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Nashville Scene Kinder, Gentler Ball

Where's the competition in soccer?

By Walter Jowers

JUNE 29, 1998:  The Massachusetts Youth Soccer Association has announced that all its teams will not keep score in their post-season soccer tournaments. The tournaments will have no winners, but more importantly, no losers. The association has also decreed that if one child gets a trophy, all the children must get trophies. Furthermore, the organization is encouraging parents to cheer for all the children equally. Dean Conway, head coach of the association, calls this scheme a "non-results-oriented initiative."

I can imagine the meeting that sprouted this idea. First, some bony-legged, sandal-wearing parent stands up and yells, "This winning has gone on for too long! We must put a stop to it! Who's with me?" Then, more bony folk stand up, roar in approval, and start pumping their fists in the air. A cheer breaks out: "Never win! Never win!"

Massachusetts soccer parents, listen to me: We've got an American-invented, non-competitive, feel-good field game already. It's called Frisbee. There's no cheering, no time limit, and no special shoes. You can play Frisbee in flip-flops. Just change your soccer league to a Frisbee league. Problem solved.

To their credit, some of the Massachusetts soccer kids are bucking the new system and keeping score in their heads. They'd better be quiet about it, though, because the next logical step would be for the wacky parents to run out onto the fields and destroy the goals. And if the kids start kicking toward imaginary goals, there's nothing left to do but take away their balls.

The soccer league can have an all-or-none trophy rule, but I guarantee that as soon as the tournament's over, the minivans and SUVs will peel out of the parking lots and head for the nearest trophy shop, where the size of the trophies purchased will be limited only by the size of the parents' pocketbooks and their vanity. Kids who never got their shoes tied right will go home with trophies taller than Danny DeVito.

What I want to know is, how can this soccer controversy be happening in America, in June? I just want to break down and cry when I see a group of perfectly good children wasting their time playing soccer during baseball season. I say it's a crime against nature to put kids into a sport that won't let them use their hands and makes them hit the ball with their heads.

Give any child a ball. Does he put it on the ground and kick it? Nope. He picks it up with his hands. Throw a ball to any child. Does he run up and bonk it with his head? Nope. He catches it in his hands.

I admit it: I don't get soccer. For crying out loud, our opposable thumbs and large brains are the main things that set us apart from the lower animals. Soccer mocks the human body's basic design and endangers the all-important noggin. You might as well have a sport that only lets you use your butt and the back of your neck.

I know why the non-competitive parents like soccer. At the little-kid level, nobody gets singled out or embarrassed in soccer. No soccer child walks up to the plate, all full of bright-eyed determination, then follows with three ugly whiffs. No one has to walk back to the dugout, head lowered and bat dragging. And no one has to listen to a keening cheer turn into a collective moan when a ball rolls right between the shortstop's legs, allowing three runs to score.

From the sidelines, soccer just looks like a group of little kids running up and down a field. It's cute, and it's nap-inducing. That's good, right?

Nope. Soccer is brutal. Consider this: When a kid bonks a soccer ball with his head, the force can be as high as 208 joules. That's greater than the force generated by any ball other than a golf ball, and it's enough force to break the long bone of the leg. I didn't just make this up: It comes from the subcommittee on headgear protection at the American Society of Testing and Materials Conference in December 1994. Besides concussions, this kind of head-banging can also cause trouble with jaws, teeth, eyeballs, ears--basically all of a kid's head parts.

So, you parents who're looking for a kinder, gentler, more sensible sport: Think baseball or softball. Besides letting the kids use their God-given phalanges, the leagues require 'em to wear helmets, gloves, and gonad protection. We even let 'em have snacks when they're in the dugout.

Visit Walter's Web site at http://www.nash-scene.com/~housesense. Or e-mail him at walter.jowers@nashville.com.

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