Soccer, Contests, and Community Building

A Great Day of Soccer

My entire childhood was spent playing in the Mississippi Youth Soccer Organization.  I started playing soccer in the second grade, and play for the next 14 years.  I had this huge crush on this boy (Jerry) in my first grade class who played soccer, so I decided to learn how to play so I could impress him on the playground.   But alas, Jerry moved away at the end of first grade.  Fortunately, I fell just as hard in love with soccer, so my heartache was short lived. (yes, I started playing soccer to impress a boy – I bet those who know me didn’t see that one coming)

Each Spring, we had the classic soccer tournaments, playing for District and State championships.  But something I will never forget is “The Great Day of Soccer”.  It was this annual tournament where you participated in individual events, and not in any team events.  The 5 events were

  • how far you could do a throw-in
  • how fast you could dribble through the cones
  • what your accuracy was for shooting on goal (40 points if you could get it in the upper corner)
  • how many times you could juggle the soccer ball
  • how far you could kick the ball

My final year, I got up to 88 consecutive juggles before screwing up.  The crowd that had gathered around me freaked me out and I lost my focus towards the end.  But they still applauded, and I still kicked the ball straight up in the air as if I had reached the goal of 100 juggles.  And yes, I still wear my “great day” t-shirt, after all these years. It was truly a great day of soccer, and truly a great t-shirt to still be alive after 15+ years.

Contests and Community Building

One of the things I learned from OSCON last year was that contests may actually drive the community apart because of the competition. Ever since, I’ve been scratching my head wondering how effective contests really are in building community. I just can’t shake the feeling that it feels risky.

Then I started thinking about the great day of soccer. There’s no way you can build a soccer league by hosting the great day of soccer. Where would you host the tournament, how you would get word out to come, what sort of events would you have? In order to build a local soccer community, you must first find the kids that are playing soccer in the playground and find the parents that used to play as a kid. Then you have to find a place to play. Only once you have the kids playing for fun can you tap into that energy and use it to attract others to play, others that might not have had an interest before, but do now. It’s one of those, “hey, what is going on over there?” Here I’m thinking about improved fields, jerseys, announcements in newspapers, and media interviews. Now, as you’re starting to gain more and more kids, you can work on improving the infrastructure and so forth. Finally, once a critical mass is hit of die-hard soccer fans and players, you can have a tournament to showcase individual skills. A contest at this point wouldn’t drive people away, because they are already here for their own reasons. A contest here would be competition at a different level, allowing those interested parties to compete over reputation, while the critical mass gets to watch and freak out people trying to reach those 100 juggles.

Tying this all back to community-building, the gist of this run-away random thought is contests do not build community; successfully-run contests promote the already-existing community.

Of course, the next time I’m home, I should actually call up one of the founding members of BAYS (bay area youth soccer – my local hometown organization) and find out just how far in left-field I am with how a soccer league gets started. =)

Comments (7)

  1. Peter Ritchie says:

    There’s been some chatter about this sort of thing regarding the Forums.  The gist is to offer a tangible reward for participation.  The problem ends up being (even with just "top ten poster" lists) is that participation is then in response to that reward rather than being a member of a community.

    It seems innocuous to offer rewards (like "Community Gal" Fource character 🙂 but many community members feel that the content for some then becomes about getting the rewards and not about offering quality community content/participation–which results in bad/shallow content or participation in an effort to get the reward.  Or other’s believe the "rewards" then become payola and risk the appearance the community is no longer a "community" but has ulterior motives.

    I think Alan (Josh, Joe, et al.) have addressed this with ideas for the Forums, like the "reward" being a reputation and providing an infrastructure to build and maintain that reputation.

    In terms of open-source projects the reward should primarily be the software.

  2. Tim says:


    I have analysed your stated chronology of events, and I think I have spotted the flaw in your Jerry Plan:

    a] You and Jerry were in the first grade together.

    b] You had a huge crush on Jerry.

    c] Jerry moved away at the end of first grade.

    d] In the second grade, you decided to learn how to play so you could impress Jerry on the playground.

    e] Presumably you then remembered that had Jerry moved away at the end of the first grade.

    Do you see where you went wrong?

    Such a rookie mistake 🙂

  3. saraford says:

    I wanted to play in first grade, but i wasn’t old enough.  i had to wait until second grade, and i definitely wasn’t going to give up after having to wait a year.  Once i’m determined to do something, i hardly ever give up.

  4. saraford says:

    Hey Peter,  how did i know you would be the first to respond to this blog entry =)

    Yep, i’ve been watching Josh and Joe work on the reputation stuff for quite some time.  I was thinking about the Windows CE Shared Source contest when i wrote this blog entry.  Although there was a prize at the end, I bet the reputation of being one of the first participants of a Microsoft Shared Source contest had to be a primary motivating factor.  

    But i totally hear you about doing something for its own sake and not for the competition.  I trained an entire year for this one national karate tourney at a kid.  I lost in the first round 5-6 after 1 minute and 45 seconds.  I learned quite early that you do it for the sake of training, and not for the competition (although it is great to showcase once in a while how far you’ve come and what you can do.)

    Maybe the soccer analogy works because usually you play as a team, but this soccer contest allows you to have individual reputation.

    Don’t worry, i’m not planning any contests, externally that is.  =)  I’m going to experiment with an internal power toy build-off, but i have lots of thinking still to do on that.

    But i will have my power toy action figure on day.  you can count on that.  =)

  5. Cool post Sara.

    My wife is Brazilian and our oldest son, Samuel, plays youth soccer here in N.E. Tennessee.

    Imagine the pressure on the poor guy. 😉

  6. saraford says:

    Hi Mark, could be worse… he could be expected to be a rock super-star in football (american football that is) living in the SEC.  =)

  7. Will Pearson says:

    Probably the biggest key to community participation is the difference between the benefits someone derives from community participation and the costs involved with that participation.  This is why contests rarely build communities.  People participate in contests for the benefits they hope to gain from that contest, usually some material reward or enhanced status; they usually don’t participate in contests to build community.  I do think that there is one situation where contests can be useful in building community.  If people have to engage with the community somehow to complete the challenge of the contest then they may learn the benefits that they can gain from community involvement and it might give them an accurate idea of the costs involved with community involvement.  This might just be enough to push the benefits above the costs and lead to more people participating in community activities.

    To me, participation seems to be about how easy is it to find a soccor field, how easy is it to then set up and play, and how much people get something out of soccor.  What people get out of something is going to vary with the person.