the more enjoyable experiences I have each fall is watching
my three children play soccer. To see their growing skills
and love for the game is truly a blessing. I can now
confess, however, that I could have made it even more fun
for both them and for me had I been a little bit more
relaxed and far quieter on the sidelines. You see, until
recently, I was your typical loud and obnoxious soccer dad.
In the last few years, I have learned a few hard lessons
that have put me on the path to recovery.
My kid's not Pele and that's ok....
I am a
sports fan. I have watched a lot of college and pro sports
on TV. Yet until soccer I did not watch much youth sports.
The difference is appalling. I used to whine, groan and
throw up my hands with every mistake the players made.
realize how silly I was acting. First, these kids are just .
. . well . . . KIDS! They are changing both mentally and
physically every week. Of course they are going to make
mistakes on the field that's how they learn to play the
game. They felt bad enough kicking at the ball and missing;
you can imagine how they must have felt to hear me moan
my kids probably inherited the same athletic ability that I
have. To be blunt, they likely will not be professional
athletes. I cannot hold them to the same standards I might
hold Mia Hamm or Cobi Jones. I am learning to put my
expectations in perspective and enjoy the game for what it
is: recreational youth soccer.
My kid's coach is not Bruce Arena and that's ok....
used to gripe to my kids about their coaches, questioning
their competence. One year, my older daughter's coach would
limit his sideline coaching to screaming at every chance:
"Follow the ball!" We would then watch all of the kids swarm
the ball like frenzied killer bees. Why doesn't the Coach
teach the kids to spread out, to pass the ball, to look up
when they dribble? What is he doing in practice?
volunteered to coach my younger daughter's team. I quickly
learned that this can be an impossible job. Not only are the
kids not professional athletes, but most are not yet
developmentally ready to grasp the finer points of soccer.
They soon tired of my instructions and became restless. From
that point they turned to rioting. I was armed with some
cones and a whistle, but what I really needed was a whip and
girls I tried yelling and some ended up crying. I learned to
gently prod them to action, encouraging them to act out and
not be afraid of being physical. This year I tried the same
thing with my son's team. The boys ended up attacking each
other like crazed baboons. How can you teach those nifty
cross-over dribbling moves when the boys are giving each
other wedgies during my demonstrations. I still gripe about
the coaches, but I do so to my wife, privately, with a far
greater appreciation for the difficult job that they have
My kid can play without me and that's ok....
temptation that I often gave in to, even when I was not the
coach, was instructing my kids while they played. I used to
think it was appropriate to stand on the touch line and
yell: "Pass the ball to Sara!" and "Shoot the ball to the
left!!" I can still remember being told by a more
enlightened soccer mom to get away from the goal and stop
coaching my son Willie when he was a 5 year old keeper. My
actual ignorant retort: "Lady, get off my back. I am helping
know better. First, I read in an article that most children
cannot properly play the game and, at the same time, follow
a coach's directions. By the time they hear me, process what
I said, and then act on it, the opportunity to act is lost.
My instructions were actually hurting them on the field!
Besides, if they depend on me to instruct them while they
are playing, how will they learn to make decisions on their
own when they can't hear me.
article also got me thinking. Did I stand behind my daughter
Dominique while she worked on a coloring book and scream at
her: "In the lines, Nique! You must color in the lines!! Use
Green!! Use Green for the grass! No, Nique, not blue!
Green!!" Of course I didn't. (Okay, I admit I did that with
Madeleine, my oldest child, but I was much younger then.)
Why should soccer be any different?
after refereeing a few games, I realized how inane my own
screaming had been. In the middle of the field, my voice was
being drowned out by other parents who feel duty-bound to
scream too. Julie's dad is yelling: "Shoot, shoot." I am
yelling: "Pass, pass." You are yelling: "Stop her, stop
her." It all becomes confusing, stressful noise in the
middle of the field. While I am not yet an advocate of
"Silent Saturdays," I now certainly see the point of sitting
back and letting my kids play without my "help."
The referee is not a professional and that's ok....
first started watching soccer, I had no idea what the rules
were. But I was certain of one thing: the referees in my
kids' games were bozos and I openly let them know about it
with each missed call.
only when I was forced into refereeing to make up for the
shortage in my region that I realized how wrong I was.
Refereeing is a very tough and demanding job. You have to
run in the hot sun over uneven fields for an hour or more,
all the time dodging little people. You make split second
decisions on calls that require a deeper understanding of
the game than I had imagined. You have to put up with
coaches and parents who are loud and often ignorant of the
discovered that many of the ref's decisions I had challenged
as "psycho dad," were simply judgment calls. Just because my
watch says that the game should be over does not mean that
the referee must agree with me. And on that offside call,
the assistant referee probably had a much better view of the
second-to-the-last defender than I had, pacing behind the
learned that in soccer, unlike other sports I grew up with,
there is a rule stating that dissent from a referee's call
is misconduct. Go figure! You don't like calls? Get on the
phone to your local region's referee administrators, and
volunteer. Its amazing how good those black knee-high socks
look on overweight, middle-aged guys like me.
So I am
slowly learning that soccer should be about the kids, not
about me nor the other adults. It should be about playing a
game, not performing for parents and coaches. Get the kids
away from TV and the Internet, interacting with friends and
having FUN. It is not life and death out there. Relax and
enjoy the game.
Now at my
kids' games, you can usually find me in my folding chair,
under an umbrella, teasing the coaches and other parents for
screaming like maniacs at their kids. I try, not yet always
successfully, to limit my comments to after-the-fact
praising of the kids on both teams "Nice shot." "Beautiful
pass." And every once in a while I will add, in a loud
voice: "Follow the ball!" While it adds to the noise on the
touch lines, sometimes my own child will hear me and reward
me with a wonderful smile. It's moments like that when I now
truly love this game.