Harvard Proves Privilege Does Not Equal Advancement

Another day – another sports scandal. I’m getting to the point in my life where scandals and sports are becoming intertwined.

This one strikes me as a different kind of scandal. It’s a disaster created by a group of privileged, well-educated male athletes.

Like the Duke Lacrosse scandal, Harvard men’s soccer team has been suspended for the season. They were taken off the field because they created a grading system for the women’s soccer team.

No, not grading them based upon their free kick ability, how they whip in a cross or a great through ball. These boys used a Google Group to create a document to post their desires for the women based upon their physical appearance and have been doing it since at least 2012. Also included in this “scouting report,” as the team termed it, were sickening nicknames for the women as and talk of how the males would have sex with them.

This “scouting report” was first posted to the members on July 21, 2012 leading me to ask the question: are we seriously this backward in society still?

A group of privileged student athletes violate the civil liberties, objectify and sexually intimidate these women. Unfortunately this isn’t the first case of this –  but we never seem to learn.

In 2006, the Duke Lacrosse case exploded onto the scene for a multitude of reasons. It was well documented in ESPN’s 30 for 30 Frantic Lies documentary. In that instance, the players should have never put themselves in a situation where they could be accused of sexually assaulting the two women.

However, after the incident Duke put up a wall that made those outside of the University community assume it was privilege covering for privilege. Many had no idea of what truly happened until months and years later because the players were kept isolated. Again, it was a situation that never should have happened. This can happen even at a place where we expect students to use their best judgements.

The Duke Lacrosse team lost their season because of the media attention swirling around the allegations. Rightly or wrongly the administration decided that this was the best course of action to take.

A week before the Harvard men’s soccer season was cancelled, the Athletic Director Robert L. Scalise said that he would review the documents.   After reviewing them, he would reach out to BOTH men’s and women’s soccer team coaches and then come up with a solution. All of this would be kept in-house, this response was in his words, “not a media thing.”

Are you serious?

Not be a media thing?

No, let’s not come out and issue a statement about how terrible this is. Let’s not issue a statement saying these boys not just graded but judged women on their appearance, treated them like objects and have been getting away with it for years. In fact, the document was available for public viewing for over 4 years until just recently.

Does he want to create a culture like the Baylor football team had with Harvard men’s soccer? A culture where the assaulted are afraid to stand up because athletic directors refuse to listen? A culture where sports are more important than victims rights? A culture where the accused don’t get their day in court because it’s “not a media thing?”

I believe that at some point in people’s lives we have to make choices. We have to do things to make ourselves happy, whether it is to go to class because of our future, go to an athletic event or attend a party. All of this comes with a certain responsibility that we take on. This burden that we carry is the world around us and how our choices change those people, things and places.

Whatever we want to do we can do. We can choose to bind ourselves to the laws of states and governments but whatever we do we have to protect the rights of others and live in a world where we make it better so that others can have choices. That means not degrading others based upon appearances. That means not lowering ourselves to a basic level.

As a society I wonder if we have come far enough to consider ourselves civil. Or even civilised. It concerns me when a group of young men (I shudder to use the term men with this group) or a Presidential candidate degrade women. Why is this continued to be accepted? Why is this ok? This isn’t a choice.

There should be no choosing to degrade another individual. Anyone that chooses to do such a thing should be ostracized. As a civilized society we cannot advance without the ability to accept and embrace.


Coaching- Is It Right For You?

Not too long after I learned to drive I took up my first coaching position. My friend and I volunteered to coach an 11 and 12 year old boys basketball team.  
At first, the organizers of the league refused our attempts at leading a group of young men. They were afraid that we would not take it seriously and the boys would be led astray. After some serious begging and pleading, we were handed the clipboards.
It’s amazing to think that a couple of teenagers drafted a team of kids that we had scouted. Prior to the draft we planned our strategy and who we would build around. We had seen this tall kid who we thought we could be our “5” and like Shaq, we believed he could dominate the paint. Another young man would play the role of Penny Hardaway and handle the ball up-court. From there we had others to fill in the roles.
All our plans and plots faded in the first practice . Our big man played more like Gheorghe Muresan and our point wanted to take three point shots every time he came down court. The role players weren’t happy being just side kicks in our experiment and even though we laughed and joked in practice it blew up on game day. We often wondered why that happened. We had planned so well, scouted and kept practice light but we did work them.
After years of coaching soccer I think about the first time I struggled with coaching defeat. How much it bothers me. I know no matter what happened we took it seriously and we wanted to win. However we had no idea that we were never going to be successful. In fact I’m not sure if I have the ability to be successful as a head coach.
The role of a head coach is to not just be a leader but to be a strong individual who dictates terms. Barking out orders or standing firm in the face of adversity- that’s what I think a head coach should do.

