Keith Richardson, Headmaster of Wynberg Boys’ High has wise words for rugby fans and advice for parents of players.
Hard on the heels of the Craven Week rugby festival, numerous articles have appeared in the media about schoolboy rugby players being ‘bought’ and ‘sold’ as well as all manner of unsavoury snippets of criticism, speculation and plain old gossip.
Pertinent to this, Keith Richardson, Headmaster of Wynberg Boys’ High in Cape Town, wrote the piece below, which puts matters succinctly into perspective:
“Of all Mankind’s great inventions, few have succeeded in capturing the imagination more than sport. Soon we are about to witness the greatest sporting pageant of all, the spectacular Summer Olympic Games. Sport has a fascination for all of us. It has the power to inspire, to enthuse, to entertain.
It is ironic on the eve of the greatest sporting show on earth, that the local newspapers have been filled with the shenanigans on school rugby fields. Referees have been denigrated, player behaviour condemned and parental and coach over-reaction censured. The notion that sport is a pleasurable pastime has been side-lined. The camaraderie, the fellowship of sport, triumph over adversity, the lessons of defeat, the hard work in accomplishing victory have been forgotten in the heat of recrimination.
Somehow in it all, we have forgotten that in the hierarchy of values of a school, sportsmanship must be ranked only marginally below scholarship. Adults, including coaches, parents and referees, should be unified in ensuring the time-honoured ethics of sport are maintained on our school sports fields – to play hard, but fairly; to accept defeat and smile when shaking the hand of an opponent; to be competitive but at the same time co-operative because, without your opponent, there is no game.
A few years back a local journalist, disillusioned after a disappointing Stormers game, wrote that from now on he would only be watching school rugby. “It has a youthful innocence” he said, “unsullied by cups, leagues and points.”
And he is correct. Schoolboy rugby teams tend to play with enthusiasm and passion and, when well-coached, with an absence of fear. Coaches of schoolboy rugby sides who release their players from negative and safety first tactics soon find their players reveling in the positive enjoyment of displaying their talent.
It is these coaches who have realised the true reason why we play sport at school. It is not played for the benefit or the glory of the school or the egos of the coaches or the ambitions of the parents – it is played for the benefit of the players.
Whatever the level of the schoolboy player, we want him to learn the lessons of sport – because they are lessons of life. In the end, these lessons will develop confidence and self-esteem in the player and he will learn as a young sportsman that bitterness and sweetness are opposite sides of the same coin.
As he advances through high school, the young sportsman soon realises that the natural ability which carried him through Junior School is no longer enough. As the competition becomes keener, those players start coming to the fore who were lucky enough to learn the lessons early in their school lives that only commitment to hard work and the ability to fight back from disappointments, are the foundations for a successful sporting life.
Sometimes these lessons are learnt more effectively after losing a match or being dropped to a C or D team. Schoolboys do not easily learn messages from winning because they fail to examine their performance as they bask in the congratulatory glow of parents and friends.
On the other hand, losing really does say something about a young sportsman. His reaction to a loss is important. Does he blame others? Does he complain about bad luck? Does he analyse his failure? Does it increase his determination?
In the book, “The Hansie Cronje Story? by Garth King, the author remarks that Hansie never lost a rugby game in his career at Grey College. One can only wonder what lessons Hansie missed because of that.
The role of parents in the development of any sportsman is vital. In my career as a sports coach and schoolmaster, I have seldom come across a truly successful schoolboy sportsman who was not well parented. Parental support, as opposed to parental pressure, invariably determines whether a young player will learn the proper lessons. Some time ago, I sent the following advice to parents:
• Support your son and attend the matches, whatever side he is in.
• Always be there for him, especially in the ‘down times’.
• By all means set the bar for him – but always praise his achievements especially when he has tried hard to reach this bar.
• Praise effort and commitment – much more than results.
• Never criticise the coach as it will confuse the players. It not only divides loyalty, but offers an excuse. Don’t fall for the common South African sporting curse of blaming the coach or referee.
• Never over-emphasize winning as it will only lead to a fear of failure. One of the curses of schoolboy sport is an unbeaten season.
• Do not relive your own sporting career (or lack of it!) through your son. This leads to frustration and disappointment on both sides.
• Be a true sporting spectator. Let the referee handle the game and let your son make his own mistakes. He will learn more that way.
All parents want what is best for their sons – but then so does every coach and every school. If we expect our players to behave like sportsman on the field, then it is important for adults not to behave like children on the side-lines.
Some years ago in America, the authorities imposed a noise ban on parents and coaches in the Northern Ohio Girls Soccer league. Spectators were instructed to keep their cheers and criticism to themselves. Some parents waved signs; others put duct tape over their mouths to stay quiet. Goals and saves were met by smiles and nods of approval from parents and coaches. This was an effort to put sport back into perspective after rowdy parents disrupted games and frustrated players. Presumably the point was made – but it was not reported whether these measures had a lasting impact!
There is no doubt that sport can play a pivotal role in education and it is our job as parents and teachers to help our children cope with the pressures of today’s highly competitive world.
As we marvel at the proficiency and expertise of the athletes at the upcoming Olympics, let us at the same time applaud the commitment which saw them reach the pinnacle of sporting success. Yet, somewhere in their past, I hope they too, had a coach like I had, who once said to me: “The next sixty minutes you are about to play will never be repeated. Make the most of every minute.”