Friday, September 19, 2014

An Ugly Night on the Soccer Field

First, this is not a sour-grapes rant: The varsity boys' soccer team at my son's high school is skilled and fast, with a quick defensive line, an agile keeper, and a bevy of reliable playmakers. Four games into the season, they are still unbeaten. The final score of this game was 9 to 2, and our home team was in control from the beginning.

Second, this is not a don't-you-dare-touch-my-kid rant: My kid was sitting on the bench for most of the game, which is where he belongs because most of this team's players are much better than he is.

This is a what-the-hell? rant, as in What kind of high school soccer coach trains his players to behave like linebackers instead of teaching them to pass and dribble? What kind of high school soccer refs stand by and watch this behavior escalate throughout the first half, without issuing yellow cards (formal warnings for unsporting behavior)? What kind of high school soccer player, in the second half, puts down his shoulder and runs straight at an opponent, hitting him so hard that he is instantly knocked unconscious, has convulsions, and is bleeding from the mouth? What kind of high school soccer ref then ambles over and gives the attacker a yellow card . . . not a red card, which, according to the rules of the game, is what he should have issued the player for a dangerous tackle and excessive violence on the field? Worst of all, what kind of parents start screaming at the ref from the stands, protesting that the attacker should have received no penalty at all, while the injured player is lying on the field looking like he is DEAD?

In Maine, many of the smaller schools do not have football programs, which means that the largest male athletes often end up playing soccer. On the whole, beefy males rely on shoulder power, not foot speed, so even at the best of times they are dangerous in a game populated by light-boned sprinters who aren't wearing pads or helmets. Thus, the referees should be scrupulous in enforcing body-contact penalties. If the refs don't penalize such actions, coaches are going to continue to allow their players to do what comes easiest, and opponents are going to continue to get seriously injured. Already this season, my son's team has lost another starter, whose leg was badly broken during a tournament by a defenseman who had been dangerously slide-tackling in every game he had played that day. The refs did not even issue that player a yellow card. Now the team has lost another member to what, at the very least, is an extremely serious concussion and may, for all I know, involve neck or back damage.

I am excited that my son made the varsity team, and I don't care that he isn't a starter.  I love watching the players' crisp passes, their quick footwork. I love the way they think together and react as a team. I love the way the kids on the bench cheer them on. I don't love watching them hurt other people, and I am angry and appalled at the communal bullying I witnessed last night.


Anonymous said...

Well until or if I can, write a coherent reply, I am simply sending so many good thoughts and support prayers to the injured player. That behavior is inexcusable and it is one reason why I believe many parents need red cards too and should NOT be allowed to attend games.

Maureen said...

Those kind of "games" should be stopped immediately, the players removed from the field, and not allowed to play the remainder of the season. As for the "coach": fire the person.

I feel such outrage reading this, especially for the "coach" and the parents, none of whom exhibit the kind of behavior that should be modeled to youths.

Let us know, Dawn, the upshot of this, if indeed any further action is taken (my guess is none will be). This would have me incensed enough to start a protest.

Carlene said...

Some years back, one of my students had his leg intentionally broken at a game. The opposing parents were wildly out of line, calling him names and so on for not getting up. This was one of those ugly, broken- bone- sticking- out- of- skin breaks, one that landed him in hospital for quite a while, one that causes him, to this day, to experience pain in cold weather. In this case, though, the refs and other officials acted appropriately, and the school in question not only had to issue an official apology, but they were also banned from competition for a year. It's unfortunate that some coaches--and parents--feel that brutally attacking an opponent is justified or worthwhile. The games kids play should be teaching them all sorts of life skills and creating for them positive experiences, both through winning and losing together as a team. It's horrifying when adults confuse athletics with war, and they teach and condone brutality instead of sportsmanship. Our student-athletes should expect more from the adults in their lives.

I agree; write a letter and make calls to not only the school, but also to the governing body that oversees high school athletics in Maine. You can make a difference and they should be handing down suspensions to both the school and the players, as well as placing an official warning or further sanctions on the officials.

Terry Blackhawk said...

The bullying culture runs deep, and your first question, what kind of coach--or what kind of community or school administrations -- needs to be put up in lights, or neon. Ugly, indeed, Dawn. I hope swift action is taken.

Dawn Potter said...

There were a number of h.s. administrators present, from both schools. In addition, the school trainer was there, and I know from experience that she's not afraid to speak her mind when it comes to head injuries. I'm hoping that someone got video footage. In my opinion this situation is not primarily one of individual blame: some of the kids on the field were actually related to kids on the other team; they had relatives cheering in both stands. I'm sure that individually most of the people present felt distressed about the injury. But this brawling attitude is systemic in boys' sports. These are kids, not professional players. I think ALL of the adults--coaches, refs, school personnel need to err on the side of safety. "Just let em play!" is not a good-enough answer.