You may have heard about the recent tragedy in Utah where a player’s violent reaction to a ref’s call resulted in the ref dying. Luckily, it’s newsworthy because of its rarity, but no less tragic to those of us that love the game and dedicate a large portion of our lives to make it an important part of our communities.
An obvious lesson to retain from Ricardo Portillo’s tragic death is that we can’t take our games too seriously. We must maintain perspective of the bigger picture and not let adrenaline and ego turn a fun activity into a tragedy. Certainly we can take that with us to the pitch each time as players, coaches, refs, parents, and fans. Soccer, for most of us, provides an opportunity for our kids to get some exercise and learn the benefits of teamwork in a fun environment. As a league administrator, we rely on the feedback from all those that participate in our activities to bring our attention to “near misses” to avoid the kind of tragedy they witnessed in Utah.
That said, community soccer is also a mainstream activity that offers an opportunity to “right the path” of youth with behavioral disorders, possibly more-so than any other team sport. Ejecting any kid that pushes the limits of our patience may help us in the short term, but we can’t lose the big picture. The key to dealing with outbursts from problem kids is to address violent reactions immediately, make sure they understand why what they did was wrong, and monitor their future actions to ensure the behavior has been corrected. In community soccer, that takes the involvement of coaches, parents, and often refs and league officials. No system can guaranty that an extreme case like Ricardo Portillo’s does not happen. But hopefully, if we pay attention to the early signs of overt anger and the physicality of our matches in general, we can correct these problems before they explode in tragedy. Then our soccer programs can continue to be an asset to the community, rather than a risk.