There is a whole generation of adults who grew up playing sport in the back yard, the alley way or on any green space that was available to them, but these sporting contests have become a thing of the past.
For the past 20 years this writer has lived opposite a park in Perth and certainly in the last 15 years has never seen a group of children playing a game of football – Aussies Rules or the English variety- cricket or rugby on their own. Occasionally there is a father kicking or throwing a ball with his son, but even that is rare.
No longer are there games of cricket in the backyard where if you hit the ball over the neighbours fence it was “Six and Out.” A rule that taught promising players to keep the ball on the ground. No longer do you bat until you are out, forcing fielders to improve their catching and aim at the stumps should the batsman take a brisk run, in order to get their turn batting. The bowler often having to use guile and thought to get the batsman out rather than simple pace.
In the name of developing sport we have seen over the years some good innovations, such as small-sided games in football. Yet there was still a lot to be said for the timeless games in the park with jumpers as goalposts with sometimes 15-a-side. In these games you learned to handle yourself against bigger opponents. You learned to hold onto the ball in tight spaces and still find a team mate with an accurate pass. Skills that were not necessarily apparent at the time, as they were borne out of necessity.
This week the Mumbai Cricket Association gave the green light to the city’s favourite son, Sachin Tendulkar’s idea to allow school teams to have 14 players rather than the traditional eleven. The new rule will be implemented in the well known Harris Shield and Giles Shield inter school competitions.
The proposal is that each team of 14 can field their best batsmen and bowlers and enable all 14 to play. All players being allowed to bowl in the match.
The new rule is said to be on the verge of being adopted by the Mumbai Schools Sports Association,as well as other states throughout India.
In a country such as India with such a huge population the idea has merit, but will it help India in the long run? Batsmen who are poor fielders are unlikely to improve and bowlers with poor batting skills will have even less opportunity to improve in game situations if they drop from number eleven to number fourteen in the batting order.
There may be some other countries who will follow this lead simply because Sachin Tendulkar suggested it. However questions have to be asked as to whether such a change is once again diluting the competition for places in junior teams?
One of the great things about playing sport as a youngster is it prepares you for life. If you want to be in the team, you have to practise hard and then you have to perform when the opportunity comes or someone else replaces you. Sometimes it is fair, sometimes it can feel and is incredibly unfair. Such disappointments bring out the fighting spirit, the will to win, the determination to overcome disappointment and prove people wrong.
If everything comes easier is it any wonder that when the going gets tough people do not know what to do? Today we see youngsters given trophies simply for playing in a team whether they have won the competition or not. This is we are told done to encourage them. Is making the numbers of participants in a game that has been around for well over 150 years and survived another form of encouragement?
Sometimes it is best rather than to change the rules, to simply make more teams to give more people opportunities. Why try and re-invent the wheel?