It’s just a game! : Women’s recreational league soccer and the norms of competition

imageNothing screams women’s recreational soccer quite like the team names: Cougartown, Leather and Lace, Chocolate Martinis, Goal Diggers, Victorious Secret, the Ball Busters and so on….

I’m just back from our Sunday evening game and we had a terrific time.  We’re the Rockettes. We won 2-1 but I’d like to think I’d be almost as happy with the game if we’d lost 2-1. It was a closely matched game, everyone worked hard, we passed lots, and we had lots of tries on their net.

I’ve been playing soccer with women from my neighbourhood for a few years now and I love it even though I’m not a particularly good soccer player. We play indoor rec league soccer in the winter and outdoor in the summer.

That’s a pic of my new soccer cleats bought after I wore out my first inexpensive pair because I wasn’t sure if I’d like it. And I love it. It’s a blast. (See my post on team sports and childhood regrets.)

This is very much recreational soccer, friends playing for fun and fitness, and we struggle a bit with finding the right level of competitive play. As Tracy noted in her post The Competitive Feminist competition can be tricky matter among women.

A few years ago we switched from an all ages league to masters soccer (35 and older) for the summer. We were tired of being out run by 20 year olds who were winning, not necessarily in virtue of being better players, just by having younger legs and lungs. The masters league doesn’t even track scores. There’s a ref who keeps score, among other things, but  we don’t write the scores down and there’s no end of season playoffs for the outdoor season.

That’s fine. For the most part it works well. I can tell you that we won the first two games and then lost the next three but who’s keeping track really? 🙂

Occasionally though things go awry. Two weeks ago we played a team that has been together for more than a decade. We were clearly outclassed. Lots to learn from their passing and handling and ball control. I kept counting heads because I was sure they had more players on the field than us and once you start doing that you know you’re in trouble.

Time after time, I watched them set up and score on our net. I play defense so this stung.

But it’s what happened once we discovered the mismatch in abilities that bothered me. They continued on, as if it were a competitive game, and demolished us. No holding back. It turns out that this team also plays in a competitive league and they use our recreational league as practice. That bothered me a lot.

Quite a few of the women I play with got into team sports through our children and so we’ve watched our kids learn to handle this sort of situation. When one team clearly is set to win against another, coaches advise the players to use this as an opportunity to try new things. Once ahead you can put players in different positions. Give your midfielders a chance to try playing forward and shooting on net. Maybe move some of your Ds up to midfield so they can do more running. This team did none of this.

Now some people defended the much better team. They weren’t doing anything against the rules. And that’s true.

But ethics and etiquette goes beyond the rules. So too does goes sportspersonship.

Does good sportspersonship require you to play differently once you’re far out in the lead? It’s controversial but some people think so.

See Bad Sportsmanship? Indiana Girls Basketball Team Blows Out Opponent 107-2

“The Indianapolis Star reports that Arlington made two single free throws in the second and third period — that was the extent of the school’s scoring. The rest of the night’s points went to Bloomington South as the team continued to pile on even after they had the game well in hand.

“I didn’t tell my girls to stop shooting because that would have been more embarrassing,” Bloomington South coach Larry Winters told the Star. “We were not trying to embarrass them or run up the score.”

Arlington head coach Ebony Jackson said Winters should have shown more sportsmanship and limited the scoring late in the game.”

For me, the larger issue is using a recreational league as your practice game. Competitive teams don’t deserve a spot in recreational league play. Even if we can’t forbid them, ethically speaking they ought not to do it.

Ironically, this wouldn’t have happened in our winter, indoor league which does track game scores and organize play offs. On the basis of the first few weeks of play, teams are sorted into three groups and you only play teams in your range.

5 thoughts on “It’s just a game! : Women’s recreational league soccer and the norms of competition

  1. A tricky matter indeed. I suspect that if more women had more experience with competitive sports, winning and losing wouldn’t be so fraught with meaning and emotional reactions – a frequent player realizes that while she may have lost today, she will win on another day.

    I’m in total agreement that the competitive team shouldn’t be using the recreational league for practice. That’s kind of ugly.

  2. My younger son’s soccer team (3rd and 4th grade) is the top in their rec league. Whenever they are ahead by a decent margin, their coach starts moving them around. He tells them to pass 3 or 4 times before going to the net. If it’s a really lopsided game, he’ll tell them not to score at all, but to practice dribbling and passing. It’s good sportsmanship. They still play really hard and they all have a good time. Crushing the other team in a rec league is just mean spirited.

  3. Uneven teams playing each other is actually a fairly common event in Roller Derby because its a completely “amateur” sport. Just in the Women’s Flat Track rules set there are WFTDA leagues/teams, WFTDA apprentice teams, teams that aren’t currently WFTDA teams, and teams that don’t want to go through the somewhat lengthy process to apply to be WFTDA teams ever. The chairs of a team’s Bout/Scrimmage committee sets the schedule and contacts teams to try and set up the year’s bout schedule. On our team we usually try and play teams that are around our same level of play within a 4 hour drive of our home base, that way we can go play them and they return the favor and come play us at home later (or vice versa). Occasionally we get offers from teams that we are fully aware are totally out of our league. For instance we play in Rockville, MD just outside of D.C. and were contacted by the “C” team of the Philadelphia Roller Girls. “C” team is in quotes because even their third tier players are way above our level as Philadelphia is ranked in the top 20 teams in the county of which there are several thousand.

    We played them anyway and had a blast doing it. Our teams philosophy is to always be having fun no matter what the scoreboard says. We also approach bouts with teams that outclass us as learning experiences. We returned from that game with new strategies we had learned by watching them split us up and make it easier for their jammer to score points. We started practicing those new strategies and won our next two bouts against more evenly matched teams. Also by “only” losing to the Philly team by 264 points we advanced in the US rankings because we weren’t expected to do that well. Our expectation was to have a good time and play well together for us, see what expectations can get you 😉

    Usually even when we are playing much better teams the girls from that team are amazingly nice and gracious people both before, during, and after the games. They don’t take it “easy” on us because there’s not many ways to soften a hit that knocks a jammer out of bounds. However there is a big difference in attitude between those teams that are playing and playing well against us and those that seem entirely focused on making sure we understand that they are better than us. I feel like the team you played was most likely in category 2 making sure you lowly rec leaguers understood they are a competitive team deigning to participate in the game. Unfortunately every competitive endeavor will attract some of these kind of people and they usually manage to find each other and team up. The only recourse being that eventually they get a reputation for that kind of unsportsman like conduct and other teams are no longer willing to play them only to be their proverbial punching bags.

  4. I’m 2 months into my latest fitness journey, and I just this afternoon decided that soccer wasn’t going to be a part of it, for this very reason. There’s no Masters division in our county, only one recreational league, and I have zero interest in playing against ex-college players who are bitter about not going professional. I love to play hard – had a team manager say once that he loved ties best of all, because it meant both teams were going at it evenly. And we all need grace in losing. But I’m done with women half my age getting their rocks off by scoring multiple hat tricks off of me (I was a goalie.) Yippee for you, sweetheart.
    If there were a masters league, though… maybe.

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