Goal Achievement

October 27, 2015
This is a very different kind of article for me.   It’s not about baseball.  It involves no research, no reference to history, no study of any kind.  I have absolutely no idea of how well it will be received, or if it’s of any interest to anyone out there.  It may not be a great fit for the web site, but I’m going to take a chance and post it anyway, because one of the guidelines is to write what we’re interested in, and this event really hit home for me.
I’ve been a "writer" for all of 3 months now, and it’s changed the way that I think of things.  I look for things to write about, and I try to look all around me for potential topics.  This article is about something that just happened this past weekend, something I observed, and something I felt like sharing.
My daughter is 11 years old, and she plays in a recreational soccer league.  She’s pretty inexperienced…..she played organized soccer for the first time in the Spring, and decided to come back and participate in the Fall.  She is still learning the game, but is enjoying it very much.
The local soccer league is a very large organization, and it’s a big deal around here.  There are several different groups based on age and gender.  This is the type of league where, at the beginning, all players register and provide background on how skilled and experienced they are, with one of the goals of the organizers being that they want to form teams that are fairly balanced in skill levels and experience. 
You may play on one team in the Spring, and find yourself on another one in the Fall.  They make exceptions for kids of coaches, so that the kid can play for his or her own parent.  The players and the parents, for the most part, seem very familiar with each other outside of soccer, with many attending the same schools, or at least attending the same school district.  The emphasis is on learning and having fun, although of course competitive juices do emerge.
The particular group that my daughter participates in is pretty small relative to the others – there are only enough girls to form 4 teams, so the teams get pretty familiar with each other.  Let’s call the teams Team A, Team B, Team C, and Team D. 
In the Spring, I felt like the league did a really good job of spreading the good players around to the 4 teams.  They’re never perfectly balanced, of course…..but I felt like the games were pretty competitive and pretty evenly matched, and every team that I observed had their moments.  My daughter’s team, over the course of the schedule, lost to each of the other 3 teams at least once, but also beat each of them at least once.  The games were fun to watch.  There was no tournament at the end.
The Fall schedule consisted of 11 games (not every team played each other an equal number of times), then a round-robin tournament where all teams play each other once, and then there’s a final between the 2 top teams from the round-robin phase.  In contrast to the Spring, it became pretty clear early on that the league had not been as successful at spreading the talent around.  I doubt it was intentional….it’s just the way it worked out.  I think it happens sometimes.
Teams A & B clearly got the best players this time around.   They were much better than C and D.  My daughter’s team was Team C, and we had a few good players, but there was a definite disparity in the skill levels.  However, compared to Team D, we seemed like the national team from Brazil.
In the regular 11-game schedule, Teams A & B both won every game they played against us, as well as every game they played against team D.  My daughter’s team, Team C, won every game they played against team D (we played 4 times in the 11 game schedule).  Team D ended up winless.
I never saw the official final results, but I believe the records ended up like this (wins-losses-ties):
Team A    9-1-1
Team B    8-2-1
Team C    4-7-0
Team D    0-11-0
In our next to last game, we played Team D for the 4th time.  Team D did not have enough players to play, so they had to forfeit the game.  But, the girls were there, the officials were there, so they decided to play an unofficial game, with 2 of Team C’s players temporarily "joining" team D.  My daughter was one of the ones who switched sides.  She seemed very excited to play with a borrowed jersey.  I think she liked the color.  Later, she confided in me that she enjoyed playing for them.  "They were all really nice and supportive", she told me.
And the kids had a great time.  It was loose, it was fun.  I can’t even remember the final score, but Team C scored more goals and "won" anyway.  Towards the end, though, one of Team D’s players scored a nice little goal by chipping a shot over the goalie, and was very excited.
After the game I noticed that girl’s parents and said a friendly hello to them.  I complimented them on their daughter’s goal.  They said, "Yes, it was very exciting.  That’s the second goal that the team scored this year!".
I was stunned.  Not the girl’s second goal of the season….the team’s second goal.  They had scored 1 goal in the first 9 games, and even this 2nd goal didn’t count, because it wasn’t an official game.  So, they had basically scored 1 official goal all year.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been stunned.  I knew our team had won all 4 games against them, but I hadn’t stopped to think about the prospect that they had been that unsuccessful in scoring all year long.
Well, come tournament time, it was more of the same.  Team B beat our team in the first game, and Team A beat team D.  Team D again did not score. 
2nd game – Team A beat our team, and Team B beat team D.  Again, Team D did not score.
At this point, the finals had in essence been decided.  Team A and Team B both were 2-0 in the tournament, and Teams C & D were 0-2.  Team A and Team B faced off in the 3rd game of the round robin, but it didn’t really matter.  They would play again in the finals to determine the champion later that day.
Team C and Team D played their final game against each other to complete the round robin phase.  In essence, it was to determine who would officially finish 3rd in the tournament.
Team C scored a goal early in the game, and most of the game it stayed that way.  1-0.  Along the way, I started paying particular attention to Team D’s coach.  I had actually noticed him in the earlier games we had played them, but he was particularly animated this time.  He was constantly yelling out instructions, directions, and encouragement to his players.  "It’s our throw-in.  Quickly!  Quickly!",  "Center the ball!",  "You’re too bunched up!  Spread out!"   Now, these are normal to hear, but it seemed constant from this guy, all game long.  In rare dead moments, you could hear him yelling to the parents, "Let’s make some noise!  Get some excitement going!  Give them encouragement!".   And they responded.  A simple successful pass from one team mate to another was cheered enthusiastically by the coach with a "Way to go!"  Nice "through balls" that nevertheless led to weak, errant shots were greeted with "Good idea! Nice try!"  Throughout the game, you would hear him shout "We’re not tired….they are!"  The man never stopped coaching.  Zero wins all year. 1 goal.  He never lost his desire, never lost his enthusiasm.  His team kept playing hard.
The game stayed 1-0 until there were only about 2 minutes left in the game.  There was a bit of scramble for the ball on one side of the field, and Team D emerged with a 2-on-1 break.  One player centered the ball perfectly to a teammate, and she kicked it, in stride, low and hard and past our goal keeper and into the right side of the net.  It was now 1-1.  The parents of Team D erupted.  The girls were elated.  The coach jumped so high he could have dunked a basketball.
For a moment I felt kind of bad for my daughter’s team.  My understanding was that there was some kind of prize for 3rd place in the tournament, and this seemed to jeopardize that.  They played the last couple of minutes, and the score remained 1-1.  There was some discussion that they would have to keep playing overtime to break the tie and determine the 3rd place team, but the officials convened and informed everyone that, no, there were only prizes for the top 2 teams, so the game ended in a 1-1 tie, and that was it.
I went over to meet my daughter at the sidelines, and everyone was disbanding to go home.  However, I noticed Team D’s coach had called over all of his players and all of their parents to the sideline.   I overheard just a little bit of what he said.  He thanked the parents profusely for all of their support through the season, and he told his girls that he had never been more proud of a team than he was of this one, for how hard they played, for the effort they gave, for never giving up.  And every last one of his players had a huge smile.  One of the girls said, "Hey coach….we broke our perfect losing streak!".  And he replied, "Yeah, I guess we did".
I felt like going over to have a word with him, but he was tied up with his players and the parents, and I didn’t want to intrude, and we had to get going anyway.  I wish I had, though.  I would have liked to have expressed to him how much I admired the job he did.  The league dealt him a tough hand, and he stayed optimistic, he kept coaching, he kept teaching, his team never gave up, his team always played hard, and in the end, with 2 minutes left in the season, they had a big moment.  For some, a tie leaves one feeling empty and unfulfilled.  In this case, though, scoring a rare goal and coming away with a tie was, for one team, like winning the World Cup. 
My daughter’s at the age where her interests change pretty quickly.  She may try her hand at something else next year.  She may try basketball.  She’s hinted at dancing.  If she decides to return to soccer, though, I know a coach I sure wouldn’t mind her playing for.  And maybe this time, I’ll take the opportunity to congratulate him on his success.  His team took home no trophies, but they were winners nonetheless. 
 Goal achieved.

COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)

WASP's, "ugly, cheap uniforms." I know what you mean. The UCLA Bruins wear ugly blue and yellow uniforms.

Mary Jane on the front. Did it say Pakalolo on the back?

1:22 AM Oct 31st
You're probably right Jwilt. I hadn't done a scientific study, nor did any research on the internet and I'm not a f##king expert. I was just basing it on the last couple times in Indiana and talking to the young kids there. The girls were playing high school soccer at a rather high level. The high school has 2,500 students. I was also thinking about a neighbor, whom I saw a couple of months ago with a cast on her wrist and forearm. "What happened, Maria?" She's 21. "Soccer."
1:07 AM Oct 31st
When he was 10, my son played on a team that didn't score a goal until the last game of the season. His attitude about it was much worse than that of Team D. He probably would have quit mid season if I had allowed him to. He never played soccer again after that season. Switched to football.
11:00 AM Oct 29th
Not sure what this has to do with anything that's been discussed before, but thought I'd mention it. The little league I played in back in the 1960s had a formal draft of every kid during the kid's first year in the league, which was usually age 10 unless you didn't start till later. It was very structured. There were 8 teams in the top league, and each of those 8 teams had two minor league teams. Each of the top teams had a specified number of 12 year olds, 11 year olds, and 10 year olds. (I think it was 7, 6, and 2, respectively). The drafts were done at an open tryout for all ten year olds. They put a number on your back and asked you to catch the ball, throw, etc. I was drafted by the Braves, spent my ten year old season in the minors and my 11 and 12 year old seasons with the Braves' team in the top league. It may sound overly structured, but it worked and we had fun.
10:05 AM Oct 29th
In my experience it's an exaggeration to say most girls who play soccer are a mess with various injuries. It happens, but that happens in every sport, and I think there are very significant advantages to any kid in playing sports. I'd guess many or most of today's girls would pick playing a sport over cheerleading. And the boys would perfectly, completely 100% fine dating a soccer player instead of a cheerleader. Just ask Nomar Garciaparra, I think he's more than ok with Mia Hamm.

