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School of sport: Winning without playing


There have been no winners in school sport during these last two years on account of covid as there have been no inter-school fixtures.

This naturally and understandably has been a serious blow to so many youngsters who dreamed, all the way through their earlier school career, of playing for the school team and, probably more importantly, dreamed of winning, of beating their rivals and other all-comers.

How they have longed for that opportunity to come out on top, to be successful, to win! That thrill, that excitement, that wonderful feeling of winning has been absent for many youngsters because they have not been able to play sport or compete in fixtures. That is tough!

Actually, the truth is, we have not denied children the opportunity to win during covid; children have been able to win, win big-time, and in doing so gain a significant advantage over others.

Children have had ample opportunity to win because they can win without playing. We are not talking here about winning because the other team did not turn up or because other teams in contention lost, as no such fixtures have been possible.

No, our youngsters can win without playing by other means.

Winning effectively, in very broad terms, simply means keeping ahead of opponents; if we are ahead, in front, be it in distance, points or goals, then we win.

The way to be ahead is for us to keep our head which means, for the most part, using the mind. So, the first way that youngsters can win without playing is to use the mind. In a recent article on the BBC sport website, the rising Australian cricketer, Marnus Labuschagne, spoke of his experiences when learning the trade of batting as a young player. He shared how each morning before a match he would sit on a bench and “I’d visualise the batting, the bowlers and different plans”, visualise his innings, ball by ball, that would follow that afternoon, all the way to reaching a century, all in the pursuit of developing as a player and winning matches. And score a century he did! He had scored it before the match had even started; he had won without even playing!

We might go further and say that winning, by using the mind, is achieved not just by dreaming, by visualising, but also by believing. So much of winning comes through confidence (not developing arrogance, which is a deceptive trick of the mind); there can be no room for doubt.

It is said, “Seeing is believing” but that is wrong. However, seeing and believing are both essential for winning.

We do not simply win without playing by visualising or believing. We can also do it significantly by watching. When weather conditions or covid conspire against an intended practice, coaches can easily sit inside with their team and watch matches on screen.

In watching they can ask pupils to identify tactics, skills, patterns; they can analyse what upcoming opponents do (and do not do) or watch how top teams perform and react to adversity. There is so much to be learned (remember, school sport is all about learning, through winning and losing) by watching others.

At festivals, players would do well to watch their opponents, so that they can win even before they have played.

Even those players sitting on the substitutes’ bench can win when not playing by watching what is happening on the field. Youngsters can win without playing by watching, by using their heads.

Another wonderful way that our youngsters can win without playing is by officiating.

Every coach should give every child the opportunity to officiate in practice games as in doing so youngsters learn to see the game from a different angle, as well as have a better understanding of the rules, the difficulties that officials face. The team may be playing but individuals can learn without playing.

The fourth way a youngster may win without playing, even during covid, is simply by going back to practise the basic skills – stopping, passing, catching, tackling, hitting, shooting.

Youngsters are easily bored by doing this but the sad fact is that many youngsters even at first-team level do not have a mastery of the basics; they want to play games, that is all, but playing games is a wasted effort if they have not mastered the basics.

There have been no fixtures, where they might win, but they could practise on their own even and thereby win, by keeping ahead of those who did not practise.

For many, sport is all about winning; school sport, however, is all about learning. When we learn, we win.

We do not have to compete to win. Those who have done the above have won – we shall see!

  • 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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