Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stay With Me

Bugger me, Russia is in the news again and funnily enough, it has been like living in Soviet era Russia for the last few weeks. There is only one truth, and the truth is that the Olympics are unequivocally a good thing. It might be true, but it is very strange and a bit unnerving not to hear or read one dissenting opinion. What is even stranger is that outside of the papers and the telly and the radio I have not heard the thing discussed; no one seems to give much of a bugger. Hurray and good for the chaps that did so well, but, you know, life goes on, and life isn't all that good.

Is it me, or has the media lost all sense of reason in reporting Britains glory? I'm sure that I read that the athletics coaches job is under threat because our performance was so poor. Take away the cycling medals and the hooray henry type sports and we didn't exactly cover ourselves in glory did we? Especially as most of the buggers are professionals.

You may have surmised, I am going on about sport again. The 5 live phone in today focussed on competitive sports in schools. Gordon Brown (who, for a man who wrote a whole series of articles on brave politicians is proving himself to be a sorry disappointment) has said we need more competition, as he jumped on the nearest passing bandwagon. Some Labour politicians have been pointing this out for years, so he is a bit late to this particular party. The 5 live phonees were pretty unanimous that limp wristed leftie councils had ruined the nation with their anti competitive ways. I didn't hear any mention of the selling off of school playing fields having a detrimental effect.

Despite the national euphoria, I will not budge from my stance that competition kills kids interest in sport, especially at an early age. Nor will I budge from my stance that the first thing that our nippers should be taught is that sport is good, that sport is fun and and that exercise is a good thing, in and of itself. I won't go on about this nation of couch potatoes again, nor about Finland, but to use a phrase that usually makes me want to throw up, how about a bit of joined up thinking?

On this hand we are urged to be more active, to try this sport, this activity, on that hand we are assailed by articles in the press on age specific activities, public spaces urge us to get off our behinds, it's good for us, our families, the nation, yet the facilities on offer are shit and people who were put off sport at an early age are discouraged from participating. JOIN. UP.THE. THINKING. The Pippas of this world will find their own way: the rest of us, the big wobbly mass, won't.

There were several themes in this mornings phone in, one of them being that the elite athletes need even more public money spent on them. We need to give them the best equipment, pay for them to spend most of the year abroad, honing their skills and pay them a handsome wage on top. Fair enough, up to a point, but as professionals, operating in a market, if they can't sustain themselves, well, tough. I am sure that most of these supreme individuals would want the laws of the free market to apply to the rest of us.

The biggest theme though, was that we were killing our kids with kindness and I just don't buy into this theory. We weren't actually awash with glory through the 30's 40's and 50's, and, as mentioned, the selling off of playing fields has probably had a bigger effect on the nations sporting prowess as political correctness gone mad.

I am not against competition, far from it, but I do believe that we need to foster a love of sport first. Despite my current fat bastard status I was good at all sports as a nipper and could handle myself in a scrap, so this is not the bleating of a life long weakling (just the bleating of a middle aged weakling!) I truly believe that if we encourage all nippers to enjoy sports and give them good facilities and coaches, and emphasise that it is, above all else, fun, we will breed winners and we will breed a generally fitter nation.

My eldest gave up football because the training was crap and he, along with about 30 others were marginalised within the club, at the expense of about 10 or twelve stars, who coincidentally, were the sons and friends of the sons of the coaches. He would get to touch a ball about ten times in a 2 hour session.

My youngsest recently joined his first club, the other side of town from his brothers alma mater. Because he joined late last season, he has also been marginalised, but in a good way. He is stuck with about 10-12 other late comers, so they have 2 hours of really intense, small sided games, and he loves it, because he is always involved. They have had a couple of games, and they have been hammered, but come Monday, they are back at training, raring to go, and week by week you can see them improving. The coaches will leech this sense of joy out of them in time; they absolutely hate it when they lose, but, in the meantime, these kids are learning to play the game and love the game, and they are having a laugh while they do it.

The head coach has been complaining that next year they will only be allowed to play seven a side games and he thinks it is wrong, whereas I rejoice, as this is how the little buggers will learn to love the ball and play the game. The chap doesn't seem to appreciate that the game is about the kids, rather than him, although, he does more than I am prepared to. This country has a bigger number of teenage dropouts from football that any other, because it is not fun. The Dutch have it right, small sided, non competitive games, which encourage a deep understanding of the game and a honing of skills. I suspect that most of those football coaches who phoned Victoria Derbyshire this morning saying that they had to subvert the prevailing ethos would be happy to turn out players in the same way that the Dutch do, but I fear we will never get through to them, and we will always rely on the hooray Henrys to provide us with our short lived Olympic joy.
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