Let the kids play: Capping scores caps their character

Josh Barnstable Roar Rookie

By , Josh Barnstable is a Roar Rookie

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    Earlier this week, it was announced the Riddell District Football League were introducing a score-capping system in junior matches to prevent one-sided matches and promote participation.

    In U16s, the margin is capped at 80 points, 60 points for U14s, and 48 points in U12 matches. Goalkickers and best players have also been removed.

    As expected, this move has been met with waves of criticism, and rightly so. From my personal experience, losing football matches helped build character more so than winning.

    I started playing competitive football at the age of nine, playing against kids as old as 14. In a region where there were as many as eight clubs across three different leagues in a 30-kilometre radius, talent was widely spread out.

    At my club, we had considerably less star power than most. From the age of nine to 17, we would have experienced no more than 20 wins, regularly finishing in the bottom two of the ladder. We were the easy beats every year, and we would often walk off the field looking at a scoreboard with 0.0 (0) up against a hefty opposition scoreline. Did this have a negative impact growing up? I can only speak for myself, but definitely not.

    Sure, losing every week sucked, so did the constant ribbing you got from friends at school who played for more successful teams. You always wanted to be on the right end of the result against fellow schoolmates.

    Do I wish I was able to claim bragging rights once or twice? Of course, but it certainly doesn’t keep me up at night. Losing builds character. Losing week after week builds grace. Losing year upon year makes the rare taste of victory all the more worthwhile and rewarding.

    Every year, there was always one team that we were either an even match for, or much better than. Our game against this team, whoever it was, was always keenly anticipated by myself and fellow teammates. When the prospect of winning was there, when we could sniff the four points, things just seemed to work better.

    Kicks hit the target, marks stuck and clearances were won, possibly in part because of the decline in opposition talent, but I digress. Names that weren’t normally prominent in the team would suddenly come to the fore. He would play a blinder and get named in the best. And this brings me to my next point.

    Removing the list of best players and goalkickers is a shocking decision by the RDFL. If I managed to play well enough or snag a goal, reading my name on the league website and in the local newspaper on a Monday morning brought an inexplainable thrill.

    Where’s the reward for good performance? What if a talented but unassuming back pocket player is thrown forward and manages to kick a few goals? Don’t tell me that he or she isn’t looking forward to looking up the results in the coming days.

    As mentioned, when we would come up against a team that we actually had a chance of beating, we would usually show no mercy. The frustrations of experiencing defeat after defeat would be taken out on the opposition, and we would record a big win. It made the previous losses seem worth it.

    It made going to training on cold Tuesday and Thursday nights actually seem useful. For those who played in the forward line and were usually starved of opportunities, they relished the chance to kick a bag.

    I am sure there similar cases like this in the RDFL, but they are stripping these kids the opportunity to see a big juicy number next to their name in the goalkickers section of the newspaper. It’s shameful.

    What kind of message does this send to kids between the ages of 12 and 16? While it does promote competitiveness, it removes the notion of winning and losing. The feeling of succeeding and falling short is something best taught on a football field or a netball court and not in a classroom.

    In a world where people are finding more and more ways of shielding our children from the struggles of everyday life, sometimes we are better off just letting the kids play and working it out for themselves.

    Put the onus back on the parents and teach them that grace in defeat is just as important as humility in victory, and let’s stop living in a world where everybody is a winner.

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