Soccer and Trench Warfare
I know, these seem like pretty diverse topics. I promise, I’m going somewhere with this. And, believe it or not, it has nothing to do with World Cup.
Okay, maybe tangentially.
Last week, my husband, my twelve year-old daughter and I traveled to Southern California so that my daughter could participate with her team at the biannual national soccer tournament. Can I give the disclaimer here before we proceed: I love my daughter. I’m THRILLED she’s gotten into soccer and has become an eager participant on her team. I’m proud of the way she joined up at age twelve having never played before, and dedicated herself to improving her skills and becoming the best player she could. I’m certain all other parents on the team feel the same way, and to the extent that you can be proud of other people’s children, I was and am. This is no dig on the girls.
But here’s the thing. My daughter’s team really shouldn’t have been there. Their ability to play is, let’s say, not conducive to winning matches or scoring goals. So why were they there, you may ask. The decision of which teams are invited to the tournament is based mostly on 1. a random lottery of teams who put their name forward and 2. the team’s (aka the parent’s) ability to finance the trip. My daughter’s team qualified due to both of these reasons, despite the fact that they are a very poorly performing team. They only won a handful of games this year in regular local play, but not a single match in the three regional tournaments they attended (including one they hosted and at which they had the home team advantage). The chances of their winning or even drawing at the nationals was low to zero. As parents, we hoped they’d get a few goals to bolster their spirits, but sadly after five matches, they were scoreless and knocked out of the tournament. But the point of this post isn’t to complain about their performance. They played with all their hearts and to the best of their abilities, the other teams were just a whole bunch better. No, this post is about something else entirely.
It’s about how they won an award.
And about how that has me angry.
Part of a team’s ranking is determined by the number of sportsmanship points they earn during play. “Sportsmanship” is defined as playing fair, not acting in an overtly aggressive fashion, not mouthing off to the ref, other players, or coaches, etc… Our girls played very fair, and I feel strongly this is one of the reasons they performed poorly. I’m not saying I would endorse the girls attacking other players or launching intimidation campaigns, but they should have been a lot more aggressive than they were coached to be. They shouldn’t have hesitated to tackle fairly, to get their bodies involved in play. They didn’t. Instead, they played “nice.”
Our girls were playing in the U14 division, meaning they were no longer little kids just starting team sports. At this age, they should have been playing to win, not to please. As a parent, I felt giving our girls a sportsmanship award taught them the wrong lesson. It taught them that girls should act nice, be pleasant, be demure, and this will get them rewarded. Meanwhile, teams who played aggressively and took chances that netted them points won games. To me, that’s the lesson our kids at this age should have been learning: don’t hesitate to push boundaries to be competitive. Being aggressive on the pitch doesn’t conflict with sportsmanship, so why were the coaches and officials acting like it was the point of playing? If so, we shouldn’t have kept score.
This last month marks the anniversary of the start of WWI. I think back to the sacrifices that were asked of people in those days, both those fighting in the trenches, and those waiting back home. I can’t help to think about these men and women who struggled through humanity’s darkest moments, putting all their energy into engaging an enemy who likewise met their might with metal. I can’t help thinking that if a similar sacrifice and conflict were to arise today, and our youth were called upon to serve, so many would not be up to the obligation because the come from a culture of compliance and self-damaging supplication. I keep thinking, we’ll never be those people again. Some might argue that’s a good thing, but I would disagree. I want my children to be prepared for the global economy and mindset they’re going to be living in. I want them prepared to fight for what they have a right to, and not to be dictated to and demure for the sake of everyone’s feelings. I want them prepared for battle. In the game of life, you should play fair, but you don’t have to play passively. In the game of life, there are no awards for sportsmanship, there’s only the award of earning your keep and keeping what you earn.