Soccer with Four-Year-Old Girls

Oct 5, 2012 by

 

It’s the most perfect of days in North Carolina.  Temperatures hover around the mid-70’s, it’s a little bit overcast, and the sense one season is nearing its end making way for another.   The hot humid summer rolls its credits making way for today’s feature presentation – fall.

I finally get to sit down and relax after a stressful day in the office.  I store my phone in my pocket, stretch out my legs and lean back in my chair taking in these final few hours of daylight.  Before me are four soccer fields with painted white lines over perfectly manicured grass.  There is a scattering of young children in shin guards and cleats kicking around soccer balls.  The outer perimeter is lined with parents, such as me, sitting in camping chairs taking in the action.  I look to my left to see my wife bouncing our four month old son on her lap.   I thought to myself, “what a nice ending to a hectic day”.  I then completely removed from my conscience the prior half hour that led us to this very moment.

Running late as usual, I rushed home from the office.   Saddled with the burden of hitting all the red lights, I had little time to spare.  When I arrive home, I make a mad dash to round up the children.  My wife packs snacks, drinks, and loads up her bag with all the essentials needed for our infant son.  I wrestle my daughter down changing her school outfit to the soccer uniform.  This is harder than it sounds.  With all my might, I forcefully shove the cleats on both feet and quickly tie the laces.  Everyone piles in the car and I speed off to soccer practice. We arrive sparing no time.  Practice begins, at 5:45, but that’s just a formality.  There are a few stragglers arriving tardy, making the official start time closer to 5:55.  My wife and I set up camp on the grassy sidelines with the other parents and family members.   My daughter’s team – The Salamanders – runs out on the field.  The first drill is under way.  I pull out a book.

Here’s a brief recap of the first practice:

  • Two fathers, who volunteered to coach, realize what they just got themselves into.
  • Six adorable girls dressed in matching orange team t-shirts, Umbro shorts, socks pulled over their knees, realize what their parents just got them into.
  • Two of the first three drills fail miserably.  The two coaches decide on a game of freeze tag.  This goes over extremely well with the girls.
  • An impromptu team cheer is requested by the coach as the team gathers around mid-field – “Go Salamanders!”  (Quite possibly the highlight of the practice for my daughter)
  • A 3X3 scrimmage with another team, where most of the girls representing the Salamanders dribbled the ball in the opposite direction of the goal they were supposed to go towards and score not once but multiple times in the wrong goal.
  • My daughter, tired of just using her feet to advance the ball up field, decides it’s more efficient to just pick up the ball using her hands.
  • Halfway through the scrimmage, my daughters’ interest in soccer wanes significantly.  The same goes for the majority of the girls out there.  Especially the girl on my daughter’s team deciding to take a knee on the goal line, while the action proceeds at the opposite end, staring at the game happening on the adjacent field.
  • The half hour scrimmage concludes – the Salamanders do not score a single goal, unless you count the ones they scored on themselves.  The girls could not have cared less about the end result.

Sometime during the practice the following exchange occurred between my wife and daughter.  Please note that my daughter begins the exchange from the middle of the field, thirty yards or so separate them – for all in attendance to hear.

“Mommy!” my daughter shrieked with concern.

“Yes honey, pay attention out there.”

“This girl doesn’t have a hand!”

“It’s ok to be different.” my wife exclaimed in a diplomatic matter.

My wife turned to me and said, “Did you just hear what your daughter yelled across the field?”

“Yup.”, I softly replied, never looking up from my book.

My daughter points out the obvious in a way only a four year old could.  A teammate of my daughter was born without a left hand.  Since no one mentioned this to my daughter beforehand she innocently called upon my wife to inquire about this matter.  By the way, this little girl born without a hand is pretty fucking great at soccer, easily the most skilled of all the Salamanders.   My wife and I avoided all eye contact with the other adults after the exchange.  Embarrassed for what our child just yelled out, the internal countdown to when practice ended began with my wife and me.  Time paced like a snail.

