It’s “March Madness,” and I’m in the thick of it! My wife is also gone for a week, so I’m enjoying not feeling guilty about watching sports when we should be talking about something “important” or going over the schedule for the next few days; processing appointments, kids games, meetings, school drop-off and pick-up is exhausting!
Anyway, March basketball, especially women’s basketball, is exciting and fun to watch! It’s my favorite sport. And while none of my children has the kind of energy and obsession for basketball that I have or had as a child, they know that love for another sport, soccer. Having started high school a meager 4 years after Title IX became law, those few years of sports programs yielded no soccer in my town. It took a while, but although soccer is very popular in the U.S. now, that was not always the case. My hands and arms know how to move the ball, yet my feet are totally inept at much more than walking, running, jumping, and pedaling. I could kick if need be, and probably deliver a solid blow, but I do not know the power of my legs at consistently kicking a ball. I’m guessing it would be awesome!
I watch my kids play soccer and feel the excitement and good-natured competitiveness, but it wasn’t until this past year while watching my 13 year-old play high school soccer that I could see the increased aggressiveness and “accidental” injury potential when my child played against other kids, sometimes 5 years her senior! My daughter is a moderately big girl, carrying about 130 lbs. on her 5’7″ frame. She’s bigger than many, but not yet a woman. She’s a “barely-teen” in an almost grown body. Sometimes I forget that she’s still very young. She’s seen glimpses of the “real world” but in life experience, she’s barely begun.
About a month ago on an early Saturday morning, my wife arrived home from an indoor soccer game with our sullen teenage daughter in tow. Sensing that there had been an issue, I pulled my wife aside and inquired as to the problem.
“She’s upset. No one can come over for her sleepover tonight, and, her coach gave 2 other girls $100 and she didn’t get any.”
“What?” I said, “Money for what?”
“I don’t know exactly…she said something about him pulling a few girls aside and said he wanted them to get more aggressive out there and that he was going to give $100 to whomever had the most fouls at the end of the game.”
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME?” I said, in a barely hushed shout!
“I need to talk to her. That’s crazy! I don’t want my child going out and intentionally fouling players! That’s bullshit! She’s not playing for him again. Ever!” I said as I stormed off to find her.
I tried to remain as calm as I could, given the circumstances. I didn’t want to over-react. Maybe I misunderstood. I mean, soccer isn’t my sport, but I feel pretty confident that my own ethics were correct that this was a dangerous incentive and was against everything that I believed in concerning sports and good sportsmanship!
Her story was consistent, with a few added details. “We were playing that really rough team that you saw last week and he felt like there were a few of us that weren’t playing aggressively enough, so he said he would keep track of our fouls and at the end of the game, “A” and “M” had 5 and I had 4.5, so he gave each of them $100! He told us he didn’t want us to intentionally hurt anyone. He also said he wanted me to grab the back of the goalie’s shirt and pull her down to the ground.” she said.
“What?!” “Why?” I said.
“I don’t know, but he wanted me to get a blue card!”
“OK…I don’t know what a blue card is, but do you know how wrong this is to tell players to intentionally foul?” “Did you think that it was OK for him to tell you that and for you to do it?” I said.
“No, but I didn’t know what to do.”
“Well, I would have made you march right back and give that money back even if you had gotten it!” I said. “And by the way, you’re not playing on any team he coaches ever again!”
After I left her room, I continued to rant and immediately sat down to call the coach, but first, I called one of the other parents to see if maybe I was missing something. After my conversation with one dad, I was left with a feeling that still, I may be over-reacting and this parent’s inability to differentiate that this behavior was wrong for his own daughter left me feeling like I was crazy.
I tried to call the coach, but got only voicemail and left a message for him to please call me.
I tried emailing him to two different addresses but they both bounced back.
That night, at a basketball game watching my same child play, I sought out 2 other parents who have girls on the “official” soccer team that the school runs, but not this recreational team which is coached by one of the girls’ dads. They both agreed with my sentiments and were appalled that someone would ever offer a reward for fouling another team’s players!
I then got home and sought out the advice from 2 other coaches who I know in the area and who I respect greatly. Both of them fired off a quick email back with fiery language toward any coach that would advocate such behavior.
Quoting one of them:
“You’re absolutely right to be so deeply disturbed by this and to question and condemn a coach who was encouraging players to break the rules of the game and possibly hurt other kids. Asking youth athletes to violate the rules of the game runs afoul of the standards of every credible youth sports organization I know of including the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which governs school-based sports in MA. With or without a $100 bounty, it’s wrong. Tackling a goalie is absolutely prohibited and a very serious foul so paying a kid to do that is truly reprehensible.
I’m sure some people will say things like in basketball fouls are part of the game, but soccer is different. Fouls, the yellow card and red card, signify a violation of fair play. If the other coaches affiliated with your daughter’s team believe encouraging aggressive and dangerous play is a strategic approach to the game, they’re all wrong and they’re both poor students and poor teachers of the game. Soccer is not hockey, even when it’s played with boards. And it is simply not true that (the sport center)encourages or condones such behavior. In fact, I’ve seen players ejected and sent out of the arena for such.
Finally, the proper remedy for countering a team that’s overly aggressive is quicker play, not dirty play. In the long run our girls are far better served by a skill-based approach to tough games than they are by an aggression-based approach. Our girls can be both plenty tough without resorting to physical intimidation and harm.”
When I finally got a return call, it was 2 days later. It wasn’t a good conversation and it was one which left me with much anger and high blood pressure. I finally had to hang up on him after he turned the defensiveness back on me and said that he has done this before, will do it again with his players, and said to me that “you are the only one who has a problem with it!” and “I don’t have to answer to you!”
The next day, he left a message on my phone that attempted to further justify this coaching tactic, saying that he had spoken to the coach of the other team who knew what he was doing, and, he had spoken to the officials who administrate this particular venue. They pointed out, and he then lectured me, on the fact that soccer is very different from basketball and that in soccer, one can have unlimited fouls and that they don’t mean the same thing. In a condescending tone, he talked to me as if I knew nothing about sports, especially soccer.
I have to stand firm as a parent and set the example I want to set for my kids. It is never OK to justify intentional fouling as a form of aggressiveness. Soccer is already a potentially dangerous sport and can lead to catastrophic injury accidentally, never mind purposefully! I would rather my children not play any team sports than be subjected to this type of coaching!
Parenting can be a challenge for kids at any age, but the pre-teen to teenage years seem to me to be one of the hardest. As a parent, I try to mirror behavior that I’d like to see in my children, but I’ve learned that they are not always paying attention to the good stuff, yet they ALWAYS seem to notice my missteps as a parent! I have coached all of my kids in various sports, and I know that they have a good knowledge of right and wrong. How to teach good sportsmanship which seems like a common-sense notion? Do unto others? Play fairly? Shouldn’t that come naturally? Yet peer pressure and fear often win out.
Within days of that incident, I attended another basketball game at the same daughter’s school, this time for a boy’s game. Sitting across the gym from the students’ “Zoo Crew” area, I watched my daughter as she followed suit and turned her back with the collective student body when the players on the opposing team were introduced. In total disbelief for this behavior, I silently willed her to turn around and not follow the herd, but I was unsuccessful.
I talked to her afterwards and expressed my disappointment. I tried to strongly convey that she needed to think before she followed others into lame, misguided behaviors. I fear that this lesson will need to be learned repeatedly. Perhaps many adults are still learning this lesson and that not enough parents are stepping up and saying, “NO, please don’t do that!” and telling kids why it is wrong!
And offering $100 to a kid to foul? That’s just sick!