Monday, June 22, 2009

The State of Play, or, Giving From Winning

As some folks reading this know, I am something of a soccer fanatic, to the point that, at one time earlier this year, I was playing for one team while coaching two others, both Aidan's U14s and Brennan's U12s. When the outdoor season arrived I gave up on coaching Brennan - it's far easier for he and I to get along when I'm just watching as a father and a fan - but I still play, and am coaching Aidan once again.

Aidan's team, the Aurora Blaze, are a great group of kids. There are normally four divisions in each age group in Saskatoon - PSL, Divisions 2, 3, and 4 - but this year in two age groups Div 4 was canceled due to not all city clubs putting forward teams. Aidan, who had been one of the last cuts for Div 2, is on a Div 3 team, but as coach this meant that suddenly I found myself with a much wider variety of playing and athletic ability as I also had to take on players who belonged in the lower, less competitive division. It also meant that there were a lot more players to have to choose from, and therefore more teams. I ended up attending a draft with four other coaches, a very slow process where all of were unfamiliar with a wide swath of kids, even though most of them had attended a viewing session for us to evaluate them.

Through a combination of good sense and luck, though, I came out on the other side of the draft with one of the best teams in the city. Indeed, I managed to get my hands on four players (including Aidan) who were considered for Div 2, one that was out of town when those tryouts happened and would have been a lock, and a classmate of Aidan's who didn't show well but who I picked in the sixth or seventh round based on Aidan's advice, and who has proven to be one of the top ten players in the whole league, probably even top five. That core, coupled with a bunch of players who have shown to be keen and athletic or willing to listen and play above their self-perceived skill level has meant we've carried the day more often than not.

In fact, early in the season it was looking like it might all be too easy, with a couple of 11-0 wins and very few goals being conceded in even our toughest games. And so I instituted a rule for regular season games, that when we take a five goal lead the team is required to get five consecutive touches on the ball before they score. It's been good practice for ball control, and it's delight to watch them take it seriously enough to make it work more times than not. It also has the added effect of bringing in the less skilled players, either forcing them to consider making a pass rather than kicking it away, or forcing the talented boys to look for new targets. Several of the lads have scored the first goals of their lives while playing on this team.

Not counting pre-season, but including the three tournaments we've entered, the boys have now played 19 games, with three to come in addition to post-season. In those 19 games they've scored 74 goals and allowed 25, a +49 goal differential. They've allowed 5 goals once, 3 goals twice, 2 goals four times, 1 goal six times, and had shutouts another six times. They've lost 5 games in total, 4 of those times in tournament play, one of those losses coming on the weekend they won a gold medal, another the next tournament when they lost the gold medal match, and then two this last weekend, both close games, and one on a goal in the last thirty or so seconds (to make up for it, they won the shootout competition at that tournament later the same day, beating two teams 5-3, with Aidan stopping three shots and another hitting the crossbar. He was also one of our shooters, and scored an excellent top corner goal).

This all leads somewhere other than the random bragging of a proud parent and coach.

Just after the season began, I tired of assigning pushups for grievances committed on the practice field, or for shoelaces coming untied during games, and so, on the advice of another coach, started to charge a dollar for each infraction. Instead of putting that money towards the team party, though, I thought it would make sense to do something else with it. And so I made the boys a deal.

For each game they win during the season (not counting the four preseason games, though), I would donate five dollars. For each shutout they attain, I would donate an addition five dollars. And for each goal they score in a game, to a maximum of 5, I would cough up another five dollars. A total of fifteen dollars per game was therefore available, all out of my pocket. Their fines, which are actually pretty low, would be added to that amount. At the end of the season the boys will then get to choose between two charities, and I will send the money off in the name of the team.

So far this season I'm $160 out of pocket, and the boys have another $12 or so in the pool, plus a bit more is coming from one more source (and more on that shortly).

One of the charities is a local one, for which I can't currently find a link. It helps pay the costs involved in getting a low-income child into the sport of his or her choice. Even soccer, which doesn't require tons of specialized gear, still costs money, both for cleats and shin pads and also for field rentals, ref fees, and the costs involved in buying team uniforms and balls. Not every child is lucky enough to have parents who are able to afford these fees (in the $300 realm for indoor soccer, more than $150 for outdoor, and that's not counting your footwear and pads).

The other charity is an organization called Right to Play. As stated on the group's website, "Right To Play is an international humanitarian organization that uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world. Working in both the humanitarian and development context, Right To Play trains local community leaders as Coaches to deliver its programs in countries affected by war, poverty, and disease in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America."

The boys have taken to this idea, and are keen to hear updates on how broke they're making their coach. And on the weekend, their prizes for winning the shootout competition were small medals, a plaque, and $50. The immediate suggestion for the cheque was that it go towards the charity pool, followed, of course, by jokes that they should each be paid $10 for their troubles, but they knew where they really thought the money should end up.

There's a lot to be proud of with these boys, and the fact that they've taken so easily to this idea gives me lots of hope about their futures. They'll make their choice soon (one charity, the other, or a combination) and they'll know that their decision has made an impact. I'll keep you all updated.

And in the meantime, I would suggest that if anyone reading this approves of the ideas behind these charities, perhaps you would consider making your own small donation. If I can find a link for the local org I'll post an update, but there are always other local charities that do the same thing (as a matter of fact, Fugees Family is a fabulous choice as well). And if you want to do it in the name of the Aurora Blaze Boys U14 Division 3 team as well, I can tell you they'd be mighty pleased to hear about it.

Update July 9/09: The name of the local charity is KidSport Canada. The boys play in the semifinal tonight, and once it's all done I will blog a final number that comes from their games.

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