It’s lovely seeing kids enjoy something. Laughing and playing, with all of the innocence of youth etc. That joy ratchets up a notch or three when it’s your own kids, and you witness first hand their enjoyment of an activity or whatever it may be. So, imagine then the dismay, when something that has brought an immense amount of pleasure for a number of reasons over a number of years starts having the opposite effect. Very simply…I see my lad doing something reluctantly that he used to do without question and full of joy, and that makes me sad and want to know why.
My children are an immense source of pride for me, including my son, Adam. Since he was in Infant School, he’s played rugby at Yatton Rugby Club. As a big fan of the sport myself, I love watching him play and enjoy Rugby. The season’s “Most Improved” award and 8 tries in one game vs Clevedon when he was an U8, “Coaches’ Player” when he was an U13. Team bonds and friendship formed with rugby teammates last for a long time. I never played club rugby as a child, only ever at school, but when I look around me at Yatton I see dads that played together themselves many years ago, and still have that camaraderie. I’ve had a taste of the same in my relatively few years of club rugby at Yatton and when living in Kent, but not for the length of time some of my clubmates have. They laid the foundations for that when playing mini / junior rugby like Adam is now, and his rapport with teammates is lovely to see…and is a reason he fears to lose it.
It’s been some time since Adam’s team last won a game. They’re playing rugby at a time in young men’s lives when growth spurts etc come into play. Last season, when U13s, one of Adams opponents was eye level with me at 6ft tall! Recently, Adam returned home from a game saying “Dad – one of the other team was six foot and had a full on beard”. Size and the subsequent intimidation factor, especially when allied with skill and focused aggression on a rugby pitch, can have a detrimental effect on the psyche of those facing it. I was always “that big kid” at the same age, so can empathise…but being overawed by larger opponents isn’t the only cause of the problem at hand. Neither is the not winning very often / at all. Having assisted with coaching them until recently, I know and don’t doubt their skill level. Morale however, is another matter. Opponents size and the intimidation factor, frequent losses and other things have been chipping away at it.
On television, one sees and hears coaches of sports teams talking about “the winning habit” and the positive effect that has. The same can be said for the losing habit in a negative sense. When heads are down, results are going badly, players walk away from the team…and this becomes a cycle that feeds the undercurrent of negativity and self-perpetuates. The very definition of a vicious circle. As Adam’s team headed into secondary school years from U12 upwards, they added a few new players to the core that’d been there for years. By mid-way through the U13 season, there were 21 or 22 players “on the books”. Now there are 16 (for a 15-a-side game), having lost several players since last season.
As well as club rugby, Adam plays at school and is part of a very successful side that includes players that play for other local clubs as well. Adam walked into the house with a swagger the other day and a big smile, having been part of a Backwell team that had demolished neighbouring school Nailsea 62-0. On Sunday, after yet another defeat at the hands of a team we frequently beat in times gone past (and had a creditable draw with as recently as last season), Adam couldn’t wait to get out of there…having walked there with his hands in his pockets and his head down in the first place. What a contrast! Same sport, several of the same teammates, three days apart.
Is it just a lack of success on the pitch and the size / intimidation factor? Is it a coincidence that the players who have left were also (mostly) the ones who’d recently joined? Thinking of the team camaraderie and bonds I mentioned above, is that the only thing keeping those who’ve been there longer in place? How long will that last…given that two of last season’s leavers had been a part of the team on-and-off since U7s and whose dads are both Yatton RFC “man and boy”?
What about the coaching? I stepped away from coaching last season as I felt I wasn’t adding anything, although my erstwhile colleague was joined by a very capable individual. There were some grumblings of dissatisfaction from some of the lads (notably, from those who have since left) regarding coaching. Opinions regarding a coach are too subjective however, and drill / training ideas are too individual to a coach. Adam referenced this negativity from others recently when talking about difficulties in his attempts to recruit new players. Those that have left the club have clearly had an influence on the thoughts of others. Adam has a relatively neutral opinion personally, but is friends with several of the lads whose opinions are a little more polarised. He’s just concerned for his team. My own opinion of said coaches is that having done it for many years myself, I know how hard it can be sometimes and I respect the effort being put in by them, even if I don’t always agree.
So, what’s at play here in terms of why Adam’s head is down?
- Not winning for a long time, including one-sided defeats against teams we used to have closer matches with or victories against
- Intimidation in the face of larger lads in the opposition
- Dissatisfaction from some players (who have since left) who have walked away – many of whom are Adam’s mates
- Adam sees players walking away and fears the break-up of his team that means a lot to him
It’s no wonder Adam’s head is down. Another parent said he thought our lads were “too nice” as well. Not a bad thing to be, but possibly not in the context of a rugby game!
Despite having stepped away from coaching, I’ve not stepped away from caring or helping out (fixtures, match photos, and recently organising a team night out). Something that particularly concerns and angers me however, isn’t Adam and his mates being laughed at. When walking up and down the touchline and I hear opposition supporters and substitutes ridiculing them and laughing at my son and his team. Unpleasant remarks should fall under that old remark about “sticks and stones”, but it’s hurtful to hear people say that about your son and his mates. Even more so, when players from other teams AT THE SAME CLUB (i.e. older / younger boys from teams above and / or below) make similar remarks and laugh.
Recent, I had the misfortune to listen to my son and his mates chatting online whilst playing their Xbox games. A couple of the lads involved were those that left last season to return to their former clubs, as they didn’t like losing. “Ahhh…you play for Yatton, god they’re rubbish” and “When was the last time you won a game? We won yesterday…”. Banter, some would dismiss that as…perhaps I shouldn’t be so sensitive? But, that’s MY SON on the receiving end of those hurtful remarks from his so-called friends. Adam is a lovely lad…just shrugs his shoulders and gets on with it. He said it’s ok when I asked him about it, but there’s a little something about his body language and intonation when he speaks about it that makes me think the hurt does run deep. I am reminded about something my Nan said to me when I was younger, when she told me stories about my dad when he was a lad. A mild mannered lad, I recall my Nan saying he’d occasionally get put upon by more boisterous friends but stoically grin and bear it. Can’t help but think of that when I see and hear Adam at the moment.
Ultimately, I need to try and just be there for my boy and support him and his friends as best I can, both on the field and off. People may argue that this blog post does not help the team’s situation, but my concern first and foremost is my son. I am attempting to articulate those concerns to better understand his feelings and motivation. This post has been edited to remove some contentious content, as it was most certainly not my intention to offend, but the sentiment and purpose remains the same. As a collection of individuals, Adam’s team are a fine body of lads and I have confidence in them. Above all however, I will respect any decisions made by Adam regarding it.