Sport is extremely cyclical in nature. There can be great years and extremely barren ones.
Some years an excellent batch of players emerge, while other years in terms of both quantity and quality the standards aren’t as high.
In school sports, this is all the more amplified. As educators first and coaches second, teachers take a team not for the opportunity to win trophies, but to provide students with the opportunity to develop a new skill, to form new friendships, to belong.
At Scoil Chriost Ri, we’ve enjoyed some great years in the sporting arena recently, but there’s also been times when even fielding a team was an achievement in itself.
This was certainly the case earlier this week. Last week, our 1st Year soccer team travelled to Kilkenny to play in their first ever schools match. Through sickness and injuries, we were missing several key players.
For eight of the 13 girls that did make the journey, it was their first ever soccer game. Some of them play with local clubs, but the majority were about to enter into a brand new sporting experience. It wasn’t a good one.
At girls level in particular, coaches will attest that one or two exceptionally gifted players can completely dominate an entire game. Kilkenny had three such players in this game, and they duly dispatched our young side with ease.
The opposition were far too strong and the coaches allowed those dominant players to do so for the entire game. Meanwhile some of their subs stood in the freezing cold for the entire game, or were given the obligatory and wholly meaningless final five minutes.
That’s the beauty of sport. You win some, you lose some. On the journey home, and given the nature of the defeat, the mood amongst the young teammates was surprisingly upbeat. Songs were sung, the mandatory stop-off saw an inordinate amount of McFlurries ravaged, and Double French was missed. An enjoyable day all round for a group of children who showed heart, enthusiasm and above all, incredible resilience in the face of a superior group of players.
The two teachers who travelled with the girls were a little less jovial. Just before Christmas the FAI Schools team sent out an email voicing their concerns about some of the scores that were being recorded across the country.
Was it cricket or soccer that was being played? The advice was something that most adults shouldn’t have had to be given … once the outcome of a game is beyond doubt, try to take steps to limit the humiliation.
It’s something that most people would call common sense. Dealing with children aged 12 and 13, chalking up humiliating score-lines in any sport can spell the end of their participation in the game before it has begun in earnest.
You can imagine my dismay then, when not only did the winning school take to social media to celebrate the ‘unbelievable’ winning margin, but the FAI Schools retweeted it on their feed as well as sharing it to their national Facebook page.
In the post, they tagged both schools, although in keeping with the organisation’s administration skills, the wrong Scoil Chriost Ri was tagged. There’s now a headmaster of a boys primary school in Cork wondering how he ever sanctioned a trip for his lads to play a garrison game against an all-girls secondary school over 200 miles away.
A complaint was submitted in the faint hope that some acknowledgement might be forthcoming, but to date the FAI Schools have yet to respond. No holding of breaths here.
The whole episode begs more than just one question. Firstly, what are the true motives for some coaches, teachers or sports trainers who oversee such results?
Do teachers take these roles simply to enhance their job prospects, something to add to the CV? Is it to enhance their feelings of importance to their school? Or simply to massage their egos?
And more pressingly, what message does it send to players, coaches and parents alike when the national overseers of that sport actually promote rather than deter this approach?
I always cast my mind back to a story Pat Critchley told me a few years back. He was over a basketball team in the school and they were up against it in a great game.
In the final quarter owing to three quick injuries, the opposition were forced to play the last few minutes with only four players. Pat made the call to take off one of his players to level the playing field. It wasn’t a decision he was obliged to make, nor was it one that he wanted to make.
With the game so firmly in the balance, he could have exploited it to the maximum and guided his young team to a relatively straightforward win. But he didn’t. It had been such a great game prior to the injuries, why ruin it? As it happened, his four-strong team did go on to win. But sport was the real winner.
It’s a message that needs to be renewed in a world where today, winning seems to be the only objective.