As I watched the mess unfold on the pitch, I began thinking about a child’s first introduction to athletics.  I find myself asking the question – what is the appropriate age for a child to begin their ventures into organized sports?  I use the phrase organized sports loosely, since it appears what’s happening on the field is anything but.  I would believe if you enroll your child under the age of seven into a sports program, the word organization really refers to shelling out money to outsource exercise.

I was hesitant to answer right away when my father-in-law asked me how soccer was going for his granddaughter.  After I mustered up a quasi-positive response, I asked a question of my own to him.  “Do you think she is too young?”   He responded favorably to my question.  He told me at the very least; she’s receiving an hour’s worth of exercise and enhancing her social skills.  I agreed with him and felt a little better about our decision to sign her up for soccer.

************

I am around a lot of parents with young children, primarily because I have two young children myself.  So my environment extends to schools, gyms, soccer fields and playgrounds.  I have noticed parents today believe their children must think, act, do and possess the same interests they do.  As parents, it’s always treat when our children sing along to songs we listen to, root for the same professional sports teams, or partake in hobbies that are dear to us.   Even more so for many parents, it’s a joyous occasion when they eventually align themselves with the same political party, act as competitive as we do, and draw up the same ideologies and values.  It’s human nature to want these things.  However, it might not be exactly healthy.

In acting this way, are we crushing the importance of individualism?

For all the wonderful things my generation represents, I feel that we, along with younger generations, are a selfish group.  Everything seems to be viewed as a commodity and how that commodity makes us feel.  You buy something because it benefits you and makes you feel good.  This comes in the form of mobile devices, televisions, clothes and now our very own children.  We want our children to stand out so we, as parents, will join them in being recognized among our peers.  Does it really come as a surprise that parents upload their child on YouTube dancing to some idiotic pop song, or that we stand in line on a city block for hours in hopes that our child can be chosen to perform on a reality based talent competition program?  Must we be so overbearing that everyone within earshot can hear you coach your kid from the stands?

Case in point, five minutes into the scrimmage, I became that asshole parent I told myself I would never be.  Five minutes into the scrimmage I found myself wanting my daughter to at least have four goals scored, playing lock down defense, and guiding her team victorious over that bunch representing the opponents on the other half of the field.  I caught myself even telling her to get back on defense and defend the goal.  She looked at me with confusion.  I then told myself to shut the fuck up.  Earl Woods I am not.  I have no preconceived notion of trotting my daughter out on the Today Show to let the world get a glimpse of her athletic prowess.    I would never do that to her.  So I suppressed my Little League parent desires, and decided to sit back and watch six little girls in matching uniforms enjoy themselves.   Plus the unintentional comedy out there on the field is priceless!

I brought a book to read during these hour long practices to keep my focus on not being that type of parent.  I still take the time to look up to cheer and wave to my daughter as she skips across the field.

************

My own Baby Boomer parents were not like the parents of today.  All they ever wanted for me was to do decent in school, be polite and courteous to others, and to someday possess a job.  Might I add, my father’s wish to his son was to stay out of jail, not even a night in the drunk tank; I fell short there.  But that was really it.  All those things they wanted were for my benefit.

My father coached me a few times in my life.  During 4th grade recreation basketball, and again in tennis during my high school days.   He was a standout athlete in high school and college, but I never got the sense that he wanted my sports career to mirror his, or that he was living his life through mine with my successes in sports.  If he did, he hid it well.  Instead of setting objective achievement goals, I may or may not have been able to reach; my father took a different approach to my sports career.  He guided me more in the philosophy of sports I could use both on and off the courts.  Such as using stoicism to your advantage, never let up on an inferior opponent, be humble in both wins and losses, show up prepared and never seek credit -let your play dictate whether you receive accolades or not.  My father had an uncanny ability to drive home a point without yelling or putting on a show when he coached.  Most kids he coached throughout his years, always spoke highly about him.  His coaching idol was John Wooden.

