ATTENTION, SOCCER MOMS! Heads up, soccer dads! The Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association has hit upon a scheme to make your child enjoy athletics more than ever: tournaments without scores.
No joke. In officially sanctioned youth soccer tournaments in Massachusetts, it is now forbidden to keep score. There are no winners and losers. No standings. No playoffs. No champions. Trophies may not be awarded unless they are awarded to every player on every team.
This "non-results oriented competition," says Dean Conway, the head coach of the Soccer Association, will give kids "more opportunity to develop all-around soccer smartness" and will "enhance natural, intrinsic competition." Run tournaments that nobody can win, he writes in the state's youth soccer newspaper, and all kinds of terrific things will happen:
"Less skilled players will get more playing time. . . . Bigger kids who develop early will spend more time gaining skill. . . . Coaches will be able to spend less time plotting how to win and should be less inclined to yell instructions during the game for fear of their players making mistakes." Perhaps best of all, "parents will cheer for all the kids at a game," enabling the young players to "see adults as positive and supportive and not as contentious and narrow-minded."
The association's rule now applies to all players under 10. Next year it will be expanded to kids 12 and younger. And while the rule is mandatory only in tournament play, the heat is already on to extend it to all youth soccer games.
This is political correctness run amok. But in Massachusetts, what else is new? This is the state, after all, where Harvard University's Undergraduate Council passed a resolution abolishing the term "freshman." (Demeaning to women.) This is the state where Attorney General Scott Harshbarger banned his employees from putting up Christmas decorations that hinted at — well, Christmas. (Bad for diversity.) This is the state that did away, on "sensitivity" grounds, with the witty Massachusetts Turnpike logo, a Pilgrim's hat with an arrow through it. (Offensive to Indians.)
So who can be surprised that scores and standings in youth soccer are now on the hit list?
"When one team wins," the Soccer Association's president, Steve Koerpers, declares, "everyone else is a loser."
Marxism may be discredited worldwide but not on Massachusetts soccer fields: Win, lose, or draw, every team gets the same reward. Namely, no reward. Good players equal bad players, hard workers equal lazy slugs. Why put any effort into improving your game if all you get in the end is — nothing? Even the Soviet Empire didn't apply its spirit-shredding philosophy to sports. (Socialism was glorious, but not as glorious as winning Olympic medals.)
"What's wrong with winning?" asks Maury Carroll, founder of one of the Bay State's largest youth tournaments, the Tufts Soccer Bowl. "That's the whole point of team sports." With playoffs and championships now verboten, much of the electricity has gone out of his tournament. "The kids come in, play three games, have a handshake, that's it," he says. "They walk out with such an empty feeling. They say, 'That's all?' "
This year, a lot of 9- and 10-year-olds evaded the rule by competing in the under-11 bracket. Next year, that loophole will be closed. Traveling to tournaments out of state is no longer an option for these kids, either. The association will not sign the roster of any team playing in a "results-oriented" tournament anywhere. (That sign-off is needed for insurance coverage.) Which means, moms and dads, that your little soccer champ isn't going to the big Fourth of July tournament in Bristol, R.I. Or anywhere else.
When one team wins, everyone else is a loser. There, in a nutshell, is the ethos of the left — no one must be allowed to win lest anyone be allowed to lose. That notion is at the heart of the welfare state and at the root of affirmative action. It is the foundation of modern "multiculturalism," which insists that every culture is as valuable as every other culture and therefore none may be celebrated unless all are celebrated.
Whom does Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association think it is fooling? Whether scores are posted or suppressed, every player knows if his team won or lost. "Nobody was keeping score" at the Holliston Memorial Day tournament, says volunteer coach Bill Laberis. "Except the kids."
What Laberis and every other coach understands is that it isn't important simply to teach boys and girls how to win. They also need the experience of losing. Running around a field and kicking balls toward a goal are the least part of the youth soccer experience — far less important than learning about working hard, about striving for improvement, about the drive for achievement, about picking themselves up from a loss and determining to do better next time. What the Soccer Association says to players who lose a round is, "Hey, don't worry — it doesn't mean anything anyway." That is the worst message a young athlete can hear.
"The Battle of Waterloo," the Duke of Wellington said, "was won on the playing fields of Eton." But that was before the virus of political correctness was set loose. In a PC world, nothing would have been won on the playing fields of Eton. Nothing would have been lost. And nothing would have been learned.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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