I was at the last soccer match of the season and the tension level was very high. Team “Blue” had won the last time “Blue” met “Purple” and now “Purple” was vocally calling for revenge while “Blue” wanted to make their superiority even clearer by also winning this game. All around me the fans were in a state of heightened excitement yelling at the top of their lungs. Behind me I could clearly hear “Go Blue” as well as “Go get them Purple.” Next to me on the right, there was a fan yelling “Defense!!!” continuously at the top of his lungs, while on my left there was a fan yelling “Move the ball !!!” I heard “Defense” and “Move the ball” so often that I’m surprised that I didn’t start saying it in my sleep. Various spectators also called players by name encouraging them to do more and especially to score more. And if a player seemed reluctant, inevitably that person would be yelled at from the sidelines to get more involved and “PLAY THE GAME!” The coaches were also in a heightened state of tension and excitement. Each team had multiple coaches working the game. One advising the goalie of each team, one prompting the defense, and one prompting the offense. This was clearly serious athletics. And clearly serious pushing from the fans who were encouraging their team in the clearest and loudest ways possible.
I enjoy watching college soccer and I enjoy watching most college sports but this was different in that it wasn’t at the college level. Actually, it wasn’t at the high school level either and it wasn’t middle school. What’s left? The pros? A senior league? Neither one. This was a 4th grade girls’ community soccer match and my daughter was part of the “Blue” team. Both my daughters played soccer from first grade on, and typically I am sitting on the sidelines watching the matches. First grade soccer was more a social experience than a game with the kids often not yet fully understanding the concept of a goal or of teamwork. By fourth grade many are good players and watching the matches is an enjoyable sports experience. And for the kids involved the experience can also be invaluable — developing skills, the importance of practice, following the rules, being part of a team all teach key life lessons. But if winning and coming in first becomes paramount, the kids lose. Tension on the 4th grade soccer field is not a helpful experience and if we push that hard, that early what happens by the time the kids enter high school or college. Competition is part of life and clearly kids should understand that. We want our kids to compete effectively on the athletic field, in school, in their chosen profession and in life. But we need for kids and for their parents to understand, that there is more to life and learning than just competition.
This game ended in a tie. It was a great game but I am sure that some parents were disappointed. I couldn’t help but think about how this situation relates to the level of testing in our schools. Testing is more and more prevalent in K-12 education. We know it matters and for those of us in higher education we want our entering students to be as well prepared as possible, We just need to make sure that in education at every level as well as on the 4th grade soccer field, there is a proper balance.