19th May 2023

During the 1st Term I was reminded of the true value that sport plays in the life of a child. In our overly competitive world, where results are seen as the holy grail, and take precedence over all else, we need to be regularly reminded of why, we as a school, play the sports we love and cherish. On a sunny afternoon, I sat watching one of our Under 11 cricket teams play a match against a local school. We were batting, and the match was evenly poised, with a great deal of nail-biting taking place along the boundary (by very nervous parents). The fielding team took a wicket, tilting the game in their favour, and in strode our new batsman (no doubt with visions of match winning glory etched on his mind). He took his mark, and before he knew it, the bowler had bowled the yorker of the century, and his middle stump was cartwheeling towards the slips.

Totally dejected, and clearly carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, the batsman began the dreaded long walk off the field, no doubt fearing the reaction of his team-mates. As he reached the half-way mark of his lonely walk, a remarkable thing happened. His team-mates came out to meet him, on masse. They wrapped their arms around him, and escorted him off the field, clearly realizing that he needed all of their support and understanding. No moaning at him, no blame or victimization for how the team suffered because of his wicket. Just pure and unbridled sportsmanship, camaraderie, and having your team-mates back. Looking around, there were a few parents (mostly Dads), who seconds earlier were cursing the batsman under their breath, and who were now aware that they were witnessing a golden reminder of the true essence of sport.

I don’t remember who won the cricket match, and I doubt whether any of the players do either. In fact, it is likely that the parents don’t recall the outcome, or even who the opposition team was. But no-one will forget the life lessons that we all learnt that day, and that we were once again reminded that life lessons trump results.

The 2nd incident took place at an inter-schools C-League Gala – a busy affair, with young people from all walks of life, many different schools, coming together and enjoying a good old-fashioned gala. There were no prizes for podium finishes, and finishing the race, overcoming the starters gun, and the hype and fervor of the crowd, were top of each participants agenda. A particular race caught my attention – 25m of one of the strokes. In the far lane swam a young lady who clearly was giving it her all, and was unbelievably determined to finish the race. She paused now and then, to look up and see how far she still had to go, and pausing around the mid-way mark, it was clear to her that the other swimmers had already finished.

A lady then appeared out of the crowd, and slowly and sensitively walked alongside the lane, quietly encouraging and motivating her. It was the swimmers mom. There was no doubt that every eye in the packed pool area was on the swimmer and her mom. As she reached the end of the pool, the crowd erupted, as if she had just won a gold medal at the Olympics. Once again, no-one remembers who won the race, what the time was, or even what stroke they were swimming. But we will all never forget the image of someone overcoming a huge obstacle in her life, being supported by someone who dearly loves her, and of a crowd recognizing the fact that finishing the race was far more important than the outcome.

And so as we descend into our winter sporting season, where early Saturday mornings, and dew laced fields become the norm, it is my hope and prayer that we will make every effort to remember that sport offers our young people the most incredible opportunities to grow and learn, and that very few other pursuits will offer such valuable lessons. Being part of a team, learning to support each other through thick and thin, and just participating, are such important aspects of healthy development. We should never underestimate how significant it is for our young people to feel included, recognized, and valued – taking part in an extra-mural activity is a fertile field where these critical concepts can be nurtured and grown.

I just hope that we as adults don’t mess up these golden opportunities.

Our job is to support, to guide, to nurture, and to be the reminders of what truly is important. It is not our job to relive our golden sporting days through our children, nor to insist that our children achieve on the sportsfield what we were never able to accomplish. It is our job to be bigger than what the scoreboard says; it is our role to show restraint and tolerance when a call goes against our team; and to always remind our children to stay humble in victory, and gracious in defeat. And it is good to be reminded that our children learn far more from what they see us doing, than what we say to them.

As adults, we need to make a conscientious decision about how we approach our child’s sporting endeavors. We need to decide whether we will join the popular masses, and pay homage to the “winning at all costs “mentality. Or will we be brave enough to help our precious children become better humans through their sporting escapades.

Encourage them to play their heart out, to never give up, and to give it their all – absolutely. But how we support, how we behave on the touchlines, and the words we use, especially during and after the match, will remain embedded in our child’s mind forever. May those deeply impactful words be ones that we choose wisely, and not ones that we live to regret.