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Posts Tagged ‘youth soccer

Playing to win (or not) in youth sports, and the fate of Western Civilization

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Part of my reason for having this blog is to wave my own lonely flag for a Rally to Restore Youth Sports Sanity, to provide a thoughtful, reasoned, fucking profanity-filled discourse on the middle ground between youth sports as everybody-gets-a-trophy-and-a-hug, and youth sports as win-at-all-costs-or-we-don’t-l0ve-you-anymore. Perhaps it is with that in mind that Eric McErlain at the great hockey blog Off Wing Opinion sent me a link to a piece from Pajamas Media about a father who took over for a day from a coach who was of the everybody-gets-a-trophy school, and decided to have his soccer team of 11-year-olds play to win.

If you aren’t familiar with Pajamas Media, it’s a site that traffics mainly in commentary and opinion of the conservative and libertarian bent, so it’s no surprise that the piece’s author, Barry Rubin, would have a problem with a style of coaching that emphasized “fun” over “kicking the other team’s ass.” Nor that Rubin, founder of an international affairs research center based in Israel, would see the decision to value “fun” over “ass-kicking” in youth sports as a metaphor for the future of world affairs.

Here is how his piece starts:

It’s something of a stretch to compare a soccer game among eleven-year-old boys with the fate of the democratic world, but I’ve always managed to see big issues in small things.

My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions.

He never criticizes a player or suggests how a player could do better. My son, bless him, once remarked to me: “How are you going to play better if nobody tells you what you’re doing wrong?” The coach just tells them how well they are playing. Even after an 8-0 defeat, he told them they’d played a great game.

And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.

I’d even seen an American television documentary about boys and sports which justified this approach, explaining that coaches were doing something terrible by deriding failure, urging competitiveness, and demanding victory. So were the kids really happier to be “relieved” of the strain of trying to win, “liberated” from feeling bad at the inequality of athletic talent?

Or am I right in thinking that sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills? A central element in that world is rewarding those who do better, which also offers an incentive for them and others to strive, rather than thinking they merely need choose between becoming a government bureaucrat or dependent.

So Rubin takes over for the coach one day, plays to win and — spoiler alert — he IS right!

They took a 1-0 lead and held it, in contrast to the previous week when it was scoreless at the half but turned into a 3-0 humiliation when someone ill-suited was made goalkeeper just because he wanted that job.

When kids with fewer skills didn’t want to play defense, I pointed out that these were critical positions, since winning required preventing the other team from scoring. At the end, they performed heroically, holding off repeated attacks on their goal.

I worried that the boys who played less of the game and were given seemingly less significant positions would be resentful. But quite the opposite proved true.

With the team ahead, they were thrilled. One shouted from the sidelines something I thought showed real character: “Don’t let the good players do all the work!” Instinctively, he recognized that some players are better, but he wanted to bring everyone’s level up rather than down. I’m tempted to say he was going against what he was being taught in school.

They played harder, with a bit more pressure and a less equal share of personal glory than they’d ever done before. But after the victory, they were glowing and appreciative, amazed that they had actually won a game. Yes, winning and being allowed to give their best effort as a team was far more exciting and rewarding for them than being told they had done wonderfully by just showing up, that everyone should be treated equal as if there were no difference in talents, and that the results didn’t matter.

And that brings us back to why youth soccer can portend the domination (or decline) of Western Civilization.

Next week, of course, they will be back to losing. But I think that perhaps they learned something useful to counter the indoctrination they are getting in school. If you don’t care about winning, you’re merely handing triumph to the other side. In a soccer league that might not matter, yet in personal life, your level of achievement and satisfaction is going to depend on giving your best effort.  If a country is indifferent to succeeding, the opposing team’s success might be very costly indeed.

As I said at the start, perhaps not too much should be read into this little parable. Yet the broader question may be the most significant issue of our time: why should Western democratic societies abandon the techniques and thinking that have led to such great success, in order to embrace failure as glorious or victory as shameful?

Putting aside that Rubin, from his tone, sounds like the sort of know-it-all jerk-ass you fear will corner you at a dinner party, his piece, whether he intended it or not, makes some cogent points for a find-the-fucking-center blog like this here blog.

First, just telling kids to “have fun” is not coaching. If the coach, as Rubin has described him, is not actually taking the time and effort to teach the kids something — even if the coach, like many volunteers, doesn’t know a lot about the sport — then that coach is doing them a disservice. On a team of 11-year-olds, there is some expectation that things will get a little more intense, and that players are more likely to play regular positions

When I coach basketball for ages fifth grade and up, I don’t make everyone point guard, and I don’t let everyone play center. You have to show the skills in practice (and for center, the height) to be trusted with the position. I don’t do it just so the team can win. Too many times, I’ve seen players’ confidences broken because they were asked to do things they knew they could not do. To me, the first rule of coaching is put your players in position to succeed. First, by coaching them, and second, by using them in ways that maximize their ability.

