During the World Cup in 2014, Arjen Robben earned more air miles in the 30 days between mid-June and mid-July than Richard Branson earned all year, and he didn’t even step on a plane. He earned a reputation . Robben isn’t the only one of course. When questioned on diving, Ashley Young is quoted as saying “Referees have got tough decisions to make, they have a tough time out there making decisions, but they have made the right decisions, I think.” No Ashley, it’s up to you to behave with integrity, and here’s why:
It was just after the 2014 World Cup and I was at a youth soccer tournament and in the space of about one hour I encountered almost everything wrong with youth soccer. A player on one of the U11 teams was a pretty good player, and he could maybe have helped his team a lot more had he not spent most of the time on the ground. Having seen some of his heroes get away with shenanigans at the World Cup, he decided to emulate them by seeing how far he could fly through the air whenever someone was near him. Most kids who are committed to a sport spend hours practicing the sport, he had clearly been working on his diving, or as Woody from Toy Story called it “Falling with style.”
As a double whammy, I overheard a conversation between him, his parents and someone else who hadn’t seen the game.
“How did you do?”
And this is the part that put the cherry on the top…
Yeah – the kid only loses when the ref is terrible. No – the ref was mostly fine (gave some light free kicks away, but didn’t fall for a majority of the diving). They lost because they didn’t work as hard at playing the game as the other team.
The worst part of this is that the kid went away with his cheating reinforced. It’s OK to do this, my parents will defend it, it’s bad refs who don’t call a foul against me, and I’ve seen my heroes on TV do it. When I was a coach I would tell my kids that if they dived once they would sit the tournament. It didn’t matter if it was the 1st minute of the first game, they would be done for the weekend. None of them dived. In fact, I would even say that there were times we didn’t get decisions we should have because my players stayed on their feet, but I’d rather lose with integrity and have it mean something than win without deserving it.
After a club game for Bayern Munich in which Robben was up to his diving shenanigans against VfL Bochum, the VfL Bochum coach, Gertjan Verbeek, a fellow Dutchman said ““The ball was played, he was looking for his leg. I’m Dutch and I’m ashamed. But we know Robben is like this from the national team.”
Here are the three take aways for today:
1 – Talk to your kids about their heroes. Explain what sporting heroes are. Sporting heroes aren’t people who will win at any cost, they are people who will work as hard as they can to be the best that they can. If your definition of a hero in sport is someone who will stop at nothing, including cheating to win, and this is what you are teaching your kid, you need to take a look at yourself.
2 – Youth sport is about development. It is about improvement. If your kid feels the need to cheat to win, find out where they got that mentality. Address it. If they are prepared to cheat at 11 years old to win a game of soccer, the blueprint for their future integrity doesn’t look great. If they think cheating is an acceptable alternative to growth, growth will not be a habit in the future. They will fail when they can’t cheat, and they don’t know how to apply themselves. Mental toughness starts young.
3 – Arjen Robben has a reputation. Ashley Young has a reputation and knows it. He doesn’t care. Do you care if your kid earns a reputation for being a cheat, or having low integrity?
If we don’t teach our kids to put in the hard work to win, and we allow the easy route of cheating, they will never know the feeling of working hard to achieve something. They will never feel the pride of accomplishing something. The will know what it feels like to win, but they will never know what it feels like to be a winner.
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