Do you best – New book about children and adolencents in school, sports and society

January 14. 2020

“Talk nicely”, “Behave well” and “Do your best”. Born in the 1950’s, raised as a child in the 1960’s and adolencent in the 1970’s, expressions like these have always had value and meaning to me. But the words for today’s children and adolencents have different values ​​and meanings than for my generation. Every generation, every culture and every society has different values ​​that are difficult to transform into the ones that follow. That is why the four authors – Pia Schou Nielsen, Per Andersen, Poul Erik Kristensen and Jakob Freil – ask themselves a very large, important and difficult task in the book: “Do you best – in school, sports and society ”, which was released in October 2019.

Focus on and examples from football – but also general knowledge about children and adolencents behavior and attitudes

The book’s four authors have many decades of experience with sports, especially with football. This means that the book contains many good stories and examples of behavior, language and attitudes of children, adolescents and their parents. The empiricism is derived partly from the authors’ practical, educational experiences with teaching, coaching, matches and competitions and partly from interviews with exciting and competent football players, coaches, volentary leaders and educational staff in institutions and schools. On the one hand, anecdotes and examples from football, which is by far the most popular sport in Denmark, both girls and boys, are very dominant in the book. On the other hand, it is a marked weakness of culture, behavior, language and values ​​from other sports, both team sports such as handball, ice hockey and volleyball as individual sports such as athletics, swimming and gymnastics, are not described or discussed to any significant extent. There are, in my opinion, more differences than similarities when it comes to the DNA of each sports – not least when it comes to children and adolencents.

Strong values and attitudes are necessary – also in relation to the daily lifes of children and adolencents

The book contains three main sections, divided into 9 chapters. The first four chapters present a solid theoretical knowledge of children and adolencents of today, primarily illuminated and discussed based on Danish literature, studies and research. It does not seem logical to me to start the book with a definition of winning culture with examples of “High Performance team” such as Manchester United. The authors correctly point out that a tough high performance culture with a unilateral focus on results and a culture of perfection among Danish children and young people has a number of particularly unfortunate consequences for the “core” of the individual child, namely confidence, self-control, empathy, sense of responsibility and ability to be part of communities. For that reason, in my opinion, children’s and youth coaches, educators, teachers, volentary leaders and parents should not seek the most important inspiration for establishing and developing well-runned sports environments in elite sports. Elite sports and high performance are “cut to the bone” about prioritization and selection – and to a much lesser extent about joy, well-being and inclusion. The book’s second chapter is a description and discussion about the “curling culture”, which has characterized the upbringing and attitudes of too many families, schools and clubs over the past decades. For the vast majority of children, upbringing and education today happens outside the family and through social media. Mother and father are usually working outside the home, and many hours of the children and adolencents are spent outside the home – in the nursery, kindergarten, school, SFO and club. Sweeping resistance away from well-meaning adults does not develop independent and robust children. The authors should be commended for highlighting clear statements and attitudes, e.i. in conflicts among children. Statements such as “… teaching children to cope and recover from conflict and adversity is an excellent and useful employment, which is a basic prerequisite for coping as an adult in a complex high-speed society and many conflicting interests and ways of life” and “It is an important part of healthy child development, that the children develop social learning and personal qualities to get well and strengthened out of a stressed situation. They learn how conflicts can be handled and overcome without bullying or violence as the preferred solution ”(page 51) is a competent response to too much adult control and management in the vast majority of children and adolencents’s daily lifes.

Social relationships and good manners must be learned – they do not come by themselves

The third chapter of the book introduces one of the book’s most valuable theoretical contributions and, in the words of the authors, “a summary model for understanding and communicating the book’s messages”: the relationship model or the formation circle. Every human being must establish, develop and master skills at three different levels: Individual – Relational – Collective. Today’s children and adolencents are formed and developed in a complex world, where many stakeholders and relations influence the opportunities for children and adolencents to thrive and do well. Children are formed and developed through early relations and upbringing in the family, but also through institutions such as kindergartens, schools and clubs, and not least through friends and social media, to a much greater and stronger extent and content than ever before. In this area, the authors also have some clear messages and recommendations: “A solution to the challenges of children and adolencents with robustness and mental strength seems to lie in the relational skills – the ability to play well with each other, as an individual and as a group. Performance plays out right in between individual and collective skills ”…” The ability to perform as an individual and a team can be trained and needs to be framed. It requires effort and team collaboration on everyone’s part. Especially in the early years the children’s core must be cultivated. Later, the necessary life skills and game plans for the individual and the team must be strengthened ”(page 293). The last theoretical chapter presents a number of general psychological concepts and more or less scientific theories, for instance persistence, impulse control, behavioral and personality profiles (red, blue, yellow and green category), risk behavior, inner  motivation – all in all a messy and incoherent chapter that lacks quality.

Lots of good and useful tools

The following four chapters and the second part of the book – “Toolboxes for gameplan and the adult as leader” (Chapter 5), “… you as a parent” (Chapter 6), “… you as a teacher and educator” (Chapter 7) ) and “… you as a volunteer in an organization or association” (Chapter 8) – contains lots of quality. In these chapters, the author’s extensive knowledge and practical tools come into play in an excellent way. The four chapters contain a series of concrete exercises, examples, cases and reflection questions, which both provide the reader with new knowledge and challenge views, attitudes and behaviors in relation to their own practice. It is also a great strength that the individual chapters relate to different arenas for children and adolecents daily lifes and that cases from sports other than football are described. Each chapters contain a series of topics and dilemmas that can be used with great advantage in teacher education, coaching courses in associations and clubs, in parenting meetings and all other places where the framework and conditions for children and adolencents everyday life are discussed.

A qualified counterplay to “the individual child at the center”

The final chapter of the book summarizes in a clear and precise way the most important reflections, messages and recommendations. The authors summarize the three main themes for the development of robust and viable children and adolescents, namely good manners, performance culture and the need for leadership. It is liberating – and far from ordinary – to hear such a clear statement as the following: “There seems to be a need for adults in all spheres involving children and adolescents to take on clear leadership and seek companionship. There is a need for a clear framework on children’s education, upbringing and behavior, and outlines how they want it. As adult leaders for the various arenas where children are located, we have a very important task in teaching our children and adolencents how to master life in a changing world and in a society where, like on the football field, things often go very fast. Whatever role we play in the child or adolecent’s life, and whatever arena we encounter it, we have a responsibility to make every effort and ensure that they thrive, learn the right skills, and prepare for life. It places great demands on us as human beings and on our society ”

It has been worth all the effort to read the book. It is highly recommended to anyone who wants children and adolencents all the best.