Poor Seb Coe. Well, not really. Peerage, high profile job, Olympic medals, home in Surrey and all the rest of it, but I do feel a little sorry for him. A few days ago he dared to suggest that parents should be able to take time off to watch their children compete at school.
"It is crucial for children that they are supported," he is quoted as saying. "I always feel slightly depressed if you turn up to an event and the parents aren't there. It encourages children to do their best."
Of course it does. Our parents are the people whose approval of us matters beyond anybody else's, and that includes Simon Cowell. Who didn't run faster, throw further, hit harder or clutch the spoon tighter because their parent was watching? Kids love it when their parents watch them perform in any sphere, yet to read the Daily Mail, you'd think Lord Coe was actively working against the interests of the nation.
"Does he live in the real world?" the paper shrieked, raising the prospect that UK GDP would plummet still further if workers nationwide were to down tools and stand on the touchlines of the few remaining playing fields for the odd hour each week. Watching little Jordan or Amy run around an undulating field would seem to be less productive than time spent at your desk, surfing the net or playing online poker.
The argument was brought to the Today programme on Tuesday, to be settled in the last four minutes of the show by Guardian columnist, Tim Dowling and journalist Lucy Cavendish.
Lucy put the case for watching your kids, getting involved with their activity and demonstrating that it mattered. I recognised what she was saying. Even though I barely understand the rules of any of the games they play, I try to see my sons' matches whenever I can and I do reorganise my schedule to do so. I know that my boys want someone there to see them score a goal/ put in a good tackle/ hit the ball for four/hit the ball at all. Being picked for a team matters to them and I want to acknowledge that achievement in a tangible way. So, the boot of my car contains a deck chair, an enormous umbrella, bloody awful rubber boots and several filthy rugs. With a flask of tea, I sit and I watch my children, who won't be children for more than the blink of an eye, run around in the wind and the rain and the sunshine and I always wear my sunglasses, because it makes me cry.
Tim Dowling, perhaps the least joyful of any writer I have ever read, heartily disagrees. Not for him the official sanctioning of time off work to watch kids play matches. No! He 'can't see what [his] children would get out of [his] being there' and, in any case, he claims not to have the 'football talk' to survive the social experience. Apparently, it's all about him.
Of course, Mr Dowling let slip that his own father was 'always there' at his tennis matches as a boy, so he wouldn't know what it feels like to search through the assembled faces for the one you want to see, or the disappointment that ensues when you realise that nobody remotely related to you is anywhere in the vicinity.
The Today programme failed, as it invariably does in this 08:56 slot, to resolve anything at all. It paid lip service to an issue which, while it sounds like 'soccer mom' territory, is much, much more important. The role sport can play in the development of our children is immeasurable. Sport teaches discipline, cooperation, social skills and communication. It helps kids to be healthy. It helps kids who can't spell derive esteem. It helps kids value each other. Because it meant nothing to Michael Gove however, a bookish boy who had no problems spelling, funding for sport in schools is set to be slashed by £162 million in this Olympic year.
Children take seriously what adults take seriously. Not watching our children's matches sends a negative message to the kids and a positive one to Gove as he strides around the school gym, axe in hand.
After all, if you're not watching matches now, will you notice when there are no matches to watch?
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