Bruce Pinnock teaches at St Alban’s College in Gauteng.
When I started out in my coaching career, I firmly believed that how you played the game was far more important than winning or losing. And I passed these noble sentiments on to the team I coached. For instance, I can claim without fear of contradiction that the Under-15D rugby side I coached, played the game with less concern for winning or losing than any other team in the history of rugby.
With hindsight, I can say that this may have had something to do with the fact that they lost every game they ever played. This included a ‘friendly’ against the Under-15F team and a not-so-friendly against the Under-14s. We also lost to a rival school team three years our junior. And we once lost to a team that included three girls. (Yes, go ahead, call me sexist if you like – but they were girls. I mean – we were out-scrummed, out-tackled – by girls!)
Please, don’t take this the wrong way. This is not sour grapes. It’s much more serious than that. This is plain out-and-out whingeing. And I have every right to do so. Of course sport is about “it’s not whether you won or lost”. Of course it’s “how you played the game”. I’m not disagreeing, so don’t look at me like that. But we won nothing! Even a draw – just one, even a wee, little one – might have helped me to keep believing in those noble principles.
But, as coach, I really can’t take all the credit. Apart from the fact that my team was just naturally gifted in generously conceding defeat, it had a captain who was a decent and moreover sickeningly obedient young man. His coach told him it is noble to be gracious in defeat. The captain sternly passed this on to the team. They rose to the challenge. They became the ‘Amazing Grace of Defeated Graciousness’. They positively fell over each other to shake hands and say, with a bright smile, “Well done!” to the opposition.
Mind-numbingly awful – mainly because all I could do was to keep telling them that winning
wasn’t everything and that they were such good sports. And blindly they took me at my word,
running out proudly at the start of the game and (shortly thereafter) generously praising the victors at the end.
One of the reasons for my team’s performance was that I insisted on participation. Everyone must get a game. Educational, of course. Even noble. But not conducive to producing winning results. When I tell you that Morris – ‘Manky’ Morris, of the rickets build, of the tribe the ‘unco-ords’ (the ‘uncoordinates’), to say nothing of his fear of soap and water – was always given a game, you’ll understand. Morris went entire games without once touching the ball. The team (perhaps understandably, given his soap-and-water phobia) often scrummed down without him. When I once complained to the referee that they didn’t wait for him to join a lineout, the referee said he thought Morris was one of the first-aid squad.
As I have said, our record that season was dismal, which is why I was not surprised at the endof- season father-and-son dinner not to be awarded the ‘Coach of the Year’ award. But what did amaze me was the boys who surrounded me and told me they had had a great season. For the first time, they had all been given lots of game time. And their fathers were equally complimentary. “Thank you for letting my boy play,” said Mr Morris. “It’s the first time any coach has allowed him on the field!” Most gratifying. This is what education is about.
And did that experience confirm for me that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game?
Don’t be silly. After you’ve faced all those opposition coaches’ grins as they shake your hand after every loss, and after you’ve been at the buttend of every joke your fellow coaches choose to deal out after results are read at assembly, your noble views become a little tainted. Suddenly, you find you understand the age-old sentiment: “Winning isn’t everything – it’s the only thing!”
This is when you realise tough love also has its place in education: “Sorry, son. It’s time the team had a win. You’re on the bench for this game!”