Respect your opponent, before they force you to!

We showed up for our game on Sunday and noticed the other team looked a bit short.   I walked up to the coach who informed me that he would only have 8 players today.   My team, filled with boys who love to play were all there ready to go.  I had 14 of a 15 player squad there with less than 24 hours notice.  If I matched the other team and played short I'd be sitting 6 boys every quarter.  That's 24 missed quarters, resulting in the bulk of my team only playing half a game.  Thinking through it that didn't sit right.   I walked back to the opposing coach before the game and presented my plan.    We would play him in an official game, 11 on 8.    I didn't want to sit so many boys who came to play.    If things got crazy out of hand, we'd spot him a few players and end with a scrimmage.   That way, everyone plays a lot of soccer.    He was happy with that and being undefeated, felt it would be a good challenge for his boys.  We took the field.
We played even for quite a while.   Our opponents spread out well and challenged us hard.   We finally took a 1-0 lead late in the second quarter.    I challenged our team to do more.   We should have 2 men open all the time.... Why could we not pass like crazy around these guys?   Part of me was worried I set their expectations low at the beginning of the game.    This game was far from getting out of hand.   We were just holding on and they were beating us to the ball on a regular basis.

The second half only got worse.   The game tied up which highly motivated the 8 boys on the other side.    They continued to beat us to the ball and continued to spread out while we sat a bit back and bunched up, allowing one opponent to cover multiple players.   I must admit.... I was not the calm cool coach on the sideline.     I was very frustrated.   Even my son called out to me from the goal and gave me the "take it easy, Dad" sign. 
At the final whistle, we lost 2-1 to a team with 8 players.    They never needed any of our boys.   Interestingly, my frustration melted a bit as I watched the other team celebrate this relatively meaningless game (in terms of season results) like it was the World Cup.  I shook their hand and acknowledged their accomplishment.   They earned that celebration and I was impressed and cheered for them. 
Again, the game taught me something.   Where I thought my strategy at the beginning was to protect their team from losing too badly and get everyone playing time, it led to something entirely different.  We gave them the opportunity to do what both coaches didn't think they could.  (Shame on us.)  Had we not  stuck with the AYSO guidance (play a full squad no matter the other teams numbers), those other boys would not have had the opportunity to accomplish what they did.   Though not my plan (of course), we made their Sunday in a big way.   They will remember the day they did the unexpected.  They showed, and learned, what's possible by working harder than the other team and using the lessons about positioning.  
Back to my team.... I stopped cheering.   This was a day for the hard lesson.   Give every opponent your best, because you just might be surprised how good theirs is.  Don't let up on someone because you think you are better.  Respect them as an equal, and then manage the results.   I didn't prepare my team that way, and it showed.  Hopefully my team learned those lessons.  I certainly did.


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