Monday, March 17, 2008
Yesterday I was in Milan, Italy at the San Siro stadium. I watched Inter Milan play against Palermo. Inter won the match 2-1 in front of 40,000 spectators. Those watching included the 1993 and 1994 US Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program Region I boys' teams and staff. The match was skillful, quite tactical and in the second half it was played at a fast and entertaining pace. Three distinct times during the match the teams displayed an unwritten rule of the game. It is a rule which more of our coaches should teach their players.
When a hard injury occurs and it is seen by the players that the injured player or players will not get up then the team with the ball intentionally kicks the ball out over the touchline. Once the ball is out of play then the referee may allow onto the field the first aid staff. They may now attend to the injured player or players. When the match resumes the team taking the throw-in throws the ball back to the other team's defensive third and they do not challenge the ball until the other team has the ball under control. So team A has kicked the ball into touch so that aid can be given to an injury. In a return act of Fair Play team B puts the ball back into play with a throw-in and gives the ball back to team A. Fair Play – be a good sport! This act occurred in a Serie A match where big money is on the line. Inter Milan played the ball out and Palermo gave it back. This was one instance of Fair Play.
In the other two cases players had horrific collisions with both players collapsing to the ground and then no movement at all. The referee immediately stopped the match and called on the first aid personnel. When hurt players don't move it's a real red flag; sometimes writhing is a good sign. When play resumed with a drop ball the team that didn't have possession of the ball at the time the match was stopped stood passively at the drop ball and let the opponent kick the ball to a teammate; an act of Fair Play by team A. Mind you too that team B kicked the drop ball back toward their end of the field to a supporting teammate. This act occurred in the Palermo and Inter match.
During the same match a second serious collision occurred with again the referee instantly halting play. This time at the drop ball the opponent didn't even stand near the drop ball and allowed the team who had been in possession to play the drop ball completely uncontested. In this last case it was Palermo in possession and they played the drop ball back to a supporting teammate; an impressive bit of sportsmanship for a team that was losing 2-1 at the time.
Now if professional teams in one of the best leagues in the world where millions of dollars are at stake can display Fair Play why not our youth teams? So whose job is it to instill Fair Play into our youngsters? First and foremost it's a responsibility of the parents. Then of course the coaches must teach and demonstrate sporting ethics. Once the adults set the right example then it is up to the players to live up to the standard.