On the ball: Sports do not build character
October 5, 2016 | 6:09 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan
It’s fantastic to win tournaments, but the most important thing is to enjoy.

The concept of a father coaching his son’s sports team is a tradition that makes everyone smile and nod appreciatively when they hear of it. There’s an almost indefinable quality that helps a father and a son bond over sports, a shared activity that is just theirs.

We’ve all seen shots of that on the TV: A dad organising a pizza party for his son’s team as they pile into an SUV, kids gleefully splashing him with water when they’ve won a game, a consolatory arm around a player’s shoulder when he loses a game as they trudge away in the rain. It’s always raining and muddy when teams on TV lose, for some reason.

But TV only shows you the positives of that relationship: The dads who carry their sons on their shoulders while their mums provide snacks for the entire team. Those are the parents who have their heads screwed on straight.

And then there are those who don’t.

I used to work in a football academy, which featured competitive league matches every Saturday. Some of the area’s most prominent teams would show up, and while some were professional soccer schools that trained three to four days a week, others were community teams, cobbled together from kids – and a dad – who had a passion for sport.

Any parent would like to see his kid do well, and you’d expect an atmosphere of friendly rivalry among those whose kids were playing. Or so I thought.

It was not uncommon to see parents constantly bombarding their kids with instructions that were completely contrary to what their coaches were saying. The kids – no less than nine or ten years old – ended up confused and bewildered, trailing towards the end of the first half.

I then realised it wasn’t just that these parents were keen to their children achieve their dreams, but that they wanted to achieve their own dreams through their children, and I could not help but feel a little aggrieved towards the players out there in the hot sun because to be put in that sort of pressure cooker situation at such a tender age was going to make the child hate the sport.

Michel Ribeiro is currently a youth coach at Belgian outfit KRC Genk, and has personally overseen the development of many current Belgium national team players including Manchester City star Kevin de Bruyne, Liverpool forward Divock Origi, Chelsea keeper Thibaut Courtois and Atletico Madrid attacker Yannick Carrasco.

“The parents are chasing their own dreams instead of supporting the children because the parents themselves never made there own dreams come true,” he explained. “A lot of kids will stop playing because sometimes they will see that maybe they don’t have the talent the parents hope they have, and the pressure gets to be too much for them in the future.”

I then spoke to Chuck Martini, head coach of the Muscat Football Academy to find out why this was the case.

“Unfortunately sometimes the parents are too result-orientated so they think the child must always win,” he revealed. “It’s fantastic to win tournaments, but let’s not take away the development of the child, the understanding of what it would take to become a professional, the understanding of what it would take for that particular child to fulfil his dream.

“The parents think, ‘Oh he didn’t win today so they are not good enough’,” said Martini, who was a goalkeeper for Premier League side Leicester City and represented Morocco’s national football team. “You want to see the smile and the happiness on their faces when they win, and it’s about teaching them the right way to play.

“It’s about letting the player express himself and letting his skill do the work, efficiently and effectively. They need to be comfortable on the ball,” added Martini, who was also a goalkeeping coach at AFC Wimbledon’s academy.

“The most important thing is that while they are working hard with some form of physical exercise, they enjoy it.”

The players I saw out there certainly weren’t enjoying themselves, and I could not help but admire their composure as they filtered out their parents’ instructions to defend, and focused instead on their coaches’ advice to attack.

The kids weren’t slackers by any stretch of the way. Every one of them worked their socks off for the duration of the match and never let their heads drop even once. They ended up coming from behind to win the game.

Because they followed their coaches’ advice throughout the second half: Their parents had retreated indoors because it was too hot to stay outside.

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