Blue Cards: A Red Card For Positive Behavior
Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) uses soccer as a vehicle to promote health, wellbeing and positive outcomes for homeless adults and at-risk and homeless youth in cities all over the country. Given the intense marginalization that is too often experienced in their day-to-day lives, SSUSA is deeply committed to ensuring their players’ soccer experience is different and many players talk about how meaningful it is to play in an environment that so consistently offers positive reinforcement. SSUSA is about rewarding the positive, which is why they took a standard part of soccer, the red and yellow cards that are issued for infractions, and turned it on its head. They created the blue card- a card that would reinforce good behavior.
Because it so nicely promotes SSUSA’s mission, the leadership, staff, referees, coaches and players have made it an integral part of SSUSA’s programming, including in their national tournament. blue cards are a critical part of the tournament structure. In the case of tie matches, the team that has earned the most blue cards is awarded the win. But it’s so much more than that. SSUSA believes the blue card also has helped to temper competitive tension that can escalate in matches. It’s also part of the organization’s ethos. Together, stakeholders consider all the best ways to use it to achieve the best possible outcomes.
SSUSA has conducted formal evaluation of the blue card in its tournaments and the impact has been far reaching. Players and coaches tell many stories about how the desire to help their team earn a blue card has motivated them to shift their behavior. For a population of players who are marginalized in society, who often are dealing with the effects of trauma and who are working on creating “small wins” in their lives, the blue card presents a unique opportunity to be recognized and rewarded for doing something positive. Coaches all mention that the blue card gave them a way to talk and tangibly reinforce the value of fair play.
The other crucial feedback has come from referees. Suddenly they felt like the “good guys”. Many referees mentioned that the blue card has empowered them and given them a special tool that they can use to directly contribute in healthy way to the tournament. One referee was quoted as saying, "No one has ever cheered for me before when I have given red or yellow cards, but when I awarded blue cards, seeing the players smile and hearing the crowd cheer for the blue card actually made me feel good and simply made the refereeing more gratifying."