Backstop, Maris, etc,
Now I'm wondering why the league I coach in doesn't rate/draft players each year. I'm guessing because it's a rec league, and they assume that the best players are moving up to Rec Plus or Travel so the teams will usually end up kind of equal. Or (the conspiracy theorist in me says) the powers-that-be want to be able to place kids where ever they want and make sure the "in" coaches get a few better players. We always wondered why our division coordinator's team seemed to have the best luck with the draw.
6:55 AM Oct 29th

The home field of the Yorktown Kings, Bailey Field at York High School, is about two miles from the battlefield. Not sure where the "Kings" nickname came from. Maybe a sponsor or something: King's Pizza, King's Dept. Store, can't remember. Ugly, cheap uniforms, by the way. Blue polyester jerseys with Yorktown in yellow block letters. Yellow stirrups. Uggh.

One of the teams in Norfolk was sponsored by Mary Jane Bakery. Their uniforms said "Mary Jane" on the front, which in 1978, was quite funny.
3:29 PM Oct 28th
(btw, Daniel Marks, Some of us are Mark, including me, but he's Dan.) :-)
2:16 PM Oct 28th
Very nice article, Mark, keep up the good work. WASP's the 'Yorktown Kings.' Sounds like the founding of America, Washington lost almost every battle and then Yorktown and the French showed up and America was born. Sometimes to works to lose all the battles and then you win the war, like the Vietnamese and the Americans.

Mark, I don't hang around with young folks that much, I'm an old fart, but every few years I go to Indiana for a grandchild's graduation of high school and I spend a week or so with the young ones. I have been surprised to learn that the young girls, 14-18, have knee problems, their ankles are a mess and they have too much pain in their hips. It seemed strange to me, but the answer was soccer. Is it worth it? I've never watched a soccer match amauter or pro. But then I'm a stick in the mud. My nephews who were pretty good ball players, one got a full ride at Kentucky, it runs in the family. I always told them, when they get to the major league's and they get me free tickets, I'll go watch them play. That was a lie, but not much of one.

How many of these young girls are gonna be paying for this for the rest of their lives? California is making cheerleading a sport. I say let the boys kill themselves, let the girls cheer them on and then girls can then pick the ones who can still walk and talk, though talking is overrated.
3:36 AM Oct 28th

Thanks for all the kind words and sharing of personal experiences. You've reinforced my decision to post the article.

11:50 PM Oct 27th
(Neat story by Bruce too!)
7:20 PM Oct 27th

Great article. Well done.

I have a personal experience to relate. I played in a league for college age baseball players, 21 and under. It was not what you'd call a college summer league, as all players were local and many of them didn't play college baseball (I'd guess about half the league were small college or junior college players and half were guys who had played in high school). Anyway, our team started out with a real coach from a local high school and about 8 guys who were playing college baseball. The coach had to quit after about the first five games due to some personal issue, and, mostly because no one else would do it, one of the fathers who knew little about baseball, and his next door neighbor took over coaching the team. When we were at 5-6, 6 of the 8 college players on the team just quit. All at once. Including our only two good pitchers, our catcher, and our shortstop. They didn't like being coached by a nice old guy who didn't know what he was doing. Only two of us (neither of us pitchers, unfortunately) who were playing in college stayed on the team. We were down to about ten players, total, at that point. We lost 22 games in a row and finished 5-28. We never forfeited a game. At least nine of the ten guys showed up every game. Most of the games were blowouts, of course. But the coolest thing happened: In the first round of the league tournament (single elimination; we were playing the first place team), we took the first place team into extra innings before losing 2-1. A moral victory if there ever was one (and a good thing we lost, because if you think our best pitcher was bad, our second best pitcher was REALLY BAD). At the end of the season, we gave each other baseballs autographed by each other. I think I still have mine. The 1978 Yorktown Kings.
6:22 PM Oct 27th
A very enjoyable read, Daniel. You're right that it needn't be a research piece to be well-received and appreciated on the site. Maybe half the reason people frequent Bill's site is because he's such a good writer, regardless of what he's writing about. Keep them coming.
6:18 PM Oct 27th
Nice story, Daniel.

