Sunday, January 20, 2013

Lessons from the soccer field....

Being a soccer mom is new ground for me. I am still finding my way in this, admittedly. But once upon a time, I was a soccer sister, a baseball sister, a football sister. I have supported my share of loved ones on the sport fields.

In 1991, I was working as a journalist and spending my spare time planning a wedding and watching my brothers in their various activities. One particular night was absolutely abhorrent to me as I watched a coach for 10-year-olds scream, yell and berate his players. I sat in the stands and observed parents screaming at the same coach, screaming at him about WHO to play and WHO could deliver a victory.

I was at once embarrassed for the coach; embarrassed for the parents; and broken-hearted for the young boys being shaped by the behavior of both! (And I understood exactly why my own Dad brought his own lawn chair and sat down the fence far away from all the others.)

My emotions fueled an opinion piece for my newspaper that received responses from former college players and current college coaches in my home state. All in absolute agreement: The purpose of youth sports is to teach the game, teach teamwork, build self-confidence and -- and this is big -- let the kids have FUN!

Twenty-plus years later, I have to admit, I assumed the culture had gotten better -- really assumed that MY generation of parents were more aware of the ramifications of the awful behavior I had witnessed in 1991.

Little Cate began playing soccer in the Fall 2011. At once, I fell in love with her team. She plays in a league that values sportsmanship, teamwork, and LOVE of the game. She plays for a coach that prays with the girls after each practice, after each game -- modeling for them the important things.

The parents on our team are encouraging of the girls. They cheer for each by name. They applaud their goals, their stops and even their losses.

Praying after a game in our regular season.
Oh don't get me wrong -- we enjoy the win. These parents work with their children for victory. They practice, work on techniques and help their daughters hone their skills. We are not just sitting calmly on the sidelines with folded hands. We are cheering, whooping and yelling like crazy.

That's my girl, #9!

But we do not criticize. We do not yell negatives. We do not tell our girls to hurt the other team.

Dear Anne with her sign for my girl! Cate LOVED it!

This weekend we were invited to play in a club level tournament. We knew the girls there practice a lot more than us. We knew they play a lot more often than our girls do. We knew we had to play on a larger field than normal and with some adjusted rules. We practiced to get it all right and then stormed the field for the first game Friday night.

Right away a parent of the opposing team began yelling harshly at our girls. We were all bothered -- OK, Dad was just plain mad.

But our littles hung in there until the end, playing with their hearts. And when weariness got the best of us, the other team scored one. But only ONE.

That's my girl!

 Saturday afternoon held more of the same. Except this game had some disturbing parents. Pre-game, I asked a man to not set up his chairs as close to me as he was because I needed room for Benjamin in his wheelchair. This other-team-parent grunted at me but did not move an inch. Not an inch. I knew that didn't bode well.

When the rest of my crew arrived, a sibling from the other team asked her mom what was wrong with my Benjamin. The mother completely freaked out, trying to distract the child. But little girl was persistent with her questions so mother screamed at her that my boy was blind.

Really? What an educating moment she lost with her child. Oh wait, she did educate her: little girl should be uncomfortable around anyone in a wheelchair and just assume they are blind. Sigh.

But back to soccer: once the game began, these parents were so obnoxious that the ref asked the coach to speak to them. One dad blatantly refused. Raising his voice at the coach in front of all of us. I was hurt for the coach, the wife of this awful man and his player, oh bless that young girl's heart.

So we learned a lot this weekend: clearly, my generation of parents have not ALL reached a level of awareness where they can behave in the best interest of children when at a sporting event. Clearly, good sportsmanship is not being modeled everywhere. And clearly, we have the best team and coach around!! (Win or lose)

Please pardon my rant, but remember that I see the world through a filter: I have a 7-year-old that can run, jump and kick a ball -- and enjoys every minute of it! I also have two boys that would LOVE to be able to do that (and a beautiful girl who prefers playing the piano and violin!). I get teary-eyed watching Cate play. I get emotional thanking God for her ability to run, jump and kick.

I don't understand the parents who can not celebrate the wonder of those little legs running up and down the field. The wonder of the little lives that that are not collegiate athletes yet -- but rather LITTLE girls who get excited about the gummy fruit being given out as after-game snacks almost as much as the trophies.

One of our team mates fell down during the second game. Cate stopped racing for the ball to ensure she was not hurt. My heart soared. 

Oh, I know we need to work on running faster, being more aggressive in getting to the ball and staying with it to the goal. I know.

But when Cate stopped to check on her friend, I realized she had the best skill of all:  a heart that knows that people trump victory every single time. And that realization makes me one blessed soccer mom!


journeyingwithhim said...

WOW. What a perspective you have. I hurt with you reading about how those parents acted towards their kids! We live in a very competitive area (sports, academics, everything) and it hurts my heart to see the pressure our teenagers are under. 6th grade boys should not be crying at summer camp about how they might disappoint their fathers by not getting into the preparatory high school in 3 years...but I've been there talking them through it. It's great to hear about YOUR team, though!