When you’re a kid, sometimes losing is winning
WHY, all of a sudden, do we have to protect our kids from the reality that there are winners and losers in the world?
In junior soccer and Auskick, the modified AFL game for kids, they’re no longer keeping score. Individual performances are not recorded in the junior clubs’ match reports because, well, somebody always feels left out.
There is no premiership ladder and if one side is being beaten too savagely, the game stops and players swap jerseys to even out the contest.
It works well for five-year-olds who struggle to remember which way they’re running, let alone how to get off a technically correct handball. The idea is that kids will only continue to play if they feel they’re making a contribution and it’s a plausible one for boys and girls up to the age of six or seven.
But when a 12 year old can’t be trusted to take a loss without turning to a life of drugs and crime, there is something seriously wrong.
The same polite mediocrity is being forced on parents on the sidelines. To its credit, junior soccer has taken to weeding out psycho parents with “Ssh!” days, during which they are required to make a cash donation every time they call out during a game.
But it’s gone too far at one Sydney club, where a colleague told me he had to pay $13 recently for a series of transgressions that included calling out “Go son” and other such profanities. He informs me that a respectful level of clapping is still allowed.
True, there are idiotic people who treat their kids’ Saturday soccer like a World Cup qualifier, but the majority of us like to think we can turn up with a coffee, have a yarn to the other parents and shout the odd word of encouragement without being carted off by the riot squad.
It’s not just in sport that we have taken it upon ourselves to spare kids the agony of losing. My seven-year-old daughter brought her report card home the other day. I say “card” but it looked more like a 457 immigration visa application.
There was page after page of waffle, with cutesy terns such as “working towards” and “showing promise.” If it wasn’t so obviously a form letter I’d have assumed my little girl was on the Fulbright shortlist.
The point is if you can’t identify a weakness – in football or mathematics – how do you expect a kid to improve? For every 10-year-old happy to be running around on a Saturday just for the fresh air, there is a kid whose three goals every week are being left out of the club records.
How does this system reward the boys and girls who spend their afternoons belting a soccer ball against the garage door while their opponents fill in the time before dinner on Guitar Hero?
“In this game, you are either first or last,” the great league coach Jack Gibson used to day. It doesn’t mean you stop competing if you come out on the wrong end of a 56-0 drubbing in a junior rugby league game. It means you work hard as a group to prevent it from happening next time.
Does winning or losing take the fun out of sport? It’s a stupid question, because there can be no sport without some level of competition. Take victory or defeat out of a contest and what you’re left with is a training session.
Let the kids have fun – but let’s not persist with this dopey philosophy that losing a game or having an off day with the boot is going to rob them of the chance of a normal life.
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