So if Rubin’s son had a coach who used “just have fun” as a cover for not coaching, that’s wrong. Rubin was right in that the kids knew who could do what and who couldn’t, and that everyone would have a lot more fun if they won. Especially a team of kids that hadn’t won a game all season. I’ve coached teams that had long losing strings, and that first win is like the Super Bowl mixed with Christmas mixed with your first kiss.

On the other hand, Rubin — though I know he’s trying to restrain himself rhetorically — is wrong in that “everybody gets a trophy” might explain, say, why we haven’t conquered Iraq and Afghanistan. (Or, as another professor told me, why we have school shootings.)

Weep for the future.

Kids know about competition. Have you ever seen two 3-year-olds fighting over a toy? As I’ve mentioned before, and I’ll mention again, the “just have fun” and “everybody gets a trophy” and no-score leagues are as much — or more — about mollifying parents than it is making sure junior doesn’t cry. At young ages, I like coaching in no-score leagues, because then I can concentrate on teaching kids without having parents worried why I’m playing Little 6-Year-Old Shitface Stoneglove at first base.

As with much in life, it’s all about balance. There is enough pressure in coaching youth sports without thinking that your decisions are going to determine how fast China takes us over. You have to coach to get the best out of your players, but depending on the age and the stated intentions of the league, coaching merely to win might be worse for them in the long term.

I would be curious how Barry Rubin negotiates the egos and politics with his son’s soccer team over the course of a season. I’m sure he could find all sorts of parallels to international affairs in that experience. One possible lesson: being right doesn’t mean that everything goes according to plan, which could result in many thoughtful, reasoned, fucking profanity-filled discussions.

Written by rkcookjr

November 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm

Parents search for dislike button after coach’s Facebook rants

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Fellow coaches: I know we all have complaints from time to time about the parents of the children we lead. Complaints like, they’re fucking asshole making our lives hellish and shorter, and filling us with existential dread as we watch their poor offspring take their first steps toward a future appearance on Dr. Phil.

But, shit, most of us are smart enough to limit our complaints to ourselves, our spouses, or our little-read blogs. Most of us are smart enough not to jump onto whatever social media site is handing to broadcast our pain.

Jason Windsor, recently resigned soccer coach at Royal Oak (Mich.), is not most of us. From the Royal Oak Tribune:

Just a few weeks into the season, Jason Windsor suddenly resigned his position as varsity soccer coach at Royal Oak High School following complaints by parents about his Facebook postings.

Windsor resigned Monday [Oct. 4] because of schedule conflicts [he coaches other travel teams], according to Superintendent Thomas Moline. However, a copy of the coach’s Facebook page indicates there was a conflict between him and some parents, too.

Last week parents confronted school officials about the coach using the social networking site to threaten to penalize players if parents crossed him. Windsor contends his account was hacked and he didn’t make the comments in question.

One Facebook posting said: “3 words my varsity soccer parents will get used to this week. BENCH, JV, CUT. You will all be taught a lesson you sh– stirring pri—!!!!!!!”

In other posts, he is accused of dropping F-bombs and wrote “(certain) Parents are the worst part of kid’s sports” and “great set of results on the field today! shame certain soccer moms make soccer so negative.”

I presume WIndsor, or that mysterious band of hackers, didn’t type hyphens to play what Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin once referred to as “obscene hangman.”

Written by rkcookjr

October 6, 2010 at 11:22 pm

Australia has crazy sports parents, too

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A brief note in the continuing series noting that while the United States appears to have the most crazy sports parents, it has no lock on them. Earlier, I gave you South Korea. Now, I give you Australia.

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From the Sydney Morning Herald, in a story titled “Kids given everything for a leg-up on the field”:

Luke Fuller started playing soccer two years ago and he can already juggle the ball 161 times but that’s nothing compared with the daily juggle of his father, Brett, to keep his eight-year-old son training and playing the game.

Brett Fuller makes the hour-long trip each way from Bondi to Bexley four afternoons a week; the weekend run can much be further.

It may eat a large chunk out of the Fuller family life but Fuller says his son is so committed it’s only right to support his passion.

”As soon as he was to say ‘I’m not enjoying it, I want days off’, I’d question it but while he’s keen and going fairly, well, I’ll back him all the way,” he says.

”He’s enjoying it now but he’s always thinking of the future and what he wants to get out of it – playing for Australia – they see all the stars in A-League and English soccer.”

”You’ve got parents willing to shop their kid around to any club that’s willing to take them – and in some cases willing to pay any price,” says Greg O’Rourke, the president of Australia’s largest soccer community, the Sutherland Shire Football Association.

Some clubs poach junior players from the age of 10, but O’Rourke believes most of the pressure comes from parents who feel their child needs the opportunity to play at the top level.

