The Price of Honor
"We encourage respect for our rivals. It was a unanimous decision. Considering the reaction to the result, we understood that the coach had to leave his position."
On June 3, 2017, two teams of 10 and 11 year olds faced each other in a regular league match. The home team is CD Serranos, one of the most established and famous youth soccer schools in Valencia. Their opponents are another famous Valencian club called UD Benicalap. Its an 8v8 game, which is typical for teams of 10 and 11 year olds in Spain.
The whistle blew, the game started and just like that, CD Serranos had their first goal. But it didn't stop. According to spectators, CD Serranos was scoring a goal approximately every two minutes. After fifteen minutes the score was 6-0. By half time, the score was 15-0.
Still, the coach urged his young players to keep the pressure on to keep scoring goals. And so, the rout continued into the second half, without pity. You can imagine how excited the CD Serranos players were about this goal-fest. Imagine the yelling, the laughter, the cheering from the winning bench. Imagine the gloom on the opposing bench. It gets worse. According to some reports, the coach's intention was that every player on his team score a goal. There may be evidence to support such reports, as the coach allowed his keeper to move all the way up the field where he was able to score two goals. The humiliation for Benicalap was complete. The final score was 25-0.
Then, something remarkable happened. The parents of the winning team complained to their own club's officials about the actions of their coach. And it wasn't just one complaint. By all accounts, the parents of nearly every child were unanimous in their disgust for the display they had just witnessed. In their view, the coach had not only allowed, but encouraged their children to engage in dishonorable conduct on the bench and on the field. The result of the game, in their view, brought dishonor on the coach, the players and the club.
The coach was fired the very next day. He paid the price. According to Pablo Alcaide of CD Serranos:
"We are talking about 5th grade kids and we prioritize some values ahead of the score. We try to convey empathy and respect toward our rivals, so we should have had more respect for this rival and controlled the result a little more because in the end, an 11-year-old boy goes home with 25 goals scored against him and his team and that s very hard "
"To us this type of situation does not happen often, that is the truth, but there are ways to slow down the game and not bleed the opponent. You can ask your players to make a high number of passes, 15 or 16, before scoring, always without mocking the opponent. Also say to the lads that they play with the 'weaker' foot ... we should look for objectives within the game the players can work on in order to be productive, "
So those are some of the values the coach failed to respect. But again, perhaps the most important part of this story is the role the parents played in guarding not only the honor of their children as soccer players, but also the honor of the club. They stepped up!
"We teach values, such as respect for the opposing team, and that attitude can not be accepted."
Which brings us to the question of honor. The coach acted dishonorably. That's why the parents voiced their anger. That's why the coach was fired. And honor is important in Valencia. It is deeply engrained in the history of the city and its people, as is loyalty. And bats. Bats are also important in Valencia. Look at the crest of CD Serranos above. You'll see a bat. And their unfortunate opponents, Benicalap, who had 25 goals scored against them? Yep. A bat! Any club worth a damn in Valencia has a bat in their crest. Valencia CF and Levante CD, the top professional clubs in Valencia, both have bats in their crests. Why bats? Let's get to that in a moment.
First, we should look more deeply into another Valencian mystery. Have a look at the crest of the City of Valencia (below). What do you see? Yes, a bat, of course, but what else? Notice how the columns are in the shape of an "L". It represents loyalty or "lealtad" in Spanish. This crest has been the symbol of the city of Valencia since 1377. It was awarded to Valencia by the King of Aragon because the city had been loyal to him twice in wars with the forces of the neighboring King of Castilla. Double loyalty = Double "L".
It's been over 640 years since Valencia received its royal prize for double loyalty. Yet, the story of these Valencian parents stepping up to defend honorable conduct leaves no doubt in my mind that loyalty and honor remain a strong part of this city's culture. And in my view, loyalty and honor is alive and well at CD Serranos. Loyalty to values. You see, the honor in youth soccer lies not in whether a team wins, but in how a team wins.
A youth soccer club is a community of shared values and shared passions, or at least it should be. Ideally, players and parents join a particular soccer club because they expect a certain quality of training, style of play and a method for developing young soccer players. They should also expect the club to teach their children values important to developing human beings who will be productive members of society, such as working hard, good sportsmanship, fair play, respect, empathy, leadership and self-control. A proper club not only teaches these values, but empowers players and parents to speak up and guard the honor of the club, its crest and the players. Parents, coaches and club officials become partners in preserving the honor of the club and remaining faithful to its values. But it doesn't always work out that way.
