Children and some reasons behind ‘Play’: part 2…


Part of the discussions with the young people has been to hear their views on winning and losing and I’m sure what you are going to see will resonate with some of your own experiences. Firstly, this article extends from the previous blog post on ‘Children and Play‘ so please have a read of that one first if you haven’t already to get up to speed. 
Here’s a big thing from kids – winning and losing isn’t actually that big a deal for children. Now of course, there are always anomalies to everything but broadly speaking, the kids aren’t overly concerned. We heard some great quotes from children from the research we did:
“If we’ve lost I’ve normally forgotten about it by the time I’ve had a shower”
“I’m not that bothered about the score, trying your hardest is the most important thing”
“As long as I can have cheesy chips on the way home I don’t really care”
The big thing from children is that the disappointment is short-term. Ten minutes after the game their lives have moved on. But for the adults, it’s ruined their weekend!
So, it could be suggested from all the research and evidence out there that the outcomes of winning and losing is an adult paradox. People (grown ups) tell me that sport teaches you about winning and losing and makes you understand these important life lessons, but does it? 
I once gave 20 coaches on a course a really difficult spelling test and then put on the flip chart the scores from their efforts – 95%, 82%, 64%, 43% etc. and all the way down to the lowest score 4%. I then started writing the names at the top alongside the scores, starting with the highest. The feedback, unanimously in the room after writing the first name, was that the adults didn’t want me to complete the list as the lowest people didn’t ridiculing. Hang on, hasn’t that 20 years of sport taught you to win and lose? Evidently not… 
One of the questions we asked the kids was “would you like a close game where you win or lose 3-2 every week or would you rather win 9-0 every week?”. The feedback was overwhelming, the kids always want the close game, and recognise there is no value in winning 9-0 every week (“every one just starts hogging it”) or losing 9-0 (“it’s just no fun”) every week. But the development comes from close games are staggering, things like:
“You learn about coming from behind to win and how good that makes you feel”
“I like the game to be interesting from the start to the end”
“It’s a much better challenge to be in an even contest”
Now relate this to when we as kids organised our own football or what still goes on in playgrounds or before training now. Four kids turn up, so they play 2v2. One team will start to win and one will start to lose so when the next player turns up, what team do they put him on? The team thats losing, because they wan’t to even the experience up. And if another turns up, they either play 4v2 or move people around to keep the game even. Adults don’t see this – we still want massive goal differences because that might be worth an extra point at the end of the season!
I got into a discussion in the West Midlands with a League there and we were talking about an U13 match. One team had turned up with 14 players and the other turned up with 8 (standard stuff – school ski trip, someone’s birthday etc.) so the two manager’s agreed the score for the League and let the team with 8 play with the 3 subs to play 11v11. Great game, common sense and exactly what the kids wanted. However, the League found out so docked them points for playing ineligible players and fined them! Now, I understand why, because the League just followed the Rules that are in place, but sometimes we need the desires of children to drive the Rules, not the other way round. 
If we are going to make football truly child-centred we have to listen to the children. The outcomes of this might lead to a game that adults don’t agree with, but why should we agree? This is the children’s game and it’s probably about right we gave it back to them in some form. 
Questions to consider:
How important is the value of winning and losing?
What are children’s responses to this – straight after the game, 15mins after the game, at the next training session? Do they align with yours and the parents?
How can you create an environment that moves the child values and adult values closer together?
How do these values change as children get older? Should your behaviours change?

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3 thoughts on “Children and some reasons behind ‘Play’: part 2…

  • April 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    "the kids always want the close game, and recognise there is no value in winning 9-0 every week"

    It's great to hear that! I agree that a close game is always more exciting for both team. No one likes being blown out of the water, and even being on the winning end of that isn't fun after a while.

  • April 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    The majority of players on my U8 Boys team seem to treasure two parts of the experience of each match above everything else:
    1. Playing time. Everyone wants as much as possible, and some players are happiest when they can play a full 48 minutes of the match. (A lot of the kids can only handle 36 minutes.)
    2. Having what feels like a close and competitive match. We've played four matches, and with the exception of one everyone has been decided by one goal. The one exception was a match where one player on our side scored seven goals and we led as much as 7-2 before conceding three more goals. While it was our only win, I think the players got the least out of the experience!

  • April 18, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Very interesting – I have a situation, that as an u8 manager i just don't know which side of the fence to sit on – I have 7 good ability boys and 3 with much less ability, all season i have been giving equal playing time to all (They all pay the same subs, all come to training – so why should i treat them any different) problem is that the stronger boys know who the weaker ones are and vice versa, leading to situations that some opt to not pass to others etc. I feel i need to be fair all round, stronger ones have equal ability team mates, and weaker ones not have the pressure of being out of the depth. Should everyone play with similar ability? Any thoughts would help.
    The boys take winning and losing on the chin, the question i can't answer is when they say "we didn't stand a chance when x,y and z were on the pitch" Should ability matter? (they just want to have fun). Its hard when you can see the boys havn't enjoyed the game (winning helps) Parents want to go in different directions for next season – What is right or wrong?


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