This past summer Cindy created a new FB group for a “chill” women’s rec soccer league (Part 1) that would disallow aggressive play. Many women eagerly joined, and I did too.
What does it mean to play aggressively? It might be described as specific behaviours, such as offensive charging and defensive tackling. Or, aggressive play might also be described more broadly to include any violent, reckless, or dangerous actions that increase—or are perceived to increase—the chances of injury.
What aspects of the game contributes to making soccer aggressive? It may be scores and league-tabling, but it’s also the division or level of play. Those who have been trained for competitive divisions may play more aggressively, especially if it is encouraged. According to the Barcelona Premiere Soccer Club,
“Aggressive Soccer is important for competitive players. It helps them play the game with more accountability and responsibility. Playing soccer requires a lot of hard work and determination.”
Some may play aggressively due to their prior competitive training. Conversely, players without prior training may also appear aggressive if they lack the skills to avoid collisions or strikes.
Then there are “old feuds” between players on opposing teams, which can easily spark tensions and aggressive play. Some folks may seem to be playing aggressively based on their reputations alone.
How to manage aggression in soccer that is part game structure, part skill level, and part perception? League organizers provide divisions to create play at different levels of competition levels. Rec divisions—the least competitive—would also presume to have the least aggressive play. Leagues also enact safety policies, rules, penalties, and paid referees in order to keep gameplay in all divisions fair and safe for everyone.
But judging by the number of women who joined Cindy’s FB soccer group, it seemed that typical measures were not enough. By attempting to self-organize, the group could perhaps find new ways to minimize competitive and aggressive play.
So, it was interesting to me that when Cindy asked what folks wanted, the vast majority of FB members voted in favour of keeping “typical league” with scores, statistics, and teams.
Judging by the result, the group seemed to think that the source of aggressive play was the players, not teams or scores. They still wanted competition, just not the aggression competition can bring. Rather than change the game, perhaps the league could enact measures to prevent aggressive players from playing or playing the way they tend to do.
But when approached with requests to prevent players or teams with a reputation for aggression, the league manager explained that the group could not form a private “chill” league so long as actual scored games were being played (which the women voted they wanted). The provincial association overseeing all rec leagues (Ontario Soccer) puts no restrictions on barring skilled players from joining non-competitive divisions. Anyone could join this new “chill” division, even if they weren’t part of Cindy’s FB group.
As well, the league wouldn’t implement stricter penalties in just one division. As I understand it, the league manager was supportive of the idea of a non-aggressive league but wasn’t prepared (or perhaps resourced) to enforce unique rules that could lead to multiple complaints or challenges to rulings.
So, neither the players, the league manager, nor the governing professional association were willing to make systemic changes to the division or the game to avoid or minimize aggression. The “problem” of managing aggressive play still seemed to reside at the level of individual players.
Meanwhile, by the time all the information started to surface, it was late in the summer and the FB group had over 100 people in it—everyone still wanted to play in a non-aggressive league.
Could a group of women wanting “chill” soccer address aggressive play if everything about the division and the game stayed the same? Find out in Part 3!