On Saturday I was coaching my girls U-11 team, and with two minutes to go the scores were level. My captain dribbled the ball down the right wing and -- as we'd trained during the week -- crossed to a teammate, rather than trying to shoot on goal from an improbable angle. Her perfect ball reached our striker right in front of goal, but she failed to control the pass and the ball went out of play for a goal kick. Final score: 2-2.
I don't know about the players and the parents, but no one was happier with the scoreline than I was. Not because I didn't want us to win, but because a tie was the fairest result. Many of the games in our league can be one-sided -- we've been on the end of shellackings, and we've dished them out. They're not much fun either way. This game was contested throughout on an equal footing, and a share of the spoils was an entirely just outcome. Both sides played some good soccer, and both made enough mistakes to give us plenty to work on at the next practice.
The home coaches made us welcome as soon as we arrived, and we chatted throughout the game. The parents on the sidelines kept their encouragement at a sane and measured volume. At the final whistle, we all said how much we'd look forward to the return game next spring.
It's not unprecedented for a morning of youth sports to unfold exactly as it should, but it's rare enough to make it worthy of remark. You notice how refreshing it is to be in an arena free of the over-rated "emotions" we get bombarded with every week in the professional field. It's simply a pleasure to stand beside a fellow coach who doesn't scream at his or her players, or fervently coach their every step.
Several years ago I wrote a column about how a group of Tibetan monks had been to a Bundesliga game between VfL Wolfsburg and Schalke 04. The game ended 0-0, but the monks thought that score was the ideal outcome. “As a Buddhist I’m very happy with the result,” one of the monks said. “A draw means the golden medium. It’s the best possible result for both teams. There is no disappointment and no success. 0-0 is the path of peace.”
Lovely sentiments, but I don't agree that there's a lack of "success" in a drawn game (see above), while of course you can experience severe disappointment if it ends 0-0 and your team missed a penalty with the game's last kick. It also goes without saying that if every game ended on the path of peace at 0-0, then after a few weeks the stands would be very peaceful indeed -- not because everyone's self-levitating with their hands together and their eyes closed, but because they'll have found something more exciting to watch.
Still, in the context of coaching youth soccer, I love the tied game. It gives you the chance to switch the focus away from the result and on to the content and the context of the game. Defeats can be discouraging for young players. Victories can make them cocky or complacent, and they can also become over-focused on the league standings. In terms of personal and sporting development, and the fostering of team spirit, the emphasis on results can be a real hindrance.
I'm not trying to pretend that I'm above all this. I love to win, and defeats get me down, just like anyone else. After certain games, though, it's nice to end the perfect day walking down the Tibetan monk's path of peace.
(Ian Plenderleith is a coach and referee in Germany's amateur and youth leagues. He holds the UEFA C-License and coached youth soccer in Maryland from 2004-2014. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)