Has school sport lost its way?

Winning - Sportmanship

Over the past couple of months a number of stories would lead one to believe that school sport has become more than just a game, but rather “win at all costs”. A girl’s primary school in Bloemfontein has introduced a parents’ code of ethics. Two of Durban’s biggest schools will not play first team sport against one another this term following accusations of unethical sportsmanship relating to overage rugby players amongst other issues. A 17 year old rugby player tragically died from a suspected neck injury sustained during trials in January. …. who thought school rugby was a winter sport! …… And following an increase in the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs among teenagers in schools, the SA Institute of Drug-free Sport (SAIDS) has launched a new drug testing programme within schools in an attempt to root out the use of steroids, stimulants and diuretics.

It would seem that the pressures put on school boys in particular to perform at an early age has spiraled out of control forcing them to engage in any activity necessary to enhance performance, whether that be taking perceived performance enhancing substances, arguing with officials to achieve a better outcome in a match or lying about their age amongst other behaviours. Unfortunately, these behaviours seem to be endorsed by parents, coaches and the schools themselves. To quote Dr Glen Hageman, President of the SA Sports Medicine Association, “Unfortunately, people judge a school on its rugby results, as opposed to its academic results.” Even scouts and agents can be held responsible for the pressure they exert in the form of potential contracts and academy opportunities that they promise if the performances are up to “standard”. It would be good to remember that only 24% of boys who play provincial rugby at U13 level, go on to play at the Craven Week U18 tournament (Durandt et al. SA Journal of Sports Medicine, 2011) and only 1 player per U19 provincial intake will go on to play franchise cricket.

So what can be done to assist all stakeholders in managing the challenges that our youngsters face without destroying their dreams? Education of parents, coaches, teachers, schools and players is a key factor in encouraging teenagers to play by the rules.

It is well recognised that development into a competent sports man or woman is a process that takes time and patience to master the skills necessary to succeed either as a participant or a competitive athlete. Each child is unique and will develop at his or her own pace. There is no quick fix. Children under the age of 18 do not need any form of supplementation if they are provided with a balanced diet consisting of 3 meals and 2 snacks per day of a variety of healthy foods. In the long term, “magic” drinks and pills cannot replace the consistency of hard work, discipline, skills development and a positive attitude.

Parents should communicate with their children about their goals, their feelings and reason for playing sport. How often do we encounter parents who are living their own failed dreams through their children’s success? Recognise and reward your child’s progress and efforts and not just the results, because there is no correlation between winning at an early age and later success. Research has shown that kids with a balanced approach to their sport, school work, family, friendships and other activities perform more effectively in all spheres of their lives.

Sport at school is part of the educational journey that children are embarking upon and the lessons they learn from both winning and losing are an extension of the classroom and a window into understanding the challenges of life.

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