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Selection not election


Not being selected for the team that we have longed to play for (or indeed which we have longed for our child to play for) may be felt as a massive disappointment to many. All our hopes and dreams, our ambitions even, have been set on being selected for this team and yet we are devastated when our name (or our child’s name) is not found on the list. For some it is the school team, for others it may be a provincial team while for fewer still it may be the national team — it matters not which one, the effect is still the same. We have put all our efforts, time, resources into attaining this goal, only to find we have not been selected. It is not simply disappointing, nor even devastating, demoralising, but for some it will even be defined as a disaster. However, as we have noted in a previous article, Disaster is indeed an imposter — not being selected for a team is not, is never, a disaster.

When it comes to selection of teams, various points need to be understood by players, parents and coaches alike. Firstly, teams are selected, not elected. A sports field is not a democracy. Everyone may be entitled to their opinion, to their viewpoint, to their own conclusion about the merits of different players but it is not a matter of majority rule, of voting for a player to become a member of a team. It is a selection, not an election. That selection, that choice, is given usually to the coach — after all, he or she is the one who will be working with the players. A selection panel, while it may help to alleviate any possible prejudice towards any individual players, will rarely agree and in turn have their own prejudices. It is best left with the coach to select the team, his team.

It is even more important that the coach selects the team because he knows what he is needing and looking for in his players and in his team. He will wish to play certain tactics and formations and therefore will need to select players that will fit into that mould. There is no point in selecting players who are adept at dribbling with the ball if the coach wishes to play an exclusively passing game. Furthermore, spectators (and especially blinkered parents) may be highly impressed by a player with dribbling skills but fail to see or accept that such a player will not fit into a team that passes the ball first and foremost. Alternatively, or perhaps in support of such an approach, a player may be highly gifted with specific skills but is not fit so that if the coach is wanting to play a high pressing game for the full extent of the match, such a player will be of no use, despite his skills.

The second point that we need to understand is that the selection should not primarily be based on ability but on attitude. In previous articles we have noted how a coach’s role is to improve the person not the player; in that regard, therefore, it follows that the coach should base his selection on the person, not the player. The selection process, therefore, can be done in a one hour session without a game being played.

The coach can put the team through a fitness session and look for those who do not cut corners or stop early; who do not moan and complain but get on with what is required with determination; who delight in the challenges; who are pushing as much at the end as at the beginning; who watch out for others and help them through; who focus all their efforts and concentration on the task at hand; who serve the team. Then the coach can see how the players who are not selected react and respond to that disappointment, before making the final decision.

Some might argue that this should be done without any warning or explanation, on the grounds that in a match players do not have any warning what is going to happen or given any clues in advance; players have to react to what is thrown at them.

Others, however, may argue that players should know in advance that selection is to be based on such grounds so that it is all transparent and fair, thus developing trust and understanding with the coach. Either way, selection is the coach’s right.

Team selections are not elections. When a child is not selected it is simply a matter that the coach is looking for other qualities than what the child has. If a parent is not happy with the selection made by the coach, they can become qualified as a coach themselves, then commit to being selected to coach lesser teams first, regularly, to the point where they too can select players that they wish.

In the meantime, they should stop complaining and get some perspective. Not being selected is not a disaster, it is not the end of the world. No-one ever puts on their CV that he was selected for the Under-13 provincial team! In fact, it may be the best thing to happen to that child (and parent).

Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email:

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