I was standing on a pitch over the summer working at a youth soccer school, it was nearing the end of the day so we decided to finish off with a quick game. I was working with another coach, a coach far more qualified than myself, who has worked on an international level as well as locally and in the youth system. On that day we'd had one child who was proving himself a pain, being uncooperative and unwilling to listen to the pair of us and eventually my counterpart had had enough of his behaviour.
"Right, two laps of the field then!"
It was met with jeers and sadistic smiles by most of the other kids, but that sentence really grinded my gears. It just seemed such an oxymoron to me. Though I always strive for professionalism and focus on the improvement of players, I realise in this kind of setting (a summer soccer school), my coaching should also have a greater focus on the enjoyment of sport and promoting general well being. Chances are, many of the kids here aren't furiously enthusiastic about soccer, aren't looking to make a career out of the sport, but are just here for a week of fun.
So, if we are there to promote general well being and physical activity, why are we associating physical exercise with punishment in the eyes of these children? Certainly the kids agreed with this sentiment, as they all smirked at the idea of this child running around the field twice - meaning perhaps it is too late to convince these kids otherwise. I know this theme often carries on towards adulthood, and the culture of associating physical activities and running with punishment deters many people, both young and old, from taking up running as a separate sport - or just to keep fit.
Now I'll admit at this point, I am a runner. I relished the opportunity to go out for a few miles last night in the torrential rain and wind as I clocked up my 513th mile of the year (found out using Runkeeper, an excellent website for anyone who does regular running, cycling or walking). Some people may see this mark as a physical feat but many in the elite running community would scoff at this annual total. The point is that I am able to see the true joys of running and all the benefits it brings to life. It regulates my sleep pattern, it helps me feel alert at University lectures and it convinces me to maintain a healthy diet - all effects that are beyond the better known endorphin rush at the end of a run. I feel that these wonderful impacts on my life may have been avoided if I was heavily influenced by the punishments dealt out by my sports coaches as a kid.
And I was heavily influenced by these people. It just so happens I have the metabolism of a 55 year old grizzly bear about to enter hibernation, despite not being half that age. I also made the stunning revelation that at 16 years old, women weren't truly appreciating my 44 inch waistline. Luckily, I was more influenced by the latter two items than my sports coaches' subtle ideology and thus, one pair of Asics later, I was running.
However, these kids on my soccer pitch this past summer probably wouldn't have that extreme motivation like I did, as is the case with the majority of kids. And without this personal background, I know personally I wouldn't have picked up running to the same level that I have, if at all. Ultimately, it makes me wonder, if we as sports coaches - one of few face to face examples of advocating physical fitness in their lives - unite laps of the soccer pitch with negative connotations, surely impressionable children will go on to believe this is the case in the future.
This isn't to say this particular child should have gone without punishment, if you all go ahead and pick your favourite curse word, this child was being it. But for me, the obvious solution here is a sinbin. Instead of running, make the absence of physical activity be the punishment - witnessing the rest of their team mates having fun whilst he or she is made to sit out. Perhaps, through this, we can slowly begin the process of disassociation.
People infinitely more qualified than I can tell you about the obesity epidemic, but even a layman observer such as myself can tell you it is an issue that can become a daily struggle for many people across the Western World. Though I in no way expect to be able to change this global phenomenon, perhaps we as sports coaches could make small steps to try and act against what is truly a worldwide issue. If I can imprint the more positive aspects of my life onto a child, then I feel my day's work as a coach is done.
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