Since entering the childcare industry over 5 years ago, I have come across some very talented young footballers who appear to adore the beautiful game in a very raw way. Some are more talented than others, but all have a common interest – to score a goal and to win.
Winning is fine, but I have also come across a growing win-at-all-costs mentality among the young, whereby they will do anything to gain an advantage over their opposition – namely a dive.
Cheating comes in many forms. Diving is deception of your peers. Since when was it OK to do this? Especially among the young.
Kids are impressionable and will look at sports stars to replicate. If they are witnessing their heroes falling all over the place to gain a deceptive upper hand over their fellow professionals, they will more than likely mimic this. Even more so, if it means they may earn £300,000 per week.
One of my current roles is within the Playwork sector and I am seeing more and more children purposely diving – some in a playful, cheeky way may I add – but increasingly to be in a genuine search of a free kick or penalty. To the more extreme I often see kids feign injury to make things seem worse than they are. All in the style and theatrics of the Premier League stars whom they adore.
I can only come to the conclusion that what I see on primary school fields and playgrounds are the results of what kids are watching week-in-week-out in the Premier League and beyond.
Kids can find inspiration on how to acceptably behave from all angles. Discipline starts at home and it should be developed through school, outside interests and everyday life. In the age of technology, elements of discipline can also be learnt through what they watch on their iPad screens. It is therefore the complete wrong message to be sending to gullible kids when I see professional football players gaining an upper hand by falling over in agony when nobody has touched them.
What infuriates me even more than the act itself ― is the lack of any punishment for the person committing the dive – or simulation as is its technical term.
A yellow card is the ‘punishment’ waved in front of their laughing eyes. You must commit the same offence twice in the same game to get any form of punishment. i.e. a sending off. But that is nowhere near enough of a deterrent. According to Sky Sports News only 46 individual yellow cards were issued for diving during the entire Premier League 2017/2018 season. There were three teams who received four yellow cards – Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Manchester United. That’s 46 individual occasions where nothing was done to eradicate this cancerous behaviour. A yellow card for cheating is not a punishment. It is an offer to try it again before you get punished.
I accept the winning-at-all costs mentality is a cultural and societal thing ― and I agree with it to a degree, but when it begins to spill over in to conning your friends on a playground to gain an unfair advantage – it is just plain wrong.
Cultural norms are often seen as immune from change. Challenging a norm such as ‘diving-is-just-part-of-the-game’ is a lazy approach at an issue which has far wider implications away from football itself. It reinforces to kids a rather toxic atmosphere where the only way to get on in life is to deceive others.
With the world’s greatest football tournament underway, I think it is a tremendous opportunity to finally punish diving with real hard-hitting sanctions such as instant red cards – which can be verified by available technology such as the VAR system.
This will not change the world, but it will go a long way in educating kids that it is not OK to cheat your friends.