I went to the local park this past Sunday to take in some soccer. After the cold, snow and rain of the previous six months, it was great to finally get to watch a game without having to wear an overcoat. Beautiful skies with scattered puffy clouds and the temperature dancing around 68 degrees with a whisper of a breeze to give life to the budding trees in the background. Short sleeves all around.
The game in progress upon arrival was an adult women's game. This was obviously a lower division of play, and had a recreational atmosphere to it. Uniform requirements were a little lax, with many players wearing T-shirts of a proximate color, and in some cases simple scrimmage vests instead of jerseys. Players joked a bit with opponents about missing open chances and apologized for accidental collisions, occasionally joking with the referee as well. There were a few husbands sunning themselves on a blanket or reading a paperback book in a lawn chair. I never could figure out who was rooting for which team. We applauded good play regardless.
My neighboring spectator soon struck up a conversation with me. He was originally from Mubai and now lives near the field, On this day he was out for a walk and decided to stop to watch the game. He said he used to play when he was younger, and explained that soccer is big in his country. After a bit he continued on his way.
I reflected about how perfect this day was. Perfect weather, perfect game, perfect atmosphere. There was no place on this earth I would have rather been at that moment.
Later that by same day, I stopped at another field and watched a children's game. The level of play was 5-6 years old, and this was their introductory season of organized soccer. There were about six players on the field for each team, although at times it was hard to count since they all clustered together. Each team did look sharp in matching uniforms right down to the socks. They were assisted in their learning by several adult "coaches" that joined them on the field, and helped steer the herd toward some mysterious goal.
In this game, the atmosphere was completely different. There was a cacophony of shouts from the on-field coaches as well as the assembled parents. "Go Johnny, kick it up the field!" "Now run and get it Sarah!" "This way, this way!" The pressure was palpable. The little tykes tried to do something to gain the approval of the adults, although it seemed most had no idea how to actually achieve that mission.
What a contrast between those two games! I found myself wondering why the atmosphere that flourished in the adult game was not allowed to grow in the children's match. Does anyone really believe the experience of those 5-year-olds to be of any lasting value for a child of that age? Are those entry level leagues doing more harm than good?
On my drive home, I wondered how many people went to that children's game and thought to themselves that there was no place else in the world they would rather be at that moment. Sadly, I doubt anybody had that feeling.