Labels are misplaced in rec sports

For any rabid or casual soccer fan, the English Premier League is the league we're most familiar with. I'm not sure if that's because it boasts many of the world's best footballers or whether NBC Sports does a great job of marketing the league to the masses.

Either way, the "P" in EPL is deserved; it is not only the top level of soccer one can play in England, but in the top echelon of soccer leagues in the world. To call the league "premier" is not a stretch in the least.


That's one of those terms that you can only appreciate if your kid has been selected or rejected from the "premier" team. If they make the "premier" team, then you have bragging rights to your family and friends that your kid is "special."

If your kid is rejected, you must face the dreaded stigma that comes from playing with the "challenge" team or the "classic" team.

Sounds pretty important, right?

It's one of the dumbest things I can think of in youth sports to have to label a team to designate their place in the hierarchy of sports, somehow using the words "premier" or "classic" to boost or crush the players' ego. Last time I checked I haven't seen Leicester City Premier or Manchester United Classic taking the field in the Premiership (although Man U fans may think otherwise).

Everyone knows there are a limited number of roster spots on any sports team either by way of restrictions placed by league rules or the number of uniforms you have to distribute. If you have more than that maximum number of players allowed come out to a tryout, then you may be forced to make cuts or to place players on a second or sometimes even a third team.

Programs handle the division of those players in different ways. There are some programs that insist that all teams under a certain age group are split evenly in talent so they can all develop equally. Teams of the same age group train together and play with their respective teams on the weekends. This structure generally has a designated age where the players will be "flighted" by assessed talent level.

There are other programs that look to have the players divided early on by talent level, separate the teams completely for practice, games, coaches, and players. And yet others just go with one team of the "best" players and expect the players that aren't selected to go find another place to play altogether.

These styles are very different yet it's hard to say if any one style is better than the others. Players, coaches, even programs may fit better with any one of these methods. Different age groups and different coaches even within the same program may choose to handle it differently. Neither is right nor wrong. I personally fit better where a program can work together on developing technical skills together and dividing for tactical sessions and set plays by team to prepare for upcoming games

There is certainly a need to differentiate one team from the other for scheduling purposes, league determination and flight level, but there are other ways you can use to differentiate the teams than terms as derogatory as the split between "premier" and "classic."

There are clubs that use colors such as red and black or royal and white to recognize their division. Others may use professional sports teams like Barcelona or Liverpool or international teams like Brazil or Germany to make the differentiation clear.

What really is a "premier" team or a "classic" team anyway? I have coached many a team that would be considered "premier" and we've lost many games to teams that were called "classic." I've coached in premier leagues and been spanked by a classic team whose second level of players was far better than any top level players we could put up from our area.

The point is, it doesn't really matter what you call the team. What matters is that your young player plays on a team that they want to be on, a team where their abilities fit the teammates and competitors they face, whose coach provides them with a safe, encouraging, and educational environment where they can learn the skills of the game, and where they can have fun playing the game while learning their life lessons and developing close friendships along the way.

One of the benefits of getting old (and believe me, there ain't many) is the wisdom that comes from experience. Having been through this a third time now, what really is important looking back has nothing to do with the level of team my boys played on but rather the friends and fun they made along the way.

Whether they were "premier" or "classic" had no bearing on who they've become as young men.


Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard once wrote, "Once you label me, you negate me."