Monday, October 11, 2010

The State of Youth Sports

I know what you are thinking after reading this title. You assume that you are going to be lectured on how 11-year-olds should not throw curveballs, and why parents are too overbearing. Well, that is not going to happen. I am just going to share my experiences from this Saturday, when I had to attend a youth soccer tournament.

On Saturday, I was made to go to my little sister’s soccer tournament, which for some reason, was being held an hour and forty five minutes away in North Philadelphia. Needless to say, me and my brothers were not exactly jacked up to take a three hour round trip to watch two games that will take an hour and a half each. I did get home in time for the end of the Alabama-South Carolina game, though, so that was nice. Anyway, within the first couple minutes of being at the park, we sat down under a tree, watching some random 9-year-olds game, while waiting for my sister’s game to start.

There was a green team versus a team that had the exact same style jerseys as the Argentina National soccer team. The Argentina design was obviously intentional, considering that 4 out of the 11 players on the field had the exact same haircut as Lionel Messi. These kids played like Messi, too. When I played soccer when I was nine, the only trick I knew how to do was shoot. And I did it well. In one illustrious 4th grade recreation league season, I scored 17 goals in 9 games. I was like Kobe Bryant in those years after Shaq and before Pau Gasol. I would shoot wherever, whenever.

But this kids were not interested in shooting half-court shots, like I was. Sure, I think they won the game 6-0, but these kids were doing things I had never seen done by kids that little. One kid even attempted a bicycle kick (and almost did it. Thankfully, he did not, as the walls of time would have collapsed). They were crisply passing, and absolutely shredding the defense. This lack of defense led to the green team’s goalie being torn apart, of course. No 9-year-old kid wants to play goalie. If you are from America, you likely have one of the shortest attention spans in the world. If you are below the age of 10, you likely have one of the shortest attention spans in the world as well. If you combine those two together, playing youth soccer goalie is a death sentence.

Of course, the little goalie who looked exactly like Manny from Modern Family was getting the blame for allowing in goals that no normal human being could have stopped. After every goal (and there were many), some punk kid (#23) would turn around and start berating the goalie. This is the type of kid who probably has his homework done for him by his ever-willing parents. Even though #23 would get spun around like Michael Jordan after seeing Allen Iverson’s crossover for the first time, #23 felt as if he did nothing wrong. That is one of the main things in youth sports today, blame. No kid ever feels as if the do anything wrong, because their parents sit at the throne of them. They are perfect, almighty, and can only do right.

My mom and dad also felt bad for the kid, but actually would go onto to say “It’s okay goalie, not your fault! Your defense sucks!” I then moved my chair away, in case they got caught in some type of parent-player riot against them.

The next situation with crazy youth sports I had on Saturday came right before my sister’s second game of the day. Myself and the rest of my family were walking back from our car and heading towards my sister’s next game, being played a few fields down. Of course, I noticed a commotion at one of the fields we were passing, and decided to set up camp by myself at this field. The game that was being played was played by eighth grade boys, one team wearing a black jersey, the other wearing a blue jersey.

I sat down behind on of the goals, with the parents of the blue team. Apparently, none of them thought it was weird or creepy that a kid they had never seen before decided to sit with them. Anyway, across the field, on the right sideline, a parent was being thrown out of the game. Although you usually hear horror stories of how awful parents are at youth games (and believe me, I have seen this many times), these parents never actually get thrown out of games. This parent must have said the most repulsive thing ever said at a youth sporting event, because that is the only way a parent will get thrown out. This incident, naturally, got me hooked into a game filled with players I have never seen before.

Almost seconds later, it got even better. Someone kicked the ball inside the 18-yard line, where the blue goalie and the black team player both jumped up for the ball at the same time. Now, I was sitting on the other side of the field, so it was hard to see what happened. The black team player seemed to push the blue goalie down, but for some reason, the blue goalie was thrown out of the game. Being a fourteen-year-old kid, growing up watching Rasheed Wallace and Ron Artest handle being ejected so well, he slammed the ball, then yelled out “F--- You!” at the top of his lungs before heading towards the sidelines.

This is where the game really started to get out of hand.

I really felt bad for the referee during all this. Right after the goalie got thrown out, the game on the field turned into a small-scale riot. Players were pushing and throwing out elbows frantically. The referee couldn’t be a day over 25, and he had these eighth graders coming up to him almost every other minute, complaining about missed fouls and what not.

Soccer is a game that thrives off of flopping and complaining to the referee. These kids had obviously seen the World Cup this summer, so they reacted to missed calls the same way their professional heroes would. They made a face that looked as if they had seen their President (or dictator, depending on the country) be assassinated, then wave their arms frantically like a dog attempting to swim in a whirlpool (Yes, I got that idea from a Simpsons episode that was on the other night). These kids had done their homework, and now the referee was getting the brunt of it.

Then came the real battle of the game. The on-going battle between #10 from the black team (a skinny, punkass white kid who kind of looked like myself) and #34 from the blue team (a tall, athletic black kid who really should have been playing football. He was really just wasting his obvious athletic ability out there). Throughout the fifteen minutes that I watched the game (yes, all this happened in fifteen minutes), these two kids were pushing and shoving each other, while receiving about twelve warnings from our over-powered referee. It was just non-stop. #10 was the one doing a majority of the pushing and talking, and to #34’s credit, he kept his composure and did not throw #10 into the goal. After the game was over, #10 started pointing at #34 yelling something while running away, and giving skinny white kids a bad name. I really wanted to punch that kid. At one point there was a pushing match right by where I was sitting, and for a few seconds, I seriously considered punching that kid in the face if a fight were to ensue.

Then came the post-game handshake. The buzz in the part where I was sitting, was that there had to be a fight. The parents almost seemed optimistic about this. There was no fight, much to every one’s disappointment. Then a crazy Spanish lady, who looked as if she had wandering a little too far away from Center City Philly, starting yelling and screaming in a language that definitely was not Spanish. I then began to walk over to my sister’s game, only five minutes late.

Of course something had to happen at this game, too. Well, not this game, but the game behind me. In another battle of 12-year-olds, the “captain” of one team pushed a kid from the other team, and was given a yellow card. This prompted his dad, in an accent only Dikembe Mutombo has ever come close to, yelled “He can do that! He is the captain!”

He obviously thought that his kid had some kind of special powers, because he had the captain armband, and could just go around beating up whomever he wanted.

Nothing like this happened in my sister’s games, unfortunately.

The lesson from these incidents? I am not sure there is one, other than kids now emulate professional athletes a lot and sideline parents are insane. I just thought these were cool stories. I am not saying the kids are doing anything wrong, however. I did a lot of stupid stuff while playing youth sports. I have yelled at umpires, done asinine Antoine Walker dances after making a shot in 3rd grade basketball, and have punched a kids broken arm after I heard his grandmother tell him to spike me. These types of incidents have almost become a part of youth sports culture. It is unavoidable, really, and that is what a lot of people do not get. The way sports is portrayed nowadays on TV, the over-the-top environment is shown even in youth sports. I do not think that will ever change.

And my sister may have broken her shoulder the next day, but I missed out on that.

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