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On a mild October afternoon I had the pleasure of ‘coaching’ the U9 rugby team while Mr S refereed our match against Sedbergh. Unfortunately we lost, not heavily, but not by a hair’s breadth either. There was much charging around. Just watching was quite exhausting.
I have often suspected players on the pitch, in the heat of battle, cannot hear the instructions of the bellowing coach on the sidelines. And even if they can occasionally catch his or her words of wisdom encouraging them to do this or that, they struggle to compute said exhortations. In what seems like stating the obvious to an adult, tactical suggestions to an Under 9 player frequently mean nothing. While defending, the magnetic lure of the ball is way too powerful to be overcome by the idea of retaining some sort of formation that might limit certain moves by the attacking team. Hence we witness swarms of players floating around the pitch like starling murmurations, drawn this way and that by the magical attraction of the ball. Alas, this does not make for a robust defence that anticipates the movement of an attack. Yes, we conceded quite a few tries today. At some point, of course, the required nous begins to kick in and individuals morph into teams, working together, considering potential plays. But not just yet, apparently.
I know all this, but still persist in pointless vocal urgings, hoping my advice will suddenly make sense to the children tearing around in front of me. I also know that one more chocolate or drink of beer, when I’m neither hungry nor thirsty, is not good for me, but I too cannot resist temptation. One day I may also act more logically. This is how things are. The fact that our youngsters ran around enthusiastically, trying to get the ball in order to plant it beyond Sedbergh’s try line in a somewhat disorganised manner, does not mean it was a futile exercise. In the not too distant future it will all click. Child murmurations will cease and organised positioning and movement will ensue.
In the meantime, the best I should hope for is to see the boys and girls having fun, running after that ball, maybe even getting hold of it occasionally and haring off in every direction possible, sometimes forwards, towards the oppostion’s try line. We did actually score quite a few tries of our own. Sedbergh’s starlings floated hither and thither too, usually in an attempt to stop Olivia, Sam or Henry’s weaving runs that frequently, eventually, culminated in putting the ball down where it mattered. Ted, Oliver and Freddie played their parts too, contributing to the ebb and flow of the game. Yes, we lost, but everyone did their best, while most of those present – playing rugby or watching – thoroughly enjoyed it, whether any of it made much sense or not!