I spoke a little bit with a young group I was coaching last week about their motivation, how they measure success and so on. It was an informal chat since we had to call training off early due to the weather conditions. A nice bloke from the club arrived in with 2 large pots of tea and we settled in to talk about scheduling, attendance, discipline and so on. The conversation took on a bit of a philosophical twist then and we went off on a few tangents, and eventually ended up discussing why they played football, what they wanted out of it, and what they felt they got out of it right now. I’m not telling any tales out of school here since you’ll note I’ve kept the club name out of this. The chat was pretty interesting, and after a little while, helped by the heat in the room and the hot tea, the guys opened up a bit.
The reason I’m writing this is because I don’t think many people stop to actually ask young athletes what they want, what they think and so on. They’re too busy making declarative statements like “Young people are under so much pressure” or “Young people need a foot up the arse ” and so on. So here’s what some of them had to say. I didn’t record them or take notes, this was a chat and I led them occasionally but mostly we were just riffing, and I’m paraphrasing what was said. By the way, I’m not a psychiatrist so there’s no confidentiality agreement but I did ask them all if I could stick this on my blog as I thought it would be interesting. They agreed as long as I didn’t mention names.
On Motivation and why they play their sport…
Most of the guys answered with a shrug initially. Then there were a few “because it’s fun” answers, to which I replied “But there are easier ways to have fun, ones that don’t involved losing occasionally or going out to train on nights like tonight” (it was 2C and the rain was falling sideways). That got things moving a bit better. Most of the guys said they were there because they had been there for so long, since under 8s for most of them, and others still because they had friends and team mates there. When I asked if they’d leave if their best mates left the team, they said “yeah, probably”. But they all nodded along and agreed when one of them said “yeah but losing just makes you want to win more, and it’d be great to win the league but if you walked into a team full of strangers and won the league with them it wouldn’t be the same”. What I took from this was that yes, they wanted to succeed in their sport (be that winning a few games or winning a championship) but they also recognised the special bond you have in a team.
On Success and Ambition…
I asked them what their ambitions were and what they think success would be to them. A couple of them spoke about having a goal to represent Dublin at Senior level, and ultimately win a championship with them, and these were guys currently on development panels for doing just that. Among the others there were differing opinions. Some said league or cup trophies, some said some variation of “just be as good as I can be” and others again said they had no ambitions in the sport. Interestingly, I noticed some people rolling their eyes when both the highly ambitious and those with no ambitions spoke. I pointed this out to them and there were some laughs and bit of slagging, but I wondered aloud if there were 25 players in any dressing room in the world who thought and felt the exact same way. I told them that I bet there are guys just collecting their wage in the Real Madrid squad, who are nonetheless important players, who just so happen not to match the ambition of Ronaldo et al. My point was that at amateur level, where most teams are struggling to field a side of 15, never mind 5 subs every weekend, you need those guys even if they’re not as driven as you, and you never know, maybe one day they will be.
It’s likely that the only way you’ll get an honest answer to this is to go one to one in private, but I asked anyway. Most of the lads said they felt no real pressure to perform on most match days, but in big games or against rivals, they felt a little more pressure in the run up to the game and on the day. Mostly they spoke about pressure to train as opposed to playing. This goes along with my experience of most people, let alone youth teams. Most guys enjoy the games they play, and would happily play matches every day. The training is the slog, the same old same old. Not turning up for a match is criminal and most of the guys wouldn’t do it unless they were ill or had something important to make them miss it, but not turning up for training is more doable, and the pressure comes from team mates and coaches. I asked if this ever made them consider quitting and the answer was mostly yes. They hate missing training and then getting a bollicking for it, especially if it was unavoidable.
It was an interesting little chat over a cup of tea in a dressing room while the wind howled outside. I don’t think you can get much more Irish Sport than that.
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