Archive for the ‘rituals’ Category

Pre- and Post-Game Sportsmanship Rituals

March 11, 2010

When I played in West Germany as a first, second, and third grader, I was chosen to be a captain one year. At the time, there was a tradition that both teams followed before and after each game. Before the game:

  1. The home and away captains, followed by the respective starting goalies and then the rest of the players (no coaches) walked to the center of the field separated by the half-way line.
  2. When the team captains reached the center of the field, the teams stopped and faced each other.
  3. Then the home captain said the following cheer, “Wir begrüßen unsere Gegner mit einem dreifachen Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra”. Translated, the captain declared, “We welcome our opponents with three cheers.” Then the whole team got involved. The captain said, “Hip-hip” and the rest of the team responded with, “Hoo-rah” in unison. This was done three times.
  4. Then the opposing captain and team repeated the same cheer.

After the game, the teams again lined up across from each other. The captains and teams took turns declaring, “Wir bedanken uns bei unseren Gegnern mit einem dreifachen Hip Hip …. Hurra,  Hip Hip … Hurra, Hip Hip … Hurra”. Translated: “We thank our opponents with three cheers … hip-hip, hoo-rah … hip-hip, hoo-rah … hip-hip … hoo-rah”.

I think it is fantastic that many teams engage in a ceremonial handshake at the end of games. It teaches players good sportsmanship. It also allows players and teams to put aside disagreements or hard feelings that may have percolated during the game. It is important to learn to leave these feelings on the field.

I also love what professional teams do before a game. Players walk onto the field hand-in-hand with youth soccer players. Both teams face and salute the crowd. Then one team moves down the line, first shaking the hands of the referees followed by the hands of the opponents. Once the first team is done, the opponents shake the hands of the referees.

I strongly encourage leagues to formally adopt some sort of pre- and post-game ritual.

  • It should be done for all games, regardless if it is a scrimmage or a state championship game.
  • It sets the right tone for the game as well as after the game.
  • It gives the players an opportunity to acknowledge parents and fans (and vice versa).
  • It teaches players good sportsmanship.
  • The ‘pomp and circumstance’ makes the games more meaningful and memorable.

Are there other pre- and post-game rituals that leagues engage in? Readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear about them.

The De-Cursing Ritual is for Real

December 23, 2009

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my U11 son’s soccer team had started a de-cursing ritual in which the Team Dad would de-curse the boys’ shoes and the goalie’s gloves before or during each game. And it worked. The boys had not lost a game since the ritual began. In fact, they made it all the way to the NorCal championship game.

The championship game was held this weekend and (cue of the up the Twilight Zone music) the de-cursing ritual seems to be legitimate. Unfortunately, Team Dad, Gene, did not perform his ritual and after a hard-fought game, my son’s team lost 3-1. Congratulations boys on a great and memorable season.

In the meantime, buoyed by his newfound ability and backed by this latest scientific proof, Gene is now offering his de-cursing services and can be reached at 1-800-De-Curse.

Memorable, Fun, and Age-Appropriate Rituals

December 10, 2009

My son’s U11 team is notorious for its inconsistencies, not just from game-to-game but from half-to-half. Granted they are mostly 10-year-olds and this pattern is by no means unusual. Tired of this inconsistent play and losses against much weaker teams, the team dad, Gene, decided to take an unusual approach to solving this problem. Before each game or after a poorly played half, he would ‘de-curse’ the boys’ shoes.

The ritual goes as follows:

  • The boys collectively stick out their shoes.
  • Gene visits each player and performs an elaborate exorcism by ‘ptooing’ and then commanding the demons or ills that are possessing the boys’ shoes to disappear (see photo below).
  • Just recently, the goalie started asking that his gloves be de-cursed as well.

Since this ritual began, the team has not lost a game and they will be playing in the NorCal State Cup finals at the end of December.

I am sharing this story  for two reasons:

  • I think de-cursing the shoes is a very clever and age-appropriate solution to a problem that many coaches face.
  • It is fun to see the kick, joy, and amusement the boys get out of this ritual.

At this age and this point in the season does it matter if they believe that the ‘de-cursing’ is the cause for their improved player rather than the culmination of all the hard work they put in this year? I don’t think so. Also what I’m almost 100% sure of is that six years from now when the boys are reminiscing about their youth playing days, they will have no idea if they won this year’s NorCal tournament but they will definitely remember the ‘de-cursing’ ritual.

Soccer is not just about playing the game, learning technical fundamentals, socializing, understanding the concept of ‘team’, and good sportsmanship. It is also about creating lasting memories that 10-year-olds find important and enjoy. If you have a similar story, I know the readers of ‘Improving Soccer in the United States’ would love to hear it.

Improve Practice and Game Play: Get Flip-Flops

October 8, 2009

Shortly after a practice or game ends, all players should participate in the collective ritual that I simply call the ‘aaaaahhhh’. Typically, ‘aaaaahhhh’ is the sound that players make when they take off their cleats, socks, and shin guards and slip on a cool pair of flip-flops. In Northern California, we can usually get away with flip-flops. But in other parts of the country and depending on the time of year, other footwear may be more appropriate.

The ‘aaaaahhhh’ ritual benefits players as well as parents and coaches. For players:

  • After a long, hard practice in which you have given 100% effort, you want to wind down and put soccer behind you and reward yourself for a job well done. There is no better feeling than freeing your wet and smelly feet from your cleats, stretching your toes out, and then having them touch the nice, cool grass. There is only word that can describe this feeling … ‘aaaaahhhh’.
  • Conversely, when you put on your cleats before a game or practice, this is the players’ signal to start focusing on soccer and the job at hand. All goofing off and messing around should cease. You are now at work and ready to give 100% effort and attention. Putting on the cleats is the equivalent of a parent sitting in front of the computer at work, a fireman answering an alarm, or a teacher calling the class to order when the first-period bell rings. It is time to go to work to learn and improve.
  • The same is true of games. When those cleats are put on, it is time to focus on the game. When the game is done, reward yourself for your effort. Getting out of your cleats is extremely important when you have multiple games in one day. After the first game, slip on your flip-flops and relax. Soccer is done for a while. Take a break.

For parents:

  • Your kids will learn that there is a time and place for everything. At practice, they should be there to learn and improve–just like at school. When the cleats come off, soccer is done.
  • Flip-flops will save money. There is nothing that I hate worse than seeing my kids walking around the parking lot or mall in their cleats. Plus, it can’t be comfortable.

For coaches, try incorporating the collective ‘aaaaahhhh’ ritual. Make sure they have your undivided attention when their cleats are on. When they are off, that is their time. Your practice should run smoother and hopefully your players will be more focused and ready for the start of a game.