school of sport:with TIM MIDDLETON
THERE was once a popular Saturday night television programme called Juke Box Jury during which a panel of celebrities (not all of them musically-minded) listened to newly-released records and determined if the records would be a hit or a miss. In many ways there are similarities to what happens on Saturday afternoons on school playing fields, where plenty of people (not all of them sporting-minded) declare with great authority and conviction whether the children competing in front of them will be a hit or a miss in the future. Of course, it should go without saying that the deciding factor in a child becoming a hit on the sports field is his attitude. Will he be a hit or a miss?
If the youngster adopts a hit-and-giggle approach, it is certain that he will not be a hit. It is good that he seeks to gain some enjoyment from the sport but if he sees sport as purely non-competitive, social, relaxed and not entirely serious, if he proceeds without any real care, he will not go far. Such an attitude or approach will not be helpful or fruitful.
Equally, if a youngster plays with a hit-and-run approach, he will not be a hit. He may play cricket with an attitude that if he hits the ball any distance, touches the ball in any manner, connects with the ball at all, no matter where the ball goes he must run. Such an attitude might appear exciting but ultimately it is foolhardy; it is done without thought or consideration and while it may appeal to others it also will not help the youngster become a hit.
Alternatively, some youngsters might play with a hit-and-hope mind-set; it does not matter where he hits it, just as long as he hits it. For sure, it is better to hit the ball than miss it, not least because in cricket a player can only be out in three ways if he hits the ball but can be out in five ways if he misses it. Once again though, such an approach will not bear fruit, as he may hit it hard, high or handsome but if the ball goes to the fielder it is wasted. It is not a matter of hitting and hoping that nothing bad comes from it.
We are then simply left with a hit-or-miss approach, which might be summed up in the manner of playing it safe or risking it. Do we dare or doubt? Some will adopt the attitude that attack is the best form of defence — as long as we score more points than the opposition we cannot lose. It is similar to the twist-or-stick approach in card games; do we go for broke or play it safe? Clearly though, considerable thought should be given in such a situation: after all, if our two cards add up to twenty in a game of pontoon and we ‘twist’, only one card can possibly help us while it would be far more sensible “twisting” when our cards add up to fourteen, as then we would have seven cards that would keep us in the game. In sporting terms, there is less point shooting from seventy metres away or from a tight angle. However, the problem with that approach was summed up famously by hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky who said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
While considering this approach, Sandy Koufax, who became the youngest ever baseball pitcher to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame, came to the realisation that, “I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started trying to make them hit it.” Most pitchers would be happy for the opponent to miss the ball, as that way the opponent will not score any points, in a similar way to a soccer coach who plays with a view to ensuring his team does not concede a goal. However, Koufax argued that, “If you are trying to dance around a batter, they have the advantage. If you challenge a batter head to head, you have the advantage. Nothing is more daring than reaching back and hurling the ball at someone, daring them to hit it.” For him the old Latin saying, “Fortune favours the brave”, rings true. “Twisting’ gives the player the advantage.
Our approach as a sports coach will affect the way our team plays and therefore how our players will play. Equally, whatever approach we adopt as a sports coach at school will influence the approach our pupils will have for life. We need to be very careful therefore how we model and present our tactics and attitude. Will they approach life with a hit-and-giggle approach? Or with a hit-and-run or hit-and-hope mind-set? Or will they adopt a hit-or-miss attitude? We want to make them hit, not miss; we want them to be a Hit, not a Miss. The jury is out whether we have succeeded.
l Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: firstname.lastname@example.org