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Professional errors by schoolboys

school of sport with TIM MIDDLETON

IN a previous article, we noted the response to the UEFA Champions League semi-final defeat of Barcelona by Liverpool when the Barcelona striker Luis Suarez, himself a former Liverpool player of note, explained the defeat was due to his team playing “like schoolboys”, in not watching Liverpool take a quick corner from which they scored the winning goal.

It is interesting that this was the same Suarez who has been banned for several months on three different occasions for biting an opposing player during a match (in 2010 for Ajax vs. PSV Eindhoven; in 2013 for Liverpool vs. Chelsea; in 2014 for Uruguay vs. Italy).

This was the same Suarez who denied Ghana from being the first African country to reach the quarter-finals of the 2010 World Cup by deliberately stopping the ball on the goal-line with his hand in the last minute of play (Ghana missed the resultant penalty).

This was the same Luis Suarez who has constantly been accused of trying to con referees into giving a penalty by diving to the ground in the penalty area as described in The Guardian (9 March 2017) “Suárez dived, just as he did earlier in the game when such antics cost him a booking.

If you watch back through the dying stages, Barça’s players are throwing themselves to the floor with such desperation it is comical. The not-so-subtle message, as witnessed by millions including impressionable young footballers? When in doubt, when things get seriously tough, keep the conning of officials at the forefront of your mind.” This was the same Luis Suarez who was described recently by a former professional player (and World Cup winner), Frank Lebeouf, as a “cheater, a complainer”.

Perhaps all such accusations levelled against him as a player may be summarised in a word that is unfair to those to whom it literally applies: “schoolboy”.

Schoolboys might be expected to make simple, naïve errors, but professionals are certainly not. It is equally and conversely true, however, that schoolboys are not expected to make professional errors. In truth, the word “errors” is euphemistic in that context as what are meant to be taken as “errors” made by professionals are not in fact accidental, but intentional.

Sportsmen openly speak about committing the “professional foul” for the sake of the team, though this is, in truth, cheating, plain and simple. A professional foul is a deliberate attempt by a player to stop the opposition from advancing or gaining an advantage, though being done in such a way as to make it appear to be accidental and unintentional.

So now we find players at schools deliberately “diving” to the ground as if tackled illegally; we see players of both sides appealing for a decision; we see pupils throwing the ball away when a foul has been awarded against them, or stopping in front of the ball to tie shoe laces, or deliberately obstructing an opponent, all done innocently, of course.

The reason players will revert to professional fouls, we are told, is to ensure they win, at all costs; winning has become everything. The reason they claim they have to do that is to do with money; livelihoods depend on winning (though they seem to forget conveniently that the livelihoods of the opponents also depend on that). Such ends are meant to justify the means.

However, if we resort to such behaviour at school level, we will be teaching our children that they must do whatever it takes to win, to beat others, to gain an advantage in life, to do things for themselves. We will be telling them that it is fine to do something against the rules and laws if you can get away with it.

That may be all very well, but it raises a crucial issue; if such behaviour is encouraged or allowed on the sports field it will without question spill over into life in general, into business, marriage or even elections. If school coaches do not stop their players from committing what are professional errors, then they are condoning, in fact encouraging, them; they are teaching pupils how to cheat, in which case they are teaching pupils that it is fine to cheat in life.

The reality of the situation is this: diving is deceiving, lying; appealing is stealing from others; questioning is taking someone else’s name in vain; mocking is in effect character assassination; time wasting is going against the maxim of “Do to others what you would have them do to you”. It does not take a genius to note that such behaviour goes way beyond all those values that every school promotes. The attempt to at least con, or at best confuse, the referee is just as bad as biting an opponent; we will not stand for the latter so we must not stand for the former. Sorry, Suarez!

Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools. Email: ceo@atschisz.co.zw

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