My experience in baseball was always with leagues that rated players from the year before, and then there was a draft. It seemed to balance things out pretty well...in all honesty, the teams with strong coaches and the teams with weak coaches generally finished in reflection of that when the kids were in that 9-11 age. Need to teach well and need to practice correctly.

There was one coach in our league that quite rebelliously ignored winning and losing. He would draw his lineup out of a hat...flip it upside down on the proceeding game, change positions every inning, pitch kids who...well...couldn't pitch.

He was controversial. But I admire him more as time goes by.
4:59 PM Oct 27th
Jwilt: Thanks for the comment.
About that last part, on what might result from a random draw: I wouldn't have thought that's relevant because I didn't think such teams are ever chosen by random draw or anything like it. What I'm used to is something more like "choosing up sides," often literally choosing up sides. I can see that the other things you said (the major part of your post) can result in lopsided teams, but I didn't understand how anything related to random draw would be relevant to this, theoretically or otherwise.
11:04 AM Oct 27th
Thanks for this, Dan--one of the very best articles I've read on this site.
9:51 AM Oct 27th
MarisFan - I've coached U5-U8 soccer the last four years, and in my experience it's at least as common to have wildly mismatched teams as it is everyone fairly even. In the league in Maryland I coach they allow kids to ask to play on a specific coach's team, usually the team they played on last season. And while I understand wanting to stay with a coach you really like, you get a predictable situation: the really good coaches (or most successful teams) have a much higher retention rate than the poor ones.

So you get the situation we had this year. My team is something like 6-2, but there's a team that I assume is undefeated because they beat us 10-2 and I watched another of their games Saturday and they won something like 8-0. Six or seven of the ten players on their roster have played for this team for at least five consecutive seasons. One of their parents told me that these players/parents refuse to try out for Rec Plus or Travel until their coach moves up because they really like him. So I guess that's great for the 10 players on that team, not so great for the other teams in the league who get blown out whenever they play this team.

This isn't something that happens frequently, but it does happen.

On the other hand, I'm sure Bill would chime in (if he didn't hate soccer) that mismatched teams can often be a result of a random draw. I've had teams that scored three goals all season, and I've had teams that won almost all of their games - so that keeps the coaching as a constant but there are wildly different results due to the (usually) randomly selected players.
7:08 AM Oct 27th
OwenH & MarisFan,

Thanks for the nice comments.

MarisFan - It's probably my fault for not doing a better job of conveying the tone of Team D's coach. It was never obnoxious, mean, or overbearing. To the contrary....it was always quite positive. All of the coaches in the league bark out various instructions and communications to their players during the course of a game, in part because they tend to be better at seeing the whole field and understanding how they want to deploy the players, and sometimes they can come across to observers as a little harsh. However, his messages were delivered with enthusiasm and in a positive, supportive manner. When he yelled over to the parents to "make some noise", etc., it was clearly delivered (and received) with smiles. I should have done a better job of describing that.

6:38 AM Oct 27th
Beautiful indeed. Neat story, and just as importantly when you're a writer :-) ....beautifully told. I was on the proverbial edge of my proverbial seat for that last game.

I'd guess that my emotions in that game were similar to what some others will feel: I was rooting for Team D to have some success, but at the same time, realizing that if they did, it would sort of.....what's a good word, not 'humiliate'....well, would be a downer to your daughter's team, giving up a goal and maybe even (gasp) losing to such a team. All things considered, the tie might have been the best possible result.

I had mixed feelings about the 'D' coach's intensity. You viewed it totally positively, and maybe if I'd seen it (and gotten all the nuances that you can only get in person), maybe I would have too. But reading it, my main feeling was, why is he torturing these poor kids who don't play that well and who 'obviously' aren't going to do much of anything no matter how hard they press; why doesn't he just relax and let them play in whatever is their natural way -- sure, give them pointers and keep them interested, but leave them alone, for chrissake. But, when they scored that goal, and when the rest occurred as it did, I guessed that it justified how he was. But it seems you would easily have felt it justified even without their scoring that goal and feeling that bit of triumph.

One other thing: I'm very surprised that such a poor job was done in forming the teams. I know that you were surprised too; the most you could say for it was "I think it happens sometimes." I don't think it happens very often like that, and I've never witnessed anything close to it -- but then again, almost all of my such experience has been entirely with males, and maybe it's harder with females. The things I've seen, it's interesting that such teams usually wound up quite well balanced even when the coaches/choosers/whatever didn't know the kids. I guess they picked according to body type and whatever they thought they could tell of athleticism, confidence, attitude, and whatnot. I can imagine that maybe this is harder to do with girls.
1:44 AM Oct 27th
Beautiful, Daniel.
1:03 AM Oct 27th
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