Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Soccer Season

My boys started school this week, which is just wrong, because it is still August. School is not supposed to start until after Labor Day. That is how it was when I was a kid, so that is how it should be. School in the middle of August should be illegal. Anyway… as happens every year, along with the beginning of school comes the beginning of soccer season, and the end of parental free time as we know it. Now we have a very regulated schedule as to when and where we will sit in our lawn chairs and sweat, as opposed to July when we could sit and sweat anywhere and at any time we chose.

So there I sit. In my chair, at the park. Inexplicably watching a soccer practice. If you read my August, 2011 column “Soccer as Birth Control,” you already know all about my feelings on this subject. Somewhere on the timeline between when I was a kid and when I had kids of my own, parents developed the need to attend their children’s sports practices. My parents never attended a single one of my practices, and I think they would have been asked to leave by the coach if they had. Nowadays, parents are almost required by the coach to help out, and if you just drop your kid off at practice and leave, you are known as “those parents.”

“Billy fell down and scraped his knee. Quick, where are his parents?”
“Oh, they’re not here. They just dropped him off and left.”
“Oh, they’re one of those families, are they?”

So there I sit. In my chair, at the park. Watching Son Number Two’s soccer practice. Watching the poor coach try to get thirteen six-year-olds to all do the same thing at the same time. That is a statistical impossibility. Have you ever tried to get two six-year-olds to do the same thing at the same time? Very difficult. Five or more? Not going to happen. Do I feel sorry for him? No, because I coach T-ball, and as far as I’m concerned, he has it easy. Try to teach thirteen six-year-olds the rules of baseball some time. Talk about impossible. At least soccer only has four rules. Don’t touch the ball with your hands unless you’re the goalie, don’t kick the other guy above the waist, drink lots of water, and don’t kick it into your own goal. How hard can that be?

The infield fly rule. Now that’s hard to teach a six-year-old!

Actually, there may be a few more rules to soccer than that, but no one knows them. I’m pretty sure that is why the league was very adamant that every parent receive a copy of the “code of conduct” this year. We were even required to sign that we had read and understood it, and promised to abide by it. Strangely enough however, the code of conduct had very little to do with the player’s conduct. It was mostly about the conduct of the fans, meaning the parents.

We’ve all heard stories and maybe even seen first-hand the “nightmare parents” at kid’s sporting events. Those marginally sane people who take their child’s sports “career” way too seriously, and voice their opinions about the coaching decisions and referee’s calls obnoxiously from the sidelines. They exist in all sports, but soccer is the only sport where I have ever had to promise in writing that I wouldn’t yell at the ref. I would never yell at the ref anyway, but I can sort of understand why someone might. Americans don’t understand soccer. There is a good reason for that. Soccer is not understandable. Plus it is insanely boring.

The pros play for about ten hours on a field the size of Rhode Island, getting near the actual goal an astonishing three times, resulting in a 0-0 tie at the end of regular play. The referee then adds an additional 45 minutes of “stoppage time” at his or her discretion, resulting in a 1-1 tie after numerous “free kicks.” Thrilling!

The referee might give you a yellow card if you cause a foul, but he might also allow play to continue under the advantage rule, if your foul would have helped your team unfairly. If play stops, the clock doesn’t, so a common tactic is to fake injuries to run the clock down. Corner kick, goal kick, free kick, indirect free kick, penalty kick. Charging, sandwiching, worrying the goalkeeper, cautioning, dangerous play, encroaching, fair charging, obstructing, impeding, late tackling, off sides, on sides, yellow cards, red cards. I am willing to bet that at any soccer match at any time in the United States, only four people actually know what is going on. They are the ref, one of the two coaches (the one who played soccer in high school), and the European couple in the stands.

So, of course some of the parents are yelling at the referee. We’re not yelling, “What was that?” in the context of, “Are you crazy, he was totally off sides!” We’re yelling, “What was that?” in the context of, “What does off sides mean? I totally don’t even understand which team you just called a foul on, if indeed you just called a foul. You stopped the entire play, but the clock is still running, so shouldn’t someone turn it off? I have no idea what is happening, and I feel like I need to yell because you are out in the center of the field which is 2000 feet away from my lawn chair.”

Since I signed the code of conduct, I will refrain from yelling, “What was that?” at the ref. It won’t be hard, since I have no interest in soccer in the first place. I will simply keep watching my sons play, cheering them on in a positive and encouraging manner while not disparaging the other team’s players or their efforts, per the code of conduct, patiently waiting for the day they decide to skip the next soccer season to concentrate on baseball.

And if, while I’m trying not to be one of “those parents,” the coach asks me to help out at practice, I’ll do my best. I will encourage my son and his teammates to drink lots of water and kick the ball toward the correct goal. Hopefully that will be helpful. The most help I could really offer our coach however, is a simple suggestion. Have the rest of the kids always pass the ball to Felipe, the Brazilian kid. He’s the only one out there who looks like he knows what's going on.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2012 Marc Schmatjen

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