The cost of winning

A recent article on social media rightly raises questions about the way school boy rugby is conducted. Do we have too great a ‘win at all costs’ mentality in South African school sport?

By Tim Jarvis

I am proud of mMeadows benchesy coaching record, but not so proud of my pitch side behaviour. I once told my opposite number that his style of coaching was the reason South African soccer was in such a mess. Much of the impact of my words were lost I think given that my team were 7-1 down at the time. A few years before that I saw red in more ways than one as I disabused the referee of the notion that he was impartial, fair or in any way competent when it came to officiating a football game.

I have reflected on the alter ego that appears whenever I am near a white line and I have come to the conclusion that it is most likely to manifest itself when I care too much about winning. Winning is of course important, no one should play sport to lose, but when it becomes everything we are already losers.

A cause gone wrong?

Making winning everything or even winning everything comes at a price. An excellent article on the Facebook site ‘Rugby – a cause gone wrong‘ (read it) gives an illuminating critique of the ‘win at all costs’ philosophy that has permeated many school cultures. It also highlights the costs of this mentality (including the opportunity cost of what miIMG_3434ght have been). Winning, in and of itself, is insignificant, in the sense that it makes not a bit of difference to the world. So is using a club to push a ball in a hole, as is driving an expensive car or earning a large salary. In the context of the global and local challenges we face, all of these achievements pale into insignificance, success in these terms is simply not important or relevant to the world we live in. Boys playing sport need to know this.

This is a difficult lesson to learn for an adolescent when up to 10,000 people are cheering you on in a schoolboy rugby match. It is hard to see, given the adulation and fanfare reserved for players who make the Springbok squad. Impossible to understand perhaps when professional football players overseas can earn more in a week than many South Africans earn in a lifetime. A winning season is of course associated with success, but it is important that our students know that success does not equal significance.

Larry Gelwix, coach of the Highland Rugby Team and featured in the movie ‘Forever Strong’, said, “It’s not about rugby, it’s about young men. It’s not about building a Championship team, it’s about building Championship boys; boys who will be forever strong.” That’s a great quote. As educators and coaches we must first be aiming to build boys into significant as opposed to merely successful men. This means that regardless of what happens on the field in terms of results we can see growth and development in the character of our teams and the individuals within them. We can have winning teams and championship boys irrespective of their win/lose ratios.

Transformational not transactional coaches

If boys need to know that winning as an end in itself is not significant then so do their coaches.  Joe Ehrman in his book ‘Inside Out Coaching’ frames this as transformational, as opposed to transactional, coaching. A transactional coach has “their focus solely on winning and meeting their personal needs”, whereas a transformational coach “helps young people grow into responsible adults, they leave a lasting legacy.” In a report by the Journal of Coaching Education it was found that coaches were ranked as the no 1 positive influence on today’s sports playing youth. Given the critical role coaches play Ehrman says that each coach needs to ask themselves 4 questions:

  1. Why do I coach?
  2. Why do I coach the way I do?
  3. What does it feel like to be coached by me?
  4. How do I define success?

MHS v Hilton

In closing I want to retell a story played out in the American PBS documentary ‘Raising Cain’, narrated by psychologist Michael Thompson. Having examined the lives of teenage boys across the US, the series concludes by following the fortunes of Lincoln Sudbury, a High School Football team, and coverage of their final derby match against arch rivals Newton South,  upon which the success of their season will be judged. Lincoln Sudbury lose the game and anyone watching the footage can see they are truly shattered.

Thompson though, as he reflects on the game and the boys, chose to finish his broadcast with these words, “The boys thought today’s game was going to be a test of their manhood. They were right but not in the way they had imagined. These young men are going to have to prove they can cope with an immense disappointment…Today they showed deep compassion for each other. They’ve learnt that emotional courage is courage. Our job is to help them learn that lesson well.”

I still hate losing (especially 7-1) but I am realising that there are bigger lessons to be learnt.  Without this larger perspective my team and I stand to lose a lot more than just a game.




5 TOP tips for working with teens

Dealing with adolescents can be problematic but there are ways to enhance your relationship with them even during difficult times.

By Tim Jarvis

teen crop def

OK, working with teenagers is not easy, even someone with the leadership skills of Scott of the Antarctic, the personality of Oprah Winfrey and the moral authority of Nelson Mandela would have a hard time convincing adolescents to get up on time in the morning or tidy their room. Teenagers often see thing differently from older generations and so disagreements are common. On the rare occasions that they do agree with you they probably don’t want you to know that, and certainly don’t want their peers to. As the metaphor suggests working with teens really can be like herding cats. Just cats that are often bigger than you and like to argue. A lot.