But when I think about myself I think of someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve and doesn’t yell much if at all. As a ref I let my whistle do the screaming for me. Sure I try to learn my players strengths and weaknesses but at the same time I want to give them the courage to grow. I don’t know that there’s a lot of fire in my belly. I’m certainly not going to scream at you for missing a pass. I will do my best to applaud you for your hard work – don’t think I don’t notice you because I do. Sadly I’m just naturally quiet. I don’t have a good voice. That hinders my development.
I do study your play and I can tell you what is going on. Maybe I’m just not suitable coaching material. No hall of fame directors will ever call me nor will any teams for that matter. I may be lucky to make it through this season much less this week. I can’t say I haven’t earned the right to wonder about my ability. I guess the mere fact I’m still out on the field means I’m not horrible but in a volunteer organization they always need coaches- hell some poor sap let me coach at 16, imagine the disappointment that was.

Struggling to Find The Passion In Sports

I wonder sometimes how others experience a sporting event.  Whether they are watching it at home or at the game in person.  Do they feel the highs and lows as their team goes from in front to behind and comes back to win a close victory?

There’s a struggle inside me that I’ve found through years of reflection and two college courses – philosophy and psychology.  I don’t see sporting events the way I used to and in some ways it haunts me and in others I feel like I am better for it.

My passion for sports started at an early age.  I craved that rush of football on Friday nights, Southern high school football is a religion, Saturday afternoon college games and Sunday pro games.  I had to have my fix or else my weeks were not complete.  When I could get other sports I had to gobble them up as much as I could.  I was the rat in the cage hitting the button as soon as the light went off to get my pellet of food.

Studying the works of philosophers and the minds of others made me question what life is all about.  Not that I have found any answers.  The secret to life found in a sporting event?   I don’t know.  Is it going to make me happy?  I don’t know.  Some would say it’s a waste of my time.  Are they right?  I don’t know.  Only I can make those decision to be fair.  It’s up to ourselves to figure out what  true happiness is to us.

Sports was what made me happy when I was that kid chasing the lights at the end of the week hoping for touchdowns and extra points.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve looked at the writing of those before me to ask what it’s all about?  What are we doing here?  What have we learned?  Does what I feel match up with others?

Sure there are millions who worship at the church of football on the weekend and I am good with that.  You do your thing.  It’s not been that long since I was there.  Less than 10 years ago I was sitting behind the bench at a Virginia Tech football game watching them play Rutgers.  Now I can’t tell you half of the roster much less the starters.

It makes me feel empty in a way – something that made me so happy for so long now feels so distant.  It feels so worthless but I was the one that gave sports a value.  It was me who chose to treasure a game.  I made my own happiness in a life that revolved around sports.

What happens though when you try to find a way to play the games?  When you try to pick up one of the most demanding sports at an advanced age but can’t complete one of the most fundamental actions?  The ability to stop in hockey makes it difficult to play at any level.  You can love to play the game but when it leaves you frustrated and pissed off at yourself how do you cope?  You keep hearing that if you want to do something you try and try and you can do anything.  Keep trying.  At some point the doubt creeps into your mind and the happiness is pushed out.

Doubt and sadness begin to take over.  The aches and pains of a body that does not recover or move like it used to lead to more agitation.  Six months after beginning the process and looking back on what I’ve done, I’m not sure what I’ve accomplished.  However, I never went into this with a goal.

Maybe that’s where I went all sideways – I should have had a goal.  But goals can be good and bad.  They can push you to achieve them but after you achieve them where do you go?  Set another one?  For some, you find yourself struggling to bother.  For others you aren’t sure where to set the next one.  I have a hard time setting goals because I don’t know where I’m going to end up.  I tend to go with the flow.  I find myself at the bottom before I see the waterfall.

The same is true with being a soccer referee.  There was a happiness at one point.  The ability to know a game so well that I could watch it and instruct it – giving the players the right way to do it.  But others get involved and politics come into play.  The happiness gets pushed out.  Happiness is what you make it.  Sure, it’s only happy and enjoyable if you are digging it.  How can you enjoy it if every time you look up there’s another salvo coming your way?  Keep your head down and don’t say anything?  Sadly that’s not me – nor is it enjoyable.  I don’t have to be in charge of everything nor do I want to be.  I just wish to find the respect that I give to the game and the laws of the game.

