Why do we play sport? The answer will vary depending on whom you talk to.
Some will say because of the competition, some will say to keep fit. To be a part of a team and the friendships you will form may be another reason, but then some people prefer individual sports as they struggle in that team environment, it is not for everyone. Many play purely for the fun and joy of exercising, and doing what they enjoy, sometimes irrespective of how good they are.
Talk to many coaches who give up their time to coach juniors and a very high percentage will tell you that the players today are distracted, selfish, fail to take instruction, cannot cope with criticism, and think they are better than they really are. To make matters worse the parents think their child is better than they really are.
So why is this the case? Is it because coaching has become so much more structured in the last 20 years? In years gone by when coaching courses were only for those who had ambitions to coach at the highest level, junior coaches fell back on what they knew from their playing days or life experience. Usually that was the basics of a game, how to pass, how to head a ball without shutting your eyes, watching the ball onto the bat, basic skills that enabled children to play the game.
In cricket today the influence of T20 is powerful, and every child wants to blast the ball to all parts of the ground without learning the basic shots which will eventually allow them to know which shot to play to which ball. They all want to play a symphony on a piano without learning where each key is.
Today’s world is fast-paced, and everyone wants everything now. This could be why modern day children struggle to spend the time learning the basics and become frustrated when they cannot do it properly straight away and then give up. Or is it because the learning of the basics is no longer fun? There is too much standing around and not enough doing.
Or is it because young players today are rewarded before they have actually achieved anything?
We see across many sports every player who played in a team over a season receive a trophy, irrespective as to whether the team finished first or last. So in essence they receive a trophy for being a part of a team, or simply for turning up. One justification for this is that it will give the child something to help them remember that season by. Seriously? Most of the trophies are so ugly or so cheap they will be lucky if they survive until their late teens. Surely a team photograph with every player’s name would be a far better memento?
Should junior athletes be rewarded with “Best Player” awards? Should we be singling out individuals at such a young age? In junior sport it is often abundantly clear to anyone who watches who the stand-out players are. Children are often more perceptive than adults, and if you see who they pass to or let bowl, they already know who the best player is. Surely it is more important to encourage a collective spirit? To emphasise that they are a team, and as the cliche goes that they win and lose as a team?
If we look at the junior teams now linked to A-League clubs, these young players walk out and play in their various leagues in the colours of the A-League clubs they represent. Should that even be happening? Many believe, along with their parents that being a part of the junior set up means that they will one done play in the first team. Yet sadly that is in most cases never going to be the case. So should these players not wear a different strip, a strip similar, but not the same as the first team kit?
Should the first team kit not be reserved for those who have earned the right to wear it? Should it not be as sacrosanct as an All Black shirt or a baggy green cap? What do these players really strive for when they are already wearing the club’s kit?
Ask many young players in the UK or other countries around the globe who made it and they will tell you that they never got to play on the first team pitch, or inside their team’s stadium until they made it to the first team, until they had earned that right. In some sports players never even went into the first team dressing room.
Today we see Youth teams staying in five star hotels, the same hotels that the first team players stay at. Is that right? What do they have to aspire to if they are given these luxuries before they have won a senior contract, and shown that they are worth it.
Some young players will not need the motivation of wearing the strip, or playing on the first team pitch, they have their own motivation to succeed and their own drive. Some will succeed, and some will fall short. However you can rest assured that those who make sacrifices, such as not going out with mates, and having a girlfriend, drinking, and instead opt to train on their own will go a lot further than many more talented individuals.
There has been plenty written and spoken about how scouts and coaches watch the body language of today’s young players. They watch their attitude around team mates, see what they post of Facebook in order to gauge the type of person they are and whether they are suitable to make the step up.THis is all very well but surely there is a lot also to be said for going back to some of the ways of the past?
In the past you only won trophies when the team won. If you could not master the basics you were not picked. If you wanted to succeed, and play to a high level, you were expected to make sacrifices and show a commitment away from organised training. Your rewards had to earned.
Not everything was right in the past, as some coaches overstepped the mark in terms of humiliating players and destroying them. Now, however the coaches have to stand being berated and abused by parents in from of their children, which undermines the coach completely. So where do you draw the line?
The key when you are young is not what formation you play, or where you place your field, but learning the basic skills. How can you enjoy reading a book or a magazine if you have not learned the basics of reading and comprehending the meaning of words. Even simple things to most of us like running and walking, we took time to learn these basic skills.
Winning is not everything. Improving and knowing that you have done something better is. Also knowing that that improvement made a difference to your own game, and possibly your team’s, is huge, it is euphoric. It is what makes sport enjoyable, moments when you made a difference, and moments when you executed something perfectly.
Surely there is merit in keeping sport simple and fun up until a certain age? Once you have mastered the basics it then comes down to finding your level. Not the level your parents want you to play at, but the one your talent, your ability or even your desire takes you to. Many very talented players would rather play with their mates and enjoy their chosen sport rather than play at an elite level. There is nothing wrong with that. It is their choice, and as long as they are enjoying what they are playing, who cares.
Ultimately it comes back to why you participate in sport. Are we equipping the youth of today with the skills to continue playing sport when it becomes their choice, or will many give up when they realise that they cannot make money from playing? Time will be the judge.