View from the sidelines

Yesterday my friend David went to watch his son play football. When I commented that today he would probably be hoarse he informed me that any form of cheering, encouraging or calling out was frowned upon. So far they don’t seem to have a vivizula ruling but no doubt it will follow.His son is 11.
This morning, purely by chance, there was an article in the Metro about after school clubs banning parents from watching their children playing sport because the parents could get too competitive! Which presumably means they shout encouragement from the sidelines, although I guess it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to picture the occasional parental bust y gb c up in the mud over the ref’s decision or the validity of a tackle.
As a very non sporty person this was all news to me. I have a picture in my mind of muddy kids and shivering parents on the sidelines cheering and clapping which is obviously well out of date.
As a person working with schools I understand the issues of course. We want kids to enjoy sport without feeling pressured, we want everyone to feel valued and that their contribution is an indivisible part of the whole, we don’t want any child to feel criticized or shamed, compared negatively or to feel dispirited.
The sounds of laughter that accompanied my one and only Secondary School Sports Day appearance in the 100 yard sprint (at least 100 metres is shorter) still haunt me and if I ever find out who put my name down …. ! Old wounds run deep.
The problem as I see it is we are constantly removing all those bad experiences from our children’s lives, and I fully support the desire to do so, but by our actions we are diminishing their resilience to everyday life enormously. Everyone needs to learn to deal with criticism and to look for the truth in what others think of us without taking on board anything designed to sting or devalue us. these are huge skills and need much practice. We need to learn to desire winning enough to commit to it to the limits of our skills and abilities but to be magnanimous and gracious when we don’t make it. Also a set of skills and concepts that need to be learnt by doing.
What I see are children who are half hearted in their efforts much of the time, argue every decision that does not go in their favour, expect to be rewarded and praised no matter what and refuse to participate when they don’t feel they will come out on top.
Is the way to make this better really to cushion them further?
I’m not saying I know the answers, I don’t, but it seems to me that some things need to be learnt in one environment and some in another. Of course children need to learn to share, co-operate, be forgiving and supportive, caring and generous. But is the field of competitive sport the arena for this? No-one should be forced into competition against their will and sports and games should be available to everyone of every ability free from shame and embarrassment but let those who want enjoy the edge of competition and have their proud parents cheering on the sidelines, though I’m very glad mine weren’t there to see me run the slowest 100 yards in school history.

© Melinda Nagy |


One comment

  1. I’d hate to see parents haranguing or badgering their kids (or, God forbid, other people’s kids) but surely a little encouragement can’t hurt? Marathon runners often cite the encouragement of the crowd as helping them through their run, especially when they are flagging. Children could do with some of the same encouragement and praise when they are playing sport.

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