Preface: I am an incredibly passionate and competitive soccer player. I absolutely despise losing and I love a good physical and mental battle when playing on the pitch.

Recently, a new friend of mine started up a 5-a-side soccer session in which a group of his friends (that I had never met) would meet up and play a game for an hour twice a week. He invited me to come along as they were short one evening about a month ago and it has been a brilliant, enjoyable few weeks playing with them. (I am the youngest player at 21, and ages range up to 40 years old)

When he asked me to play initially, I mentioned to him

I take playing soccer very seriously and change into a different person playing, nothing I say while playing should be taken to heart and if you're okay with that I'd love to play

While I am generally easy-going although stubborn in day-to-day life, when playing football I have an innate need to win. Because of this, when playing on a with or against someone that doesn't seem to be interested I will vocally (and probably borderline aggressively) tell them to come on and put some effort in while playing.

Generally this is taken quite well as just me being passionate while playing, however when a new person (approx 34/35) joined the last session and I shouted to put some effort in he seemed to be quite stunned and taken aback that I had confronted him on it.

After each session we usually have a few drinks and chat about games etc that are on and I have made some great friends because of this, but this new guy flat out refused to speak to me after the game because he

didn't want to be friends with a younger person who thinks he can boss people older than him around

I tried to explain that

I had no intention of bossing him around and I'm sorry he thought that

but he did not listen and has ignored me since.

I am not worried about making up with this person as I only see him for an hour or two at soccer a week.

The general consensus of the group is for a serious game but with lighthearted fun in between. Is there a way of changing a persons understanding of what I say in an interpersonal way? The rest of the group understood what I was going to be like before I played as my friend told them what I said. Is the best way to just outright say it to a new member or is there an easier/more conventional way?

My question is How can I ensure the people I am playing with know that what I say on the pitch is not a personal attack but rather a passionate remark with no lasting intention?

Edit: Okay, a lot of people seem to think that I am being abusive to the people I am playing with. The regular crew of people that play are 100% serious and want to play to the best of their ability and it is absolutely perfect for me and we all get along great. The problem came when a new person showed up and took my 'passionate encouragement' to heart. I understand i can come across very strong (especially when losing) and I am not justifying that it's okay to give out to people. I just want to say that what I said to him was more along the lines of "Come on man you can play so much better than this, put some work in" rather than a personal insult to the man. I'm not asking for a solution to insulting someone with no consequences while on the pitch.

My solution: Thank you all so much for your answers. I guess all I need was a ton of strangers on SE to tell me that it is in fact my behaviour that needs changing and not pushing the blame to the opinion of the others I play with. I will now be making a conscious decision when playing to tone myself down and play nicer. Thank you all :D

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    I'm a bit confused, is was he strictly upset because he "didn't want to be friends with a younger person who thinks he can boss people older than him around", or was he also upset that there was a mismatch of intensity between you two? Those scenarios warrant different approaches. You also might want to wait a little longer to accept answer so you can get more varied/complete input. Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 13:44
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    @LordFarquaad My personal feeling is he was upset because I confronted him about his lack of effort(my perception of course) and he wasn't used to being told off, let alone by someone 14-15 years younger. My bad, very new to this site, thank for the advice
    – Fitzy
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 13:49
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes.
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Jun 29, 2018 at 19:44
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    Very good that you realized that it's probably best to tone down your own remarks. After all, probably everyone on the pitch knows about playing harder, etc., and knows their own failings, especially with people who're not just kids any more. This is a very different social milieu from that of teenagers and very-early-20's, none of whom has "been around the block" too many times, and don't understand other people at all except in very primitive ways. It is possible to be deeply passionate about a sport and still be "composed" and civil. :) Commented Jul 2, 2018 at 22:17

8 Answers 8


You can't.

"What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch" is your opinion, but not theirs. If this guy doesn't like what you say on the pitch and is offended by it, your choices are:

  • Remove him from the team (good luck trying this)
  • Look for a team that shares your attitude
  • Ignore what he thinks about you (he might make it hard for you to ignore)
  • Tone down what you say on the pitch

I personally would recommend the last option.

You could try looking at the situation from their point of view. If someone plays football to have a bit of fun, and to keep fit, then what you are doing will spoil their fun and enjoyment of it.

When you say something, what matters is not your intent, but how the other person understands it. The other person sees your remark as a personal attack. That's what counts.


I've been playing for over 40 years now (since 1976), and have been on a lot of teams. I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two about inter-personal skills within a soccer team. So here's what I have. #4 is the one that most applies to the question you asked, but I'd suggest reading the whole thing.

