Learning to win!

For a long time, sports have served as an essential building block within communities, while advocates would preach how they educate our youth in the qualities of discipline, respect, hard work and team work, while kids avail of the physical and mental health benefits. This may no longer be the case!

Over the last 2 months, the Dublin District Schoolboy League has reported that seven underage soccer games have been abandoned due to violent incidents involving children, coaches, parents & referees. Children as young as 11 have been involved in such incidents.

The executive of the DDSL has warned that players could be hurt or die if such incidents continue. Mass brawls have become an issue where players and spectators have been getting involved and have at times resulted in adults “verbally or physically striking out at young players.” The league has since threatened to use fines and long bans to avoid such issues, but why is this necessary and when did it all get so serious?

Constant streams of live sports are now massively accessible, as the public and our children look for inspiration and heroes to emulate. Strong arguments can be made that the elite sporting world contains some less than desirable characteristics and promotes a ruthless environment unsuitable for our kids or amateurs. Within the course of the last 2 months some widely publicised sporting stories have occurred nationally which would be sure to send mixed signals to our children and their mentors.

Our sacred GAA pitches have drawn criticism for mass brawls throughout the country. “Sledging”- the act of verbally berating your opponent throughout the game is becoming a necessary skill for all GAA players, which may explain why borderline riots, at times involving in excess of thirty grown men are a common site at club level games around the country. One particularly bad episode in a semi-final replay clash between Dingle and East Kerry in October, resulted in a member of the coaching staff physically assaulting younger participants. The video footage went viral and was a huge talking point for weeks after.

The most watched televised sport in Ireland is currently Soccer and many are aware of the problems faced here. The professional game is widely associated with ‘hooliganism’, where adults are free to engage in verbal and physical abuse in support of their chosen team. Players are encouraged to fain injury and ‘dive’ in an effort to get opponents punished or win penalties and free-kicks. Time wasting to run down the clock and verbal abuse of officials are common elements, which are easily detectable every Saturday afternoon on live TV.

Perhaps modern days sports do provide a set of values to our children, do whatever it takes to win, and anything goes!

Assault, verbal abuse, feigning injury & cheating are not desirable parts of a functioning society so why are they tolerable when exercised within the elites of sports? A common argument is that the commercial aspect is now so strong, that the pressure to win and entertain has reached extreme magnitude and surpasses any ethical obligations. Can or should these multi-million pound events still be viewed as sports or games?

Managers, coaches and attending spectators (usually parents) bare a burden of responsibility at this level. They may need to consider downplaying the importance of winning, and instead educate players morally. Recently an initiative was launched in America, requesting all parents who would attend little league games to complete a one-hour workshop on how to behave as a ‘sports parent’.

Many parents may read through this article and conclude that their kids can behave in a certain manner within the sporting world without it reflecting their behaviour within society or that we must imitate the elites to reach the top. However, based on recent events, we could all benefit from drawing a line between the sport business and sport itself, while remembering that it’s just a game!

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