Friday, November 9, 2012

Crap No One Tells You ... About Soccer and Youth Sports

The kids just had their last soccer match of their first season. As a first-time “soccer mom,” the Crap No One Tells You is that youth soccer is NOT about soccer. Silly me!

After every game, my husband would ask the twins what their favorite part of the day was. My daughter’s answer was the same every week until the last week, “The snacks and the tunnel.” The league we joined encourages the parents to form a tunnel after the game for all the kids to run through. Also, parents take turns providing a snack and drink (following all the food restrictions for those with allergies, of course) after the 45 minute practice/match that sometimes ends at lunchtime. Awesome. (Do you think sarcasm can be sensed in writing?)

My son also likes the snacks and tunnel, but he usually adds that he liked scoring a goal. The league also puts all the players, who did not score a goal during the match, on the pitch at the end and stands them in front of the goal with the ball to let them score with no defender. Awesome. I actually didn’t mind it the first week. It seemed to get the kids excited about the sport and gave them some confidence. Though, I think we underestimate the intelligence of 4-year-olds. After that first week, my kids knew what was happening. If they didn’t score during the match, they would say, “We didn’t score any REAL goals.” The post-regulation-play goals were not fun anymore. My husband and I really tried to put emphasis on other parts of the game, like stopping the other team’s attempted goal, passing to a teammate who scored, or just flat out hustling and giving their best. Despite our efforts to make a huge deal out of these things, they just pale in comparison to the ever-loving goal.

The kids appeared to enjoy their 20-minute practice more than their 20-minute game that followed, which makes sense as they were doing something with a ball at all times. They ran drills and worked on basic fundamentals. It was great. The games were a bit of an anomaly, though. Every time a goal was scored, the three kids on the field for each team would huddle on opposite sides of midfield and talk “strategy.” That’s funny. The kids got nothing from those three minutes, except bored. No offense to the coaches, but they are 4. They were only interested in being silly with their friends during that time. Then, they actually recognized a half-time. Seriously? It’s a 20-minute game. Let the kids run. They are 4. They don’t get tired.

Now, the last week, when my husband asked what their favorite part of the day was, they added one more thing … the trophies. Awesome. I know this is a huge debate and I am clearly on the side that thinks trophies should be earned. The reward for the kids should be that they actually got to participate in the organized sport. It’s expensive! Maybe if we put our kids in matching t-shirts, instead of TWO fancy uniforms that were way nicer than what I had as a high-school varsity athlete, and skipped the trophies, we could all save a ton of money on these once/week, 8-week programs. Thank goodness for hand-me down cleats and the fact that these fancy uniforms will likely fit them for the next five years.

Maybe I am overacting … I mean, they are 4. We did sign them up for soccer, because we thought they would enjoy it, and they did. Why can’t I say, “mission accomplished,” and be done with it? My understanding from other mom sources is that most leagues discontinue the trophies and the snacks when the kids get a little older. Maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical and realize that these are the motivators for future athletic endeavors.

As usual, I am probably expecting too much from this age. I just find these extra-curricular activities so stressful. I question my decisions when it comes to enrolling them in these activities. I want to expose them to everything so they will have the chance to find their talents, but I also want to limit their activities so they can just be kids. But, the days of kids getting together for pick-up games are long-gone. Even mom sources with older kids tell me that just doesn’t happen anymore. Is it where we live? Is this just life in the ‘burbs? Am I just too “old-school?”

Speaking of old-school, my husband grew up in a condo community in New Jersey with tons of kids his age and a huge open field with dirt, a little grass, and probably a lot of stickers. It was home to many pick-up games of baseball, football, soccer, tag, you name it. I grew up on a farm in Nebraska with 4 brothers. When we weren’t doing chores or homework, we were setting up track and field events or playing baseball, badminton, or volleyball in our spacious yard—much of our cardio chasing down the dog that got ahold of our equipment. Or, in the colder months, playing hoops in the barn, stepping over tools and squeezing between load-bearing studs and vehicles for the 3-pointer and running into the doors after a layup. Sure, it had its problems, but it was free and it was what we wanted to do.

I suppose one of these years, our kids will set their own direction for the activities they want to do and I will stop stressing about it. Maybe soccer practice will be replaced with guitar lessons (with the guitar my son put on his Christmas list). Or, maybe our weekly activity will be going to the library for a couple of hours just to read. The bottom line is … I have no idea! Just like most challenges with parenting, there are at least two sides to every issue and only one child like yours, whom is known best by you. The fact is, all of this is self-regulating, and there is a fine line between exposure and overexposure. My husband and I will continue to follow our guts and hopefully provide the best opportunities for our crew to find health and happiness in their lives. That’s all we REALLY want, right (I mean, besides a professional baseball player or golfer … wink)?

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