The importance of rivalry

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My first taste as a player of a true rivalry came at age 11. It was my first year of club soccer after playing in developmental leagues since I was five. Our team was damn good, but so were our neighbors. Some of us went to the same school, and we occasionally acknowledged one another, but we knew we couldn’t be friends.

Our goal every year was to win our division on our way to a state championship, but there were few games as exhilarating as the one between our city rival and us. We competed in one of the four biggest cities in the state, but we knew that whoever came out victorious would have a real chance against the rich kids up north.

Blood was a common theme of the matchups. If one team fell behind by two or more goals, the other frequently resorted to dirty tackles and sometimes punches were thrown. Yellow cards would be shelled out in abundance and being sent off the pitch commonly resulted in a pat on the back from a teammate.

We came out on top something like seven of our first 10 meetings with our counterpart. We became arrogant, and audibly questioned our opponent’s ability to compete with us. And then out of nowhere we dropped a game to them. We were obviously more talented, but the rivalry had caused us to act like pompous teenagers and had given our opponent the motivation to kick our ass.

The Holy War, arguably the biggest game in the state every year, encapsulates everything that is wanted in a rivalry; proximity of the Utah and BYU campuses, philosophical differences, blue versus red, etc. However, the game won’t be played again until 2016.

Potential rivals should compete head-to-head every year. If there isn’t at least an annual matchup, the tension is diminished. This format allows for one of the meetings to be played at team A’s home site and the subsequent contest to take place at team B’s venue. Unfortunately, the Holy War no longer subscribes to this idea.

However, that is not all that fuels rivalries. BYU and Utah are like two siblings. They conduct their athletic business in a similar manner and are populated by a large number of members of the state’s predominant religion. They fight over coaches, players and even scheduling. Though the rivalry has been placed on the shelf for 2014-15, it will survive.

As for UVU, rivals are lacking. Perhaps this is another factor that prevents students that attend the university with the state’s highest enrollment from attending games. Now that the Wolverines compete within in the WAC, the games mean more, but there still isn’t that game circled on the schedule that has players and fans salivating.

Saying one team will become a rival is nearly impossible to predict. The closest recurring opponent on the schedule is Utah State, but the divide of playing in separate conferences will likely obstruct any battle-like passion in the upcoming competitions between the two schools.

There’s a rival out there for the Wolverines, but it will take time to build up to the type of contempt that makes a rivalry great.

As for my club team and our adjacent foes, eventually we started socializing when we transitioned to high school. The realization that our hatred wouldn’t inspire any team play while collectively representing our various institutions (district zoning differs greatly from club soccer divides) provided us the opportunity to set aside our differences. I learned that they too were humans, and wondered how we were ever capable of some of the malicious actions that became commonplace. That doesn’t take away from those special games that will forever be etched in my memory.

The spiteful actions that persist within rivalries aren’t always productive, and often are taken to extreme lengths that expose an inherently evil nature of the participants, which no one should ever condone, but in general rivalries exist for the good of sports.

I would liken my experience with rivalries to that of a young child who over hears his mother or father praising the accomplishments of one of his or her peers, while ignoring their offspring’s accolades. The child can’t comprehend why he or she wants to be better than the golden child, but the resolve to prove superiority pushes him or her to strive for excellence.

UVU will find out soon enough who that is in the WAC, and for the sake of athletic growth, let’s hope we can develop some semblance of a rivalry with them.