So where does the happiness in sports come from?  I write about it, watch it, learn about it and play it but it’s not like it used to be.  At times it feels empty and I just don’t care.  The philosopher in me says it’s what I made it.  What have I done?  Guess I’ll find out in time – I know that doesn’t always bring happiness.

Youth Sports – Simply For The Kids?

When you sign your child up for a sport you expect them to be taught the rules and how to play the game properly. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a volunteer organization or the coaches are paid. Simply put, the people who oversee the game need to understand how it works.

You don’t want your child to go out onto the baseball field wearing shin guards that are meant for soccer games.  You don’t want them to step onto the basketball court with a baseball helmet on.  It sounds simple but these are the fundamentals.

It’s like driving a car.  When you get behind the wheel you expect that the other drivers have been taught to keep their cars to the right side of the yellow line.  That is why there is a driving violation known as failure to keep right.

Or wearing a seatbelt – this is to keep you safe.

We have laws and rules in games and in life that help to keep everyone safe.  Whether it’s our children or ourselves.
As a human, it’s only natural to criticize the ones who enforce these rules.  As a referee, it can be tough to take on the role of calling the game based upon the laws of the game. The problem is when organizations put people in charge of monitoring games that have not spent time with the rule book.

A town cannot put a building inspector on the job who does not know the laws and town code otherwise things are going to be missed.  It’s possible buildings are going to be put up improperly and lives are going to be put at risk.

The same can be said for a referee especially when judging youth contests.  Slide tackles can hurt young people and late challenges can harm a defenseless goalie.  As much as the game is supposed to be competitive there has to be an environment of safety.  Those who aren’t trained and focused, struggle to maintain that condition.

We all are aware that refs are going to get flak from everyone no matter whether you are right or wrong – paid or volunteer. This is the nature of being an official, and it is something that referees must learn to deflect. Those that cannot stand the heat have to get out of the kitchen, it’s as simple as that.  That’s not to say that parents, coaches and players can berate them over and over.

However, the referee does miss calls and the referee can be wrong.  Sometimes the referee is paying attention to two players that are going at each other on one side of the field while the ball goes out.  The ref may call the ball for one team while the coach and player for that team may say “no we kicked it out.”  The ref may change that call.  The coaches are allowed to question that call.  If the coaches have a question about why the ref called something then they can question that.  Sports are not run as a dictatorship.  The ref is not Stalin, nor should the ref act like that.

Maybe with all this “you aren’t supposed to talk to the ref” stuff we’ve gotten a little too unfair. You can’t say to the ref, “hey listen there’s two players in the box on a penalty shot. They can’t be there?”

However we are losing out to the finer points that need to be adhered to.  Keeping your feet planted and making a good throw in soccer.  The in-bounds play as well as dribbling in basketball.  Learning the fundamentals.  It is the fundamentals that form the basis of the game.  Maybe I’m a stickler but if you don’t frame the puzzle you can’t fill it in.
Unfortunately though not only are we letting down ourselves by not learning the rules but we are letting down the kids. They look to us to show them the proper way to play the game.
Imagine playing baseball and being able to hit a foul ball and running to first base because the umpire didn’t bother to learn the rules.
Imagine playing basketball and dribbling around defenders out-of-bounds because the referees didn’t learn the rule book.
Or they gave a free throw when the ball was kicked.

Wouldn’t you get furious as a coach?

Shouldn’t we expect those who volunteer to referee to understand the rules of the game?

If you are going to use the excuse that soccer is hard to learn, read the NBA rule book. I have. I can tell you that there is no reason that 10-12 year old children can’t be expected to be refereed by someone who knows the rules.

We have to take a look at ourselves. Are we ruining it for the children? I don’t know.  However, they are old enough to understand what’s going on behind the scenes. Are we ruining it for other adults? For the ones who care enough to know the rules and show up on time, give their and everything they have to care about…yeah we are killing them.  At the same point maybe some people need to ask themselves what they are doing it for?  Are they doing it for the kids?  Are they doing it to live through their kids?  Do they care about the game?  Or is it just about another ounce of power?  Who cares if we teach the kids the right rules so they can go on to play at higher level knowing the RIGHT way to play the game, “I just want to be able to say I have control and I can tell other adults what to do.”  Sad.

But this is the state of the world we live in.  Sadly you never see the cards until they play their hand – then it’s too late.  Call me crazy but this isn’t the game I signed up for.  I only wanted to show kids the right way to play soccer not argue over who has the best hand.