  1. Common goals. If nobody is being paid to be there, or attempting to get noticed by scouts with that in mind, that means ultimately everyone is there for fun. If your behavior is causing other people to not have fun, you are hurting the team. You might as well be scoring own-goals. Conversely, if everyone else's behavior is causing you to not have fun (eg: They aren't even trying. If anything your skills are getting worse by playing with them, etc.) then the team is hurting you. This is just as important.
  2. Learn to lose. Everyone would like to win the league, but clearly most teams won't. Most likely, you'll be on one of those other teams. So over the long haul, you have to be able to deal with a lot of losing. It is pretty natural to not be happy. Just try not to do or say hurtful things in the heat of the moment that can't be taken back. Crack a beer afterwards, and analyze the plays that almost worked. "Oh man...if only you could have...". Remember that the rarity of coming in first is the dues you have to pay to make those championships so sweet.
  3. Be Positive. Pretty much everyone knows when they've screwed up, and why. They really don't need you to tell them. So if you're a super emotional person who has to make commentary, then tell people when they've done well. You can even do it violently. This goes particularly well for lesser-skilled players. If they don't feel like the best player, but get huge complements when they pass the ball to that midfielder with the great touch, they'll look to do that again.
  4. Apologize. You'll screw up. Everyone does, and unless you were born by immaculate conception, you will too. Own it, and apologize sincerely to the injured party(s) as soon as you are centered enough to do so. If that indiscretion on the field "should stay on the field", this is how you leave it there. Can't emphasize enough how important this is. I have seen people who were physically attacked by a teammate get surprisingly hung up over getting a simple apology. Eat your crow and do it.

And there's one last Maxim here: The pitch doesn't change a person's character, it reveals it.

Its fairly easy to be on your best behavior in most social situations, because there isn't a huge amount of stress. On the pitch you will have all the stress, and you will learn all the character flaws of yourself and all your teammates. If someone has anger management issues, it will be obvious by all the ejections and yelling at teammates. Depressive people will get dejected at a run of bad play and watch passes roll right by them. People with PTSD will fly off the handle at other players for no proportionate reason. If someone is selfish, they'll try to go score by themselves when they get the ball. Those with ADD will get distracted and need the tactical situation pointed out to them. If you keep playing, you will have to learn how to deal with the mental health issues of others, and of course your own. In normal life you can try to pretend that you and everyone around you are neurotypical, but on the pitch you have to deal with human beings as they are.

I'm adding an addendum to address a comment, because I don't think I can really do it in a comment, and it may touch on the question I think. Comment was:

How can you be so uncompetitive? Be positive, learn to lose... What's the fun then? Are you not competing to win?

There is in fact a common (mis)perception that being a dick to people and being competitive are the same thing. It looks silly when I write it down, but a surprising amount of us men in particular were raised with this belief. Here in Oklahoma, let's say American Football adjacent, it wasn't 10 years ago I watched a grown man (coach) scream at an 8 year old about how much he sucks, whilst complementing his teammate for making him cry. Sometimes what passes for coaching for boys, without the whistle is indiscernible from child abuse.

But that's all a huge lie. Wheaton's Law applies to all manner of competitive activity, not just online gaming. The fact is: Terrorized people play worse. Teams that love each other play better. If you want to win you need your teammates firing on all cylinders, not scared to death what will happen if they do anything other than make a safe pass backwards. You need them to love watching that midfielder teammate rip the seams of the defense apart with his passing when he gets the ball, and love watching that speedy striker burn everyone if only they can pop a ball right to his sweet spot. You need defenders and a keeper who would happily take a bullet for each other.


This can happen a lot in competitive sports, hobbies and games. A clash of personalities can mean two people who enjoy something cannot play it together.

I used to play a game called Minecraft online with a few friends (open-world, can involve a lot of building structures and/or exploration). One of our group was more passionate about the game than the rest of us; he favoured careful meticulous planning of building a strong base whereas I and my friends preferred to focus on exploration and build more humble ad-hoc dwellings when needed. The 'serious' friend got frustrated with us because - despite not directly hindering his own work - he complained that we were not taking things seriously. He offered advice and resources to 'help us' build structures more like his, which we politely declined as we found more fun in the exploration aspect. When we next met in person, I asked if he was genuinely annoyed at how different our approaches to the game were. He apologised and suggested that while he will still do things his way, he will try to be less imposing on us. We all enjoy the game, but in different ways.

To address your situation, it's important to understand that people take part in these activities for different reasons and to varying degrees of seriousness and effort. As you have described yourself, it appears that you take the game more seriously than most. You can explain to them outside of games that you thoroughly enjoy playing and hate to lose, but if the majority of your teammates are not taking it seriously and just want to have fun, you will inevitably isolate yourself by being the only one with a different attitude. Make them aware of this part of your personality outside of the games as well as during (you don't transform into a different person on the field after all!).

