Bubble-wrapping childhood, footy style

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
April 01, 2014 /

Click here to view original /

The very early ’90s. My brother was playing football for a ne’er-do-well under 9s team. My memory centres on a single practice match, although I suspect the same “diplomacy” was repeated throughout the season.

“And the next goal,” said their marshmallow of a coach, “will be worth 27 points.”

Of course. Because a 27-point goal would result in a draw.

My brother, probably all of eight at the time, laughed. His teammates distributed good-humour, eye rolls and intense irritation between them.

The losing side, it goes without saying, didn’t feel any less like losers because the bar was lowered for them. Equally, a coach throwing out an arbitrary gift of extra points didn’t make a dent in the tally that the boys’ held in their heads.

Flash forward a couple decades or so, and junior football leagues are taking the 27-point goal idea to the nth degree and debating whether to go scoreless entirely. Kids, apparently, should play for the love of the ball rather than the competition.

God forbid that we allow a ball game to subtly teach kids anything about the pain of loss, the thrill of victory or the necessity for improvement.

Adults, as they get ever-close to the grave, have a tendency to idealise their childhoods to the point of farce. I have an uncle, for example, whose own youth apparently involved nothing other than cheap lollies, yabbying and whittling cricket bats out of old planks of wood.

To many, childhood is a time of moral purity, of goodness, of catching butterflies and scallywagging around uninhabited islands. Left to their own devices – free from the sullying influences of media and market forces – and kids would, so the story goes, never dream of competing against each other.

While I view scoreboard abandonment as yet another idiotic example of parents swaddling already cotton-woolled kids with a layer of just-in-case bubble-wrap, truth be told, I couldn’t much care what goes on in kids’ sport.

What does interest me, however, is how the Rockwellian delusion of childhood impacts on important areas of policy.

Why, for example, do we have such gaps in sex education? Why, when children are, on average, seeing internet porn for the first time at 10, are we opting out of talking to them about this?

God forbid we allow ourselves to consider that a pure-as-the-driven-snow child might have some sexual curiosities.

Given my low interest in protesting the nobody-wins-a-prize football reform, instead, I’m going to run with the “why stop at the scoreboards?” line.

Surely there are many other aspects of childhood that can be suitably sanitised to ensure that endless stone-skimming summers last well into adulthood.

Phoebe Buffay offers up a starting point. Her mother wouldn’t let her see the sad bits of Bambi, of Old Yeller. Of course. Because variations in emotions must be postponed as long as possible.

Censoring DVDs, mind you, only scratches the surface:

Lemons are sour, kids eat stuff, kids might eat lemons, puckering might ensue. Let’s make a policy.

Nickelback make bad music. Kids have ears. What happens if a Nickelback song comes on the radio and the kids hear it? Let’s make a policy.

Batteries die. Many toys have batteries. When toys stop whizzing/dinging/scooting, happiness fades. Let’s make a policy.

Ridiculous? Sure. But so too is the extension of parental control-freakery to the football oval in the hope that children will spontaneously forget how to count, compete, or care a whit about conquest.

© Lauren Rosewarne