Monthly Archives: October 2013

Tough dads and soft lads

tackle 2The junior football season is into its second month. New players have been accommodated, fresh playing positions tried out, coaching innovations introduced and the lethargy of some boys’ summer holidays run out of them.

We parents are back in the swing, too. We’ve organised the car pool to share the burden of the trip to the training night held in another town. One Dad has taken on the mantel of coffee and bacon sarnie purchaser for Sunday morning fixtures. (Some parents will do anything to avoid putting up the goal-nets.) And we’re in good voice, too.

Our contingent won’t be shaming our sons with curses or referee criticism, but neither do our sons play in silence. There’s one phrase that you’ll hear uttered, bellowed or screeched more than any other. Our players may make a defence splitting pass, dive to save a certain goal or dribble around three opponents. But the words you’ll hear most frequently, encourage and celebrate another activity

Well in!

We most readily and energetically give our vocal support for a strong tackle. There are some sound football reasons for this. Tackling is evidence of commitment. It shows a young player’s determination to perform well and to play his (or her) part in the team. The youngster who rushes to confront and dispossess an opponent often appears to be immersed in the flow of the game. Their senses are focused on this game and nothing else, they are giving everything and inhabiting ‘the zone’. Nor should we forget that tackling is a skilful manoeuvre,

But there’s another perspective – we want our boys to act like little men.

I have a theory that accounts for some, although certainly not all, of this particular touchline behaviour. Many dads, I believe, find it difficult to associate with their young sons, who seem effeminate. Their infant boys play with teddies and toy animals, slides and swings. I have sometimes seen these dads with their nursery age children at the local swimming pool. Their sons cling to the pool’s edge or hesitate on the side, fearful of the water that would cover their head, although it laps at their father’s midriff. A few minutes of quiet persuasion test the Dad’s patience and soon he’s rebuking the boy for wasting his time, for cowardice.

But once they are in a football team, with Dad following from the touchline, the father-son connection can be made. And those dads don’t want a soft lad, but one who gets stuck in and shows the kind of physical bravery that the Dad can be proud of, can ruffle their boy’s hair in appreciation of afterwards.

It is axiomatic that a boy that goes down injured on the field shouldn’t be pitied or sympathised with by his Dad. I still marvel at the experience of standing beside PartyDad at an indoor practice seven years ago. His young son sprinted in front of us, was tripped when moving at full pelt, slapped into the leisure centre floor, sprawled and skidded. PartyDad didn’t react: not a comment about the fall, the boy who tripped his son, he didn’t even flinch at the moment of impact.

I remember no.1 son getting a boot in the face at a game once and trying to joke that he’d been complaining none of his teeth were falling out, so this should sort it out for him. It’s not just a lack of pity that’s shown. The boy who cries because of the pain, the cold or the shock of a collision is “soft” – not hurt, upset or frightened.

There is probably a solution to this nonsense, though. It’s Touchline Mums, who (without running onto the pitch to comfort their injured progeny) not only see when a child is in pain or scared, but aren’t reluctant to remind their menfolk how they bleat like sheep when they suffer a cold, an in-growing toenail or even a hangover.

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1, 2, 3, ‘andstand

handstandOpening the door to the gym, I’m aware of the odour of the shoe drawers at the same moment as I hear “1, 2, 3 ‘andstand.”

I have come to collect the 1&onlyD from one of her twice weekly gymnastics classes. The two hour session ends with the handstand contest. Girls on one side of the mat, boys on the other, in direct competition. The first ‘team’ to get ten points wins. A point is won by having one of your gymnasts holding their handstand longest.

The girls win. They always do. They have Katie, who has near perfect upside-down balance. Even if they didn’t have Katie, there are three or four times as many girls as boys, which when only one gymnast can win each round, is a telling advantage. But they do have Katie and she wins all ten of their points.

The unvarying nature of the contest baffles me. The gender division seems crude. The whole thing felt anachronistic, even before I was talking to a Mum on the football touchline who, 25 years ago, was a member of the same gymnastics club, and who confirmed they ended every session with the ‘andstand competition.

Tonight’s contest gets fraught. A couple of the boys, getting their usual whipping, are sharing a joke.

Stop talking, concentrate. No wonder you’re losing. It’s a disgrace behaving like that.

barks the Coach, before initiating round 9 (girls 8, boys 1). That’s another old-fashioned thing about the gym – the coaching, particularly that practised by the boys’ coach. Where coaches learning their craft today are upbeat, interrogative and incontinent with praise and encouragement, this coach is complaining, picky and grudging with positive comment.

Maybe gymnastics, at this level, hasn’t altered in the last forty years, so the same methods can be applied. But young people have changed. There is no concession to this. Motivation, rather than something the coach must nurture, is taken as a given.

Does it sound like the sort of place you would let your nine year old daughter spend four hours each week?

The girls coaching is less abrasive, more sympathetic. The 1&onlyD has never been spoken to harshly, even if she doesn’t receive the near continuous reinforcement I hear from coaches in other sports.

But as notable as I find the communication style of the boys coach with his charges, I am just as surprised by how little it appears to affect those boys. They show him no more or less respect and only a little less affection than my lads pay their football coaches. There’s  no outcry from their parents and attendance seems strong and long-lasting.

So, while it’s not the way I would choose to deal with children I was coaching, I wonder if we make too much of the importance of the coach building rapport. Kids learning sport need safety, supervision and some direction, but once they have that, if they are doing something they enjoy, they are content to continue. And continuing means another round of “1, 2, 3 ‘andstand.”

 

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