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Competitiveness in kids’ sport

November 26, 2012

I had this on my mind anyway after dealing with a couple of ‘difficult’ parents at my children’s Little Athletics Centre, where I’m on the committee and responsible for organising teams for State-run events. Then I came across this link on Mamamia – a site I haven’t visited for a long, long time because it tends to make me mad 90 per cent of the time! There’s some hateful crap on there, and plenty of vapid crap.

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Em Rusciano can’t seem to keep her own competitive instincts in check, yet feels no need to actually get involved in the club or the organisation of these teams herself.

At our club, we are currently preparing for the State Relay championships too. We’re a small centre and therefore perhaps not as performance-oriented as some of the larger ones – we have individual athletes who excel at State and even national level, but when it comes to relays it’s a bit like comparing Australia to the USA. We might have a Sally Pearson, but there’s only one of her.

For our relay teams, we invited the 10 fastest athletes over 100m so far this season in each age group. The reasons we do it this way are as follows: 

1. not all the athletes we invite will be able or willing to participate. In most age groups our strike rate was about 50 per cent.

2. particularly in the younger age groups, the four fastest sprinters don’t necessarily make the fastest team. They need to be able to cope under pressure and change the baton cleanly. By giving more athletes a go at this stage, we’re setting them up to be better at running relays in the future.

3. Little Athletics explicitly states in its Codes of Conduct that participation and inclusion are important aims of the sport. Now, we obviously haven’t asked the slowest sprinters to take part, but I’d rather give 10 kids a chance than four.

The email I received from a parent at our centre was bullying and patronising. He was annoyed that his son was only running the 4×200 and not the 4×100 as in that age group all 10 invited athletes accepted. He claimed based on times the same four boys should run both relays. He used a lot of big lawyer words that silly women like me wouldn’t understand, and signed off with his super-important job title.

Achievements at our centre are recognised – we congratulate athletes who break our centre records, who win State titles and make representative teams. At Zone and State championships individual athletes get a chance to excel – the photo on this post is my daughter winning a silver medal in hurdles at last year’s zone championships. She is competitive, she has a drive to succeed, however she also recognises the value in everyone participating and is happy to share the relays with her friends (she is also in the top four for both 100m and 200m this season, and will only be running one relay). 

One of the important things we learned on our coaching course was not to overlook the weaker athletes, or overwork (too much pressure) the more talented ones. We want to keep children in sport for the long term, so it’s important to balance recognition of achievements with inclusion and access for all. I can’t help but think that most of these people saying “kids’ sport is not competitive enough!” on that post are probably not actually involved down at their club selecting, coaching and organising these teams. You don’t *need* to be super-organiser-mum to do it, I’m not super-anything. I do it partly because no-one else volunteered, partly because I enjoy aspects of it, and partly because if I find myself wishing things were done differently, I actually do something constructive about it!

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