School of sport: How to become better

Betting is a silent killer but many are sucked in to be a better.

BETTING is a massive problem in sport. In professional sport, where many players earn extraordinary amounts of money, the temptation can be incredibly strong. Indeed, a number of well-known soccer players have succumbed to betting on their own matches even while those that have been found out are probably only the tip of the iceberg, according to some players who have owned up and admitted. 

It is not helped, either, by the fact that many soccer clubs are sponsored by betting companies, inviting and seducing players and spectators into the whirlwind of the lure of winning big money. Yet sadly, it is not simply confined to professional sport but we even find fathers at the side of their children’s sporting fixtures betting with their friends, all in earshot of their child – “no pressure, my boy!” They are certainly not helping their child to become a better player.

Betting is a silent killer but many are sucked in to be a better. That is dangerous. Yet, we may look at the positive to that statement and turn the noun into an adjective – we want people to be better, not betters.

And in that regard, we have previously alluded to the well-documented mantra of the successful All Blacks rugby teams who sought to leave the national jersey in a better place, to leave the changing rooms in a better state, to select better people (rather than better players). All of that can be achieved by focussing on another better.

Every coach has it in his mind that his primary responsibility is to make his players better players; he will spend a lot of time therefore seeking to develop and improve the skills of the individual players, working on their weaknesses, improving their strengths, deepening their understanding of tactics and positional sense, explaining the different systems, developing their fitness, speed and stamina.

 There is so much to be done, it would appear, to make the players better. Sadly, however, they often do not realise that it is the character of the players that will be the defining ingredient in the pursuit of progress.

A better person makes a better player – unashamedly and unequivocally. Get that, please! It is not a gamble! A better person will make a better player.

Yet there is another dimension to what a coach must understand and it is seen in Richie McCaw, the all-time great All Black captain, relating how his coach as a child followed the principle that “good teams produce good players”.

The coach’s role is to produce a better team, to assist the players to understand they must play in a team.

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts”, said Aristotle centuries ago. A brilliant player is no use to a team if he is an individual player and he will not become a better player; he will be even more valuable when he can play in a team, when he contributes to the development of the team.

The importance of developing a good (better, even) team will only be possible if we do not give special attention to any one player. We need to understand that we will not produce a good team if we give awards for individual players (such as Top Scorer or Most Valuable Player).

We will not produce a good team if we have one leader; successful teams now rather have a leadership group, in other words a leadership team. We should be rotating the captaincy, to give all youngsters the opportunity to test their leadership ability, and not make one child think he is more important than the others.

Furthermore, we should rotate our players, so that the substitutes still feel part of the team. This is more important at school level, as school is about learning and youngsters have so much to learn about being part of a team. Sitting on the bench all game, not taking any part except in emergencies, is not teaching them anything positive. We should rotate the batting order too, to give all players a chance and a sense of being part of the team.

How do we produce a better – that is the dangerous question. We do not want betters; to be more specific, we want a better jersey, place and person.

Companies have realised the importance of team building to make their employees better; when will school sports coaches learn that? After all, as the saying goes, “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link”, so a team is only as strong as its weakest player.

A good team produces good players. What are the odds of our coaches grasping this? They will be tempted to ignore the inherent dangers of betting on a better player. The odds are long but the stakes are high. Will they get it? Do not bet on it!


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