Random thoughts while watching Patriots blowing out Titans 38-0 in the first blizzard of the season by the end of the first half (oh, wait – they scored again, it’s 45-0 already and the half is still not over)

The New England NFL franchise is not the same as during their peak glory days of 2001-2004: two thirds of the team are gone, first generation and then second generation of assistant coaches are gone, and on top of that – Tom Brady is still trying to find the former self after missing a year due to injury.

Anyway, in those glory days, when Patriots were blowing teams out left and right, discussion boards were filled with hating whiners: “they have no class! they have no sense of sportsmanship! they should stop scoring after they are up by one/two/three touchdowns and just run the ball and punt when they don’t get the first down! this is no fair! whaaa!”

The whole premise of not playing your very best in professional sports for any reason is ridiculous at the very least and in my opinion is not worth discussing – and so we won’t :-) On the other side of the spectrum, my assistant coach and I were on the brink of suspension after our second game this season just because our boys U12 team shellacked the opposition 16-0 (that’s the official score, I actually think it was even more than that…)

Usually, what you are supposed to do in such situations when your team significantly outskills its opponent is to put some kind of restrictions on the players: request them to make certain number of passes before they can score, or restrict number of touches they can have with the ball prior to giving it up (e.g., two-touch soccer only), or prohibit scoring all together. Our boys were passing incredibly well – making them do certain number of passes deemed to be sensless so we went to the opposite extreme and told them that they can only dribble in the opposition’s half. Strangely enough (being sarcastic here), that presented no problem to them either: the goals kept accumulating. Later, they imposed another restriction on themselves – without any encouragement from coaches: only those who did not score could shoot on the net… As you may guess, by the end of the game all but one of the boys did not have at least one goal under their belt.

(Bill Bellichick must really hate Jeff Fisher (coach of the Titans): Tom Brady is still in the game, and less than two minutes into the second half he just threw another touchdown to Randy Moss. But we digress…)

One last thing we could do was to prohibit boys from scoring all together but this kind of measure – punishing kids for job well done – is something that goes against my fundamental beliefs and I hope never to resort to such unfairness.

After the game the scores were submitted to the automated system. Later, I was contacted by our division coordinator asking if 16-0 was a typo. After my response that it was not, he must have notified higher league authorities, higher league authorities contacted our town higher authorities, and our higher authorities notified my assistant and I that we’ve been very very bad and naughty and that we have to sit down and explain ourselves and how we reached this lowest of all the lowest levels of indignity, greed, and obsessiveness with results. Sit down we did, explain ourselves we had (basically, that we tried to contain our little monsters but failed), apologize we did, and more severe punishment is left to hang over our heads for the rest of the foreseeable future.

[second part - continuing after a couple of days]

I suppose the thinking behind prohibiting blowouts is to spare childrens’ fragile psychic from the stress of the one-sided losses… I was once told by a league official that “believe me, I saw children quit soccer after blowouts”. I was also told by another official that “nobody wants to be embarrassed like this”. Seemingly, all well and good: big smart adults having kids’ interests at heart, protecting them from unfairness of the cruel world… The downfall of this approach however is very damaging in my opinion: throughout seasons, I observe that some kids give up too easily in the face of adversity. Just tonight at a practice we had a round-robin one-v-one competition and one of the boys went into it complaining that he is the worst and is going to loose. After his opponent scored two goals on him the boy became so discouraged that he almost refused to play. We had some words with him during the break and in the next game he almost beat our best player but that’s not the point. The point is that adults emposing rules on how childrens play leads to loss of interest and excitement by these same children from one side and also promotes culture of not having to try your hardest and giving up too easily on the other.

I see no logic whatsoever in the “kids quit because of blowouts” and “kids are embarrased by blowouts” statements: blowouts are result of one team dominating another; quitting and embarrassment – if any – happens due to domination, not because of its byproducts. Also – just another thought – if a child has any resemblence of character and is excited by soccer then she or he will not quit just because of a 10-0 loss: most fun happens at practices anyway. Those who quit most likely are not too interested in the game to begin with, and here’s a novel idea: why don’t we include children into decision making process in what activities for them to participate.

I also want to share another epizode from one of my former lives. I witnessed a game between two clubs – twelve or thirteen year old boys – and one team was dominating. You know what the winning team members were telling each other after every scored goal? “Zero-zero, stay focused”. After the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth: “Zero-zero, stay focused”. That’s how they’d been taught. This is the other spectrum of domination: it’s easy to relax and become susceptible to great comeback by the other team. Needless to say, this game happened in another country.

Soccer is not just a game, it’s life in itself. Lowest lows and highest highs are all part of life and youth sports is excellent way to prepare children to adversities and fluctuations they are going to encounter in real world. Crippling these experiences however cripples and distorts kids’ expectations of the real world and in my opinion does more harm than good. Children are resilient, they recover quite effortlessly. Give them more leeway, they will be fine.

 


 

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