The Wrong Message for Our Children

Someone once told me that success in life is about the ‘one-percenters’. If you want to better your health, your wealth or yourself, you can achieve your goals by regularly doing things one per cent better than before.

Naturally, the reason the small things have such a big impact on outcomes is because most people never have the discipline or willpower to implement them consistently over time.

Nowhere is this more evident than in sport.

Take AFL for example. Lots of kids can kick and mark. Plenty of players are fit and strong. And while it is important to look after these basic skills, champion players (and teams) do the small stuff better than others.

Things like protecting your mate while he has the ball (the shepherd) and selflessly diving on the ball to stop an opponent getting a kick (the smother) are some of the toughest skills to develop in any player. Yet it is precisely these types of behaviours that make a player a valuable part of a team.

It takes years to instil this discipline and teamwork in young players. Developing their attitude towards teamwork improves not only their football skills but their life skills as well. This is something I have witnessed with both of my young sons who both play football for a local club.

One of them also plays for his school’s grade four competition. However, the message delivered through the school competition is quite different. There, children are penalised for doing the very things that make such a difference.

Dare to help a team mate by shepherding him while he has the ball and you will be penalised. Try to smother a kick from an opponent and actually succeed and a free kick will be given against you.

Last Saturday one player was standing the mark and the opposition player kicked the ball into him. The result? Another free kick was awarded because it was deemed against the rules (smothering).

Now many of us will have different views on these modified rules. Some will say they protect the players and make the game more fun. This might be true, but I look at it another way.

As parents (and coaches and teachers), we want our children to develop characteristics that we admire in others. Some of these qualities revolve around working as part of a team and considering others’ needs ahead of our own. These lessons are learned both in the home and on the sporting arena.

Yet it appears that the opportunity to reinforce these qualities on the sporting field has been lost in some misguided attempt to protect children from goodness knows what. I have noticed a similar trend toward giving all participants in school sports days a ‘self-esteem’ prize rather than awarding a ribbon on the basis of performance.

With this message being instilled in our youngsters, is it any wonder that there is an increasing reliance on government to interfere in adult lives in an attempt to reduce any hardship and level the playing field?

At what point did it become righteous to penalise those who work harder, are more disciplined and prepared to do the ‘one-percenters’, by changing the rules?

When children learn early in life that the small things can make a big difference, that working toward team goals also allows individuals to shine, and that just because you try hard doesn’t mean you are going to win, we will all be better off.

Until then, the growing demand to penalise the successful to pay for the mistakes of others will continue unabated. I expect this to become evident in this week’s Federal Budget. With expectations of a massive deficit thanks to economic mismanagement by the Rudd Government, the handouts to the many will be paid for by the few.

Some will consider this a levelling of the playing field but to me it is just another step down the previously discredited socialist path.

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