A Great Day of Soccer

My entire childhood was spent playing in the Mississippi Youth Soccer Organization.  I started playing soccer in the second grade, and play for the next 14 years.  I had this huge crush on this boy (Jerry) in my first grade class who played soccer, so I decided to learn how to play so I could impress him on the playground.   But alas, Jerry moved away at the end of first grade.  Fortunately, I fell just as hard in love with soccer, so my heartache was short lived. (yes, I started playing soccer to impress a boy – I bet those who know me didn’t see that one coming)

Each Spring, we had the classic soccer tournaments, playing for District and State championships.  But something I will never forget is “The Great Day of Soccer”.  It was this annual tournament where you participated in individual events, and not in any team events.  The 5 events were

  • how far you could do a throw-in
  • how fast you could dribble through the cones
  • what your accuracy was for shooting on goal (40 points if you could get it in the upper corner)
  • how many times you could juggle the soccer ball
  • how far you could kick the ball

My final year, I got up to 88 consecutive juggles before screwing up.  The crowd that had gathered around me freaked me out and I lost my focus towards the end.  But they still applauded, and I still kicked the ball straight up in the air as if I had reached the goal of 100 juggles.  And yes, I still wear my “great day” t-shirt, after all these years. It was truly a great day of soccer, and truly a great t-shirt to still be alive after 15+ years.

Contests and Community Building

One of the things I learned from OSCON last year was that contests may actually drive the community apart because of the competition. Ever since, I’ve been scratching my head wondering how effective contests really are in building community. I just can’t shake the feeling that it feels risky.

Then I started thinking about the great day of soccer. There’s no way you can build a soccer league by hosting the great day of soccer. Where would you host the tournament, how you would get word out to come, what sort of events would you have? In order to build a local soccer community, you must first find the kids that are playing soccer in the playground and find the parents that used to play as a kid. Then you have to find a place to play. Only once you have the kids playing for fun can you tap into that energy and use it to attract others to play, others that might not have had an interest before, but do now. It’s one of those, “hey, what is going on over there?” Here I’m thinking about improved fields, jerseys, announcements in newspapers, and media interviews. Now, as you’re starting to gain more and more kids, you can work on improving the infrastructure and so forth. Finally, once a critical mass is hit of die-hard soccer fans and players, you can have a tournament to showcase individual skills. A contest at this point wouldn’t drive people away, because they are already here for their own reasons. A contest here would be competition at a different level, allowing those interested parties to compete over reputation, while the critical mass gets to watch and freak out people trying to reach those 100 juggles.

Tying this all back to community-building, the gist of this run-away random thought is contests do not build community; successfully-run contests promote the already-existing community.

Of course, the next time I’m home, I should actually call up one of the founding members of BAYS (bay area youth soccer – my local hometown organization) and find out just how far in left-field I am with how a soccer league gets started. =)