Cristiano Ronaldo Got What He’d Been Given – Euro Glory

Reflecting on the Euro 2016 Final, I can’t help but think of Oasis’ Some Might Say – “Some might say you get what you’ve been given.”
Did France really get what they had been given? Did Portugal? It’s cryptic like most of Oasis’ songs unless put into context.
“Some might say we will find a brighter day.”
2015 will be a year that no French citizen will ever forget because of the tragedies that were suffered at the hands of terrorists. Democracy and freedom were attacked in multiple places around the country during the year. We all have memories of the events from where we were when we found out to how it hit us as the details came out.
We also know that the French National Team were in the midst of an international friendly with the German National Team when a series of explosions rang out outside the stadium. No one could be sure what was going on, as word had yet to filter through about the other heinous acts being committed across the region.
After the attacks, I’m certain that head coach Didier Deschamps and the rest of the French squad but a lot into the Euro 2016 Tournament knowing that their home country would be hosting it. It would be a time for the team to shine and give the fans, players and citizens something to be positive about going forward.
Go forward they did.
Les Bleus won their group with 7 points (collecting wins over Romania and Albania and a draw with Switzerland). They managed a Round of 16 win over the Republic of Ireland, a quarterfinal thrasing of the tournament’s Cinderella Iceland, a thorough triumph over Germany and they were into the Final.

A Final in Saint-Denis at the Stade de France where the explosions had gone off less than a year ago.
“Some might say you get what you’ve been given.”
On the other side, there was Portugal and the new “Golden Balls” – Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid midfielder came into the tournament with Euro glory on his mind following Messi’s recent defeats in court and the Copa America. The two have always been perceived to be battling for the same fame and fortune with each struggling to overcome the success of the other.
Portugal struggled in the group stage (drawing against Hungary, Iceland and Austria) but as one of the best third place team they managed to squeak through to the next round. In the Round of 16 they managed to defeat Croatia after extra time, 1-0. In the quarter-finals they beat Poland on penalties (5-3) after the game ended up tied 1-1 after extra time. In the semi-finals they found a way past upstart Wales 2-0 to meet destiny and the host country.
Many may have thought that Ronaldo would win the Euros for Portugal. Many may simply dislike Ronaldo and hoped that he would lose the Euros for Portugal. For the most part, his play on the field was a non-factor. In the 25th minute, Ronaldo would come off after sustaining a knee injury that he had tried to play through. As he cried while he was being stretchered off the field, everyone knew what Ronaldo was feeling.
For all his fame, riches and glory, his international success has been lacking. To come so far and get so close must have been heartbreaking. In the second half, there was Ronaldo with a bandaged knee hobbling the sidelines barking instructions.
When Portugal finally broke a 0-0 deadlock in the second half of added extra time, Ronaldo could be seen crying tears of joy. There was his international success and the irony was he had nothing to do with it. All the things he had been given – from the good looks to his soccer skills to money and club triumphs – he finally won on the international stage while not being involved.
“Some might say that sunshine follows thunder, go and tell it to the man who cannot shine.”
It goes without saying that the French were heartbroken. The team had no doubt pushed so hard to get to the Final. This was a country that had been all but set to party into the night. Hosting the Euros – check. Team in the final – check. Team looks better on paper – check. France did have the better of the play for most of the game, but it simply wasn’t to be.
There were moments of anger when French players refused to have medals put around their necks or they would not accept them at all. If seen from a different perspective I’m sure that one could say that this was an unsportsmanlike move on the part of the home team. However, there was so much pride, there had to have been such a feeling in the home dressing room that it was their game, their tournament and their trophy. To come up short after all that had to leave them bitter. Could it be seen as childish? I’m sure. But after what they went through with the attacks of 2015, who am I to judge? No doubt there was a part of them that felt like they let the country down. How can I know what that feels like?
Portugal simply were the team of destiny. Whether the Euros were bad or not, this was their tournament to win. It was time for Ronaldo to win. It was time for him to get what he was given. What he was given was the Euro 2016 trophy and a chance to prove that he’s the best player on Earth.

Another Sunderland AFC Season -Black Cats Rejoice!

I have to admit it, I wasn’t very keen on the hiring of Big Sam.  To be honest though, we have seen ourselves struggle to get a top notch manager that would come in to change the culture and mentality of the club.

Certainly Martin O’Neill led the Red and White Army through the rough battleground of the Premier League as best he could but for most fans it wasn’t enough.  At some point, the time had to come when someone bigger than life had to come along and take the reins.

