Floppiness, floppiness, the greatest thing that I possess?

I sometimes wonder if the opportunities available to our children are better chalked up in the negatives column rather than the positive. Not I think because I’ve got that twisted Victorian spite-as-moral-policy thing going on but out of… what, exactly?

I suppose again I’m thinking mainly in sporting terms here but before I’m through no doubt I’ll have meandered like a benign motorway-curious moose into all manner of absurd pseudo-prescient linkages. Kids and health/kids and emotional breadth/kids and valuation; ideas very much to do with some feared drift into floppiness.

What I mean by this is that state of slightly disengaged involvement with things; the result of there being arguably too many things – making it either unnecessary or unattractive or uncool to commit. We have to be careful with arguments like these – careful for one thing who it really is we’re talking about – but I’d be surprised if many of us haven’t had conversations over the ‘issue’ of kids and loyalty or discipline or application. Do we imagine (and fear?) that because kids seem to have everything on a plate that they may not dedicate themselves to any one thing? Do we – especially those of us who coach(?) – have that sneaking feeling children may be less likely to stay with us, in our sport, simply due to the near-unbelievable growth in opportunity and support elsewhere? Is that actually a worry?

It’s a feeling that exists, I’m sure. In my case it’s pretty entirely separated from notions of modern children or youths as some deteriorating, sedentary, Nintendo-clasping sub-species. I hate gadgets broadly and with a passion but despite the obvious worries about and even revulsion for this idea of whey-faced kids electro-masturbating their allegedly sad/geeky lives away in bedrooms up and down the land I deny this view. Without question too many kids are spending far too long playing on screens or gadgets and not long enough running around/climbing trees/scrumping apples from Charlie Webster in an adrenalin-fuelled, co-ordinated night attack. (All of them. Every succulent or wasp-drilled one, in one of the Olympian highlights of my childhood!) But I am happy to report that though this Facebook or Angry Bird-obsessed junior does of course exist – in some volume – he or she has failed to dampen and smother the glorious up and atters, the free-flowing batters, the whipped free-kickers, the spiralling punters. Sport will out.

As kids, we had nowt – relatively. Bike; football; cricket bat; worryingly dense block of wood which we rolled gingerly into place for a wicket. We weren’t taken to football/rugby/swimming/cricket/surfing coaching sessions like, for example my son. We just played/swam; learning along the way, ‘informally’. It was wonderful.

Wonderful but not better than now. In fact clearly less good in the very real and very important sense that sporting skills are now being coached and supported generally better than ever before. (Generally.) This may or may not equate to a rise in ‘standards’ – or even rises in participation – although clearly both are to be encouraged and aspired towards. Clubs – more than schools? – have really gotten their acts together. Yes there is more administrative cobblers, more posing going on from newly qualified and track-suited coaches, but there is also, in my experience substantially more focus and intelligence about the bringing of sport into children’s lives. Critically too, the relevant governing bodies seem to be genuinely aware of their solemn responsibilities to MAKE IT FUN.

Certainly in cricket, the ECB coaching system (which I understand – HA! – is again going to change imminently) is a more than decent model for offering children both entertainment and education in the game. One of the great pleasures of my life and work is to be involved in this lighting up of a child’s enthusiasm for charging about after a shinyredthing; because if you try you might even catch it; or stop it from… reaching… the boundary. Yes!! Come on!! That daft but wonderful love of the challenge; a challenge predicated (actually) on a kind of love for your mates – maybe those new mates you don’t even know because you just joined the flippin’ team… but look how they ran for me/you! That’s great that is!

In the last month or so I have been responsible for leading cricket sessions that were always going to result in the selection of a Regional age-group side. (Perhaps you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too specific?) So I can offer some evidence that is both ludicrously anecdotal but conversely ‘real’ and resulting from careful observations. I’ve coached boys – in this case – who have a very broad range of abilities because in our region, quite rightly, if you take part in even a very basic level of the Dragons Cricket programme, this will probably entitle you to attend Regional Squad sessions. What was outstanding and indeed delightful – again – was the magnificent and inspiring brio, life and
runaroundability of the group. Kids launching smilingly and ballistically at the warm-up; when they’re supposed to be er… gently warming UP. Sprinting gleefully when they’re supposed to be jogging; having waaay too much fun to be really focused. Loving it too much to listen.

And parents quietly chuckling at the state of Dafyd’s or Geraint’s hysterical Sport’s Hall Happiness; happiness not floppiness mind.   And me hopefully reigning it in, prudently, enough; enough to coach something (too.) This, thank god, this daft celebration of liberation and movement and communal fizz and juvenile but philosophically rich expression is defiantly a reality; still; I promise. So whilst YES we may be concerned at this aforementioned tendency towards some inner-ness, some retreat into new-fangled gadget-worship amongst children of this hugely pressured modern generation, all really is not lost. Certainly I can think of a game or two that is not lost.

Let the competition gather – whether or not it be pulsing with the flash and wallop of some war game or merely providing distraction through levels of rewarded but less offensive geekhood. Something tells me that humans need to gather and to celebrate their physicality. Maybe to run before they flop; maybe to run until they drop.

The level of sporting engagement will surely vary – as will its tempo, its type, its attraction. (Interesting in passing to note how certain sports have changed in nature, partly due to changes in society/perception and partly through necessary survival instinct; cricket being a good example. Apart from changes in format to increase appeal – to a new, young audience? – I am clear that the development of athletic prowess at the top of the game has been major. Suddenly and quite rightly it’s a non-negotiable. Good. Kids love nothing more than throwing themselves around; diving! To see Jonty Rhodes and then the likes of our own Paul Collingwood flinging themselves about like maniacs is part of what makes this a good time for cricket.)

But back to the general point. Which is I think that though this floppiness, this dull introversion exists, surely what we need to do… is simply make our games better? Cater well for the undeniable longing amongst so many and create that spark where there is none. The inclination, the faith, The Market is out there in the form of boys and girls and mums and dads who quite possibly instinctively feel there’s something great – tattifelariously, indefinably great even – about sport. So let’s not let them down, eh?

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