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The Changing Soccer Social Dynamic - Competition: Good or Bad?


Written by: Jay Primiano
Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Changing Soccer Social Dynamic - Competition: Good or Bad?

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Is competition dead?  In a noble effort to take the agony of defeat out of youth sports, have we replaced it with complacency?  When is it appropriate to ratchet up the competition in youth sports?  At what age should we be keeping score? 

I am suggesting that youth soccer has been neutered at a critical stage of development.  The very component that makes our Nation great, competition, has been nearly eliminated from the sport of developmental soccer.  Competition has to be introduced back into training programs.  How many times have you heard at training, lighten up coach, its just practice.  How many times has competition spirit slipped out of your training session and how many times has your team not been ready to compete from the outset of a match and throughout the ninety minutes or more?  It is difficult to reintroduce the competitive spirit back into the childs experience base after the fact.

My daughter caught me by surprise with the following statement after I asked the team members to try their hardest in the second half of last Saturdays game.  My daughter said, Dad it doesnt matter who wins and who loses.  A shock wave of convulsive energy surged through my spine and stuck in my throat.  I tried to swallow but couldnt.  I focused intently on these words.  I blinked a number of times and wondered if God had placed me in this position as a test of my will.  I would have been more prepared to answer the question, where do babies come from, than to respond to this seemingly traitorous statement.  I asked myself, How could my daughter, progeny of my own, granddaughter of my father have responded to this situation in that manner?  I looked her in the eye and said, you are right, when the game ends, its okay and its healthy to forget the score but sweetheart, when you are playing a game, you should want to win.  It is your duty as a team member to want to win. Its okay to want to win.  She looked at me as if I had told her something very foreign and in a language known only by a previous generation, written on stone tablets and hidden in a cave. 

I am convinced that a soccer-society with cell phones that take pictures and allows the user to send a movie any where in the world is a soccer society doomed.  We coaches have some serious competition for our 1.5 hours of training and one so called competitive game per week.  I understand completely why we cant get children to consider competition with the same enthusiasm that I posses, the world is literally at their finger tips.  Children are mired in a myriad of opportunity. 

Dont be afraid to train with competition in mind.  Introduce competition slowly into the training rhythm.  Its okay to keep score during a small sided game.  It is also correct to identify the qualities of good sportsmanship when one wins and one loses.  How can anyone ever learn how to be a good sport when all games are ties and children are trained to not care from an early age?  How can kids learn to become good sportsman and sportswomen when every child receives a trophy the size of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Montana for finishing the season without crying? Lets eliminate the trophy all together and give the kids soccer balls for a gift at the conclusion of the season.  How can kids learn to become useful citizens when they havent overcome the challenge of playing in a strange city where the touchlines are littered with Hibachis and the air smells of smoke and the opponent speaks with an accent or speaks another language?  If we isolate our children competitively, we do them a disservice socially.  How can our children ever understand what I know about competition?  

I dont want you to advocate the concept of keeping score at the Under8 division level.  I do expect that the teams try to win at the U-10 and above levels. I do advocate that the children understand that 4-3 is a win for the team with the four.  If Im playing checkers, Im trying to win.  If someone is keeping score, Im trying to win.

 Im pointing out that society has changed.  In an effort to accommodate the changes in society, dont lose what is at the core of the participation in sporting activities.  Devise ways to assist the children in developing and practicing strong behavior.  These are the lessons of a lifetime that all generations deserve to understand completely.  Help the children to remove the weak behaviors from their repertoire and assist them in knowing that they are responsible for their own behavior, not their parents.  I was assisting one of my many teams at the U-14 year old level and I spoke directly and sharply to one of the players about his lack of attention and his unwillingness to try his best when training resumed.  I essentially dictated to the group and to this individual what my expectations were and the coach objected.  He told me later that he didnt want to, lose the player.  My neighbors child received newspaper coverage as one of the players of the week, for a game he did not attend.  We wrap our children in cotton wool, swab them with antibacterial gel before they enter their classrooms and require a life preserver when they take a bath.  Life is like climbing a tree for the first time.  The first branches are the lowest yet they are the scariest to scale but when one reaches the top, fear has diminished and control and understanding is the order of the day and that tree represents a challenge overcome.




Jay Primiano

USSF-A License

NSCAA Advanced National

Team Sales Manager Soccer Spot Rhode Island


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