Ranking the U.S. in soccer, education

If you think the U.S. is bad at soccer, “we’re even worse in education,” writes Fordham’s Brandon Wright.

Unsafe in any sport

Students must wear helmets to play soccer, field hockey and lacrosse in Princeton, New Jersey schools, reports EAG News. Bubble soccer

The helmets, which cost $35 to $70, may not prevent injuries, says Joanna Boyd, a concussion specialist at the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey. “It’s the speed, it’s the angle, it’s the kind of hit it is.”

Protective gear can encourage aggression, some say. “I’m concerned that the players who are better padded will be more emboldened to do things they never would have thought to do before,” said Marc Block, a longtime soccer referee,told Newsworks.  “My sister referees women’s lacrosse, and as soon as they told everyone to start wearing those metal eye cages, the number of sticks to the head went up very quickly.

I was hit in the head — quite hard — by a field hockey stick when I was in high school. The girl walking ahead of me decided to practice her golf swing and whacked my forehead on the back swing. Just think what might have been …

With no soccer ball, every child ‘wins’

According to the Soccer Association of Midlake, kids imaginations are runnign wild. (Steve DePolo/FLICKR)

According to the Soccer Association of Midlake, kids imaginations are running wild. (Steve DePolo/FLICKR)

Worried about too much competition, many Canadian youth soccer associations no longer keep score, reports This is That, a CBC radio show. Removing the soccer ball is even better, according to the Soccer Association of Midlake, Ontario.

Without a ball, “it’s absolutely impossible to say ‘this team won’ and ‘this team lost’ or ‘this child is better at soccer than that child,'” said Helen Dabney-Coyle. “We want our children to grow up learning that sport is not about competition, rather it’s about using your imagination. If you imagine you’re good at soccer, then, you are.”

Is this for real? No, it’s satire. But it’s eerily close to plausible.

Refugee is soccer star

In a wonderful series, Little Bill Clinton: A School Year in the Life of a New American, the Christian Science Monitor followed an African refugee family whose sons attend Atlanta’s International Community School.

Bill Clinton Hadam, now 11, and brother Igey, 9, are Americanizing new arrivals from the refugee camp they left in 2006, reports the Monitor. A star on the soccer field, Bill qualified for Georgia’s Olympic Development Team.

In Mkugwa, soccer had been his passion, played with balls he made himself, out of plastic bags and twine. In Georgia, even before he spoke enough English to participate in class, he joined a soccer team at school. Shell Ramirez, the mom who directed the program, spotted Bill’s talent and persuaded the local Y to give him a scholarship to play on its team. American parents and coaches quickly “adopted” the shy African, buying him balls, cleats, and other gear, and shuttling him to practices and tournaments.

If Bill plays well enough to stay on the state soccer team, he may not make the Olympics or the World Cup, but he’s sure of earning a college scholarship in soccer.

His younger brother is thriving too.

Every November, Igey and Bill’s school holds a parade on United Nations Day. It’s a bright, noisy, tear-jerker of a celebration, where students dress in traditional costumes and walk behind the flags of the countries where they were born – or countries of their choice. In first grade, when Igey was learning about his past, he walked with the group with the Tanzanian flag; in second, in honor of his dad, he represented Congo. This year, he was nowhere to be seen; it looked as if he might have missed school. Then, as the end of the parade was winding its way toward the crowd of shivering parents, Igey appeared, in his little gray hoodie, and strutted across the parking lot, holding up one side of a big American flag.

Via Learning the Language.

Silent sports: Parents told not to cheer

Some youth sports teams have gone silent, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Parents and other spectators aren’t allowed to cheer or holler advice. Coaches think the only way to shut up screamers, trash talkers and self-appointed coaches is to shut up everyone.

On a recent silent-game weekend for an Oakland soccer team, 8-year-old Sophia Abelson was playing while her mom and other relatives watched. But she didn’t hear them cheering — because they’d been asked not to.”I felt less inspired,” says Sophia, who plays on the Rockridge Soccer League’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” team.

