Positive Approach to Losing

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

By Peter Schwab
AFL Director of Coaching

Sometimes you watch AFL football and you can’t help but think one side has no chance of beating another and the interest is how the team not expected to win approaches the game from a tactical and psychological aspect.

Publicly there is never a suggestion of not being able to win. There is always a slightly positive spin put out by the least favoured team based around such statements as “if we play at our best and they are below their best” or “football is a funny game and anything can happen”. In many ways this is true and one of the beauties of sport is the upset victory.

This leads me onto another interesting topic to do with junior football and that is what happens when matches of AFL football at junior level become lop-sided?

In professional sport winning is all that matters and winning by a lot helps when percentage or goal difference is important. But in junior sport you have to argue do you press home the advantage or do you take advantage of the situation and make it fairer to both teams?

In junior sport even competitions are what we need to aspire to; grading junior football to me has always been the best way to go about trying to create an even competition. Any administrative concerns about the impact grading has on scheduling for a league needs to be overcome. Research will support that grading over non-grading leagues at junior levels reduces winning margins.

Whether grading is the sole answer is debatable, but whatever else we can do to create competitions which allow all teams to experience some success is, in my view, incredibly important. 

If you are playing in a team which is thrashed every week then it becomes a disincentive for those footballers to either stay at that Club, or worse still, stay in the game.  It tests coaches to make those children on the end of heavy defeats to have an involvement which is enjoyable.

They need to ensure training is enjoyable and the players are improving their skills and team play. Everyone should be able to experience some success, even if it is at training.

It’s impossible for a losing coach to do much. He could flood back and try and clog the opposition’s forward line, but that isn’t what we should be teaching them. So we need action from the coach of a dominant team.

Do they or their team really want to win easily? Maybe the coach could start by asking their players what they think. They may be surprised by their players’ response.

A coach could change player’s playing positions, so those who normally don’t get on the forward line or in the midfield can. Those young players who tend to dominate can be tried elsewhere to learn a different role.

The coach can get the team to try new things, focus on how they want to move the ball or try new kick ins.

In New Jersey junior soccer they have rules under their Regulations titled “appropriate scores and competitive play”. It is an interesting read. The rule states:

“It is considered unsportsmanlike conduct to score an excessive number of goals without taking the appropriate steps to play a more competitive game.”

They do provide guidelines to avoid “running up the score” which includes

  1. Rotating players to new positions
  2. Setting purely defensive objectives
  3. Substituting strongest players
  4. Playing numerically short

They state it is important to exercise compassion for the other team.

In a lop-sided basketball game they run the clock down, meaning no stoppages of the clock to be called by referees. In our junior football this happens as a matter of course.

People will tell me losing is a part of life, but football isn’t life. It is sport and a chance to have fun. Losing is a part of the game, but being thrashed does not serve any purpose for the winners or losers.

We need to remember that long term involvement is the key and playing sport no matter how competitive needs to be enjoyable, particularly for children who are coming into the game for the first few years, which are the most critical in determining whether they will continue in the sport. 

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