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.

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