Where everyone can win

10th October 2008 at 01:00
Win-at-all-costs culture is damaging in all walks of life, writes Henry Hepburn

Parents brawl, fight with the referee and fling foul-mouthed abuse at each other's children - at a primary school football match. It's the type of story that intermittently appears in newspapers and sheds light on a win-at-all-costs mentality infecting youth sports in Scotland.

A new programme aims to red card such scenes by making the scoring of points or goals an irrelevance. Positive Coaching Scotland promises to make learning life-lessons through sport as important as winning, and to change fundamentally what is understood by "winning".

The credibility of the programme is bolstered by the background of one of its directors. Tommy Boyle coached Scottish athletes Tom McKean and Yvonne Murray, who won world and European championships in the 1980s and 1990s, and believes the dearth of Scottish sporting talent today is a result of the wrong type of coaching.

He said making winning paramount was only suitable to professional sport, but had been imposed on youth sport: "The two have nothing to do with each other."

Positive Coaching Scotland redefines winning as putting in 100 per cent effort, meaning every child can win. It is not enough for talented youngsters to beat less able peers, unless they have given their all.

Mr Boyle does not want to lose the competitive side of sport, but stressed that medals and awards were irrelevant alongside the potential educational benefits of, for example, applying the rules of sport to daily life: "Who cares about a result from a year ago?"

He said a similar approach had been prevalent some years ago, which helped McKean and Murray succeed. Since then, there had been a cultural change towards prioritising results - an environment in which they would not have done so well. "Let's change the fundamental way we approach measuring winning for children from splitting them into winners and losers," he said. "In a team game 50 per cent of kids are labelled losers, and that must be fundamentally wrong."

A cultural change was required throughout Scotland, and it was crucial that children, coaches, parents and teachers all bought into it. The first step is trial projects in Glasgow, East Renfrewshire, Clackmannanshire, Stirling and Fife over the next two years.

Positive Coaching Scotland is based on a renowned American programme, Positive Coaching Alliance, which is being tried for the first time outside America. Founder Jim Thompson was in Glasgow last week to see his ideas being put into place in Drumchapel High and Antonine Primary, also in Drumchapel.

"If you take a successful adult, they will tell you the classroom stuff they did was really important, but the lessons they learned on the pitch and in the swimming pool are what stays with them," he said.

Glasgow City Council and its partner, Culture and Sport Glasgow, believe the scheme ties in well with the aims of A Curriculum for Excellence, while Mr Boyle hopes it will instil a "cultural legacy" for its 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The idea to bring it to Scotland came from Winning Scotland Foundation, chaired by Sir Bill Gammell. The chief executive of Cairn Energy and former Scottish rugby international believes the win-at-all-costs culture is damaging, not only in sport but in other walks of life.

The programme has a high-profile backer in Gordon Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Football Association: "This partnership is about creating not just better young players but better people."

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