Monday, June 20, 2011
Hold me back! Every time I hear about youth teams, coaches, players, and/or parents putting winning ahead of development and ethics I get crazy. Mike Woitalla in his blog last week in Soccer America
told the story of a Nebraska team who facilitated the victory of its opponent, another team from his club, so that they could go on to the state championship competition. The coach directed his team to allow the opponents to score a goal at the end of 0-0 tie giving the opponent the win which propelled them through to the state championship games. He knew his team couldn't advance regardless of the outcome, but he also knew that the opposing team from his club would advance with a win. These machinations came to light when the coach told the opponent's coach of his actions. I'm sure he expected a big thank you, but to the coach's credit she reported the incident.
Now the entire process has been thrown into a tizzy requiring a replay of the games among the three teams contending for a spot in the finals. Worse several dozen girls were thrown into an ugly situation. The girls on the team who allowed the goal were put in the position of being asked to do something unethical by their coach, the girls on the "winning" team were put in the position of moving on to the finals knowing that it wasn't directly their skill that advanced them, and the girls on the other teams in contention to advance to the finals were denied the honest opportunity to advance. Peripherally there are parents, officials, club board members, and state association staff who have been tainted by this action. We can talk about other factors which have affected the outcomes of games such as bad refereeing or weather delays, but these factors come from within the agreed upon parameters of the game. We need to accept, begrudgingly sometimes, that soccer games have variants which we can't control but can ultimately affect the outcome of a game.
We all know the heartbreak of having a goal called back because of a questionable offside call or a player receiving a second yellow card for flimsy reasons leaving her team a player short. But these are part and parcel of a human game where subjectivity can be carefully managed but still affect the results of a game. We tolerate mistakes of human nature because we recognize those mistakes can harm our results sometimes and then boost our results other times. We don't like it when we lose because of a bad call or a small field, but we know that the next game may have factors that benefit our team.
Given the limitations of perfection in any game, at least we all know that the rules attempt to insure fairness. Maximum ages of players are established and enforced rigorously with birth certificates and player passes, referees have to achieve a certain level of expertise to officiate, coaches must be licensed appropriately for the age level of their team, rules have been written and approved for play, equipment must adhere to standards, and all players must be registered with their club or have appropriate guest player certification. State associations and governing agencies such as U.S. Youth Soccer Association carefully set forth rules and guidelines for play in youth soccer. But beyond those official guidelines are the societal ethical guidelines we all understand exist.
We can recognize fairly easily when we are operating outside of the boundaries of ethics. As much as the coach wanted to help his fellow club team, he absolutely knew that doing anything proactively would not be proper. Asking his players to participate in this behavior put them in a terrible quandary: Do they support their coach (and club) or do they stick by their own moral compass? I observed a game once where the coach realized that his team would go through to the finals win or lose, but that the club's archrival team would not advance if his team's opponent won. So he directed his players to score two own goals to assure the victory of his opponent and thereby seal the doom of his archrival. I observed attempts to falsify age documents, to play kids who were not on the roster by having them use a rostered player's pass, and to engineer goal differentials. Most of you have probably observed some improprieties in play, and some of you and/or your children may have been involved in some improprieties. It's not a great position to be in.
As parents we need to reinforce that our kids shouldn't participate in an activity, even one directed by a respected adult, which is outside of the rules of the game. We also need to reinforce that winning at any cost isn't the goal of soccer. It's difficult when you can get so close you can taste victory and yet see it slip away. And it's tempting to help that victory along with questionable assistance. But we have to resist that urge as parents, coaches, and players. You can't be truly triumphant when you know that a win was achieved outside of the rules everyone agrees to follow. Our children need to learn that integrity is the real victory in life. As a society we are programmed to be winners. We want the best grades, the biggest house, to beat the car at the light, to get the best deal on a TV, and to send our kids to the top university. We find it difficult to be content with our normal success and to accept losses along the way. We attach our self-worth to winning, forgetting that wins don't insure satisfaction. Living our lives with honor and enjoyment brings the real triumphs of contentment and pride.