It’s not about the ball

Posted by Tyson Jopson on 22 January 2014

Sports-centric travel sends more and more people packing to new destinations every year. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup kicking off in Brazil in June, I wonder how much longer beautiful games will remain just that.

freestyle, football, Freestyle soccer player, Iya Traore at La Basilique de Sacré Coeur, Paris, Iya Traore

Photo by Sam Wolff

Do the numbers 15–12 mean anything to you? Has it been that long? If a picture speaks 1 000 words, these numbers are the full collection of Monet’s masterpieces hanging on one wall. They’re magical, splendiferous, transcendent – the most important numbers in South Africa’s sporting history: the ’95 rugby world cup score. I wish I’d been there. Sure, clutching desperately to a Bok flag as it flapped dangerously out of the back window while my Dad hooted our Volksie all the way through Benoni was as riveting a post-game celebration as any, but nothing can compare to the exhilaration of watching that titanic battle in a packed stadium. The drama of the late equaliser, the euphoria of the intercept, the heart-stopping eternity as the ball left Joel Stransky’s boot and floated an entire country’s hopes and dreams pale toe. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s rugby, soccer, or even underwater hockey; the score divines the glory. It’s no wonder host cities burst at the seams as throngs of people flock to the next ephemeral epicentre of the sporting universe.

Imagine my horror, then, at reading that in certain parts of Canada and the USA there’s an already ‘well-established, research-supported, holistic approach to player development, endorsed by the sport’s brightest minds’ that features a slight alteration to games as we’ve known them. There’s no easy way to put this folks, so I’ll just say it straight out: they’re teaching kids to play sport without keeping score at all.

I’ll give you a moment to dab the tea you no doubt shot out of your nose and onto this page when you read that. Now, let me continue: it’s an attempt to get developing players to hone their technical skills without the pressure to win, incentivising them to use their imagination while avoiding rigid strategic play. The score, according to these ‘bright minds’, is a misleading measure of success.

Do these geniuses know that their salaries are also scores? Perhaps they’d be happy to work for the grand sum of nothing each month. Imagine a game drive that results in precisely zero sightings? Hard to come back from that thinking you’re a winner. Fancy visiting Paris to see absolutely none of the landmarks? Thought not. Come to think of it, for many world cup tourists, scoring with the locals is half the reason for going, but I digress…

Simply put, this is another example of how hard we work nowadays as a society to make sure we don’t hurt anybody’s feelings; to promote inclusivity regardless of what’s going to happen when you get out into the real world. Winning and losing is a fact of life. Sports (with a score) is the best way to prepare for that.

I mean, what’s next? Removing the ball altogether? I dread to think of travelling to Russia for the 2018 soccer world cup to watch a ball-less, score-less final. Then again, I probably won’t have time to visit Russia in 2018. I’ll be too busy dealing with all the publicity for having just won the world cup for most butt clenches done in one sitting. In fact, I did it while writing this column. No, I have no idea how many I did or what the previous record was. The most important thing is that I did them without any pressure to win and I’m very happy with my performance.


Column taken from Excess Baggage, Getaway magazine January 2014.

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