We had the first tournament of the kids football summer season today. I haven't seen much of Louis' team this term as his games clash with other children's activities on our manic Saturday mornings. They are now Under 10s and have come along brilliantly. The team manager is a smashing bloke who lets the kids make decisions for themselves, offers words of encouragement and briefs them well before the games. During the games however, he is a quiet presence. It feels like a good set up. The boys also seem to have an instinctive desire to pass the ball throughout the game, rather than hoof and rather than let the more confident and gifted players run the show.
So how did they do? Well, they didn't win the cup. They got through the group stage, winning four, drawing one and losing the last group game. They won a quarter final on penalties, which seems very cruel, and lost in the semi final by a late late goal.
The slightly depressing conclusion to the day was that both finalists were managed by Dads who in different ways had it wrong. They are either the ones doing all the screaming that everything on the FA videos and the coaching courses tells you not to do, or encouraging cynicism and gamesmanship. In fact, one of them was on my course last year and I thought he was a prat then. It amounts to putting the kids under unbearable pressure, criticising them with inappropriate negative language, barking instructions throughout the match. You wonder why they do it, it's as if they were playing a PlayStation game and the kids were avatars - rather than playing a part in the education and development of young children.
So, have we got it wrong? Are the values of our club destined not to win because our managers do it gently, but lack the motivational skills to get them to win?
I think it's more complex than that and I prefer to keep an eye on the bigger picture and see how you prepare them for either eventuality. This, I think, is where we do better. Our children looked disappointed when they lost, but not devastated. They were clapped off as heroes by their parents. I cannot bear to think of the pressure on the finalists and how the losing team are coping with defeat tonight. And I'm sure they are capable of tasting tournament victory one day.
Only one team can win, and it is as important to get children to prepare for one outcome as it is the other. Just ask Robert Green. Am I wrong?