We are midway through the season of a new +40 rec soccer league that over 100 women joined because they wanted less aggressive play. As I’ve reported in previous posts, there was an expectation that play would be less rough, but a series of decisions and limitations made it unclear (to me) what mechanisms would actually make that happen.
Has the league met expectations and achieved its goals? I asked the team captains their thoughts in a Facebook group chat they share.
Yes, Less Aggressive Play
Of the eight team captains who were polled, all agreed that the league was either a little or a lot less aggressive than other rec leagues they have played in (Poll 1):
According to most team leaders, what has been different from other leagues is the higher frequency of penalty calls (Poll 2).
Some team captains also said they perceived more efforts of teams to be friendly. One or two captains said their teams talk with each other and the opposing teams about aggressive play.
I think that team members talking before or during the game about their expectations (rather than just complaining after the game) shows goodwill and is more likely to improve league morale. Because aggressiveness is subjective, it can only help to have a more shared understanding of what aggressive play looks and feels like for each team.
A few captains added in the chat that their teams felt the league was fun. One captain said,
I think it’s going well, not as crazy aggressive as the other groups and no pressure we are just having fun and being active :)
Interestingly, no one said their own teams admit when they have been too aggressive. I didn’t ask whether it is because they genuinely don’t feel or notice when their play is too rough, or if it’s just not a good strategy for games.
Concerns and Reflections
Apparently rough play has not been fully eliminated: over the last few months, folks have brought forward concerns about a few aggressive players.
As league organizer, Cindy usually addresses concerns with team captains, who in turn speak with their own players. So, the process for dealing with the perception of over-aggressive play seems non-confrontational and a shared responsibility. As Cindy said, “Everyone is contributing to its success. It shows great community!”
While I expected Cindy to deal with these league issues kindly, I did not expect that over half of the captains would say “the refs also call out play that our team does not consider aggressive.” In other words, some feel that refs are making too many calls on aggressive play in this “chill” league.
Why might this be a concern for some teams? It can be difficult to avoid accidental contact on an indoor field. As well, some would say that defending space and moving into the opponent’s space is a normal part of soccer. And, every time a play gets stopped for a penalty, it’s less time to play soccer.
This idea that refs are calling aggression that players don’t agree to made me reflect on my own assumptions. A “rec league” suggests it will be social and fun, but for some women fun means competitive play. Have I been assuming that the only way to have a chill and fun league is to reduce aggression to the point of low or no contact?
I have noted in past posts that aggression is in part in the eye of the beholder. Those with less experience may see those with more soccer experience as aggressive, but the reverse can be true as well. At least the refs seem to be calling roughness due to unchecked skill and roughness due to lack of control.
ReDefining a League
This new rec league was organized by the criteria of age and intolerance for aggressive play, but there may be other ways to ensure safety but also give players what they want to have fun. One captain suggested to me that, instead of aggression level, league divisions could be based on experience or skill level. A beginner league for adult women of all ages could teach about safe play and what is appropriate contact. In such a league, frequent stops for penalties and game explanations might be more welcome.
At the same time, an adult beginner league begs the question of when someone is and no longer is a “beginner.” Sometimes experienced soccer players recruit their friends, and of course they want to play together despite skill level differences. (I’ve gotten better mostly by playing with friends more skilled than me.) It’s tough to make everyone happy.
If the “chill” league continues in another season, the norm for play might stay at low- or no-contact. In this case, how the game is played might need to change—and teams who plan to register in this league will have to be ready for that.
The beauty of sports is that they are what we make of them. According to most team captains, right now most members of this “chill” league seem relatively happy with the game that they have made together.