Teaching the Kids to “Play” the Game

It’s not often I find myself agreeing with Robbie Savage (ex Wales, Blackburn, Derby etc Footballer, now BBC Pundit and Presenter of the BBC 5 Live 606 Show) Robbie as a player and a pundit delights in being controversial. He was a player you hated if he played against you, but loved if he wore your colours. A character in a sea of blandness, a Simon Cowell on X-Factor, a twat who is compulsive viewing rather like a Panto Villain.

By TuborgLight (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

Last night I listened in to 606, in the bath if you must know. I only tend to listen when Reading win, so I’ve only caught it a few times this season. Robbie said this:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p013zscj (Sorry it’s probably UK only)

To summarise for non UK readers (yeah the millions of you!) Robbie said that as a professional a player should foul an opponent deliberately, taking a yellow card in the process to prevent a goal.

If you managed to click the link (well done) you will have also heard several kids coaches phoning up and bemoaning this standpoint. Because it is breaking the rules. Yes I suppose it is, but it’s playing the game. One caller who’s call was not included in it’s entirety went on to compare this viewpoint with the cheating exploits of Lance Armstrong. Mr Armstrong has was not punished immediately with a yellow card, Mr Armstrong pleaded his innocence until the very last, and his actions were entirely in his own interest. Robbie is advocating “taking one for the team.”

We appear to have a warped view of fair play in this country. I have heard many a tale of schools football where one player has scored 10 goals in the first half of a game, only to be taken to one side by the coach and reprimanded for “being unfair” to the other kids. A solid player is valued in the English game rather than a player who is brilliant. Lionel Messi would have been rejected by English coaches because he is small. England would be proud it seems to produce 100 John Terry’s before one skilful player slipped through the net.

Part of professional sport is knowing how far one can bend the rules, to gain an advantage. It’s part of any game, it’s part of the entertainment,, the boxer who wins the mind game before the fight, the cricketers sledging. Diving is cheating, deception of the referee to gain an advantage, bending the rules too far. Fouling (with no intent to injure) to break up play and maybe stop your team conceding is not. It’s high time that we stopped teaching kids how to play the game, and started teaching them how to win, not at any cost, but win, and not stifle skill, talent or desire to triumph.



  1. The good news is the BBC doesn’t keep people in the States from listening to their radio programs or else I’d never get to listen to Infinite Monkey Cage and my life would be that much less amusing.
    You guys are not the only ones with this problem, I think it is a worldwide sports issue.
    I’m not sure I fully agree with your assessment though, winning the game by playing by the rules is harder and in my mind makes the victory that much sweeter, winning by bending or breaking the rules is admitting you aren’t good enough to play it straight. And sometimes either way you get a bad break and you lose.
    Talented children should not have to stifle talent, but learn to use it in support of less talented teammates, coaches are wrong to teach the children otherwise.

    My neighbor’s daughter loved playing your version of football and was very talented, until a player on another team kicked her in the knee “accidentally” after she had passed the ball. She’ll walk with a knee brace for life, 3 surgeries haven’t been enough to fix it. It was a deliberate act on the other child’s part to get the best player off the field so they could win the game. He didn’t intend to hurt her that badly or ruin her leg for life, but he did. She was 13 when this happened.

    The other thing no one ever teaches children these days is to be a gracious loser. You tried and failed, you may not have done your best but study your mistakes and strive to improve. Instead they are taught to not only lose, but be defeated.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I do not advocate any injury caused, but an injury can be just as easily be caused by someone making a genuine challenge or indeed just by the very act of playing sport. I hope your neighbours daughter didn’t give up on sport altogether because of the injury.

    English coaches tend to focus on the good loser bit. It is also important to teach kids how to win in a good manner too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s