How many of us have watched in amazement and disgust this week as Elizabeth Lambert of the University of New Mexico women’s soccer team assaulted players from Brigham Young University’s team? First, pulling a player down by her ponytail, then administering karate chops to the face of a player on a “tackle” and more. After her reprimand she passed her play off as “misbehavior resulting from the pressure of play.” People who know me as a girl’s youth soccer coach and proponent of girls in sports have asked: What is women’s soccer coming to? Whatever happened to the beautiful game?
Let me shout load and clear, it’s alive and well on a soccer field in Reston, VA in an all star tournament hosted by the Herndon Youth Soccer Club this weekend. Two teams of under 13 girls competed for the championship. Chantilly vs Vienna. The title game got a late start on Sunday evening. It was the culmination of a weekend that started Saturday morning before 8am for both teams. The sun was setting and the field lights illuminated the purple and white jerseys, 11 a side. Anxious parents and families pressed close to the touch lines, some holding video cameras, some just longing to be closer to the action. The referees kindly allowed these minor transgressions.
As the air temperature dropped, the action heated up. Chantilly drew first blood, early in the 1st half. Right wing Natalie finished a perfect cross from her left wing teammate Ana and Chantilly took a 1-0 lead into half time. Vienna fought back, driving through midfield and threatening in the Chantilly box but came up empty as Chantilly dug deep and regained its composure. The momentum shifted. Chantilly found the back of the net twice in the second half. The final score: 3-0, Chantilly.
The girls in purple celebrated and the girls in white commiserated. Then they line up along the midfield line to exchange patches, high fives and wish each other congratulations. At once and with no instruction Vienna players turned to make a tunnel chanting for Chantilly to run through. Purple complied and then returned the favor. Spontaneously a smattering of applause rose from parents and families watching from both sidelines recognizing the sportsmanship of the moment.
Yes, these players have competed hard and won fairly and within the rules. But there was more. I think particularly of Natalie who, having already scored once, had another opportunity from the same spot. This time, her shot careened off the head of a defending player and rebounded back near Natalie’s feet. Instead of capitalizing on her good fortune, she stopped playing to see if the defending player was alright. On a similar play some minutes later, her teammate Sophia did the same. Some coaches will tell players “Play to the whistle” or “Keep playing to seek your advantage.” But these girls adhere to a higher authority which tells them “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.” They play to win, but not at all costs. They walk away from the field with friends in both color uniforms. Both teams did so on this day.
The Chantilly girls discovered something in their game they didn’t know they had on this chilly evening in November. And they couldn’t have done it without the strong opposition from a very talented Vienna team. Both teams gathered to cheer each other as they were awarded tournament trophies. Parents, siblings and extended family stood behind the teams and joined in the celebration. There was a lot to cheer for.
My response to our media screaming “what has women’s youth sports come to?” is to point them to two teams of pre-teen girls who won’t gain national attention. But they are much more deserving. It’s a simple equation: good players, good sports, a good combination. Congratulations ladies. My hat’s off to you. It’s glorious to watch you play such a beautiful game.