Through their eyes

I was going to blog on withdrawal from school sport as a possible sanction, but today something occurred that I have to get off my chest.

Saturday morning school sport is one of the most rewarding elements of my job. My U13 team had just finished up the last game of the season and instead of letting them run off to change, they were encouraged to watch and support the U12 team on the next pitch who were still playing.

55 minutes of play had elapsed with my school losing 7-0, but pushing hard to restore some pride. The right wing for my school was giving the left back for the opposition a torrid time. It was clear that the young boy at left back for the opposition was tiring, probably having given all for almost an hour in stopping our best player from having any impact on the game. God this guy is good, he is quicker than me, fitter than me and has good feet. But I must be doing well. They haven’t scored, I’ve not let him into the game. We are winning 7-0. Parents from his side were shouting instructions ‘go with the runner’, ‘stand him up’, ‘push him wide’, ‘knock him off the ball’, ‘close him down’, ‘stay on your feet’. I know what I should do. I’ve been doing it all game. But they are adults. They might know better. Which one should I listen to? I can’t quite make it out. I’ll give them my attention. This young boy received all this verbal feedback all at once in the time taken to blink an eye. He looked over at these vocal parents, no doubt to try and understand what they were saying. This was the moment our right wing beat him on the inside, and found the head of our centre forward, who duly buried the ball in the back of the net.

The young left back from the opposition stood with his hands on his hips, laboriously breathing, head down. Oh no. That was my fault. I should never have taken my eyes off him or the ball. I’m so tired though. A few minutes to go. I’ve got to keep going. The calls from the sideline of the parents lacked any sympathy or motivation. ‘Rubbish’, ‘get him off’, ‘you should have stood him up’, ‘why do you never listen.’ I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve let you down. I won’t let it happen again. Lets get on with the game. This was mirrored by his team mates. Not one offered a hand, kind word or positive gesture. His centre back partner just ran past him and said ‘what the hell were you doing’? I don’t know. I’m tired. I’ve given my best. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I’ve let you down.

He then hears the voice of his coach, beckoning him over to the sideline. He slowly trots to the opposite side, under the full glare of players, parents and supporters. I’m sorry coach. I’m sorry I’ve let you down. I’m tired and everyone was shouting instructions at me and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to listen to them, and I made a mistake. This is embarrassing. Why do you need to talk to me now. We are winning though, we’ve played really well. ‘What the hell was that?!’ rang around the pitch. This coming from the coach of the opposition side. I was shocked. I looked at the parents of the opposition and they were not taking any notice. In fact they were still discussing the mistake, whilst sipping on their branded coffees. I looked at the players on the pitch. The U12’s from my school were all stood still, looking at the scene that was unfurling on the opposite touchline. The opposition U12’s were jogging into place to restart. ‘You’re not fit enough, you’re lazy and keep your eyes on the bloody ball’ at the same time of saying this he threw, with some force, a ball at the child to make his point. It hit him square in the face, because the child was starring at the ground during this astonishing admonishment. ‘Go out there and sort it out.’ Im worthless. I don’t want to be out there. Everyone’s looking at me and laughing. I’d rather be anywhere else than here right now.

3 minutes later the game ended. The left back spent those last three minutes playing through bitter tears. After the customary three cheers and handshakes the two teams huddled around their coaches for finals words. I listened to the NQT, an ex pro rugby player, deliver the debrief. ‘I want you to think about 3 positives from today’s game and then share those positives with with another teammate.’ After giving them time to discuss he then asked four or five boys what positives they had and helped them expand on it to incorporate the whole team. Who tried hard? Who tried something new this time? What have they done that they haven’t done before? What improvements have they made from last week? He reminded them that he enjoyed coaching them, that they were a pleasure to spend time with and watch. This was in stark contrast the the debrief that was happening just 15m away from us. The team that had won 7-1 were getting shouted at for conceding a ‘soft goal’. The left back was being singled out of some serious criticism in front of his peers. Now you could say that our approach may be the reason for our loss, but this is youth sports. The ultimate aim of youth sports must be to keep them playing and enjoying themselves. After what I have just witnessed the question shouldn’t be why do children withdraw from sport, it’s how have we got any of them playing at all?

I began writing this post in anger. That has turned to shame. Shame that I did nothing for that young left back. I didn’t challenge the parents. I didn’t challenge the coach. I didn’t say any words of comfort and encouragement to him. I did nothing to challenge the culture of intimidation and destruction I witnessed. I did nothing to challenge the fear and uncertainty that seemed to be apparent. Maybe it’s not my place to do so, but if not me, then who? Perhaps if we all spoke up and challenged, then these incidents would cease to happen.

Watching the opposition coach and also the NQT within my department has made me reflect on my own practice. The positivity that our team ended with, even after a bad defeat, was tangible. He would leave the corrections and analysis for the next practice and allow them to depart the game with the belief that they were getting better as a team, that they were improving as individuals and that even in defeat the act of playing sport is an enjoyable experience. It has also made me think about the young people we coach. It is their time. It is their experience. It is their game. We are there for them, not the other way around. We need to remind ourselves and them of this simple fact; that We are there for them. Therefore we should try to imagine everything we say and do through their eyes.

Advertisements

22 thoughts on “Through their eyes

    1. Thanks Lisa. If I’m honest I don’t learn a lot from the PGCE’s and NQTs I have worked with, but yesterday I really did. I always want to dissect a game after it finishes and its probably not in the best interests of our overall aim of keeping students involved in sport. Watching my NQT deliver his debrief, especially considering he had been a pro rugby player before he retrained, was an excellent piece of PD for me. I think I will try to follow his lead, especially when I’m coaching the younger students and try to make every child feel like they accomplished something and improved no matter what the score was.

