“Amma, but I tried my best!”
My 11-year-old was absolutely inconsolable. He was the goalie for his soccer team and today his team lost the match since he could not block the opponent team’s goals.
He was the victim of playground politics – something which children have been exposed to since they began to play together. Playground politics can exist in more than one form. A child can be alienated from a group of children and is not allowed to take part in the game, for instance, he/she is labeled ‘a slow runner’ or ‘a lousy catcher’ and the like. Another way is to bully and blame a child who enjoys an important position in any school or a local club team, resulting in that child feeling discouraged and not performing at his/her best, causing the team to perform poorly as well.
My second born is a sport fanatic and soccer is his first love. He enjoys a very healthy relationship with his cliques. He has played as a defender for his team and is now the goalie. This role is loaded with immense responsibility where criticism or popularity is often proportionate to your performance. The goalie can literally turn the tables around and can make his team win or lose the match.
When the team wins the match, it is usually the player scoring the most goals who gets all the applause. But in case they lose, the burden rests on the goalie’s shoulders. The team mates are often the first ones to start politicizing the situation, recommending the moves he should have made and commenting on how he was careless on “so many occasions”. This can sometimes cause a child who is so passionate about his game to be so disheartened that he may not want to play anymore.
There has been more than one occasion when my son has been subjected to such a blame game and I’ve always had to counsel him to bounce back in the next game and show his resilience. It is crucial for him and other children to understand that he might be successful and might not be. But the important thing is that he knows his teachers and parents trust him and stand by him.
But the fact is that this game of pointing fingers is not limited to children’s playgrounds and soccer fields. How do we, adults, react when our national team loses a match or a tournament? Don’t we all, without wasting a single second, start blaming our captains?
“He must have been influenced by someone.”
“He made such wrong decisions.”
“They really need to remove him from the captaincy!”
Our children only mirror and echo our actions when they are in similar situations themselves. Who can blame them?
It is imperative to teach our children how to tackle such situations where blame game happens often. We need to safeguard their confidence and ensure that they don’t lose the love for their sports and the sportsman’s spirit.
First and foremost, it is very important that we teach children how to behave when they are in winning positions. This is the first step towards building empathy whereby we ask them how they would feel if they had lost the match and someone ridiculed them or their skills.
Secondly, if and when they lose, let them know that it’s not the last match. In fact, the lost match should be a lesson to be learnt from their mistakes.
Most importantly, keep showing your support as a parent so that they don’t lose faith in themselves.
And let politics stay in Parliament only!