The PDC saga left us all wondering what the hell we had just experienced.  (Do we really have to visit that bloody scene?)

I’m not going to say that Poyet leading the “Gus Bus” wasn’t a thrill ride that left us clinging to our seats with white knuckles.

We all thought Sunderland had built something when General Advocaat rolled into Wearside with a suit on ready to lead the troops onto the pitch.

However, as much as I love this club, I spent most of last season wondering just whether it was going to end exactly the way it began the season before.  Is it going to be the same damn pattern every year?  High hopes dashed against the rocks as the ship swirls into some murky undercurrent while the team tries to swim to shore?  Was the General going to lead us out of the relegation sweepstakes that we’d been so accustomed to for what seems like eternity?

Again we all ended up shattered.  Another manager leaves the revolving door that has been affixed to the Stadium of Light outside of the manager’s office.  In comes Big Sam to save the day like Danger Mouse, when he foiled Baron Greenback’s plans.  (Yeah I grew up watching it but I don’t like the remake).  Save the day he did – but we are stuck in this terrible spiral of relegation like a runaway tornado.  Four years and four relegation battles, each one feeling more and more destined.

Yes, I will give you the fact that every pre-season there is hope.  Everyone starts with a clean slate.  All points are wiped off the board.  The seats at the SOL get a fresh coat of paint, the grass is pristine and the game has that “welcome back” feel.  A couple of games in and the old guard sees the writing on the wall.  The hope goes out with last week’s trash.

On my trip to the Sunderland game in Toronto last year I learned a lot about what it’s been like to have been at Sunderland matches for years and years.  The same things that I feel but multiplied by seasons and seasons.  It’s not that we don’t love our team, because we do.  We love the Red and White stripes.  We love the Stadium.  We love the history.  We love the rivalry with our neighbors.  We love our mascots (at least some of us do!).  We love this team so much it gets in our blood.  That’s what it comes down to.

Lately however, these patterns have appeared.  We can see the signs.  “Danger.”  “Turn back.”  “Relegation ahead.”  Or we see stretches of terrible luck like someone broke every mirror in the North East.  The questions we always ask never get answered or the answers we never like.  We come with hope and leave with promises of a better year next season.  Do we wish for too much?  Do we wish for not enough?  At the end of the 2010-2011 season, we were all talking about Europe and pushing for a spot in continental play.  Five years later we are just hoping to keep a hold of a Premier League spot.  I suppose it’s true that football shows no mercy and fortunes fade.

Another season beckons us with open arms asking us to forget our reservations and celebrate the coming joy, drama and doubt.  Another season of Sunderland football, what more could we ask for?…I don’t know…maybe a new guy up front or….

Revolving Doors

It’s a great day when Sunderland wins and it’s an even better day when Sunderland manages to beat one of the top four names in the Premier League (Man U, Man City, Arsenal or Chelsea).

This past weekend they managed to do both when they beat Man U 2-1 under new boss Sam Allardyce.  Allardyce had been in charge since October of 2015, registering only 16 points for the club before being able to magically swing these points to the Black Cats.   Allardyce took over for former head man Dick Advocaat who had been on a one year contract but changed his mind on the deal and left the club holding the bag.

I don’t blame Advocaat for changing his mind, I know that he took a lot of the job to heart, the man cried when he saved the team from relegation. I’m sure his agreement to come back in the summer of 2015 saved the team from another disaster.  I can’t imagine the scramble they would have been in trying to procure someone at that stage to manage; trying to pick up the pieces and try to recruit players at the same time.  He was able to help secure some new blood into the side and give the squad some hope that going forward there would be less drama in the coming season.

I didn’t take the resignation of Dick Advocaat lightly, he was the second man to take the club to safety from the clutches of relegation however I know that at times coaching changes have to happen.  Anymore I’m afraid that Sunderland are going to have to change their name to the “Revolving Doors.”

Coaching changes occur at what seems like a frequent pace in Sunderland,  Steve Bruce left the club on November 30, 2011 and we’ve seen four managers since him, not to mention twice having caretakers in charge in the span. The door revolved from Steve Bruce to Martin O’Neill to Paolo “managing with a hand grenade” Di Canio to “the Gus Bus” Poyet on up to Sam Allardyce.

