Sunday 25 February 2018

Sometimes it's better to be oblivious to the result

Sport isn't all about winning - it also helps people to develop

Austin Stacks supporters arrive at before their game against Slaughtneil
Austin Stacks supporters arrive at before their game against Slaughtneil
Marie Crowe

Marie Crowe

As the rain poured down in Portlaoise last Sunday, I stood in the middle of O'Moore Park playing football with my two-year-old son. He was decked out in the Austin Stacks colours, as was I. Moments earlier, the team we were there to support had been sent crashing out of the All-Ireland club championship, losing to Slaughtneil by just one point.

It was an exciting, hard-fought game and the Slaughtneil fans were ecstatic when the final whistle blew. A wave of maroon and white descended on the pitch, grown men were rolling ground with tears of joy streaming down their faces, babies were kissed and God was thanked.

The dreams of those people from a small Derry village with no pub, shop, school or church were being realised. They were heading to Croke Park to write their own history and they could scarcely believe it.

A few feet away stood the Austin Stacks fans; they watched from the stands heartbroken and desolate searching for answers and wondering why. The Stacks players shook the hands of the victors, gracious in defeat but hurting nonetheless. Their heads were down and arms were limp. Defeat brought them to their knees. They slowly drifted towards the stand, seeking out their loved ones for comfort and consolation.

As the emotions of varying degrees heightened around us, my son and I played on. He didn't care about what was happening on or off the pitch; he just wanted to play a "big football match". He was oblivious to the result, to the score, to the sense of loss his family were feeling, and even the rain. And as I kicked the ball over towards his smiling face, it dawned on me that the moment we were sharing was a precious one.

I realised that in a short time, a year or maybe two, how he feels when his team loses will be different. The smile won't always be there, he will soon take his place in the stand, where the winner takes it all.

As I drove back to Dublin, I thought about those few minutes we shared on the pitch some more and about how I'd never been a fan of the introduction of Go Games or matches where no one kept score.

Even though I spent my formative years at matches with my dad, hurling at half-time, when I thought of playing sport as a kid the memories that seemed important began when I won an under 12 Clare county camogie title with Sixmilebridge.

I was reminded then of an old interview I read with former Wexford hurler Diarmuid 'Gizzy' Lyng. A player who was sparky, exciting and a super hurler to boot.

He had taken a break from hurling and went travelling around the world. When he returned he did an interview about where he'd been and what he'd learned.

In the insightful piece he revealed that he was ill-equipped for the GAA's growing win-at-all-costs philosophy, professional-like demands and the multiple pressures placed on young men. When I read it a couple of years ago, I couldn't relate to him; it was my belief then that if you're not first you're last.

"I spent my whole career thinking if I didn't win an All-Ireland or play in one, then my career was a failure. That's how I saw it and how you're taught to see it," said Lyng.

"What a destructive mode of thinking that is. And what an absolute insult to all the people who worked so hard with me all along. Sport and the GAA is about so much more than that and when you define everything through winning, it's hugely destructive, especially when you are coaching children."

Reading it now as a mother, I couldn't agree more with him. Those people he mentions who worked so hard with him all along are more often than not forgotten. But the role they play in youth development is vital. They are volunteers who are shaping the adults of tomorrow.

Of course when it comes to competition they have to prepare their side to win, that's the nature of team sports. But as well as being charged with picking teams and coming up with tactics, they also have a responsibility to teach more than just the game.

Good management will highlight the value in both winning and losing and how experiencing and dealing with both can be beneficial when life throws a curve ball.

Nothing can prepare you for the aftermath of losing a big game except losing a big game. And as life goes on the stage gets bigger and the stakes get higher, on and off the pitch.

There have been countless articles written on why companies should hire sports people. And while work ethic and dedication are obvious traits associated with those who have slogged on the playing field, perhaps a more valuable asset is having the ability to cope under pressure.

In the past I'd always looked forward to my kids one day winning their version of the under 12 Clare county camogie title but now I know that in the future I'll instead long for the days like the one just gone in Portlaoise when playing was just about playing.

Marie Crowe is a sports reporter with UTV Ireland

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