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When Forcing A Soccer Team Consisting Of Twelve-Year Old Girls To Quit Goes Wrong

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Photo courtesy of coach Mark Abboud via Star Tribune

Mark Abboud is the coach of the Minnesota Thunder’s 12-and-under girls soccer club. You could say he made a wee-bit of a mistake last weekend.

Here’s what went down: his team, playing against a heavily-favored and more talented 13-and-under team from the same club, fought bitterly and played a great game, forcing two overtimes and playing to a 1-1 tie.

That set the stage for a dramatic penalty shootout. The winner would go on toward the state cup, and likely, the regional tournament.

The back story: Last year, the team that is now called the Thunder was upset by a younger team that went on to get clobbered in state tournaments.

That’s when things got a little dicey, as they say.

Abboud told his girls that the “classy” thing would be to “roll the ball” nicely to the goalkeeper, virtually ensuring the “better team” moved on. The girls were shocked, but followed orders.

When it was over, they “sobbed so hard they were shaking,” according to one parent.

Uh-oh. That ain’t good. To say the move backfired a bit is more than an understatement. Abboud is now being investigated for his actions and some parents are demanding he be fired. One would think Abboud is not thrilled that this has become a big story – you would be wrong. During an interview on Tuesday for an excellent story written by Star Tribune columnist John Tevlin, Abboud had this to say:

“I’m actually excited you are doing a story. I won’t try to justify anything. I hope if my girls learned anything, it’s that everyone is human, everyone makes a mistake. I hope they do not judge me by one act.”

Abboud, a former professional soccer player, feels absolutely horrible about what he did and admirably is refusing to shy away from criticism.

“Within one minute of the game I knew it was a mistake. It was an absurdly idiotic decision that at the time I thought was in the best interest of the team. My girls were distraught, my parents were irate.”

As one would suspect, many parents of girls on the team are extremely upset.

“One parent, who requested anonymity, said Abboud is a great coach, “but this was morally wrong. He told them to go against everything they’ve ever learned about competition and sportsmanship. He might as well have told them to rob a bank.”

Other parents, on the other hand, are not in such a rush to condemn the coach.

“I told my daughter [Britney] that Mark Abboud didn’t put you in this situation, I did,” said Loren Monteon, a parent. Getting clobbered by bigger players at state “is not my idea of a fun tournament experience,” he said. “Mark made my daughter the athlete she is. If he’s not there, she’s not going to be there.”

Soccer mom Colleen Heslin agrees.

“I failed my daughter for not thinking this through. I had the option to say, ‘Mark, let’s rethink this.’ His intentions were pure and honest, but misguided. As I sat on the bench and watched them play their hearts out, I thought, ‘My God, how did I just let this happen?'”

“I’ve been thinking, which message is right: Win at all costs, or work toward the better good of the club, or is it even the better good? I don’t know. With all these soccer moms and hockey dads, are we too caught up in it, this competition?”

“After all. This is 12-year-old soccer we are talking about.”

Unfortunately for Coach Abboud, not all of the parents will be as understanding. Despite the fact that the girls love and respect their coach, it may be the end of the line for him as a soccer coach – a fact he recoginzes – “Maybe that’s a sign I should try something else after 15 years,” he admitted.

Most importantly, the girls are doing well and will obviously not have any long-term psychological scars from the incident. Sometimes you have to wonder what youth sports are all about in this day and age – is it for the kids to get outside and exercise and learn the valuable lessons about sportsmanship and teamwork – or is it all about the parents now, vicariously living and dying through their child’s successes and failures on the field and perhaps providing them with sustenance to feed their fragile egos.

Sometimes, everyone loses. And even more often, the coaches are the ones caught in the middle. The same coaches who often thanklessly work their asses off coaching the kids of these parents who want nothing more than to criticize and judge every move he or she makes.

You have to feel bad for Abboud. He thought he was doing the right thing, but more often than not, the right thing isn’t a black-or-white issue – usually it is found somwhere in the gray area and people like Abboud find that they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

A moment of truth plays out on soccer field [Star Tribune]