On the same day that Sunderland beat Man U, the Minnesota Wild of the NHL fired their manager Mike Yeo who had been in charge since the 2011-2012 season.  Yeo had lead the team to three consecutive playoff appearances during that span however the team spiraled out of control this year losing 13 of the last 14 games that he was in charge.  Throughout those years when Minnesota had issues they never fired him, they made a change in players and it seemed to “work” or the team would come together at the right time.

The 2013-2014 campaign was a test of management’s faith in Yeo, as the rumors swirled many times that he would be let go but the team came together as the season wore on to make a playoff push.  In the 2014-2015 season they brought in goalie Devan Dubnyk prior to the trade deadline to try to fix a record of 18-19-5 and finished 46-28-8.  Yeo however could never find a way throughout those three playoff appearances to get past the Chicago Blackhawks, getting knocked out every year by them(2013 in the 1st round, 2014 in the 2nd, 2015 in the 2nd).  Superman always had his kryptonite, Yeo had the Blackhawks.

Both hockey and soccer are alike in that not only do you need consistency at the top with management and coaching but you need the players all throughout your squad to play at their best.  You need depth and quality throughout the team from the top lines to the fourth line in hockey and from the starting 11 to your bench in soccer.

Sunderland has seen it’s fair share of highs and lows over this span of coaching changes and you can’t say it’s all been on one side or the other: players or coaches.  What you can say is that when it comes to quality and consistency the play hasn’t always been there.  The defense might have an “out of it’s mind” game with the goaltending providing stellar saves, the midfielders and attackers can’t provide enough to threaten the other side or vice versa.  Plus there hasn’t always been enough sitting on the bench to provide firepower if an injury occurred or if the game was getting away from the team.  Players get out of form and the team has been forced to play them because there hasn’t been someone to step in and take over that was of similar quality.  In many ways that has been the result of poor signings, injuries and players not living up to their abilities.  However that happens with every team, it just seems that some luck would have been nice somewhere along the lines.

With Yeo’s Wild, they had issues scoring in the playoffs once they got there.  In 2015 against the Blackhawks, who would go on to win the Cup, they scored 7 goals through 4 games – that’s not going to win you many playoff series in the NHL unless you have Patrick Roy or Martin Brodeur in net (or maybe Jocelyn Thibault – hey no one really knows).    In 2014, they scored 13 goals through 6 games which was a bit more respectable, but they were facing the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks.  In 2013, they scored 7 goals through 5 games against the Blackhawks who go on to win the Cup.  Obviously if you can’t capitalize on your chances and if you don’t have all four lines rolling in the playoffs you aren’t going to last long which is what we see with the Wild.

I brought up NHL.com’s team stats section on 2/16/16 prior to the Wild’s game against Calgary to fully explore Minnesota’s problem and it seems pretty evident.  Goals for per game: 2.50 vs. Goals allowed per game 2.50.  The Wild currently have a record of 24-22-10 for a .5178 win percentage and that comes after they won 5-2 in their new coach, John Torchetti’s first game in charge.  If you can’t score more than you let in you aren’t going to win, plain and simple.  The power play currently ranks 23rd and the penalty kill ranks 25th; out of 30 teams it shows that the depth simply isn’t there.  You can only change systems and tactics so much but when your top scorer has 38 points through 56 games and doesn’t crack the top 50 scorers on NHL.com you know that your team needs scoring help.

It’s not a judgement of the scouting of the Wild or the organization so much as it is to say that maybe Yeo wasn’t the one who should have been let go.  It’s possible that this team has been full of smoke and mirrors for some time and now it is all shining through.  The players the team is leaning on are either too young to carry the team or are not capable and unfortunately clubs let the coach take the fall in this situation rather than admit their defeat.  It happens all the time and it will continue to happen as long as there are professional sports leagues.

Meanwhile in Sunderland someone is trying to figure out exactly where the revolving door should be put outside the stadium.



Holding Put For A Win

Back in the 80’s Bonnie Tyler was holding out for a hero, at this point I’m just holding out for a Sunderland win, because I’m not sure when it’s gonna happen. 

I realize that before the end of the past transfer window Ellis Short dumped more money into the club in an attempt to reignite the fortunes of the Lads and fuel the team to jump off to victory.  So far so terrible.  But as we’ve seen lately, such has been the case in previous seasons as well, these terrible starts that lead to relegation battles at the end with skin of our teeth survival stories.  Hopping on the Gus Bus and fighting for survival with management by hand grenades or even following Dick to the promised land.  This has been our legacy for many years.  I mean, this is what I’ve come to understand.  