The dream, fuelled by the tinsel and wrapping of modern celebrity status, is all-consuming. One soccer mum – whose nine-year-old son is well outside the elite ranks – had her boy tell her recently he was ”really, really worried”.

Not about school or bullying or having no friends.

”I’m really worried that I might grow up and just be a normal person when I really want to be a soccer star,” he said.

As much as parents might be living out their own frustrated dreams, children have dreams of their own. It’s a potent mix, with O’Rourke offering a timely anecdote.

”There’s plenty of parents who will happily pay $2500 for private training during the holidays and you ask them why and it’s because they’re going to be the lucky parent of the next Harry Kewell,” he says.

The winner of craziest sports parent in the story is one Mic Parish, who has the combination of dashed dreams of his own youth and egotism that should make him sound familiar to many American sports parents.

Mic Parish reckoned he was spending so much on his two sons – for so little return in terms of the quality of coaching they received – he sold his business, and moved them to England.

”If you’re interested in football, really there is nowhere else to be but over here. Australia is starting but it’s really a football backwater,” he says.

Australian parents have few options but to pay for private academies if they’re serious about success, says Parish, whose sons, Cameron, 17, and Nathan, 15, play with Preston North End.

”You’ve got no choice because the coaching you get is poor. If you’re serious about it and you want your kids to have any chance, you’ve got to do it. Unfortunately, that’s just the way it is,” he says.

And Parish is clearly serious about it, believing his own career as a goalkeeper came to an end at 18 because no one was managing his advancement. He’s determined his children will have every chance and, if their English sojourn ends in failure, so be it.

”At least we can say we lived in in another country, made some friends, we had a go but it didn’t work out; we’ll move home and go again.”

It’s probably encouraging to Parish that a similar philosophy worked out for the Bee Gees.

Written by rkcookjr

April 13, 2010 at 10:35 pm

Youth soccer's banned list

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While reading this story out of Arizona about two girls’ soccer coaches’ illegal use of hands, I found out about something I hadn’t realized existed. It’s U.S. Youth Soccer’s Disciplinary and Risk Action Report. That’s an official way of referring to the organization’s equivalent to — well, I’d say your local sex offender registry, except I don’t believe that everyone on youth soccer’s banned list committed a sex offense.

The list is not exactly clear in stating why someone is on it, but you must have done something pretty bad in someone’s eyes to make it there. The list is comprised of state-level associations’ reports of anyone suspended or otherwise facing a punishment that is three months or greater, whether it be a player, coach, administrator, referee, or whether you’re banned from being any of those. There also is a category called “adult,” which would presumably keep you from merely attending a game.

The list is updated monthly, with the latest additions bolded. Just in case you’re doing a little background checking.

Written by rkcookjr

February 28, 2010 at 5:44 pm

Criminal charges dropped in ex-Congressman/youth soccer coach punchout

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January 19th was a very big, happy, victorious day for a Republican. Yeah, Scott Brown, too.

Former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi on Jan. 19 learned he will not be facing criminal charges relating to a scuffle in which he allegedly punched a neckbrace-wearing youth soccer coach. On the other hand, the coach, Chris Hester, also will not face criminal charges for his part in the fight.

Each independently decided to drop pursuing a criminal case against the other regarding the bout, which occurred after a 10- and 11-year-old match in Madison, Miss., that featured Pickering’s son on one side and Hester coaching the other. The fight started because Pickering claimed Hester was verbally abusive to his son. By the way, both men are in their 40s, not that you would ever know. At least they were mature enough to decide that it would be better not to make 10- and 11-year-olds go to court for the grind and pain of testifying as to where on the doll Pickering punched Hester.

The judge, and I translate from legalese, called both men douchebags, and everyone went on their way. “I regret very much the entire episode, Pickering said after the court hearing. “I was trying to protect my son. I believe Mr. Hester was trying to protect one of his players. What we’ve learned is there’s a better way to do this, and there’s a better way we could have handled everything that night.” And with that, it was over.

Well, not quite.

Reporters at the scene noted two major signs that to Hester, this wasn’t over. One is that he refused to shake Pickering’s hand when he extended it. The other was him and his lawyer holding a press conference to announce they would be suing Pickering to cover Hester’s medical bills, perhaps not including the neckbrace he was wearing at the time he got punched.

Sadly for Pickering, he’s pretty familiar with the inside of a courtroom. Not only is did Pickering get divorced, but his ex-wife followed with a so-called alien-of-affection lawsuit against Pickering’s mistress. So Pickering might have to go through the pain and grind of testifying where on the doll his mistress touched him.