You can explain to people calmly but firmly that your attitude to play might be different from their own, but if they are not keen on accepting what may become an apology-in-advance, your best solution would be to find other like-minded players to play with instead.


A sports field is not a magical consequence-free universe separated from reality, although many would have it so.

Harassment whether it is verbal or physical is just as unacceptable there as at the workplace, home or any place else.

It sounds like you tried to bully him, and he called you out on it. Further it sounds like you are in denial, since your response was not an apology, and your question here is somewhat pathological - 'How do I continue to get away with it?'

Perhaps admitting what you did, followed an actual apology is in order. Most of all - stop doing it.


When I played at (an all-boys) school a teacher (a.k.a. "games master") might shout things like "come on, you old woman!" to spur us on.

That kind of exhortation could be socially offensive though, e.g. seen in the context of ...

a younger person who thinks he can boss people older than him around

... as if he were their teacher or boss.

That (age difference, social position) may matter to some people and/or in some societies.

Also your being younger and fitter might make it seem as if you're bullying someone for their (age-related) disability.

I think you can take liberties -- call someone an ass, for example, for making a mistake -- but only with their implicit permission. There's not much you can do to require people to accept your criticism or even to like you.

I suggest an apology along the lines of "Sorry I was rude" and "I won't say that again (or not to you, at least)".

Incidentally there's a "Same Page Tool" frequently mentioned on RPG.SE as a solution to interpersonal (inter-player) conflict during role-playing games: are we all playing the same "game"?

I also suggest you reevaluate the point of the game.

The purpose of a "friendly" is not to be competitive, and win, and criticise: it's to be friendly, and to play in a way that other people will want to play and want to play with you.

So I suggest you change what you permit yourself say.


No! You stupid ****. Put some effort into it! ****, we're gonna lose again. :-(


Yes! Charles! Nice try, way to go! Yeah we're just getting started now! :-)

If you did that you wouldn't have to pretend to be Jekyll and Hyde, and to ask people to forgive and forget what you tell them on the field, i.e. instead you could be equally supportive and friendly on and off the field.

Also I doubt your attitude is "innate", instead I assume it's learned (and that you can learn different).

Another option for you might be to find a competitive team/league to play in, instead of more friendly kick-abouts.


When I was younger (as a child and through most of my teens) I did a lot of ski racing. It's a sport I enjoyed and I trained on the snow every weekend during the winter, and I'd do some physical training with my team in the fall months leading up to the ski season. The thing is, I'm not competitive by nature, not nearly as much as many of my team mates were.

I trained because I enjoyed the sport, I wanted to improve my skiing and myself as a whole. I have a feeling this is a similar perspective that this new player on your team had. I didn't set out to win every race I went to, as some of my team mates did, and as you are trying to win every match.

The coaches I had through the years knew/noticed this and they adapted their training. They still gave me all the of great tips on improving my technique and they still pushed me towards improvement but with perhaps less intensity than they would when speaking to other athletes. And that's what made everything work: I was kept interested, everyone in the team was in an environment that matched their wants and needs and everyone was happy.

Now my situation is a bit different as skiing is an individual sport, and my results don't affect the other team members, but the concept remains the same: it's up to you to do as my coaches did and adapt your speech to what will best resonate with each member of your team. It doesn't mean you should give up on pushing him a little bit, but gauge his and new members' enthusiasm levels before going all out.


I think your obsession with winning the game has led you to lose sight of winning the game. The problem is that your idea of "winning" and "game" are far too short sighted.

A single soccer match doesn't exist in isolation. It could be 1 match in a season, 1 match in a tournament, but it's never just the "1 match for now and forever". You're not playing just a game of soccer, you're playing an iterated game of games. Your strategy shouldn't be to be the insufferable try-hard who wins a single soccer game. As you saw, that's repulsive, and has a fair chance of limiting your access to future soccer games. Your optimal strategy would be one that wins the game of games. Part of that is playing with enough sportsmanship that people will continue to want to play with you.

Funny enough, Jordan Peterson brings up this exact topic up on the Joe Rogan Experience today. I would urge you to watch it, from 41m20s to up to 45:35.

...and so when you say to your kid that it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game, what you're saying is "Don't forget, kid, that what you're trying to do here is to do well at life, and you need to practice to develop the strategies that let you do well at life, while you're in any specific game. You never want to compromise your ability to do well at life for the sake of winning a single game."


This will be difficult to impossible to do. I strongly suggest that you chat with new players a bit before the game and let them know that you tend to get very passionate and that nothing personal is meant during the game.

Elgin discusses this issue in her book The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense and she makes the claim that the sporting metaphor is a significant cause of communication issues between genders. Women tend to see a disconnect between sports and other activities, while men tend to see sports as a metaphor for all activities.


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