Unfortunately, instead of being able to put some money in new blood to prepare for the future we’ve had to use it to win now.  We are paying for it again this year, but it might have caught up with us in a way that I don’t know if we can pull back from.  With the years advancing on John O’Shea’s frame, we can’t rely on him to be the rock that he has been for years.  That being said, Kaboul and Coates can’t pick up that mantle and do what he does.  Putting both of them together back there doesn’t work either.  If years ago we would have been able to invest in a central defender to be his successor then this would not be a problem.  With the issues of trying to play men out wide that aren’t able to shut down their men on the wings, you have to have someone strong in the middle and Sunderland doesn’t have that.  One of the other things that I question is the use of the lone striker.  I am not sure that it’s working.  With what Dick has, they aren’t keeping the ball and the team is being stretched and losing position, turning the ball over and fighting too hard to keep it out of their own net.  I think it’s been too hard to keep possession and we’ve seen so many changes because players aren’t suited for the tactics he wants to run but he won’t change up or try to work something for what he has.  Play two guys up top.  Play Defoe in the central part of the park and let him distribute, we’ve barely seen him play as that attacking midfielder/creative forward that can get others involved.  He still has the ability to do that.  I think also he could play behind Borini who could be the central forward, why not try it?  What is there to lose?  At this point we have to find something on offense to gain an advantage because the typical isn’t doing it. Shake it up.  Once it starts rolling it is going to keep rolling.

There’s a spark there somewhere, it just has to be found.  I’m not one of those people that is going to tell you I’m questioning why I’m a fan.  I don’t question it.  I know we are going through some bad luck.  It seems to happen.  But I’ll be here and holding out for that win.

To Coach Or Not To Coach

Coaching youth soccer is one of those interesting contradictions. You can go back and forth so many times in a week. One second you absolutely love it because the kids are so great and then you are so crazed because the kids just won’t listen to what you have to say.
It can be such an incredible experience to be a coach though, especially when you watch the kids as they grow up and you see them start to “get it.” The maturation from playing as 6 year olds all the way up to almost teenagers. You watch that thought process as they start to grasp the offside trap. There are adults that can’t grasp the offside trap, so when you see the kids get it, it’s quite an accomplishment.
It’s funny though, sometimes I sit back and I think about all the years I’ve put into the game. All those fall days after work that I travelled over to the practice field with that bag of balls and the cleats to give the best instruction that I could to hopefully help them progress as best as they could. The missing NFL games on Sundays to help give them the best instructions I could while being there for them so they could have fun on the soccer field.
I always had the support of the parents. They were always there to be supportive of the kids and make the best experience for the kids as they could. Whenever I had a problem they would be right there in my corner to back me up and let me discipline as a coach. You hear the horror stories that sometimes the parents could be all over the place and treat their kids badly. But I never experienced that. They just wanted their kids to have fun.
Amazingly the problem ended up being the people who ran the thing. You know, cause someone always had a problem with something that you did. If you try to protect your kids when they are the goalkeeper, someone has a problem that you make a stink about it. If a kid breaks a finger, a hand or a face, the head of the league isn’t going to dip into their pocket to pay for the co-pay at the ER or the doctor and specialist visits. They aren’t going to pay for the sick days and the gas fill ups and all that.
But I know, the kids are supposed to be prepared for the level of goalkeeper, sure I get that. However, there also needs to be someone to look out for the kids, because well they are just kids after all. Kids are going to do kid things and they are going to swing wildly and miss the ball, they’ll chase a ball and step down on fingers they will kick out and they’ll get frustrated that they can’t score a goal and act out. That’s what we need the referee for. If the referee isn’t there to protect the child in the goal, then my job as a coach is to protect that goalie. In fact my job is to protect all those kids, even to protect them from themself. If someone is acting wildly, they need to come off the field and shake it off, just shake it off.
If we are going to make excuses that the referees have limited training because it is a volunteer organization and people don’t have the time to train then we need to use the people who do have training. We should not put people who don’t have referee training in the position to fail. That’s asking for trouble and that’s poor leadership. It’s an immense responsibility to be a referee and not only do you have to know the rules but at this age you are tasked with the job of taking care of children’s safety. You look for dangerous play and you look to make sure that you keep the pace of the game going but do so in a controlled manner. A pre-teen game is not the place to start for an inexperienced referee, it’s better to start them either as a linesman or at a young kids’ game.
All this seems to be so elementary and that’s what can be so frustrating about the leadership of leagues. Why is it so difficult to understand that coaches want what is best for their kids? How is it hard to understand that coaches also wear many different hats? Leaders of leagues may not see that coaches can also be parents, referees, goal assemblers, field coordinators and leaders in safety just to name a few. Coaches are huge volunteers. To assume that just because you are a coach means that you don’t know what a volunteer is, is a huge slap in the face especially when you’ve done that job and many other jobs for the league for over five years. It’s unfortunate that volunteerism gets called into question when a coach looks out for kids but sometimes it feels like sometimes people have to find something to question. We’re not all perfect but coaches do what they can to make the experience as perfect as they can for the kids.

