BYU soccer coach discusses solving Utah’s sportsmanship problems

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The Layton Christian Academy boys’ soccer team celebrates after a state championship win. Boys’ soccer in Utah is on probation for poor sportsmanship. (Utah High School Activities Association via Facebook)

Boys’ high school soccer in Utah is under scrutiny for poor sportsmanship and it may be up to parents and coaches to help solve the problem.

On June 8, the Utah High School Activities Association announced a three-year probation for boys’ soccer because of a rise in ejections from unsportsmanlike conduct. The season will be reduced from 16 games to 14 and the executive committee will review the sport’s progress annually.

In a statement to schools, the Utah High School Activities Association said they are “making a stand against sportsmanship issues.”

Kyle Robinson, an athletic administrator at Timpanogos High School said competitiveness and intense play have become bigger issues with soccer in Utah even at the youth level.

“It is something that’s kind of been ingrained in the culture with soccer,” he said. With the probation period to crack down on sportsmanship problems, the intense soccer culture will need to change.

“The state’s just trying to let everyone know that they’re serious about it,” Robinson said.

Extracurricular activities such as sports give students the chance to build relationships, develop hobbies and feel connected to their school. Robinson said those goals can be overshadowed by competition.

“We want kids engaged with something in their school, we want them involved in something and poor sportsmanship has really has hurt us at the school level,” Robinson said.

Aside from social problems, Robinson said poor sportsmanship can also hurt a program’s budget.

“We’ve had to drive up the pay for officials just to get officials to come out,” he said, taking money which could have been used on the players.

BYU men’s soccer coach Brandon Gilliam said adult mentors such as coaches and parents can curb poor sportsmanship by encouraging players to focus on building relationships.

“That helps the kids understand like yes, I want to win this game and it’s important to me but it’s not so important to me that I’m willing to risk my relationship with those on my team or those from the other team,” he said.

At BYU soccer camps, athletes ages 5-18 have the opportunity to learn from BYU soccer players and coaches, and Gilliam said personal development is a part of that training. The camps focus on improving soccer skills, relationships and spirituality to make the athletes better overall.

“I wouldn’t say that we necessarily talk about sportsmanship,” Gilliam said. “You don’t need to talk about sportsmanship when you just develop good people.”

Gilliam said athletes have to balance different interests to be successful on and off the field.

“Within team sports there’s two aspects there’s one of the relationships you build and then there’s one of wanting to win,” he said. “Sometimes one of them outweighs the other, which can lead to clashes between players, coaches and even spectators.”

Soccer isn’t typically as physical as a sport like football or rugby, but a competitive culture can encourage more physical clashes. 

“I think this is a good step towards trying to change that,” Robinson said.

In a Facebook post from June 15 user Marco de Ruiter wrote, “The future of soccer in Utah is at stake,” saying parents, players and coaches are all at fault for sportsmanship issues.

Gilliam said to some degree, players have to put relationships “to the side” to win games, but adult mentors can influence how players treat each other on the field.

“If you have a coach or a mentor or somebody else out there that you’re looking up to who puts that very far away,” he said. “Then you kind of see tempers flare and you see people getting upset.”

In his Facebook post, de Ruiter proposed a solution to poor sportsmanship which would put responsibility on parents, coaches and players alike.

“All three groups should look in the mirror and ask what can I do to make it all work,” he wrote.

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