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Always respect, appreciate your opponent

One of the cool things about playing sports in an adult league is that you learn how to compete on the field yet still remain friends. The thing I miss the most about not playing soccer any more (besides the actual playing, which had deteriorated significantly over time anyway) was the brotherhood and fellowship with our team and the guys we played against.

Regardless of the score, we would share adult beverages after our game together and share recycled war stories while laughing at the old men that came on the field after us.

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It can be difficult as you're growing up through recreation, club and even high school sports to appreciate the competition when you have it. We're always taught to despise our opponents and to treat them as the enemy, so it's no wonder that we at times find it difficult to separate the two when we're off the field.

If you've been involved in sports for any length of time, you've experienced when the opponent, or even you for that matter, were not a good match for one another. The score reflects this discrepancy in talent or in tactical play and many times a blowout occurs. I've been on both sides of that coin, and believe me, one is just as hard as the other. When you are dominating a team and have full control of the game, do you run up the score or do you play "keep away"?

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Maybe you give kids an opportunity to play that they haven't been given earlier in the season or you move your defense up and your offense back. I've never been able to figure that out with all of my years playing and coaching because criticism comes your way regardless of your choice. You can't convince me to stop a kid from scoring when he gets the opportunity if he hasn't seen the field much or has spent the entire season on defense with little recognition.

If you keep scoring, you're running up the score. If you play keep away, then you're showboating. You can't win either way. One of the best lessons that I learned from a friend of mine that I used to coach with was to not make excuses for how good your team is. So I look at it from both sides as well and don't criticize an opposing coach for putting the hurting on us sometimes. It just means we have to work a little harder. Get better.

Sitting around the table the other night with my fellow boys soccer coaches from around the county, I realized how important it was that we taught our players to respect their opponents, especially in the case of our county season. These were all great guys dedicated to making their team better players and their players better men. If you look at our records against each other, with few exceptions we all beat the snot out each other. A beat B. B beat C. C beat A. Go figure.

We're fortunate in many ways to be the only Class 3A school in the county because after we're done licking our wounds from the county season, we go east to our sectionals. The two 1A schools have to eventually face each other down the line and this year the Man Valley girls and the North Carroll boys both are strong candidates to be state champions. The five 2A county schools have the pleasure of squaring off again in the playoffs with the unfortunate situation that only ONE of our strong county teams can make it out still alive for the state crown. In two great games this week, South Carroll girls and Winters Mill boys move on but leave in their wake two teams that themselves could have made waves in the later rounds of the playoffs.

As a participant in and an instructor for Positive Coaching Alliance, I learned about how to teach players to respect the "ROOTS" of the game – the rules, officials, OPPONENTS, teammates, and self. Without a quality opponent, the game just isn't the same. You can't learn how to compete when the competition doesn't measure up. I'd much rather be involved in a game like we had with Winters Mill or North Carroll (really for most county games this year) than to be on either side of a blowout.

U.S. surgeon and motivational speaker Maxwell Maltz once said, "Self-improvement is the name of the game, and your primary objective is to strengthen yourself, not to destroy your opponent."

I for one appreciate each of our opponent's part in making us a better team during the season as it no doubt has made us a better team for the playoffs.

Robert "Bird" Brown is the Times' rec sports writer. His column appears every Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcountytimes.com.

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