Mooar to Say

A column from Raglan Community Radio’s Aaron Mooar

Let’s talk about competitiveness in junior sport. “There’s nothing worse than over the top competitive behaviour,” says one group. “I can’t stand how they’re trying to take competitiveness out of kids’ sport,” says another, adding for good measure that “it’s a competitive world out there and kids need to learn that”.

It’s taken me a while but I realised recently that people are using the word ‘competitive’ to mean two different things. One side of the debate sees ugly supporter behaviour or coaches shouting at their team and they want to see less competitive behaviour – while the other side of the debate hears the call for less competitiveness and worries that they’re trying to make the kids take it easy on the field. It’s no wonder these debates never seem to get resolved.

Unless you’re John Dybvig, I think most people are turned off by adults ranting at kids on the sideline. So that’s probably one thing we can all agree with. I think we can all agree, too, that if a child wants to play their heart out and give it everything on the field then that’s fine. It’s important to know that despite fears from the pro-competitiveness camp no one is actually trying to stop this from happening.

So, aside from the obvious sideline behaviour, what people like New Zealand Football are trying to prevent is adults pressuring kids to win in order to satisfy their own competitive urges, pressure that can be applied with a quiet word or even a look – not just by shouting.

Given that men like to think we’re the less emotional of the sexes it’s ironic that we give in to our emotions when we’re on the sideline. We expect our kids to match those emotions, too, but we forget that adult-strength competitive urges are not appropriate for children – especially younger ones.

I don’t think we’re always aware that we’re responding emotionally but if we apply a bit of logic it seems pretty clear that pressurising children is a poor way to make them perform. No one plays well with someone looking over their shoulder, but kids especially don’t play well when they’re worried about upsetting an adult – and no one learns sport very quickly if they’re too scared to take risks either.

The discovery that children were learning soccer skills better by playing on the street when no adults were around has led to serious changes to coaching systems around the world. Rinus Michels, the FIFA Coach of the Century, has extolled the virtues of street soccer saying that “it is the most natural education system that can be found”.

So it’s pretty clear these days; the evidence is in: We should give up on trying to make the kids meet our expectations, whether it’s around competitiveness or something else that we’re focused on, and just let the kids play.

Aaron Mooar is host of the Morning Show on Raglan Community Radio 98.1FM and streaming live at www.raglanragdio.com