The incident at CD Serranos reminded me of a similar situation when a team of 11 years olds from Eagleclaw FC faced a tough task. It was late November and the team was dealing with injuries and illnesses. They were shorthanded. Next up was a regular league game against another Seattle area club. The Eagleclaw team could muster only 7 players for the 11v11 game. The opposing team had 14 players, twice as many. By league rules, the game could go forward so long as Eagleclaw fielded 7 players. If a team has less than 7 players take the field, the game is a forfeit which is recorded a 1-0 result for the opposing team. Still, 7v11 is not an ideal game format at these young ages, particularly if the objective is developing players. The Eagleclaw coach approached the opposing coach with a few simple options to make the experience productive for the children. Would the opposing coach loan a few players to even up the sides? Or, would he agree to put 7 players on the field to make it 7v7? In either case, the Eagleclaw coach was willing to accept a forfeit to ensure all the players could have a beneficial and sporting game.
Unfortunately, the opposing coach refused all solutions and adjustments. Why? He simply stated he wanted to win the division and needed to score a lot of goals to improve his goal differential statistic. A 1-0 forfeit result would not help him; he needed to score more goals against us. So, the game was played 7v11, with the opposing team having multiple substitutes. The final score was a 9-0 loss for Eagleclaw.
The parents of the opposing team said nothing during the game or afterward about the Coach's strategy. They cheered their players on to score more goals. Absent was any visible sense of respect or empathy for the rival. And like many youth soccer clubs, this club's website claims its coaches and players demonstrate exemplary sportsmanship.
Technically, according to league rules, everything the opposing coach did was correct. By league rules, the game could be played 7v11. And its true that in order to have the best chance of winning the division, a high goal differential can be the difference between a first place and second place finish. By the letter of league law, the opposing coach was correct. In truth, many youth soccer club coaches would approve of what this coach did. After all, if you are neck-and-neck with another team for the division title, it might very well come down to the goal differential. Why not step on the gas and get all the goals you can? And if you subscribe to the sporting philosophy of Vince Lombardi, who said "Winning isn't everything, its the only thing.", that's probably what you would do. But in my humble opinion, its wrong.
You see, a youth soccer club has only the values its coaches, players and parents actively and consistently demonstrate and enforce. Values inked on a piece of paper or typed on a website are meaningless if the club and its parents are not willing to actively behave according to those values.
Honor lies in behaving according to positive values, even when doing so comes with a price. Consistently behaving in this way is how a reputation for honor is developed. It is often said that if you want to be remembered, live with honor. This is no less true for a youth soccer club.
So based on the story above (its a true story!), what can we learn about the values of the club? Certainly, exemplary sportsmanship was not on display or enforced that day. We know from the coach's own words that winning by a large margin was his primary objective, and it didn't matter to him that the opponent was seriously outnumbered. So, winning at all costs appears to be that club's primary value. Other values, such as respect for the opponent, fair play, empathy and teaching their own players the merit of those values were not on display that day.
There was no honor in that team's victory; no honor in the way they won. That's my view. You may disagree with me, but that's how I see it. The price of honor that day was foregoing the opportunity to improve the team's goal differential. The price of honor that day may have meant risking ending up in second place in the league rather than first place. The coach and the parents refused to pay the price, and their players and their club are worse off for it. The team ended up in first place, it did not come down to goal differential (though it certainly could have) and the coach still has his job with the club. Clearly, that club bears no resemblance to CD Serranos and its parents.
Now, what about the bats? Alright, here goes. History tells us that in the year 1238 Valencia was occupied and controlled by the Moors. King Jaume I marched his army toward the city with the goal of retaking it. The King's army camped outside the city on the other side of the Turia River. While the soldiers slept, one of the guards heard a loud and mysterious sound. Confused, the solider alerted the King, who immediately ordered the troops to be awake and alert. As it turned out, the Moorish army was attempting to ambush the King's army while they slept. The Spanish King's army was ready and defeated the Moors in the battle that followed and captured the city of Valencia. Later, the King learned that the loud and mysterious sound the guard had heard was simply bats. The grateful King order the image of a bat to be placed above the crown on his royal crest and there it remains on the crest of the City of Valencia.
To this day you can see the bat, the crown and the double "L" symbol of loyalty all over the city. Maybe they go hand in hand? I like to think the bat signifies a warning that honor and loyalty are always in danger. Its a reminder that honor and loyalty must be guarded and enforced, and that being loyal to values and acting honorably always comes at a price.