Sunday, May 5, 2013


Spring weather brings out the soccer cleats, and the dog days of soccer will forever bark out to me my life and times as a soccer coach.

My soccer coaching career began with my oldest boy, Baron.  When Baron was eight years old he decided to play soccer, and so he began as did I.  Mid-season his coach quit for whatever reason (a job, I think) and it was only natural that I, being a teacher and extra-curricular hockey and cross-country running coach, take the helm.

The DEVIL HAWKS played in the Competitive Soccer League, and my boy played two positions, half-back and keeper.  From there Baron went on to play full-back and keeper positions and for the newly affiliated CAPITAL HAWKS, then full-back and keeper for another independent team, the CLASSICS (so named because the COCA-COLA sponsorship), then RTO-X (so named because of the RENT-TO-OWN sponsorship), and full-back and striker for the NATIONALS, striker for SOUTHERN PROVINCE SELECTS, then full-back for the SCORPIONS, a senior team, and last full-back for AEK (our jerseys came direct from the real ATHLETIC UNION OF CONSTANTINOPLE team based in the city of Athens, Greece), a team in the men’s premiere league.  And I coached all these teams, save for the NATIONALS and the SELECTS.

When my youngest boy, Travers, decided to play soccer he was five.  Travers began his playing days in the Recreational Soccer League, mixed teams of guys and girls.  Travers played recreational soccer until he turned eight, and then his Competitive Soccer League years began.  His first competitive team was the RTO – CRUNCH (so named for the RENT-TO-OWN sponsorship), where he played full-back and striker.  Travers played on the CRUNCH for a few years (I was the coach) and then jumped to the NATIONALS, again as a full-back and striker.  At fifteen years of age, Travers’ soccer career ended with the NATIONALS.

(I mention these team names because I am reminiscing, my mind filling with soccer players and soccer balls, my words being hazed through romantic nostalgia.)

Back in the day, Baron and Travers were considered, in their soccer community, to be elite soccer players. It seems but a finger snap in time when those heydays of cards and whistles came to a close. Baron dropped out of soccer for reasons of health; Travers dropped out because of his stronger desire to skate board and snow board. Coincidentally (not really), when my boys’ enthusiasm for soccer waned, my interest too, for the game, waned.

However, this essay is really not about Baron or Travers or me.  This essay is about the philosophical and stark differences between recreational league and competitive league soccer, from a coaching point of view. And I do have the credentials (Canadian Soccer Association Level 4 Certification) to comment. I remind the reader that I speak of general, not specific principles. I also remind the reader that in Psychology – Generally, things are always true; specifically, things are never true.

Parents bring their children to play in the recreational soccer leagues for one reason – FUN; whereas parents bring their children to play in the competitive soccer leagues for a number of reasons – DELUSION, PRESTIGE, PRIDE.

Most parents of children in recreational soccer are just happy that their sons and daughters are getting to play a sport, getting some sun, and more importantly, gaining some skills in sociability.

Parents of children in competitive soccer leagues know that their child is, indeed, headed for the big leagues.  Also, parents of competitive soccer league players are not reluctant to express the prestige and pride that is imaginarily attached to their particular involvement.

Parents of recreational soccer know little about the sport; whereas, parents of competitive league players know everything about the sport, oftentimes more than even the coach.  Parents in both leagues tend to display certain amounts of angst, in recreational soccer because of the unknown sociability factor, in competitive soccer the unknown making-the-team (or not) factor.

Recreational soccer games typically take place in schoolyards and public parks.  Competitive soccer games are played on manicured and groomed soccer pitches. 

The fees for recreational league soccer are cheap, cheap.  Competitive league soccer fees more than triple the cost of recreational, plus fund raising, fund raising, and more fund raising efforts are required for traveling teams to compete out of town, out of province, sometimes out of country.

In recreational soccer the coach is a volunteer.  In competitive soccer the coach, if not on a fee, at least gets perks a plenty (travel money, motel costs, food allowances).

