Staying the CourseWhen something goes so wrong that it proves you’re doing everything right
by Ken Sweda | Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Often in life, whether you are a coach, a parent or simply a human being, something wonderful happens that reinforces your beliefs and behavior. These are the easy moments to interpret, and they fill us with energy and positivity.
Equally often, however, we face the opposite situation – the kind that causes you to question everything, and, if you let it, sets you back or even brings your mission to an end. These occurrences are also pretty simple to evaluate, and no one would blame you for pulling the plug.
But what about the ones that get ugly, and distasteful, and heart-wrenching, but simultaneously reinforce that your vision is not only working, but is worth doubling-down for?
We experienced such a moment with our U-9 ladies Premier Rec team this past Saturday. I’ve talked about them before, and how we’ve become a successful team in the developmental sense as well as on the score sheet. I’ve also mentioned our intent to take yet another step forward and form a club, one that will continue to give the girls great training, a wonderful experience on a bigger stage and not take financial advantage of our parents.
To give our families a sense of what this will entail, and as a reward to them for their support, this past Saturday we participated in our first-ever club tournament.
And we made the final.
Not too bad for a “little ol’ rec team.”
Now, the competition wasn’t the greatest, but in the process we won our three group games, beating two local club teams, while playing good quality and spirited soccer. We competed in very close games, proved our mettle and showed we could take that next step.
Then came the final.
For those of you who have watched the “Mighty Ducks” movies, what I’m about to describe will sound oddly familiar. In fact, I guarantee that some of you will read this and believe it is an absolute fabrication, built purely on Hollywood hyperbole and stereotypes, right down to the uniform color of the opponent (all black, of course).
But if you do think it’s a fabrication, I can assure you that I have 10 sets of parents (and a tournament director) that would gladly give you their first-hand experiences if asked.
So who did we meet in the final? Only the U-9 team of a local perennial Top 3-ranked girl’s club in the country.
And what did we experience during our game with them? A classic Sharks v Minnows match that we could never win against a very “good” (read: winning-focused) team, but one in which we showed our class and promise at the end of a very long day (four games, when we had never played more than one in a day).
Mind you, we had already beaten a U-8 team from the same club in the group stage – the club has a well-earned reputation for stacking multiple teams in each age group to increase the odds of at least one of them making a final, which looks great to the parents and keeps the gravy train flowing. In this case, their approach worked to perfection, as the final proved to be a major dose of adversity against a better opponent.
But we also faced considerable adversity in the form of refereeing that was clearly not commensurate with the importance of the game, or which, frankly, had anything to do with what was actually happening on the field. When already faced with a superior foe, it certainly does not help to have a referee that was seemingly intimidated by the opposition, awarding an offside goal, beyond-dubious PK and countless one-sided calls to the “Sharks” within the first fiv minutes. We were shell-shocked, first by the circumstances, and then by the “Sharks” who clearly now sensed blood in the water.
So were either of these the reason our experience was so trying? Was the issue that we got some shambolic officiating, and lost a game to a team that was already considerably better, more athletic, more prepared to play tournament soccer?
No, these were not the issues. These things we can respond to, or learn to deal with. We will continue to train the way we do – which remains every bit as good, for 1/10 the cost –we’ll learn from the tournament experience and we’ll recognize that the “known” and “respected” team usually gets the calls. Fair enough.
The real issue is this: During the game, the opposing coach referred to us and our courageous rec girls as “Daddy Daycare,” and said “you could put your whole team out there and it wouldn’t make any difference against us. He could even be heard conferring with his assistant to run up the score to put us in our place (probably as a direct result of us imploring the official to call the game properly).
You read that right.
This is the kind of behavior one of the nation’s “best” clubs engages in. I’ve seen and heard it from them many times during the five years my older daughter has been in the club environment. It is their calling card, but by no means are they the sole purveyors of this kind of behavior. They are simply the best at it, not unlike Donald Trump being the best corporate bully, who even after bankruptcy (financially and ethically) has plenty of people more than willing to throw more billions of dollars at him.
Normally, this would be the second kind of experience I touched on above, one that would cause me to doubt what we’re doing. How can we win against this kind of opponent, in this kind of system?
The answer is simple: in all the ways WE measure success, we’ve already won. We played well, we played with class, we made a final, we didn’t take the loss hard and enjoyed a great team meal after the final. And if we keep doing what we’re doing, someday maybe we’ll be competitive with the “best” on the field as well. But that will only be icing on the cake.
I can almost assure you that had we beaten this team in the final, the parents from our opposition would have had a word with their coach immediately following the game, and would have been phoning the DOC from the car on the way home, complaining about having been beaten by a bunch of “park district girls” (I do dream of that happening some day, I have to be honest, but it’s far down my list of motivating factors).
Further, when girls from clubs like the “Sharks” get cast off (and they will) because they’re no longer athletic enough, fast enough, obsessed enough about winning (a direct result of their parents’ obsession), they’ll be looking for a new place to play.
And we’ll be there for them.
Stay the course.