A Sporting Chance


Many of us would have experienced this at one time or another.
Watching her son spend most of yet another game on the sideline prompts Rebecca Chaney to reflect on whether a winning – is ? everything ?mentality belongs in children?s sport
My 12-year old son?s football team won a hard fought match on the weekend, but my son isn?t happy. My son played well, with some great passes, but my son isn?t happy. His team is doing well, but my son is not happy. My son isn?t happy because he sat on the sideline for so much of the match. He isn?t happy because he spent time on the sideline last weekend?s match as well.
You can?t spend all the time on the field, I hear you say. Everyone needs to have a turn on the sideline. And I agree. The thing is, not everyone does spend time on the sideline. I know that it?s early in the season, but already, it seems as if there are two groups within this team: the ?stars? and the ?others?. To put simply the stars spend the whole match on the field. The others do not.
An interesting thing happened at this very same match. There is a boy in the team who is lightning fast with supersonic kick to boot (Pardon the Pun). A lovely, friendly boy, he seems to be the spearhead of our goal tally. He is one of the stars. Well, as usual, this boy ran fast and played very well. He ran and ran and ran ? until he couldn?t run anymore. ?I want to come off?. He puffed at our sideline. ?I need you to stay on,? was the answer yelled back by the coach, to which this boy replied in the only way he could. He sat down. He sat down in the middle of the field, exhaustion taking over and dictating his response. Then this boy got what he wanted. He got what he needed. He came off the field. Then my son got what he wanted he went on.
This leads me to ask; what is more important to these children? For at the age of 12, they are still children.  Is it playing as a team, with equal responsibility and participation by all? Or is it playing the team with the best chance of winning, the best chance of making the finals?
What is the ultimate aim of children playing football, or any team sport, for that matter? Is it for the glory of bringing home the trophy at the end of the season? Or is it for each team member tofeel they are playing part in the game they signed up to play? The game these kids train two nights a week for, for up to 2 hours at a time. Training for a game that all players pay registration and match fees for. The same fees, no matter how long a player is on the field.
I watched parents on the sidelines of this match. I watched the parents of both teams. Parents were screaming at their children to try harder; parents were screaming at the referee about the unfairness of his decisions; parents were screaming at anyone who cared to listen about why the world was going to stop turning if their children did not win this match. It made my stomach churn.
I watched the star after he dragged himself of the field and slumped to the ground on the sideline. I felt sorry for him as I overheard him tell his mother that he couldn?t run anymore because he literally couldn?t breathe. His shirt clung wet to his back and his face was contorted in pain as he grasped for air. It was no fairer on him than it was on my son. The pressure to be the best affects all who play.
I watched my son race onto the field for the last two minutes of a match we had already won and I wondered why it had to be like this. Why does all the talk at training centre on the final result for the season, and not the journey and the joy that can be experienced trying to get there? Why can?t a group of children play their game for the sheer fun of it, with a finals berth being a lovely possible bonus and not the ?be all and end all?? Or is that being too simplistic?
In life, winners are grinners and everyone else tends to be forgotten, but why can?t children be shielded from this cruel reality for as long as possible?
My son had a question for me after the match. It is a question he asked me the previous match as well. He asked me if I thought he played well. I answered him honestly as I could. ?You did play well?, I said. It was true. My son is actually quite a good player and he never lets the team down with his dedication and commitment. ?But others played better,? he added, nodding towards the cluster of stars.
What could I say to make him feel happier? To stop him from going home feeling less than the winner he is in my eyes? He and I both know he will never be one of the stars of the team, but every week he plays to the best of his ability. Every week he gives 100% effort. I tell him that this is all he can do. I tell him that is all that anyone can ask for. I tell him I am proud of him.
Sadly, in today?s competitive world, where winning means everything, playing to the best of your ability is often not enough. You may still end up being a regular on the sideline. It?s a hard pill for a 12 year old to swallow.
My son is not sure whether he will return to football, the game he loves, next season. He is thinking of trying something new. He wants to try something where he hopes he will be given a fairer go. I hope, maybe naively, that he will be lucky. I hope his search will not be in vain. Above all else, I hope he will be happy.
A sporting chance by Rebecca Chaney 22-Apr-2010