Her mother, Bibi Jackson, thought the e-mail she’d received before the game, asking all the adults to keep quiet, was a joke. It said that only players would be allowed to speak — and then only on the field.

Karl Hawkins of San Jose, a soccer parent and coach, doesn’t think it’s possible to turn fans into Trappists: “The people you want to control wouldn’t be able to control themselves.”

It’s how you play the game — to win

Eleven-year-old soccer players should play to win, writes Barry Rubin on Pajamas Media. Under a coach who tells kids that winning doesn’t matter, his son’s team has lost every game.

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.

“Sports should prepare children for life, competition, the desire to win, and an understanding that not every individual has the same level of skills,” Rubin believes.

Asked to coach for a day, he put the best players in at forward and goal and kept them in, giving weaker players the chance to play for at least half the game as defenders. He gave the team a pre-game pep talk:

Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!

The team took a 1-0 lead.  Told that defense was critical, the weaker plays “performed heroically, holding off repeated attacks on their goal.”

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 hard and they won. They were thrilled.

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.

That works for Western civilization too, Rubin writes.

Soccer: the less-humiliating sport

With the World Cup on TV, people are talking once again about soccer as the “sport of the future.” Atlantic Wire links to Chuck Klosterman’s soccer takedown in his 2004 book Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.  Most children don’t love soccer, Klosterman writes. “They simply hate the alternatives more.”

For 60 percent of the adolescents in any fourth-grade classroom, sports are a humiliation waiting to happen. These are the kids who play baseball and strike out four times a game. These are the kids afraid to get fouled in basketball, because it only means they’re now required to shoot two free throws, which equates to two air balls.

. . . That is why soccer seems like such a respite from all that mortification; it’s the one aerobic activity where nothingness is expected. Even at the highest levels, every soccer match seems to end 1-0 or 2-1. A normal eleven-year-old can play an entire season without placing toe to sphere and nobody would even notice, assuming he or she does a proper job of running about and avoiding major collisions.

. . . To say you love soccer is to say you believe in enforced equality more than you believe in the value of competition and the capacity of the human spirit.

Soccer has a right to exist, Klosterman concedes.  All he asks is to never see it on TV or played in public or supported by public funding — plus a 40,000-year ban on the phrase “Soccer is the sport of the future.”

Via DeTocqueville’s Daughter.

I raised the only child in Palo Alto never to play soccer. Allison said there was too much running involved. I knew it involved me getting up early on Saturday morning. We agreed to skip the whole thing.

I don’t think sports humiliation is a big issue for girls, who are less likely to be forced to play a sport they don’t like. Is it a problem for boys?

Win by too much and you lose

A Canadian youth soccer league has a new rule: If a team wins by more than five goals, it forfeits the game. From the National Post:

Bruce Cappon, father of a player, called the rule ludicrous.

“I couldn’t find anywhere in the world, even in a communist country, where that rule is enforced,” he said.

Mr. Cappon said the organization is trying to “reinvent the wheel” by fostering a non-competitive environment. The league has 3,000 children enrolled ranging in age from four to 18 years old.

“Everybody wants a close game, nobody wants blowouts, but we don’t want to go by those farcical rules that they come up with,” he said. “Heaven forbid when these kids get into the real world. They won’t be prepared to deal with the competition out there.”

Coaches are urged to prevent blow-outs by “rotating players out of their usual positions, ensuring players pass the ball around, asking players to kick with the weaker foot, taking players off the field and encouraging players to score from farther away.”

I’d think it would be more humilating to see the other team deliberately not try to score than it would be to lose by a big margin.

Bad sportsmanship penalty for parents

After soccer parents yelled at a referee for a call, Bethesda’s Legacy travel team’s fans were exiled from the sidelines for two games, reports the Washington Post.

As the 13-year-old girls chased the soccer ball around the verdant field Sunday, one set of parents watched from the sidelines in comfy collapsible chairs, sipping coffee. The others were banished to a nearby hill, straining to see the action with binoculars.

The soccer league believes good sportsmanship applies to parents as well as players.