Too much winning, or losing, is not good for children. In more rational moments, most teachers and coaches agree with this. The theory is sometimes better than the practice, however, when good sense is suspended in moments of high emotion on the touchline.
Perhaps more significant then, is competitiveness. A contest where the result is in doubt, certainly before the game, and, ideally, into the final quarter. Opinion is fairly consistent that this is one of the characteristics of that elusive "good game". The purpose of fixture making is to seek competitiveness - uncertainty of outcome that stimulates endeavour and provides excitement for all involved. It is the excitement of competition that many children (though not necessarily adults) value. Often ahead of the result.
HMC research confirms that its schools take part in over 1000 fixtures every week, involving over 10,000 children. The scale is enormous, and therefore the challenge of making these games "competitive" is significant. As the gulf between the highest and lowest performing schools widens, this task becomes ever greater. The search is for the "right" games, where uncertainty is matched by sporting tone.
So, what type of fixture list is competitive? How can it provide the opportunity to strive against the odds and to battle in close competition. The elusive theory of winning with dignity and losing with honour. Whilst acknowledging that all but the highest performing schools vary significantly in standard year by year.
Firstly, it must be recognised that there is a minimum amount of winning that is necessary - on average - to maintain commitment of players, to allow the satisfaction of triumph and the ability to deal with victory. That proportion is probably about 35-40% of matches. Secondly, there is probably a maximum desirable level of winning, maybe about 80%, whereafter the opportunity to learn from the experience of defeat begins to diminish.
Therefore, a fixture list must have three groups of opponent. It must have Aspirational fixtures, against teams that might have advantages and be, on average, slightly stronger. These will stretch the better players, provide memorable triumphs in strong years and test resilience. It must have Benchmark fixtures against opponents of comparable quality and culture and against whom winning is a genuine uncertainty. And finally, there must be the Reassurance fixtures that give weaker years an opportunity to experience a share of close competition, and maybe some winning. One school's Aspirational fixtures may be another's Reassurance ones.
So, how can competitiveness be measured? Should this be subjective - or might it be objective? Try taking the total number of goals or points in the game. If the margin between the teams is within 25% of the total could this define "competitive"? If so, it would allow a school to measure the success of its match programme both in the proportion of "competitive" games, as well as the simple statistics of winning and losing. A game lost by an uncompetitive margin would be a double failure.
If the full impact of school sport requires endeavour, commitment, triumph, failure and resilience, then it is necessary to ensure that pupils encounter a suitably wide range of experiences. If defeat allows the learning of life lessons in self-restraint and dealing with disappointment, it is important that this becomes a structural part of the programme. Illogical though this may sometimes appear to parents. They may need the value of this carefully communicated to them
Building, measuring and assessing the competitiveness of the match programme is an essential task for leaders of school sport. It is an opportunity for school-wide quality assurance to maximise the impact of sport in developing desirable personal outcomes.