No.2 son lay down on the astroturf. It wasn’t fatigue, sun-bathing or an injury. It was a sort of frustration and detachment. His team were losing, again.
Mrs TL squirmed. The Head Coach trotted onto the pitch, helped him up, led him to the side of the pitch and had a quiet word. But a heavy mood had set in and no.2 son remained stroppy and down.
The next Saturday, back on grass, but the same anger and bad temper returned. No.2 son saw his best friend and teammate beaten in goal. He shouted angrily at his mate from the half-way line.
Midweek practice has been similarly affected. After several homeward journeys of tears and grumpiness, we agreed with no.2 son that he would give the Wednesday night kick-about a miss if he couldn’t be sure he would enjoy the session – whatever the score in his match.
So where has this inability to tolerate defeat come from?
High stakes matches? Not at all.
Is there pressure from club and parents to win? Not that I’ve noticed.
No.2 son plays for our local club, which has an exemplary attitude towards football for primary school children. In the early years, most sessions are spent with every child having a ball to develop players who are comfortable with the ball at their feet. Small sided (three, four, five) games are gradually introduced. They take up the last third of each practice session. Nobody records the scores. It was only a few months ago, no.2 son would tell me the score was 1-1 and that he had scored three goals. But recently, he’s left in a terrible mood if his team hasn’t won.
A fortnightly festival brings no.2 son and teammates up against other clubs. Scores aren’t kept, rankings aren’t tabulated. But each game is a mini-competition for the children. And there’s a little more atmosphere, created by the likes of Obsessed Dad and Twitchy Dad.
No.2 son’s brush with a pro-club development centre has probably encouraged him to take his game seriously, although the same principles are followed at the development centre.
Maybe it’s the influence of no.1 son, who plays in a club league and for his secondary school, that has made his younger brother over-competitive. That’s the no.1 son whose club side have played 13, lost 11 this season and who is getting more pleasure than ever from the game – so maybe it’s not him.
I believe it comes from within. For all the coach’s and organiser’s efforts to make the game fun, the parents’ studious avoidance of caring who won and lost, there are some children who see play in terms of winners and losers. Given the language of sport that suffuses their juvenile existence, maybe it’s surprising how many don’t react like this. And when they are young, defeat – albeit a loss only they are conscious of – distresses. For the time being we walk a tricky path: encouraging no.2 son in a sport he does so enjoy, but helping him deal with the inevitability of defeat.