I See Rex In The Mirror

Ever since I can remember I’ve been a Bills fan.  Looking through my dad’s football card collection I came across a Bruce Smith rookie card.  I can still remember exactly what it looked like.  Bruce in one of those long Bills coats.

I’ve been there through the good times, the four Super Bowls in a row times, the once in a lifetime comeback times and all those guys that would become my football heroes for years to come.

I’ve also been there through the lean times.  The losing wildly in the Super Bowl times, the Drew Bledsoe years, the JP Losman years, the years the Bills couldn’t find a win and the Toronto years.

But then the Bills hire some guy out of Syracuse and I start to wonder where it’s all headed. But it feels like things make some sense for a while and they come so close to making the playoffs in so long that hope is finally a real word in Buffalo.  That coach makes for the hills and leaves a great situation for the next coach.  

I ask the Bills upper management in the most polite way, “please don’t hire Rex.”

So here’s the thing.  Rex made his way to the Jets and began announcing as loud and obnoxiously how good he was and how soon he’d win a Super Bowl.  As we all know, that never happened.  In fact on multiple occasions Rex made himself look foolish by saying things or doing things on the sidelines that were moronic. 

He never endured himself to me for sure and by the end of his run in NY, Buffalo had his number and was pushing his team around.  When the rumors circulated that Buffalo was interested I said “no way.”

Then Buffalo gave me the worst birthday present ever and signed him.  It took me months to get over it.im not sure I’m really over it all the way.  When it first happened I thought I’d go burn all my Bills stuff in the yard.  No you don’t understand, it could have been any coach anywhere but him.

In July, on a trip to Toronto I stopped in Orchard Park and went to the Bills store.  The Bills had signed my favorite player Tyrod Taylor.  It’s one of those questions, what do I do?

Because I’m a soccer coach, the games are on Sunday at 1:15.  So I hadn’t gotten to the see the first Bills game of the season but then, then the mouth let loose.

Rex let go on his favorite talking point, the Patriots, and kept telling everyone who would and wouldn’t listen that this time would be different.  Blah blah blah.  Of course just like with the Jets, the medi picks it up and runs with it.  There’s no reason to truly believe that he’s going to beat the Patriots but that doesn’t stop the TV from putting all these sound bites everywhere.  

I hear that the players love him and apparently a lot of the fans and people in Buffalo do too.  But I still see something I don’t like.  It’s like having a favorite restaurant and then they change the chef because they say he’s a better one but yet he screams at the wait staff and does wacky things with the menu.  You want to know why the owners would go there?

I get home during the Patriots game in time to watch part of the 3rd quarter long enough to see Rex absolutely losing it on the sideline and getting a sideline warning.  Five minutes of watching and its long enough to see that the Bills have no answers.  Rex has no answers.

I see Rex freaking out on the sidelines and I think “wow, am I like that?”  I know as a coach I hate to lose.  I can’t stand to lose.  Ever since I was a kid I hated to lose at anything.  They say losing builds character but if that’s true I must have amazing character.  But I wonder when I’m arguing an offside call, am I Rex?  Am I the thing that I hate?  Is that why I can’t stand him so much?  Do I see me in him?  Granted I don’t run around screaming about how my team is going to win every game.  I just wonder, do I see Rex in the mirror?

It’s a hell of a revelation when you realize that maybe your coaching style mirrors the thing that you hate.  My players seem to like me, in fact I’ve been told some of them love to play for me.  Sounds like Rex. But then the ref goes and calls something and it’s just irrational and makes no sense.  I have to tell them that you can’t make that call.  Someone tells me I’m not supposed to be yelling at the refs.  I’m supposed to be better than that.  Huh.  Sounds like what I say to Rex.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it’s the really high voice Peyton Manning scrambling my brain but I swear I saw it today.  It felt like a punch in the gut.  I don’t know if it will change me, i don’t know if it will change how I feel about Rex.  Then again maybe I’m all wrong and I’m just seeing something that isn’t there.  Me?  Rex?  Nah…