Single-Digit Soccer: Who cares about the stakes?

Earlier this month, I did an interview with CBC radio about Ontario’s proposal to get rid of official scores and standings for soccer players under age 12. I made a passing reference to my over-30 coed indoor team and our overly competitive games with nothing at stake but a T-shirt for a division champion.

The CBC wasn’t there to capture it, but a couple of days later, we had a perfect illustration of the point.

The problems started before the game. I had never seen a roster eligibility challenge in an over-30 coed rec league before, but lo and behold, we had one. The result: We had only two female players, which meant they would have to play the whole way.

Our opponents were rather smug about it, too. They might have been a little less conceited if we had challenged a couple of their players, but we weren’t going to go there. We’ve paid money to play soccer. We just want to play.

They spent the first 10 minutes of the game establishing a “physical” presence on the field. I was tempted to toss off my gloves and walk off. This wasn’t fun.

Thankfully, the ref took control. He started blowing his whistle, which clearly startled some of our opponents. They were used to whacking people in the back with impunity.

At the end of the game, I went up to thank the ref for minimizing our bruises. I had to wait, though, because someone from the other team was yelling at him. I don’t speak much Spanish, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t, “GREAT GAME! HEY, DID YOU SEE THAT MESSI GOAL LAST WEEK? THAT WAS SICK!”

Oh, by the way, they won.

So even after winning both the game and an unprecedented (as far as I know) pregame roster challenge, this guy needed to voice his complaints about the ref having the temerity to whistle maybe five of the 50 fouls they committed during the game.

We know we lost the game, and we know our record this season. We don’t know theirs. They don’t know ours.

And that’s why I’m a little skeptical of the idea that players and coaches will start focusing on the right way to play when there’s little at stake and no standings to peruse. Overly aggressive people need other means of restraint. Like a good ref. Or maybe having a few beers before the game. (That won’t work at youth level, of course. Especially not for the parents.)