AS we move towards the winter season and many youngsters and their families are again starting their involvement in weekend sporting competitions, perhaps we should consider the following.
Six year olds puffing around on full-sized ovals chasing balls that were almost too big for them to kick or carry, hands clasping over-sized and heavy racquets, or struggling to throw balls through rings that towered above them – it was a wonder some junior sports survived.
Those days are, thankfully, long gone and most codes now have modified rules scaled down for small bodies and short attention spans, but the arguments that surround junior sports, and especially when applied to the very young, have not gone away.
The two key questions are:
■ at what age should sport be introduced to children, and
■ when and how should playing for fun be converted into playing for points and premierships?
The important thing – and I suppose this is the same for all sports – is for boys and girls to get the maximum out of playing, at whatever level, and eventually to pass on their enthusiasm to the next generation.
Every sport is different, and it would be impossible to suggest a standard age both for entry and beginning competition. There are, however, a few general rules.
For very young children, the emphasis must be on having fun.
It is quite possible and appropriate to teach basic rules and improve motor skills in this context.
Modified games and regimes are important. The idea that they have to learn the adult game from the outset is too daunting and could turn kids off sport altogether.
We should provide for children who want to progress at their own pace.
While it is tempting to concentrate on the future champions, the sport will not flourish if it does not have a strong participation base.
We shouldn’t try to push children beyond their physical and mental capabilities.
We need to have a clear route through the sport for children to follow – whether it leads to Olympic participation or to a pleasant Saturday afternoon social get-together – and as they get older make participants aware of the advantages of a sports background in later life.
Poor behaviour at sports events (or sports rage as it appears to be presently described) risks safety, reduces enjoyment, tarnishes clubs and can lead to drop out.
What can coaches do to discourage this sort of behaviour?
Coaches can help create a positive sporting environment and reduce sport rage by being good role models.
To do this they should:
■ Encourage fair play
■ Respect opponents, spectators and officials.
■ Thank the officials and opposition after the game – teach your players to do the same.
■ Respect officials
■ Accept the decision by officials – they are only human and can make mistakes.
■ Deal with issues in a controlled and professional manner after the game.
■ Uphold your club’s code of conduct
■ Understand, uphold and support your club’s code of conduct for coaches.
For coaches or junior sport, it’s also important to:
■ Help kids enjoy sport
■ Emphasise trying hard and having fun, not only winning.
■ Never ridicule or yell at a child for making a mistake.
■ Keep your emotions in check
■ Be enthusiastic, but don’t scream instructions from the sideline.
■ Don’t get into shouting matches with anyone.
■ Never use bad language or harass others.
■ Communicate with parents
■ Arrange a pre-season meeting to discuss expectations.
■ Always greet and welcome parents.
Manage sport rage incidents on-field is covered in the rules and regulations of your sport. Officials are responsible for enforcing the rules of your sport, including managing bad behaviour and sport rage.
While it is the club committee’s responsibility to deal with incidents off the field, coaches should understand and support the process. When an incident occurs they should:
■ Report it to the ground official or club committee member,
■ Stay calm and collected.
It is the responsibility of the ground official or club committee member to approach offenders and take action.
When confronted with sport rage, it’s important you don’t:
■ Retaliate or approach the offenders
■ Get upset by emotional reactions
■ Ignore it and allow situations to get out of hand.
Clubs/associations should have a process in place for dealing with sport rage.