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For youngsters, State Cup about more than just winning


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It’s in the intensity and passion of soccer games that some of life’s most important lessons can be forgotten, especially as NorCal Premier Soccer’s State Cup comes down to the wire at all age groups.

Part of NorCal’s mission is to develop quality players on the field who are able to use that intensity and passion to help their teams garner quality results.

But another, arguably more important, aspect of NorCal’s mission is to develop quality human beings off of it.

It’s with that second idea in mind that NorCal chooses to emphasize sportsmanship at the younger age groups of State Cup in order to instill values that will last much longer than the fleeting feelings of winning or losing possibly can.

“I think sportsmanship definitely has to be nurtured,” said NorCal president Benjamin Ziemer. “If you watch young children play, they’re generally good with each other. It’s only true in time that perhaps they go in a different direction unless we as a youth soccer organization and the club and the coaches and the parents guard against it.”

While the older divisions won’t finish up State Cup until much later in the year, the culmination of U9-U10 play comes this weekend with the semifinals and finals coming at Woodward Park in Manteca this Saturday and Sunday.

state-cup-5Unlike the older divisions, every team will play a full slate of games in the U9-U10 division, with the teams separated into eight different divisions after the second round of group play — and even if a team loses in the knockout rounds, it will continue to play just as long as everyone else.

“Instead of it being typical cup action where you might lose after three games, our format allows teams to keep playing against teams of similar strength,” Benjamin Ziemer said. “We think that’s important because it allows teams to participate in a competition which stresses winning more than the league, but still allows teams to play against teams of a similar strength, whereas in the older age groups, it’s after four games, they’re potentially eliminated and it’s more focused on competition and measuring yourself and seeing where you’re at.”

Added Herb Ziemer, Benjamin’s father and NorCal’s former State Cup coordinator: “Using creative formats, NorCal has been able to recognize the ‘traditional’ State Champions, but also include many other teams in the excitement of playing for well-defined additional championships.”

The unique format works out well for all sides — the top teams still can compete for the right to call themselves State Champions, while each other team still earns the chance to improve against opponents at similar levels and win a trophy of their own.

The overall idea is to mitigate some of the learned behaviors that manifest themselves at higher levels, namely the unsporting nature that can rear its ugly head with teenagers.

Benjamin Ziemer recalls recently watching an older-age game that featured many players he used to coach at a much younger age group, and being appalled at their sporting behavior — qualities that didn’t exist in the athletes as children.

“The only way that that happens is without the proper message coming from the top,” he said. “The younger kids in general, the tone at the games is a lot lighter. Not that there’s not competition, and the competition is good even at the younger age groups, but there’s an emphasis on development.

“While it’s not perfect, it certainly provides a different environment.”

By Evan Ream. Follow @EvanReam