      Like

  1. Guilty of this – seeing our coaches almost bully their students over minor mistakes and not protecting them at the time – but if they are not my students, is it my place to do so? Particularly at a young age – criminal. I tend to get into the older lads a little bit more, especially ones on route to university or higher level sport, but even so really refreshing to hear about your NQT. When I was an NQT we went 35 games all year, and one won. Now I have the luxury of winning most games, and it is easy to get caught up in chasing victories. Thanks for this.

    Like

    1. I know what you mean about them not being our students, even more so when I am at another school, with their parents and coaches. However I feel shame and guilt after not acting on. i actually feel as culpable as the individuals that were acting in that manner. If we don’t make a stand, who will? If there is a next time, which I hope there will not be, I will try to remain calm and professional and do something about it.

      Like

      1. It’s a big stance to make, especially in front of other schools parents and on their home turf – but hopefully one that lets them all see how ridiculous stuff like this is within school sport. I have had a few conversations both after and in the heat of the moment with parents from my school in situations like this – and I have not regretted it as it has helped at the time and overall. I think the key is in the delivery – you cannot be seen to be a “sore loser” and call out other schools’ faults – it wouldn’t even be registered then, and would shine you in a bad light

        Like

      2. The ‘sore loser’ response has been made to me on a number of occasions when I have raised concerns or questioned practices on the side of the pitch. I really don’t want to let things go, but perhaps on the side of the pitch with emotions running high isn’t the best time to bring my issues up. I could have at least found the child, shaken his hand and told him he played well and had a good game. I sent an email on the Monday raising my concerns. The response left me a little disappointed. Not sure what else I can do.

        Like

  2. Well done for blogging about this. Unfortunately this is why we need FA respect lines and rules about parents only shouting encouragement. I think what you witnessed from the coach is a safeguarding issue.

    Like

    1. I wish I didn’t have to blog about it. I wish I didn’t have to see it. My worry is that the parent of the child was on the sideline, witnessed the incident, and did nothing about it. I will make a complaint to my opposite number in the morning, but I know I will have a counter accusation of ‘sore loser’. What I have learnt from this horrible episode is doing nothing at all is just as bad as being part of it. Next time I will act.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Heartbroken – that champion in the making was just destroyed by older folk who can not fathom the effect they have had. If a coach / teacher ever threw anything at my players they’d be off.
    That poor parent that had to pick that child up that night….

    Hope everyone that reads remembers to stand up to the bully – and remind our side liners what life is really all about – and its not about the end score….
    Coaching for the parents needed as well ! In rugby youth we have parent contracts signed for side line behavior.

    I attended an U8 and U9 soccer game with my son last week – and was very cognizant of my use of words from the sideline. We’ve been reviewing Carol Dwecks work on the use of praise and I’ve been trying to bring this into my daily vocab. Good effort, great running, I liked the way you worked together, You worked really hard out there, etc…
    To be honest our kids are all heart – and their skills are still developing. They were just excited to be on a bus, miss 30 minutes of school and be travelling across town – it was SO exciting! (Plus there was some soccer)

    I watched a coach from the other U8 team (Apparently a top soccer famous guy from UK) tell his team “this kid is our scorer – our best player – when you get the ball – pass to him – he will score!” I remember thinking “My god, that poor kid so much pressure – and what if he doesn’t score, will he still the the best player? and his team mates – wow! the poor goalie – could play his heart out and save a blinder – but the label of ‘best player’ has already been awarded – even before we’ve started – and what if I didn’t pass to the ‘best player’ what would happen???”

    We lost both matches – but didn’t matter – kids were ecstatic – photos in the goal, team cheers and coach had a gatorade for each of the players for the bus journey home!!! Bonus!

    I asked my son what his best part of the day was – Guess?
    Sure enough it was the bus ride and the gatorade! So I guess he’ll be turning up to training next week with a smile on his face and some eager feet…

    Like

    1. I love this story. Its put a big smile on my face. This is what youth sport should be about. Being active, smiling, making friends and potentially getting a little bit better. It is good to readers the balance and hear that youngsters are getting a good time when they play youth sport. Thank you for taking the time to share.

      Like

  4. One of the matches I coached this year, we lost 4-1 to another u9 team and the coach was yelling at his players. I wandered over to him and asked if everything was okay and why he was yelling at them. ‘Because they’re not doing it right!’ Was the reply. I told him his team had played well, they were not going to lose do why did they need to be yelled at? I didn’t get a reply.

    Like

    1. Play to win or love to play? Which one is going to keep young children involved, happy and active with sport? I know which one I want to aspire to…and If I can win a few matches on the way its a bonus.

      Like

  5. I find this subject angers me more than most. There is nothing worse than this type of bullying really. I have a rule at my school that I will only give feedback during the first half of a game as 9/10 you are repeating yourself anyway. I say nothing during the second half as I feel this lets players make their own decisions and in reality learn to play the game and think for themselves. Also anyone says anything negative about my players they are asked to leave. I experienced this as a child and it nearly drove me to stop playing all together!

    Like

    1. Hi Steve. You are right. It is bullying. You can dress it up as character building, frustration or preparing them for adult sports, but when you get right down to it it is bullying. I really like your approach. In the end 100% of the decisions made on the pitch are the students. We as coaches get our chance to prepare our teams in training, pre match talk and half time, but in the game it has to be the child’s.

      Like

  6. […] journey ride with an ex pupil who gave me brutally honest feedback on my coaching style, and an incident at a school fixture and the constrasting approaches between the experienced opposition coac…. I’m not sure how much these would have resonated with me if it hadn’t been for my […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s