(Written 31 Oct 2010)

Dear All,

Listening to the intensity with which an under-something A cricket captain’s mother was talking about the minutia of how her son was “out” on Saturday, I was reminded of a time, some fifteen years ago, when I was doing exactly the same thing. In retrospect it is easy to see how the perspective of the instant when a boy misses a ball is lost; and how quickly the agonising that goes with questions about whether the youngster had “played too far forward, or should have played back, or the umpire must have been at fault” are unnecessarily placed on a knife-edge. Fortunately hindsight also makes it easy to see how the essence of schoolboy sport will generally triumph… outweighing the foibles of well-meaning parents.

Randy Pausch in his short book The Last Lecture (2010, Hodder & Stoughton, pg. 39) gives a cryptic but good description of the essence of schoolboy sport. He calls it a “head fake”, of which he describes two varieties. Firstly, the literal head fake. This when a player, such as in rugby, is running with the ball and with his head, fakes to get a defender to think that he is going to swerve in one direction, but then actually goes off in another. Then there is the really important head fake, the figurative head fake. This where people are taught things that they do not realise they are learning until well into the process. Often they only understand what they learned long afterwards… as in my case with schoolboy sport.

Pausch makes his point very well, “When we send our kids to play organised sports – (cricket), football, soccer, swimming, whatever – for most of us it is not because we are desperate for them to learn the intricacies of the sport. What we want them to learn is far more important: teamwork, perseverance, sportsmanship, the value of hard work, an ability to deal with adversity.” ibid. “There is a lot of talk these days about giving children self-esteem. (Self-esteem) is not something you can give; it is something they have to build.” The ultimate purpose of schoolboy sport is to create an environment in which children can experiment with, learn about, and build upon these essential life lessons; all the while giving them to believe that their raison d’etre is to get runs on the board, to win badges, to earn stripes. It is a wonderful, educational head fake… pity I understood it so late.

So to the Moms and Pops who are standing on the touchline or the boundary rope, take a step back. Enjoy the view, make the hamburgers with love, and cherish the fact that your little darling has been given the privilege of learning, inadvertently, strengths of character that will make a real difference in his or her life; irrespective of whether the game is won or lost. And the truly marvellous thing about this head fake is that it works in the E-team just as well as it does in the A-team… another thing it took me a long time to figure out.