Written by rkcookjr

January 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm

Youth soccer facility, eliminating the middleman, starts its own pro team

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The National Sports Center in Blaine, Minn., is the model everyone wants to follow when they want to built a big honkin’ facility to host big honkin’ youth sports tournaments. But the National Sports Center stays one step ahead. Not only does it provide the means for parents who dream of their children going pro, but it also now provides its own pro team.

The center decided to own its own Division II-level pro team (one level below Major League Soccer) to replace the Minnesota Thunder, a National Sports Center tenant that died as the United Soccer League converted into an old name playing a lower-level game, the North American Soccer League. Pele will not be in this league.

Inside Minnesota Soccer gets the word from Paul Erickson, the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission’s executive director, on why the National Sports Center is expanding into the professional sports business:

The one advantage we have, we are the only owner in the entire division II system that owns all of its own facilities. We also have the largest soccer complex on earth with 4 million annual visitors. Now that we are owners of this team we have the ability to program all the youth soccer tournaments and other facilities and incorporate a professional soccer experience. Now that the owner of the team is the owner of the events, we can do a lot more creative things in building ticket packages into the events to make it a comprehensive soccer event.

Plus, the National Sports Center has a beer garden.

The facility is having a name-the-team contest through Jan. 26. Your choices are: the Minnesota Voyageurs, NSC Minnesota, FC Minnesota, Minnesota United, Minnesota Northern Lights, Northstar FC, or that ever-popular choice, Other. Everything but Other sucks. How about the Fats?

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You can laugh at the idea of a Minnesota Fats record album, but Etta James is allegedly his daughter, and she had to get the talent from somewhere, right?

Written by rkcookjr

January 18, 2010 at 3:53 am

Former Congressman accused of punching youth soccer coach

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One day you’re a rising star in national politics, the next you’ve fallen from grace to the point you’re punching a kids’ soccer coach who wears a neck brace.

Chip Pickering, once a shoo-in to replace his old boss Trent Lott as the U.S. Senator from Mississippi, instead is begging coach and nurse Chris Hester to drop simple assault charges against him after the two got in a scuffle following a 10- and 11-year-olds’ soccer game in Madison, Miss.

Hester’s team was playing a team featuring Pickering’s son. Hester said Pickering attacked him in his truck, while Pickering said that after he went to upbraid Hester about being what he called verbally abusive to his son, Hester attacked him. For what it’s worth, Hester also has a simple assault charge against him related to the incident. He might have a neck brace, but apparently his fists still work.

Each side’s lawyers are talking to see whether charges might be dropped before a scheduled Jan. 19 court date. Pickering already is on the record saying he wants to settle this “man to man.” Um, Chip, you already tried settling one conflict with Hester man-to-man, and it’s safe to say that didn’t work out too well.

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I’m sure the coach hurts, but I haven’t seen such a hilarious neck brace since the cancellation of whatever the last sitcom was that featured a fake auto accident injury as a major plot device.

If this were just a lesson in how even the most august among us are prone to going goofy at youth sports events, the story would end here. Unfortunately for the Chipster, the incident appears to be part of a precipitous decline from future U.S. Senator to someone going to the courthouse enough to get a punchcard that would make his 10th appearance free.

When Lott resigned as Senator in November 2007, Pickering, his former aide and the son of a judge (Charles Pickering) famously appointed by President George W. Bush and famously not confirmed because of Democratic objections (and a judge who is a longtime power-broker in the Mississippi Republican party and a Tea Partier), was rumored to be the top choice to replace him. Pickering not only refused to take Lott’s seat, but he also announced he would resign from the House of Representatives in 2008 after 12 years, saying he wanted to spend more time with his wife and five sons.

At least with his wife, Chip Pickering’s pledge to “spend more time” meant “spend more time with her before a judge.” In June 2008, Pickering announced he and his wife Leisha would divorce. A little more than a year later, Leisha Pickering sued Chip’s alleged mistress, Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd, in what’s called an alienation-of-affection lawsuit. (Mississippi is one of four states that allow those, which gives aggrieved ex-spouses-to-be the right to sue homewreckers on the grounds they sabotaged a legally binding contract. I guess that sounds easier to rationalize to yourself than “she was my husband’s reverse cowboy.”)

As part of the court cases, apparently Republican bigwigs are trying to make sure a diary Pickering kept of his shenanigans, a missive that includes the names of his boys who covered his tracks for him. This is a bit of an issue because Pickering is the third member of the s0-called, allegedly highly religious C Street Fellowship, following Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (a former House member) to be caught walking the Appalachain Trail.

So I can imagine that the lawyer(s) for Chip Pickering are trying to impress upon the soccer coach with the neck brace to be a little understanding. After all, Chipper’s having a bit of a rough go. C’mon, man, be a pal!

If Pickering is being made to look a fool for the youth soccer incident, well, it’s hardly the first time. You might remember Pickering for his co-starring role as a Congressman appearing a church to preach against evolution and for Christian government in a little movie called Borat.

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