So where do you start? Here are my 5 top tips:

  1. Actually “like” teenagers

Yes I know this is difficult. Some days (weeks) I don’t even like my own children let alone other peoples. If you are a teacher you can’t like all of them and certainly you can’t like all of them all the time. But if adolescents don’t actually feel we view them positively we will have little favourable influence on their lives. It is highly unlikely that an adolescent is going to remember even 1% of what you say to them, but they are going to remember how you made them feel. This doesn’t mean you have to be nice to them continuously but they have to understand that you have their best interests at heart. In his book ‘Brainstorm’, Dan Siegel warns that we must be careful of seeing adolescence as a time just to be endured and instead appreciate the importance and value of this age and stage. The good news is you can practice liking teens (try it) and improve your ability to do this. If you really don’t like them, and feel you can’t get better, then don’t work with them.

  1. Don’t use the ‘D’ word

When I speak to teens in trouble their biggest fear is not what punishment
they might receive but rather what the reaction of their parents will be. And in their minds the most dreaded words that parents can utter are, ‘I’m notDissapointed angry, I’m just disappointed’. Seriously I think they would rather we were angry than disappointed. To feel ashamed, to be shamed, is an experience that teenagers take significant steps to avoid, including keeping things hidden from us. While some shame is unavoidable and appropriate, persistent shame or excessive guilt is unhealthy and can make a problem worse rather than better. My own son reminded me of my own failings in this area just the other day (he has a gift for that). In all seriousness I don’t remember explicitly using the ‘D’ word with him but teens are so hyper-sensitive to parental disappointment and associated shame that he heard me say it anyway. A feeling of shame is one of the reasons why teens sometimes find it hard to talk to adults, they don’t like being judged. Just like us they need to be allowed to move on from their mistakes and failures.

  1. Argue with them

In their book ‘Nurtureshock’, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman expressed the following sentiment that I believe is more often true than not. “If your teenager isn’t arguing with you then they are lying to you.” From my perspective if a teen takes time to argue with you it’s a sign of respect. You are significant enough to them that they want your approval or permission and they value you enough to seek your validation of their opinions or behaviour. You don’t have to by the way, but if you don’t allow space for this dialogue (as a parent in particular) then your teen is going to politely lie to your face as you are laying down the law and then quietly get on with exactly what they want to do (actually not so much quietly, just out of earshot). I hate to say it but the primary school days of control (if they existed at all) are over, your best bet now is influence.  Dealing with young people can seem to be a constant process of negotiation and re-negotiation as they rapidly change and develop. It’s exhausting but despite the effort this takes, it is important to give them their say and a little leeway while maintaining firm boundaries.

  1. Don’t take them at face value

Anyone who has worked with young people knows that an eye roll as opposed to drum roll is the more likely reaction to even the most exciting plans you have for them. There are none better at appearing disinterested than teenagers. OK a lot of the time they really are disinterested (it’s not the teachers’ fault that Coriolanus is the English set work again) but when dealing with difficult adolescent issues that blank facial mask can appear faster than acne in a fast food outlet. Be grateful if it is just boredom you’re dealing with though, it could be teenage rage. Sometimes when adolescents get angry it’s because, well they’re angry. But at other times it’s also because they are sad, lonely, depressed, afraid or overwhelmed. Anger is often a conduit for a range of other emotions particularly among boys.  I know that it is often those scowling, frowning children at the back of the classroom who are grappling most with life. Sometimes though it’s those who make the least fuss that need the most help. ‘I’m fine’ does not always mean ‘I’m fine’.  Most adolescents give clues that they need help, but we have to pay attention. If what they say is not congruent with their facial expressions, body language or typical behaviour then don’t believe them. Listen to what they are not saying and trust your gut.

  1. Stop talking

Seriously, just stop. Noteens2thing is as dreaded (or as ineffective) as the parent or teacher lecture. I have teenagers sit in my office and tell me almost word for word what their Dad, Mum or teacher is going to say about a particular situation (poor school report, drinking episode, etc.). At this age you just don’t need to say it anymore. If you have been involved in their life, your child has introjected your thoughts and feelings on almost everything. What they have to do now is internalise this, that is,decide if they want it for themselves. So ask them what you need to ask and then wait for the response, and when I say wait, I mean wait. Boys in particular may take some time to put their feelings into thoughts and then thoughts into words (literally days sometimes). Girls may react quicker verbally but they also need time to talk through their feelings before they settle on a response. Don’t be afraid of long silences or conversations that take place on and off over a period of time. You need to give them space to express where they’re at (See point 3) or you’ll make no real progress.

Given point 5, this seems an appropriate place to stop for now. In addition my aforementioned gifted son has just asked the question, ‘Is anyone is even going to read this and if they do are they are going to continue to the end?’ It seems a fair point, plus I need to go and practice liking him again.