(This appeared as the “rant’ in the October 2017 issues of Rugby World. 

“Did you score?” is the question I have to use all my self-control not to ask when I miss one of my son’s rugby games. Who doesn’t get great pleasure from seeing their child score a try? I know I do. However, “did you score?” is a rubbish question and in many ways is worse than its evil best friend “did you win?”.

In the hours I’ve spent on the touchline I have seen parents pay their offspring for scoring, parents screaming “go on your own”, parents bragging about how many tries their child had scored on social media and children downhearted to the point of tears if they didn’t score.

In the relentless pursuit of tries, we parents often elevate the elation
of crossing the try-line above the process it takes to get the ball there. Our well-meaning excitement reduces our child’s enjoyment of the game and unwittingly diminishes team and individual character development. 

Nothing epitomises the issue more than those YouTube videos of a behemoth child going berserk, ball under one arm, running through every child on the opposition ten to 15 times in one game.

Rugby is a team game and yet what have the children in these videos that tend to go viral on social media gained while the world cheers a one-person try-scoring machine? 

Most parents I know say they love that rugby builds character in their children, and yet they undermine this by focusing on one single individual achievement. 

Parents, instead of focusing on tries, please let us concentrate on our children’s character throughout the game. Brag about their passing, their attempts to tackle the big kid, the way they helped the coach with the cones at the end of the session, the words of encouragement they spoke and the way they keep going in the
face of superior opposition. 

At one game, I heard one dad ring his father to tell him how his grandson had stopped playing to help an injured member of the opposition. Now that’s focusing on the right things.  

Since the release of the book Legacy (about the culture of the All Blacks) it is clichéd to talk about character, but there is an ancient truth in it. 

Tries will not give your child what they need to be successful in rugby or life. Focus on when they show character, and you will be setting them up for success on and off the pitch, regardless of the number of tries they score.