This past weekend, I spent the better part of Sunday at a soccer field. Not just a soccer field, but a soccer complex with eight large fields. As part of a tournament, my son was sideline judge for six games. I drove him there before eight A.M.; instead of going home to just wait to come and get him again, I decided to stay.
The weather was beautiful. That was one of the attractions. I could either spend an extra hour in the car going back and forth, or sit in the sun and read magazines and books while drinking coffee in a comfortable chair as the cool breeze wafted over me. It had every opportunity to be a wonderful day except for one small thing I overlooked: Soccer Parents.
The tournament was for younger kids. I had forgotten the insanity that takes over the minds of parents as they cheer on their children. Their voices rise and fall with the bounce of the ball. When a goal is scored, half of the parents scream in delirium; the other half groan in agony.
Heaven forbid a boy is not paying attention. The parents exhort and cajole, encourage and chastise. In one game in particular, the parents of the team from Fowlerville were berserk. By my estimation, every single one of them was crazy. They screamed for the coach to bench their own children. They coached from the sidelines, moving players back and forth. They threatened their own children while on the field, during the play of the game, for not paying attention to the game.
I struck up a conversation with another dad who was waiting for the next game. We shared a glance as the shouting became frenzied amongst the parents when a goal was surrendered for no reason other than a child’s lack of drive and initiative. He blurted out, “I’m an older Dad, so I cherish all these moments. But I try not to get too wrapped up in it.”
I admitted that I had cheered mightily in the past, but I didn’t remember ever cheering like this, yelling at the kids for not performing, or berating the referee. In fact, just a couple of days before, I stumbled on a team photo from one of my sons early teams. It was at least eight years old, and I had been the coach. At that time, urging six and seven year olds to play took quite a bit of effort from the parents. I was fairly certain that out of those twelve children on that team, only my son still played the game.
There’s nothing wrong with kids trying out various activities until they find something they really, really like. To find passion in life is what gives life meaning. For so many parents, their children, and whatever the child happens to be doing, is the passion for the parents, and it’s very easy to lose sight of an appropriate perspective to the situation. The child is competing against other children; if they are better than the others, there’s hope that this might be a thing in which the child is gifted. Or the talent pool may be so shallow that, in fact, everybody stinks at it. You don’t know that as a parent; you only see your child struggling, and your blood begins to boil.
I played hockey in my youth. I really, really loved it, and even dreamed of playing professionally. I got fairly good at it, but at the age of nineteen I quit and never played again. It has crossed my mind occasionally, and mostly out of curiosity, to play again; but what once seemed like everything in the world to me I lost.
Before that happened, however, my mother sat through numerous games, and I saw a side of her I had never, ever seen before. Hockey brings out the very worst in parents. They scream at the players, they scream at the referees, and they scream at each other. I would not be surprised to hear one day that the fans watching a hockey match became so enraged at each other that a hockey match broke out in the stands. My mother understood little of the game, but she understood that her son loved playing, and that other boys were trying to smash his skull out on the ice. I received stitches to the face (scary) and stitches to my inner thigh (very scary). I had the wind knocked out of me several times, and even had a stick broken over my helmet in anger. It seemed I might be severely hurt at any moment, but the most surprising thing was that my mother survived without having a nervous breakdown.
I’m not happy or proud that I lost hockey. It’s a great game, and I would have done well to have made the effort to keep at it. Maybe it’s not the game itself, but the exercise and the comradery I miss. I hope that my son, if he takes nothing else away from soccer, takes the feeling of team play with him, and continues that yearning desire throughout his life. We are mostly a social animal, and my life has not been social enough.
Back at the soccer field, the older dad took up a position on the sideline to watch his son play. I was still enjoying the sunshine and the cool breeze. I was also enjoying the sound of children at play, and their parents cheering the game. At one point, the older dad’s son misplayed a ball, and the dad did not yell, but he did complain to the person sitting beside him.
The boy misplayed another, and the dad could not contain himself. He shouted to him without anger. A few minutes later, though, the older dad seemed on the verge of losing that control, and he walked away to watch the game from farther away, lying on a grassy hill, away from the chatter of the other parents. His son’s team was out matched, and would suffer a 10-1 loss.
I am not holier than thou or thee. When my son was that age, I shouted, cajoled, and cheered. I struggled to contain my anger when his teams played poorly, and was giddy with delight when they won. I offered the older dad a knowing smile in the hopes that he and his son would both find the correct perspective for that game. It was, after all, only a game; and it was a beautiful day, regardless of the score.