Sportsmanship in Youth Football
The last week I was able to witness the best and worst sportsmanship during a youth football experience over around 10 minutes. As I walked towards the area where my players were gathered before our game this weekend. The children were on the field of another mobile livescore and a loud head coach of the game was saying in a loud voice, “That’s the team I want to join, let’s start lining it up and play following this match”. The coach spoke in the most cocky and threatening tone that one could possibly imagine. I was unsure of the identity of this man, I’d never seen him before nor ever played for his team, but he was sure to feel that he had to speak about me and a group of curious kids. I didn’t even say anything, just smiled and walked my children out of the endzone.
When we met to begin our pre-warmup meeting, I observed that that one of my weakest of first year players, a 13-year minimum play player, had the pants on. We were about 75 minutes away from home and the player was not wearing pants, they were left at home. However, we were heading into a game that I believed that it would be a tough match because we had just come off losing a hard-fought game the previous week. We’d be more competitive if he hadn’t participated in the game however, that’s not the way we conduct ourselves. I contacted the opponent’s director of the game and inquired to see if they might have an extra pair of pants that we could “borrow” for the game. They responded in the most genuine and welcoming manner that could be imagined even finding a space for our frightened player to change. Of course, they didn’t know whether this was my top player or not. With only 23 players it was not that we had a lot of players at each position. In the end, we did something that each of us believed could put us at an unfavorable position in the competition, but because of the correct reason that a child could participate in a youth soccer game.
The game was able to be a tough fight with three leads changing. It was a physically demanding game, both teams’ players were always aiding each other and praising one another on the back throughout the entire game, not just when the game was decided. Parents of one of the players who were on the other side did not hesitate after the game to walk up and tell me “Thanks for the most professional team in sportsmanship that I’ve ever met”. The only way to answer was to tell them that “You players were the ones to start it, and obviously your kids have been well-trained by their coaches to be excellent sports”. The player’ moms approached me at practice on Monday and told me “I’ve never played X I’ve never heard of how well another team treated the player, it was a really enjoyable game excellent sports”. Thank you to Paul W and Roncalli, the ultimate great class act in every sense.
The lesson is that you can play physically, “knock the snot out of one another’s football” Respect your opponent and excel at sports. They aren’t mutually goal-based and exclusive. They actually help make the game more enjoyable for the children, the parents, and even the coaches. In my experience, I’ve been an avid big proponent of playing “overt” in sports. In my High School playing days, we had a lot of nasty rivalries and “fun” competitive rivalries. The nasty rivalries were between teams with no respect for one their opponents, while fun rivalries which we could play against other kids that we played with during youth football and baseball. We would always played our opponents just as hard or more than we did the teams we didn’t enjoy quite as well. Most of us loved the games and wins we played with each other in our “fun” rivalries greater than winning against the teams that we did not respect.
My guess is that this will be the case when it comes to kids who play youth football. As a coach, you’re in a position of putting your children in any type of game you’d like to. They’ll follow your example and lead, and you decide the qualities your team will be remembered for.