Foul play by Chance to Shine?
Chance to Shine, the UK cricket charity, has published research (jointly with the MCC) in support of their scheme to encourage ‘fair play’ in schools. Their headline finding was:
‘Pressure cooker’ of school sports turning children into a win-at-all costs generation
That’s a situation that is saddening, if not surprising, for sports lovers. As the Chance to Shine piece makes clear, the antics of professional sports stars do make the gaining of an advantage by unfair means seem routine.
To its credit, the organisation made the results of its surveys of c1,000 school-age children and c1,000 parents available on its website. So, I took a look and this is what I found – matching data to the claims.
Claim 1. School sports are highly pressurised.
Evidence 1.1 The children were not asked about school sport, but any sport they play (Children’s questionnaire: Q1).
Evidence 1.2 The biggest source of pressure is not institutional as I feel the headline implies. Of those who acknowledge pressure to win, 21% say it comes mostly from teachers or coaches. Bigger sources are other children (46.9%) and themselves (21.9%). (CQ: Q2)
Claim 2. The headline implies, rather than states, that the problem is greater with this generation of children
Evidence 2.1 No comparative data from surveys carried out in the past is supplied.
Evidence 2.2 The perceptions of parents over whether there is more cheating now than when they were at school were fairly evenly split: Yes – 34.0%; No – 36.3% (Parents’ questionnaire: Q9). 24.2% of parents didn’t recall ever feeling under pressure to win when playing sports at school (PQ: Q7). This is higher than from the equivalent question put to the sample of children (18.4%), but the questions are worded differently making exact comparisons difficult (CQ: Q1).
Claim 3. Two-thirds (64 per cent) of children in Britain’s schools are cheating during school sport due to the pressure they feel under to win
Evidence 3.1 The question is not about school sport, but all sport played by the children (CQ: Q3)
Evidence 3.2 63.6% of the children who say their teammates feel under pressure to win say it always (6.1%), frequently (13.8%) or sometimes (44.4%) causes them to cheat (CQ: Q5). The statement doesn’t concede that cheating may be happening at different frequencies – possibly rarely.
Evidence 3.3 The 10% of children who say their teammates are never under pressure to win (CQ: Q3) didn’t answer this question. Therefore, the proportion who said pressure is causing their teammates to cheat is better estimated as 57.2% (90% x 63.6%).
Claim 4: 90 per cent of children admit their teammates feel under pressure to win whilst playing sport.
Evidence 4.1 Teammates feel under pressure to win all the time (17.0%), frequently (30.6%) and sometimes (42.4%). While the figure for the proportion of teammates affected is correct, it isn’t the ever present sensation the statement conveys (CQ: Q3).
Claim 5: Three-quarters (75 per cent) of the 1,002 children aged eight-16 surveyed believe that their teammates would cheat if they could get away with it
Evidence 5.1 Again the proportion is correct, but the statement doesn’t acknowledge that 49.3% would cheat sometimes (not every time or frequently). (CQ: Q7)
Evidence 5.2 The sample answering this question was 960, not 1,002, as it excluded the 42 who never play sport. This error has no impact on the message of the piece (CQ: Q7).
Claim 6: Children also expressed a lack of remorse from their peers with 37 per cent believing that their teammates do not care if they won by cheating…
Evidence 6.1 A syntactic point: can you express a lack of remorse for someone else based on your belief of what that person feels? I suspect the survey focused on what ‘teammates’ do as it is less threatening than asking the children directly whether they themselves cheat, etc and so generates more reliable information.
Evidence 6.2 The proportions of teammates were reported accurately.
These comparisons of the claims with the evidence point to a hardening of the case – an elimination of equivocation, some inaccuracy, some clear exaggeration and some implied meanings unsupported by evidence. The effect is to make the Chance to Shine fair play scheme seem more urgently needed and more pertinent to the environment where it will be delivered – schools. I wonder whether the scheme was planned and funded ahead of the research, rather than the other way around, which would have enabled the scheme to be informed by evidence rather than have data amassed to support a policy already in process.
In picking through this data, I don’t mean to deny that cheating in school (and other junior) sport occurs or that the effort to instill fair play is unworthy. It just struck me that the Chance to Shine report has sought to gain advantage, to stretch the numbers, to deal other than directly with the evidence – in a report on CHEATING! And, as you hear so often of those caught bending the rules in sport, they didn’t need to do it.
To understand why, I’d suggest those responsible for the report complete a survey (which will be familiar to them):
Q1: Do you feel under pressure to present a strong case for your work?
Q2: Where does that pressure mostly come from? Boss, funders, media, me, other sports authorities?
Q3: Do you think the pressure colleagues feel causes them to exaggerate or stretch the facts available to them?
Q4: If your colleagues had the chance to exaggerate or stretch the facts and get away with it, do you think they would do so?
Q5: Why do you think your colleagues would exaggerate or stretch the facts? To get better media coverage; To please the boss; It’s part of the game.
Q6: If your colleagues got good media coverage by exaggerating or stretching facts, how does it make them feel? They don’t care; getting good coverage is the most important thing to them; guilty; happy or proud.
Finally, Chance to Shine is an excellent scheme. My club, my children’s school and lots of local children have benefited from its funding. My kids have even had a ‘spirit of cricket’ school assembly. My support for the scheme is so strong, I’ve sponsored Omar Khan to run the London Marathon to raise funds for it. (Declaration of interest: Omar was club skipper when I played in SE London in the 1990s).