Kids Need to Prepare for Life’s Scoreboard

Originally published in April 2014

Firstly, I would like to congratulate the political correctness pundits for somehow exceeding what even they would call lunacy by barring scoring, and therefore any competition, from junior football. The reason? We should be fostering participation rather than competition in junior sports and employ an “enjoyment philosophy rather than a winning philosophy.” Well, I don’t know about you, but I enjoy winning. Perhaps I should become a philosopher.

Of course, this type of decision is not done rashly, although one could be forgiven for assuming as much. Less surprising, however, is the saturnine influence of the academic fraternity in developing these suggestions, for the proposals are the result of research undertaken by Deakin University in conjunction with the AFL which found children ‘play the game to have fun and not just win.’ It seems that whenever a remnant of fun exists in an activity, the educated elite are ready to pounce and remove it to ensure the rest of us are just as pessimistic as they. Because the suggested changes only demonstrate how detached from reality the administrators of this study are. For years children have competed in sports without concern, it seems tedious to construct an issue now when it fails to naturally exist.

Now, I’m not saying that winning is everything, if that were the case, the junior teams I played for wouldn’t have lasted the season; I celebrated a win less often than I celebrated my birthday. But removing the competitive nature of sport and sugar-coating a child’s participation is only going to leave them ill-prepared for life, because it will engender in them expectations that will ultimately fall starkly short of reality; the reality being that life is not fair. Because in life, just as in sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. Through not fostering this understanding, the proposed restrictions on junior competition are likely to inhibit the ability of children to grow through experience, rather than expedite it.

As a child who played numerous team sports, I was able to learn from the (rare) wins I participated in. Our coaches instilled humility in our team. We respected our opponents, never showboated our victories, and were always congratulatory to the other team – well, every team except Murrumbeena, let’s just say that when the umpires were checking  the studs on our boots, the umpires in their room were patting down each player for flick-knives.

Rivalry jesting aside, it was through losing that I and my teammates developed the more valuable life lessons. It takes courage to put yourself on the field each week with the expectation that you’re not going to perform as well as the other team. Personal and moral strength only fortifies in the face of adversity and helps develop individual endurance. Showing up week-in and week-out, especially when things aren’t going so well, teaches children not to give up when the going gets tough. And competing allows camaraderie to bourgeon, because you begin to put in your best effort not for yourself, but for your team.

When you’re playing to win, everyone is working in unison towards the same goal and rely on each other as they appreciate the little wins. That, or they learn to pick themselves up and keep moving forward when things don’t work out as expected. Removing this from football, and sending kids out to just run around isn’t going to help them; if anything, we’ll breed children borne of expectation and afraid to work for something.

Furthermore, by removing competition from sport we’re also robbing kids of an education, as they will fail to learn that every action has a reaction. In sport, subsequent consequences become tangible on the field, and through each successful and failing action children begin to realise their decisions bear weight on the future.

If you’re going to be a glory hog and turn the ball over when your teammate is open, you’re going to get told off by the coach and lose respect from your peers. If there’s no scoreboard, however, your coach and teammates won’t excoriate you because they have no reason to care  —  your decision didn’t impact the result of anything, so you can carry on behaving as if the world owes you everything. Fast forward ten years and this same lesson lends itself to your career, except your coach is now your boss, and if you stuff up and refuse to adapt your behavior, you’ll likely lose your job.

I agree that it is important to teach children that winning isn’t everything and allow kids to be kids. Children should primarily play sport to have fun, and we should treat winning as a bonus. But, sooner or later, through no fault of their own, they’re going to be competing against each other whether we like it or not.

Rather than setting them up for failure and creating kids who expect the world to bow to their demands, let’s teach them to put in some effort if they want to achieve their goals. After all, life is a scoreboard, and we all have to try and kick goals eventually.


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