I am on the receiving end of another great blog post by the brilliant Mark O’Sullivan (who authors his own footblogball with lots of insight). Having read this I feel a need to revert momentarily to English blogging. Mark’s post (which can be found here) is about how adult created norms are contributing to the design of a system (of children’s sports) that no longer meets the needs of the child in sport. Yes, Mark’s post starts with a question, and it is from 2015 which believe me does not make it less relevant today, but anyone who has read it would probably quite soon exchange that first line question mark for an exclamation mark.
Reading through Mark’s post takes me back a number years. Or actually, preparing for a presentation that I gave two weeks ago did to begin with. I was asked to speak at the general assembly of the Blekinge District Sports Federation and the equivalent of the SISU district. The topic was the strategy of Swedish Sport 2025. This strategy is all about the triangle of Sport becoming a rectangle. I.e more people in sports, staying longer, playing more. An interesting interpretation of this strategy across the country though has been that this is all about participation (and not elite performance). Mark’s post proves how wrong this interpretation is. There will simply be nobody left who can elite perform with the way things are currently going.
In my presentation in Blekinge I had dug up some old stuff that I came across when taking my first steps and early classes at GIH in Stockholm. Fresh from the press at that time came Rolf Carlson’s ”The way to the National Team” where Rolf, in his dissertation, had retrospectively studied seven sports and their athletes. He had been inspired to further his studies after the Swedish Tennis Federation had asked him to do the same study in tennis some years before. I had a slide in my Blekinge presentation where Rolf in a debate article in the biggest Swedish daily in 1986 had put:
”There is no early and hard elite performance effort behind the (so called) Swedish Tennis wonder. There is no early specialisation entirely on tennis and there are no demon coaches. Instead we find talented kids who by the age of seven playfully starts to practice tennis, who at the same time do other sports up to the age of 14 and are not pressurised for success/results. Instead they are allowed to develop at their own pace.”
In the 1980’s Sweden at one time had five players in the top ten of the male TAP rankings. By the close of 1986 it was only five in the top 13. Clearly, something was going right also when it came to elite performance based on this recipe. And surprising of not, Rolf found very similar patterns in the other sports that he looked at.
In my second quote from Rolf that I used that night in Blekinge time had gone all the way to 2007. Weird sports like snowboarding and other life style activities had started to challenge more traditional sports. Rolf saw this as nothing strange at all, instead when sport does not meet the needs of children and young people, they will – vote with their feet. Rolf said in the Swedish Sport Research magasine:
”A new way of thinking that is about so much more than the actual competition must come in. Traditional competition tends to become increasingly watered down and less attractive.”
So, saying that Mark is right and Rolf is (and was) right could be the understatement of the year. Things need changing. And they have needed changing at least since 2007, probably since 1986. Question is though, is the insight there on HOW things should be done instead (among decision makers, coaches, parents)? But that, that is for another blog post.