I’m proud to offer another viewpoint to the discussion that was started by Terry Jamieson, Athletic Directo and Soccer Coach for the Cassville Wildcats, with his contribution earlier this month.
This article was written by Kelly R. Ross; who serves as the executive director for Lake Country Soccer. Kelly’s soccer experience includes youth coaching since 1994, NCAA Division 1 collegiate coaching experience, professional outdoor referee for 15 years, professional indoor referee for 16 years (currently working on the “floor” in the Major Indoor Soccer League), has officiated NCAA college soccer for 16 years including post season Division 1 quarterfinals and a number of conference championships, was a USSF National Referee for five years, played collegiately at Rockhurst University in Kansas City and still plays recreationally at the SoccerDome.
Nothing is wrong with soccer. Soccer is fine. I think the question should be, what’s wrong with some of the people who coach, play, administrate and/or officiate soccer? Let us begin with the administration: many in the administrative ranks do not have a history nor an understanding of the game of soccer. Administrators, especially at the high school level rely on the coaches as â€œexpertsâ€. Such opinions most certainly come from a subjective point of view regarding the game; namely the referees. Due to the lack of experience and knowledge in the game at some (if not, most levels), the administrators are not well equipped to address the problems which plague soccer. Because of this lack of experience, the administrators are also not well equipped to address the behavioral problems of coaches, players, spectators and to some degree, the officials.
Coaches: at the high school level (primarily) many coaches are not soccer experienced individuals to a large degree. This is not to say, that some coaches do not have any experience at any level of the game; quite the contrary; where many do have some experience based on tenure at their respective high schools; yet no significant, and in some cases, a lack of relevant experience outside of high school (i.e. Played college, played youth developmental club ball, played professionally, possess any United States Soccer Federation or National Soccer Coaches Athletic Association coaching education). The high school coaching behavior in many cases, is modeled on that of basketball, baseball or football coaching practices and behaviors.
Players emulate what they witness at the collegiate and professional level. Thinking such behavior is acceptable, younger players in the US carry these antics into their youth games (youth ball, club ball and to some degree, college). Coaches fail to intervene; which indicates an outright acceptance of such behavior.
Referees are as much a part of the problem, as they are the solution. What the referees allow and fail to address effectively on the field, promotes the idea that referees condone negative behavior. There are any number of reasons why referees do not effectively and efficiently address negative behavior: (a) not properly trained and/or educated to address these problems (b) concerned that, by dealing with negative behavior, they will receive a negative evaluation from the coach, which may jeopardize future assignments for â€œthe big gameâ€ or future assignments all together, (c) that addressing negative behavior is simply too much of an inconvenience and thus, the paperwork required isn’t worth the additional hassle.
Soccer is one of those sports where coaches realistically, cannot coach the outcome of a game; rather their ability to motivate their players and plans on free kick restarts may have an influence. Coaches may think they have some semblance of influence, i.e. gamesmanship, bantering, constant badgering, etc., but these cannot dictate which way the ball bounces for any particular team or player, or when or where the referee decides to blow the whistle. It may only serve that, “he who yells loudest and most often, may get the referee’s favorable or unfavorable decision at an opportune or inopportune time.”
At the end of the day, coaches at the youth and collegiate level need to be educators first and foremost. Teaching the essential skills to be successful on the field, which theoretically translates to instilling necessary life skills for lifelong success off the field. Players need to focus on playing the game and being successful on the field. Behavior modification in this regard, can only come from the coaches and the referees.
Referees must focus on the basic fundamentals of officiating the game of soccer (a) promote safety and fair play (2) discourage cheating (3) stamp out violent and dangerous play (4) protect the skilled players (5) enforce the rules of play. Adhering to these principles does more for the game overall, rather than worrying about getting “the big game.” By adhering to these principles, the referee also establishes credibility for the game and credibility as a competent official. Judgment calls will always be disputed, challenged and questioned, but integrity is that element which one should always endeavor to hang their whistle on, and get along fine. Referees may not always be right, but should always be credible.
Administrators must have the basic knowledge to understand the obvious differences between soccer and “other” American sports. To a large degree, the rules applied to soccer don’t translate to other American sports. For instance, a red card in soccer (generally) means that a player sits out the remainder of the game in which the red card is issued, and that team plays short for the remainder of the game, and that player is not eligible to participate in the team’s next scheduled contest, subject to the length of suspension as determined by the rules of play or the governing authority. A basketball player earning the 5th or 6th foul in a contest doesn’t sit out the next game. A football player ejected for unsporting behavior may not be required to sit out the next game. Only in soccer, when behavior is such, that a player is ejected, that the punishment is severe; costing the player playing time and quite possibly, the team not having an essential player available for a game. This does not speak to the various high school association rules that differentiate between a soft red and a hard red and the variations of suspensions.
Lastly, players simply need to focus on playing the game and less on “officiating.” There are way too many games and not enough referees in general and not enough quality referees specifically to handle the continued growth and development of soccer in this country. Soccer referee organizations are always looking for additional membership. But I digress; players need to enjoy playing the game of soccer. Wins and losses are all well and good at most levels. Competition is essential as a benchmark of success or failure. Learning on the field for living off the field is an important opportunity for players. Sitting around and not enjoying the game takes away from the pleasure of playing the game. Yelling, mocking, berating officials detracts from this enjoyment. It puts the game into disrepute. Coaches who fail to intervene to properly educate their players put the game into disrepute. Referees who fail to effectively and efficiently deal with problem individuals in the game, put the game into disrepute. Read the article posted on ESPNSoccer.net by columnist Steve Davis about whining players in Major League Soccer (MLS): http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story?id=383585&root=mls&cc=5901
There was a study conducted in 1998 looking at soccer participation numbers in the US. Go to http://www.decatursports.com/articles/soccer_participation.htm for more information. The bottom line is this: think of the number of youth overall playing the game of soccer. Now think of those who move on to play on competitive club teams. Now think of those who move on to play in college at any level. Then think of those who matriculate through to play professionally. The numbers at each successive level drop so significantly; something to the tune of 1/100th of 1 percent of those who began playing as a youth, and advance through 13 years of youth ball (assuming a child began playing at 5 years of age), 4 years of college and, if lucky, on to a professional opportunity or career.
There ain’t a lot of time to be a youth player and enjoy the game. 17 years overall and then they’re into adulthood. This doesn’t even begin to speak on the issue of why kids quit playing soccer through their youth years; an entirely different topic with some relevance to this subject.
To close, nothing is wrong with soccer. We simply need to positively modify the behavior of those closet to the game, and positively modify the behavior of those involved in the game. Only then, collectively, administrators, coaches, referees and players, can we stamp out the ugliness and grow something that is truly the world’s most beautiful game.
Kelly R. Ross, M.Ed
Lake Country Soccer, Inc.
2334 E. Pythian Drive
Springfield, MO. 65802
Tel: (417) 862-3211
Fax: (417) 862-5223
Mobile: (417) 353-2769
It is the mission of Lake Country Soccer to develop, promote and support the sport of soccer in Springfield and Southwest Missouri. In all areas we will encourage the soccer community to develop athletic excellence, self-esteem, responsibility and good sportsmanship. We will accomplish this through education, facilities, athletic development programs, tournaments, leagues and outreach programs.