I’m a soccer mom. This title, just one of many mom titles I wear, used to conjure images of a cheerful mother giving a high-five and a snack to her smiling, flushed-face kid before washing the grass stains out of his socks. I also had an idyllic idea of this minivan driving, pony-tailed soccer mom hollering encouragement from the sidelines. “Good job. Way to go. Great pass. Nice hustle.”
While I haven’t achieved my ideal, I’ve aspired to be that soccer mom for the past five years, with some regrettable lapses into excessive exuberance and critical advice on how my son should handle himself on the field. It’s hard to turn off my competitive drive even though I’m not the one competing.
Still, I thought I was doing OK until this spring, when it came time to register my son for his first soccer tryouts. I morphed into obsessive soccer mom.
It started with a simple desire to make an informed decision. Since my older kids didn’t play soccer, I had to start from scratch learning the differences between premier, red, select, competitive rec and recreational soccer, then determine which level of play my son should shoot for.
That decision would have been hard enough but each club does things a little differently and there have been a lot of changes in the Spokane youth soccer community. Clubs have split, merged, changed names and changed coaches. Price structures vary and the way they present the information varies as well. You practically need a spreadsheet to corral all the information because it bounces better than a soccer ball. Who knew youth sports could be so complicated?
In a quest to figure it out so I could steer my son toward his soccer goals, I perused websites, forums, stats, press releases and newspaper articles. I peppered other soccer parents with questions. I put on my journalist cap and dug for answers.
Here’s what I discovered:
Youth soccer is like everything else in life. If you dig you’ll find some dirt.
For every person who thinks the grass is greener on one soccer field, you’ll find someone who says it’s greener on another.
You won’t find a crystal ball telling you what to do.
My kid doesn’t care about any of that.
He just wants to kick that ball as much as possible. For several years he’s said “yes” to every team, tournament, clinic or camp we offered him. As if that weren’t enough time with a soccer ball, this winter he began practicing foot skills and juggling moves in the living room before and after school, with a radio soundtrack to add atmosphere.
As the weather warmed he added shooting and passing practice in the backyard, kicking his ball at the shed attached to our house. Each impact reverberates with a hollow thud. This drives me crazy but he hasn’t broken anything yet and he’s obviously having fun. That’s the primary point of this game, right? To have fun?
I’m embarrassed to admit I lost sight of the fun factor during my obsessive agonizing over tryouts, which took place this week. While Ian happily played his favorite sport for several extra hours during tryouts, I shivered on the sidelines and bit back my instinct to holler admonitions and advice.
As I watched the coaches write on their clipboards and confer with each other, I conjectured about my son’s performance. Did they see that move? Did they observe that mistake? Would they choose him? Would he have a choice?
I forgot to focus on the things I can control, rather than the things I can’t. More importantly, I forgot why we signed him up for soccer in the first place.
Youth sports are an opportunity to have fun, make friends and get exercise, all critical components to a healthy life. They’re also an opportunity for kids to develop character traits that will serve them the rest of their lives.
Through soccer my son has learned a lot about working hard to meet personal goals and making choices for the good of the group. He’s learned to celebrate victories and grow from losses, to respond respectfully to authority and interact positively with his peers.
Those lessons, I realized, are all organic to the game and would continue on any team with any club, including the one he joined this week. Meanwhile, I hope to continue learning how to be a better soccer mom. It’s a title I may bear for many years. A few days ago I asked Ian how long he planned to play soccer. He looked at me like this was a crazy question. “Forever,” he said.