covid19 · fun · play · soccer · team sports

In Praise of Scrimmage (Guest Post)

By Elan Paulson

Have you played scrimmage, shinny, or pick up? Until this past summer, I had not (as for many years I lacked a team sport to play, as I guest blog about elsewhere). Friends, let me tell you that I think scrimmage is AWESOME. I didn’t realize how awesome until after the end of our short “season” these past few months.

If you already know scrimmage or pick up is awesome, this post will not be news to you. But still, read on to re-affirm what you and I now know together.

No Refs = Self-Regulation

In regular team games, a referee is there to make calls so no one else has to. But when you are self-reffing, everyone has to monitor their own potentially illegal moves. Obviously, this leads to more individual accountability during gameplay, but it got players talking to each other about the calls. One time I saw players stop to discuss what might have been a hand ball, and compare what they knew about the rules about hand balls, but then play happily resumed.

In reffed games you always want rulings in your team’s favour, but without refs everyone seems to take more responsibility to play fairly, and the talking creates both game understanding and player camaraderie.

Slower Pacing = Safer Play

When you’re in a traditional team game, everyone wants to hurry up and score. But in scrimmage everyone takes their time, sets up, passes more. One striker with a killer goal shot deliberately eased up when she came in to shoot (which was fortunate for me when I was in goal). The result of slower play seemed to be that everyone got more chances to touch the ball, yet folks didn’t get tired out.

Also, no injuries. In the half dozen games I played in, I think I was the only one to get a minor injury—because I overextend myself. Once I took cues from others about pacing, I eased up and could play the whole game without getting myself hurt.

Friends on Both Sides = No Losers

In regular games, things are pretty fixed: everyone on your team has their positions, sub rotations are often pre-set, and the point is to win the game. In scrimmage, there is much more fluidity and choice. People felt free to take a water break whenever they needed, even if their team was short-handed for a minute. Most everyone took turns in goal, unless someone was nursing an injury and wanted to play there longer. I spent a little time as a forward, where I learned that “give and go” passing is not a skill that is totally beyond me. I even scored a goal! 🙂

When friends are on both sides, the stakes were lower. Goals were scored (or not), efforts were congratulated—but no one kept score. Maybe there were no winners each week, but no one walked off the pitch on the losing side either.

Is Scrimmage for Everyone? 

As someone trained to look at stuff through the lens of feminist theory, I see many overlaps between the values for which many feminists strive and the kind of play that scrimmage affords. Why aren’t we playing more scrimmage? If feminism is for everyone, and certain aspects of scrimmage reflect the values of some feminisms, then is scrimmage for everyone too?

Three reasons why not all of us are playing more scrimmage:

  • Logistically, scrimmage only works up to a certain numbers limit, and someone has to volunteer to take the added responsibility to be a convenor. (One of our wonderful friends put the extra work in to make ours happen.)
  • Usually the fields, courts, and ices are perhaps usually spoken for by organized sports associations, so it’s only in these strange pandemic times that these spaces may be more available than usual.
  • There are probably plenty of skilled and competitive types for which scrimmage/pick up is not speedy or challenging enough. Some people thrive most when there is structure and competition.

So, maybe scrimmage isn’t for everyone all the time. But for me, as a late-to-the-sport rec soccer player, the less structure the better. Whether you get to play for fun each week with a long-time bestie or a sister, or make some new friends (as I have), scrimmage is WHERE IT’S AT.

Are you in praise scrimmage too? Why or why not?

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