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What’s In A Name By Rick Zitelli

Many years ago someone got the idea to market products and services using professional athletes as Pitchmen or Poster boys/girls for their cause. Not just any personality would do however to promote said products or services, Madison Avenue was looking for “sizzle”, ”pop.”

Players hired agents and agents solicited players for promotion like circus acts to attract a seemingly endless supply of money and athletes began to make more “Dinero” hawking balls rather than using them. With this realization a new oxymoron was born; Individual-team player. I have often thought of how difficult it must be to coach a team of individuals who have such high professional status and caliber.

So now does it follow that what is good for the professional athlete must be good for the youth athlete? After all, why else play the game if it doesn’t lead to fame and fortune or a least a 4 year free ride to college? Individual-team player is a very strange idea when you think about it; after all, in team sports the player is part of a team, not the whole. Really, how good is one player without the rest of his or her team?

Ask a group of youth soccer players: who are the defenders on your team? You will get a show of hands. Now ask them who are the attackers, and again a show of hands. And what is so wrong with these answers, by today’s standards nothing. Now ask them how many players on the field does it take to score a goal? Usually they shout out: “one, no, two”, they are not sure? Then ask, how many players does it take to defend your goal, even more puzzled expressions appear and very few hands up this time. Consciousness of individuality, particularly with boys teams, apparently is established well before a high skill level is realized, a consciousness perhaps fostered by professional athletes in advertising.

Some years ago someone got the idea to rename the positions on a soccer team. As I recall a while back the player positions were fullback, half back and forward. How perfect it was. The names described where the players played in relationship to the other players on the same team. A collective thought, yet these terms don’t fit into the age of the individual.

The “old school” names suggested a position was part of something, not something in itself. Today the names commonly used for soccer player positions suggest a different idea altogether. Defender has replaced the term used for Fullback, Midfielder for Halfback and Striker for Forward. To me these new titles suggest that the player has first an individual identity and may or may not act in concert with the rest of the team. Such titles also suggests an occupation of special talent, a specialist. If I am a Defender, then my true talent will become evident when the opponent has the ball and certainly not if we are in the opponent’s third of the pitch. If I am a Midfielder and the ball is in our third, my ability to defend is marginal because I am after all a transitional player.

The perfection of the “old school” names was that the player occupied a space on the field, yet didn’t own the space or position. The position was fluid and changing based on the needs of the team at the moment. A fullback is in proper position as long as a halfback is in front of her generally speaking. It doesn’t matter if the fullback is at the half line or the 18 yard box as long as most of the team is ahead of him. When his team has the ball he or she is positioned first to score, or to assist in scoring then to defend.

What I am suggesting is that youth sports has become a reflection of a trend in professional sport, thus it fosters an idea early-on that the individual is more important than the group, family, team, or workplace. While individual rights need to be recognized and preserved, we should consider teaching our kids first and foremost to work collectively to solve problems and to be responsible to one another. Additionally, we should consider what we call our selves (e.g. defenders and strikers ) since labels may become our role in life and in games. Clinging to rigid labels that define who we think we are places limitations on our thinking and our abilities, especially in relation to others. This may be self-limiting and can affect our potential to grow and expand our thought and experiences as a person. As in life, soccer requires a dynamic model of thought and action. Bigger lessons are to be gained from youth sports programs that foster an integrative level of experience and thought.

Rick Zitelli


Rick Zitelli is the founder of Performance Solutions. It was founded after 20 years as a business owner, 51 years of being human, 10 years of coaching and a formal and informal education in human development . The motivation for it is to teach more effective methods to succeed in business, life, and athletics. Performance Solutions provides workshops for businesses, clubs, parents and coaches as well as private consulting services.

Rick Zitelli is a Certified Financial Planning Practitioner, Sports Psychology, business and leadership coach, and vibrational healing practitioner. He resides in Petaluma CA., and can be contacted at:

Posted on 15 Aug 2006 by coachgianni
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