Both my father and mother let me be my own person and though it wasn’t easy on them at times – mostly due to my bad decisions, or worse yet, lack of decisions – they let me figure some shit out on my own and become my own person.  If that’s not love, then I am not sure what is.

************

I love sports.  I am grateful for what sports has offered me, both competing in them myself or watching others.  I guess my dilemma with young children playing organized sports really lies in the manufactured structure of it all.  The older we get, the more structured our life gets.  What young child yearns for every aspect of their life to follow some structured routine?  My fondest memories of playing sports came when it was just my friends and I taking it upon ourselves to go out and play.  There was no practice, coaches, or a schedule telling us when and where we had to be.  You know that thing we speak a lot about but do less of – doing something for the sheer enjoyment of it.

Perhaps I am over thinking this a bit.  Sports have always been an integral aspect of my life.   I suppose I am putting too much thought into my own daughters foray into sports mainly because I want her to experience the fun that you can receive from it.    The last thing I want is for sports to become a burden or be off put by it because it feels like a job.

Life is more complex, so they say.  Two parents working and all, so we now we must check our calendars first.   Everything must fit neatly in an organized manner, so we can bring about order to this chaotic life with kids.  Maybe this is how it must be, and now I must sit alongside other adults every Tuesday afternoon watching this disaster we call four year old girls playing soccer.  I am all in and now accept it.  I just hope I do not ruin sports for my daughter.   I want her to decide if this is something she wants to do and not because of satisfying me or anyone else for that matter.

I think it’s important to introduce all types of activities, sports related or otherwise.  Then back away and let them pave their own paths.  We should be there for guidance and support.  Sometimes this way has its regrets and disappointments and other times it brings about delights.

We are a sports crazed society; let’s be honest, our biggest holiday in the United Sates, outside of Christmas, is the Super Bowl.  We all want our kids to succeed in sports so someday we don’t have to pay for their college education or hope they become a professional and treat us to our dream home.  So why not force upon young girls and boys the earliest exposure to sports as possible?

I wonder if this country focused this hard on math, literacy and science, rather than sports, how different this country could be.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dear Cora,

If you happen to stumble across this post as a young adult beginning your freshman college year on a full soccer scholarship, just know that I meant nothing of what was written.  Your dad is proud of you for everything you accomplished so far in life.  Mom and I will be in the stands this weekend, give it your best!

Love,

Dad

 

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3 Comments

  1. Bob

    Great story!

  2. Cindy

    Matt, rolling on the floor laughing remembering Shaun & Cara at that age and the laughs I had at how cute they were. This is only the beginning wait until t-ball! I loved the kids who were making sand castles in the infield and picking flowers and chasing butterflies in the outfield. This is the way of their introduction to sports now-a-days.

    Yes, I remember when we got up at sunrise and were gone until dark (make sure you’re home when the street lights come on), playing baseball with not enough players so hits to right were automatic outs. Unfortunately, those days are gone. The world we live in is different and children need to be supervised because of the number of dangerous people in this new world.

    Be that as it may, kids make the best of what they get from the “instruction” they get from new world sports. Let them try it all I say, they will let you know what they like and don’t like. A good “free-for-all” under supervision is the closest they will get to the freedom that we experienced.

    Don’t be afraid to be that “Little League parent”, just don’t go overboard and try to relive your life through them. I have always been a little obnoxious on the sidelines and they don’t seem to resent me for it. A little embarassed at times, but isn’t that what we do as parents, embarass our children?

    Don’t sweat the small stuff. You are doing a great job as a parent which doesn’t come with a manual. All you can do is hope that they grow up to be respectful and loving people.

    Keep writing, I love keeping up with you all since you are so far away.

    Love,

    Cindy

  3. Ginny

    Hey Matt

    Lets coach Cora’s team next season… We’d be great at it and I promise not to have them do too many sprints:)!!!

    The story is great!

    Love,
    Ginny

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