We are in our fifth (and hopefully final) soccer season as parents. I can say with all honesty that I am not the type of parent who seeks to reenact the sports glory days of my youth through my own children. Mostly because that would be unfair to them, but also because I was a mediocre athlete as a kid and never really had many “glory days” to speak of anyway.
I will leave their sports glory, or lack thereof, up to them, but I will definitely choose their sports for them. More to the point, I want to choose what sports they don’t play. Soccer, specifically. We are graciously allowing them to play soccer while they are young, mostly out of a mixture of fairness and stupidity. We foolishly let Son Number One play soccer when he was five or six, not realizing how detrimental children’s soccer can be. Not for the players, mind you, but for the parents.
We won’t let them play football due to the high potential for player injury, but we really need to limit soccer for the high potential of parental heart failure. When Son Number One played his first game back in the fall of 2010, I nearly had three heart attacks and a stroke in the span of forty-five minutes.
The stress wasn’t due to too much excitement. It was just the opposite. It was from the very justifiable expectation of excitement followed immediately by absolutely nothing happening. The ball would get right up to the goal line and then seemingly every player would simply stop playing. No matter how much or how loud us helpful parents yelled “KICK IT!!!” no one would kick it. It was gut-wrenching and heart-stopping to come so close to a goal, only to have everyone stop and not kick it into the goal. And it happened over and over and over. And over.
We should have just stopped after the first season, but again, we were idiots. Son Number Two was eagerly waiting his turn to play, and we were weak and just couldn’t bring ourselves to say no. (We kick ourselves now for that moment of lily-livered parenting.) So when soccer season (or the dark times, as it is known around our house) arrived the next year, Number One and Two were both playing on different teams. If we thought one soccer season was bad, two at once was excruciating.
Son Number Two’s team continued the rich tradition of painful inaction in front of the goal, but Son Number One’s team brought us a new frustration. They had graduated to a much larger field, and while the players were a little more aggressive and skilled near the goal, they almost never got there. The field was so large, ninety percent of the game was spent passing the ball back and forth from one team to another out in the middle of the four-acre Bermuda grass rectangle of despair. “PASS IT TO YOUR OWN GUY!!!” we yelled helpfully. They did not.
Early on in his second season, Son Number One showed us a glimmer of hope. Not hope of making soccer more palatable for his parents, but of us possibly being able to get out of this mess. He gave us a light at the end of our long, dark soccer tunnel. Thankfully, Number One was born with my inherent laziness. Given the choice between motion and rest, ninety-eight percent of the time he will choose rest. He did not like the big field at all. He was quoted by his coach as saying, “You know, Coach, I don’t really like to run, so if you could put me on defense or at goalie, that would be great.”
This was good news and we nurtured it. “Boy, that field sure is large, isn’t it, son. It’s waaaay bigger than last year. Must be hard to run all the way up and all the way back every time. I’ll bet you’re tired! I know I would be. You know, the field will be even bigger when you move up again next season. Think ya wanna play again next year?”
There was no way he was going to opt for a third season. The parents shoot… they score! Unfortunately, while we were happily listening to Son Number One complain about being tired, his gung-ho younger brother, Number Two, seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously out on the pitch. Uh-oh.
Youth sports are not a one-way street. It is not “all about the kids,” as some positive coaching organizations want you to believe. Youth sports are somewhat about children learning skills, teamwork, and sportsmanship, but mostly about what the parents are able to handle. We just couldn’t afford to go through heart attack and stroke-inducing soccer for any longer than absolutely necessary, so we needed to act fast to discourage Son Number Two. We saw our opening with Son Number One and took it.
New family rule: Each child gets to play soccer for two years and then it’s on to swimming and/or baseball. That way, dad should still be around to enjoy it all.
Kids are not really deep philosophical thinkers – at least, my kids aren’t – so they don’t tend to question their lives too much as long as everything seems fair to them. “I’m forced to do manual labor all weekend? Well, OK, as long as my brothers have to also.” So Son Number Two fell right into line with the soccer moratorium. He played his two years and hung up his cleats at the ripe old age of six, just like his older brother. Did he want to play longer? I never asked him and I don’t care. Like I said, youth sports are a two-way street, and my arteries have the right of way.
I’ve had a few scares that just turned out to be indigestion from the snack bar food, but luckily no actual heart attacks yet. Son Number Three is now in his second (final) soccer season, out on the big field, so my heart just has to stay strong for two more months and we can all move on with our lives. Please keep me in your prayers.
“PASS THE BALL TO YOUR OWN GUY!!!!”
See you soon,
Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen
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