The Importance of Team Sports

My son will be 10 at the end of December, and after several years of him asking to join a football team, I finally relented and found him a club for this season. (By football, I mean the game that is called “soccer” in some parts of the world—the one that’s actually played with one’s feet rather than one’s hands, hence the name. This is the first and last time you’ll hear me call it soccer)

Youth football is played in age groups, and he’s in the Under-10s division this year (what with being ‘under 10’ at the start of the season and all). At this age they play 7-a-side instead of 11, the manager can make as many substitutions as he likes (to give the boys a rest, I assume) and they haven’t yet introduced the offside rule or yellow and red cards.

But more importantly, at this age, the boys are just starting to ‘get’ the idea of teamwork. They are just now starting to learn to ‘stay in position’ and ‘play for the team’ rather than simply chasing after the ball (although some boys seem to ‘get’ this more than others).

Jr’s mom wasn’t all that keen on him joining a football team. After all, it’s a winter game, played in all weathers and her little boy really shouldn’t be out in the cold and wet—he might get the flu. But I was keen for him to join. And it had nothing to do with hardening him up to bad weather.

The big difference between me and my wife on this issue is that I played team sports in my youth and she didn’t. So I understand just what a young man can learn from team sports and why it’s important. And I don’t think this is something she really understands. She would rather he concentrate on his music (currently piano, cello and obo, although he wants a guitar for Christmas) or golf—which obviously you don’t play in the rain. I’m all for him carrying on with as many musical instruments as possible—that has all sorts of advantages for a young man—and I also want him to keep up with golf, if only as a hobby, because it’s the kind of hobby that can open doors—how many business deals are done on the golf course?

This difference between us in terms of team sports can perhaps be seen in our respective careers—I’m very much ‘part of a team’ in my job, relying on other people as they rely on me. But she often struggles to build that same sense of teamwork in her job—she’s a teacher and is very much on her own in the classroom most of the time, isolated from her fellow teachers for long stretches of the day.

I was discussing this with Jr this past weekend as we made the half-hour journey to his ‘away’ match. It was quite a wide-ranging discussion for an almost 10-year-old. It went from the way he’s settled in with most of his new team-mates, to the problems he’s been having with one of them in particular, to that week’s edition of The Apprentice.

You know The Apprentice, don’t you? Lord Sir Alan Sugar puts a group of potential business partners through their paces in an effort to win his quarter of a million pound investment. The present series is in the early stages, where the teams are still very much girls v boys and the boys have won both tasks while the girls showed all the backstabbing bitchiness we’ve come to expect of the show. It wasn’t actually the show itself that came into our discussion, but a comment from one of the panellists in the ‘after show’, “You’re Fired”.

She said something along the lines of “Men are used to working in groups of only men, they do it all the time even when they are kids, but women don’t. They’re not used to working with only women and don’t know how to cope with it.” (I couldn’t be bothered to go watch the show again to find the exact quote, but you’ll find it on the iPlayer if you’re really interested)

It was the kind of quote that, if said by a man, would have the Twitter Feminists up in arms, but since it was a woman that said, that’s fine, she’s just supporting the sisterhood and showing how the men have the privilege of The Patriarchy.

But that’s beside the point. Let’s for a second put sexual politics aside and ask if what she says is true, are men really used to working in all male groups but women aren’t used to working in all-female groups?

Well, as long as we’re talking about women who didn’t go to an all-girl school, I’d say pretty much. And the main reason for that is that, on average, girls are less likely to play team sports. Yes, there are a lot of young women who do play team sports and lots of young men that don’t, but, in my experience, you’re more likely to find it’s the boys that want to play football, rugby, basketball, etc.

Team sports are really essential to a young person’s development, and if you don’t take part in them, you really are missing out. Here are the things that I think, or hope, that my son will learn from being a part of his new football club.

The Importance of Teamwork—This one is obvious really. He will learn that you can accomplish more as part of a team than as an individual.

The need to stick to your Job—all young boys want to be the star player. They all want to be the one that scores the goals that win the games. But so far this year, Jr has been playing mainly in defence. And even so he has already been voted “Man of the Match” twice in seven games. And this is because he stuck to his job. He held his position and kept plugging away even when some of his team-mates had given up.

You don’t always get on with everyone on your team—but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with them for the benefit of the team. Jr is finding this with one lad in particular. He’s really getting along well with all the other boys, but this one lad and he really don’t like each other. But they are learning that this doesn’t stop them from passing the ball to each other during the game, from helping an encouraging each other so that the team can win.

The Qualities of Leadership—At this age, the team doesn’t have a captain, but they will next year and the coach has made it clear he’ll be picking the captain for the season based on the way they play this year. And I think Jr is already a contender for the job. He is showing the qualities of a leader, as evidenced by his two “Man of the Match” awards. He isn’t seeking glory for himself. He is watching the game to see what his team-mates are doing and telling them (or trying to) what they need to do.

The Importance of Commitment—The last game he played was the first in really bad weather. It was cold and it was tipping it down. His mother would rather he didn’t play. But Jr insisted that he couldn’t let the team down just because it was raining. Not all his team mates were quite so committed

How to Win and How to Lose—Seven games into the season, the team has won four and lost three. Three of the wins were by six goals or more. One of the losses was 9-0. And after every game the coach wants the players to shake hands with the other team. I’ve watched Jr and he’s made the effort to shake the hands of as many of the other team’s players as he could. Win or lose, you need to retain that sense of sportsmanship. And he’s learning that.

I’m sure there are other lessons he’ll learn. I’m sure of it. But these are the ones I can think of right now as being the most important. And all of them are the kind of lessons a young man can take into adulthood and will stand him in good stead. I hope he learns them well.

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