA President has come across many athletes, some of whom look up to him as a father figure or influential. In responding to how he deals with the challenge of being placed in that bracket, Ninvalle shared that he is honoured to be seen in such a light, but emphasised the need for others like him to use their influence meaningfully.

“You know, I, especially in the sport that I’m the President, we see a lot of anger, and sometimes people don’t know where that anger is coming from. And in having cogent conversations with these young athletes, you get to understand that the absence of a parent is the genesis of that anger,” he explained.

Ninvalle continued: “Sometimes it’s for you to help to guide and channel that anger into something that can become productive, rather than becoming counterproductive. That is why it’s important to have conversation. That’s the only way you can find out what is going on. And conversations, whether short or long, will be able to open that door to you that you may be able to help that individual,” he said.

“Those are some of the common things that you see. Being a mentor or a father figure is something that I take, I embrace with both hands, because of the fact that I, more than many people, can understand the need of having both parents. So that’s something that I take on, I’m glad that I can be seen as that. And that’s something I will continue to do,” he concluded on the topic.

Especially in his sport of expertise, the Director of Sport has noticed the need for mental health awareness. In combatting this problem, Ninvalle disclosed that he has made an attempt for the National Sports Commission to has psychology services readily available.

He related to this publication, “Well, I think it’s very, very important. And that’s why, from the platform of the National Sports Commission (NSC), we have now included that psychologist to work with sports people, and to make the psychologist much more accessible. I’m not saying that we came and we started with it, but we made it much more accessible.”

“In Guyana, there’s a stigma that goes along with mental health: that if you see a psychologist, you’re a madman or a madwoman; and a lot of times people shy away from actually getting that help, because they don’t want to be labelled as a madman or a madwoman. Well, you may be a mad person if you don’t want to get that sort of help. And that’s why we have to be able to reach out in a way, in a confidential way, because mental health issues are so serious, and it manifests itself in so many ways.”

On the same train of thought, Ninvalle added, “So, not only that your body must be fit, but we expect that to have a fit mind and a fit body is the greatest platform for having an athlete that can excel.”

Speaking on ways that other influential figures can be a part of the cause, especially in regard to empowering young men, Ninvalle suggested taking some time out to pay attention to their needs, rather than being autorotative.

“Spend some time! Volunteer! You know, I remember a friend of mine, Mr. Frank De Abreu, the he said to me, ‘Steve, only busy people get things done, or only busy people find time to get things done. It’s a profound statement, but I think that we must look at it as ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. And if we look at it from that point of view, then we’ll be able to roll our sleeves up and assist the younger generation,” the Director of Sport began.

He went on to solidify his point by sharing, “And if we don’t, as influential, or as mature, or as educated, or whatever you want to call it, if we do not find an avenue, whereby we can assist in guiding – and that’s why I started the conversation by saying that it’s important not for us to just pelt out demands and instructions, but to be looked upon as guiding figures, because that is easier to embrace when you guide – if we do not find time to do that, then you’re not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem. And I would want to be at all times a part of the solution.”

Much more than sharing opinions is the ability to put it into action. A firm believer of this, the Director of Sport was kind enough to share just one brainchild geared at empowering youths, particularly athletes. According to the GBA Boss, he would like to see athletes’ education being developed, to match their remarkable talents.

Ninvalle explained his reasoning, saying, “One thing is that, and this is something that I would like to see and I would like to implement…for the persons who excel, we can provide avenues for them to be educated. It goes hand in hand, and many times we can see that we have excellent sportsmen and sportswomen, but that’s all; it stops there.

“There’s a life after sport, and I would want to make sure that if we can have them be much more rounded, then we can apply that aspect of it. Of course, this idea, like many others, does not come without stipulations, but for this prominent male figure, it will go a long way to birthing a new generation of successful athletes and adults. That’s a personal goal of mine, but it must be done in a very structured way. In the sense that, if you have this and you do not perform, then, you know, tuition may be lessened, because you must have a way of having checks and balances. And it’s not there for just you go to school for two days and then you sleep for the next five. So, it must be in a structured way,” he repeated.