In recreational soccer leagues, all players are allotted equal amounts of playing time.  In competitive soccer leagues, the bench is shortened, depending on the importance of the game (and all games seem important). Starting players receive loads of playing time, players riding the pine receive minimum minutes of playing time.

In recreational soccer it is unsportsmanlike to run up the score.  In competitive soccer it is disrespectful not to run up the score (if a team has the capacity).  In competitive socceer the total number of goals for-and-against are statistically tallied for final league and playoff standings.

In both recreational and competitive leagues ... A team is only as strong as the season is long (a phrase coined by me).  In the recreational league, reasons for players not returning the next year range from lack of interest in the sport of soccer specifically, or, generally, a preference for individual rather than any team sport.  In the competitive league a non-return is likely do to either lack of playing time or lack of team wins.  (Once a youth has achieved the athletic skills to be a starter and then not worried about the amount of playing time, the next pursuit for both player and parent is to be on a winning team.)
In recreational soccer, winning can be important but winning is not everything.  In competitive soccer … Before the game it’s only a game, and after the game it’s only a game, but during the game it is life and death!

Buskers, too, can be cataloged into the recreational and competitive leagues.  I know many a busker that sings for beer and cigarettes.  Typically, these buskers ply their trades next to liquor stores or smoke shops.  Such buskers are in the competitive league.  (Move uninvited onto a competitive pitch and you’ll find out just how nasty and mean spirited these buskers can really be!)

And I know a few buskers (not many) that are merely recreational players.  Such buskers are out for sunshine and conversation and practice.  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice.  Practice.  Practice.

As for me, I am a self-confessed faux busker.  I busk for profit, but not necessarily profit for myself.  Anytime I have a sign on display (CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION or SASKATCHEWAN SCHIZOPHRENIA SOCIETY) I pay the sign as I would pay any other employee in an entry-level position – the minimum wage, provided that sign behaves itself!

Generally, on any sward be it soccer or busking, all is good.  Both soccer and busking are significant venues for which to introduce fresh air and citizenship.  As for soccer, I’ve kicked many a ball. As for busking, getting the balls to do takes a while. 

Soccer is for those seeking values that are collectivistic; busking is for those seeking values that are individualistic. 

If you want your offspring (pun intended) to have sunshine and fun, join the local soccer club and go footballing.  If you (yourself) want to have sunshine and fun, grab a musical instrument and go busking.

Two characters marched in my CHAUCERIAN PARADE this week:

  • Summer, whilst working at ISLAND LUNCH, presented to me within seconds of my setting up, an ice-cold Pepsi and bottled water.  (I love those ISLAND LUNCH ladies: Emma, Krista, and Summer!)  Summer is a First Nation 17 year old, graduating from Scott Collegiate next month.  She will be the first in her family to get her Grade Twelve Certificate and … she is already registered at the University of Regina for the Fall Semester.

  • The other character marching this week was a twenty-something female with a Caesar haircut. Giving me no personal space, while breathing into my face she disclosed that she had just received her methadone prescription.  As she spoke she was disconcertingly writhing and twisting to my music.

Don’t mind me, she said, I’m just zoned from my methadone.  It’ll take a few minutes to kick in. Will you play me a song?


Some Johnny Cash?


I played and sang for her, strumming my twelve-string and blowing my harpoon, Folsom Prison … but I had to stop suddenly.  Clearly she was agitated over something.

What’s wrong? I asked.

These guys walking by keep staring at my breasts, she replied, because I’m not wearing my bra.


To close …

Spring doth bring out all players to their pitches.  Few players are pundit; many are purblind.  Whatever their athletic or musical abilities, these players represent the olla podrida of the season.  Moving along in linear fashion, the burst of spring gives blooming opportunities for nidifugous neophytes and vicious virtuosos to exercise their talents, along with their sins, to be pleasurable for the season.     

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