On Saturday I had to give an eight year old boy playing on his club’s top U9 team a red card. It was issued in response to receiving two yellow cards, each for persistent infringement of the laws of the game. This was my first red card for a player this young.
I had also warned him a couple of times before getting the yellow cards, including just before the second yellow when I warned him one final time after using his elbow against a defender’s head.
This elbow could have been the second yellow already. In fact, if done too aggressively a referee can interpret the use of the elbow as a weapon and issue an immediate red card for serious foul play or violent conduct.
The frustrating thing is that he is actually a talented little player and didn’t need to commit these fouls to impact the game. He scored his team’s two goals during an evenly balanced game that ended in a draw.
And the fouls he committed were not out of frustration or a sense of injustice – he committed those fouls intentionally and in a composed manner. He also didn’t flinch when he received the red card.
When an eight year old boy acts like this it must surely be conditioning by the coaches and parents. He almost certainly is being encouraged to make ‘fighting’ and breaking the rules part of his value system, and I suspect that this red card was celebrated on the drive home.
This approach to soccer (and life more broadly) is nurture, not nature. Kids are not born to be like this – parents and coaches do them (and soccer) a massive disservice by turning them into these negative players.
By way of background, the coach and parents of this team have a negative reputation within the league. Our referee crew were notified prior to the game to be prepared for trouble and while neither coach nor parents crossed the line during this specific game they were negative and aggressive with the kids.
So here we have a promising little player who will most likely lose his way in the next couple of years.
Instead of focusing on, say, developing skills and learning sportsmanship to become the best he can be, he will most likely focus on ‘fighting’ in its various forms during the game and, of course, arguing with referees.
He will lose his head too often and instinctively focus on the physical aspects of the game instead of challenging cleanly for the ball, dribbling and reading the game well.
And sooner or later he will lose interest because all the tension and drama eventually won’t allow him to enjoy the beautiful game anymore.
Such a shame.