I wonder if adults ever pause to think what their kids were thinking in the heat of a particular moment. Especially close to my heart are those youth sport moments, when the adults are all hot and bothered. The conversations might differ widely depending on which self-anointed soccer wonk is speaking. If the parents could hear what their kids were thinking, would they be convinced to change their ways?
Imagine, the whistle blowing, the referee, who is two feet taller than any kid out there, stops the game and calls the coach over. The parents gather in bunches, the players gather in bunches.
“I’m not sure the coach has the right seven out there,” commented the trim athletic looking dad in a well-modulated voice.
“That is a concern, but is he instructing the center striker to stay high?” said an equally calm voice of a tall dad wearing Adidas striped soccer shorts and matching shoes.
“If he would get them to keep their shape better, that wouldn’t matter as much,” noted the mom with her Dri fit top and DC United hat.
Meanwhile the players on the field seem to form into two natural groups based on proximity, the defense and the offense. The offense has gathered since the Ref stopped the game.
A player says, “Look at my dad in his coaching gear, he’s probably telling the other dad all the fine details of the game, already dissecting me play by play.” He nervously glances over at his dad.
The whole team knows that being the son of a true soccer aficionado is a huge burden and their buddy constantly looks to his dad after he makes a play, to see if his dad approved or not.
One of the players tries to make his friend feel better, “Well at least he’s paying attention, my mom is chatting away in her chair, and she could be anywhere and she doesn’t even get the rules.” The others laugh.
Coach and the referee are discussing something heatedly but eventually the game is allowed to restart.
After some play, a defender clears the ball from the back and it goes over the fence down a hill. While the clock is paused other parents continue the adult dialog.
With no action to comment on, our loudest Dad seems to calm. He’s still pacing the sideline, where moments ago he had been yelling what he thought were good suggestions, “Pass, Get Back, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot!”
Another pretty animated dad walks over to him during the break in play, “Did you see that last one, if only the ball had been crossed!”
They commiserate about if only, a third dad joins the group crackling with restrained energy, “Darn if he had a left foot and took the shot sooner, we would be up 2-0 by now!
Parents with less soccer knowledge or more, seem to naturally move to avoid this group of avid vocalists.
Out on the field the defenders have their own chat.
“Oh my god if that dad doesn’t stop telling everyone what to do, it’s going to make me crazy!”
“I know he gets me so nervous, last time I tried to clear the ball I almost missed it cause he was so loud.”
“Can you imagine how much it would suck to have your dad or mom yelling at you the whole time?”
“Yeah, well now you know why his son bites his nails, when he plays. “
“I try to shut it out, but it’s hard to even hear Coach.”
The whistle brought everyone back to the game as the retrieved ball is thrown back into play. Then it’s half time. Coach talks to the players as the parents’ eye them nervously from the other side of the field. League rules, players and coaches on one side, parents on the other. It’s supposed to provide some cushion from each from the other.
The players break from sucking down water and eating as many orange sections as possible. Sweaty, sticky now, they ready themselves for 30 more minutes of soccer. The Referee checks with the keeper to see if he’s ready, he waves his hand to say yes. The whistle blows for the second half to begin and it’s a tight game, 1-0.
Ball is in play but that doesn’t mean the chatter stops. Not all of it is about the game.
“OMG, did you see that big brute of a kid, he’s been elbowing my son all game,” said a dad indignant from his chair.
“Wish this referee would call the game better, he’s been hitting all the players,” added a mom from her arm chair position.
“Look at that, he just stole the ball and knocked my son to the ground, that’s not soccer!” another dad chimes in, as he paused mid-sentence about an unrelated topic.
Someone is down, and the parents all pause from what they are doing. Some teams take a knee but our coach thinks we should gather and use the time to talk about what’s going on out there. One huddle of players definitely uses their time to talk about soccer.
“I would so rather play games than go to practice.”
“Wouldn’t we all?!”
“Well your dad doesn’t make you practice on days when we have off, I bet!”
“Nah, I hate practicing, but if I don’t do something different before tryouts I may not make the team, I’m worried.”
“Coach says everyone makes the team, or at least a team, you could move down, that’s true.”
“They do watch everything, the other day at practice, Coach made fun of me wearing sneakers instead of cleats.”
The game is finally over, it was a win, close but still a win. The kids gather with their coach, he’s got some comments to make about the game. Some of the more aggressive parents are already closing in, inching forward to try and hear what the coach has to say. Some of the parents wait respectfully at the end of the field for their sons to make their way over to them. It’s a good day, there are smiles, relief, a big “W” can do that to anyone. They make their way to the cars.
The conversations are not over, it’s not just a game, this is serious soccer, travel, often games are over an hour away, at the age of 9. Some of the parents have started in on their review of the game, kids practiced at tuning out the yellers during the game, nod at the appropriate times. Stragglers, there are always the slow ones, follow their parents towards the vehicles. Makes one wonder, is there a proper way to parent and support young athletes? Are some of the approaches better or worse or just different? What irks kids versus what irks parents could be two different things. The coach might have an entirely different view as well.
In the end youth sports are supposed to teach kids how to be active, disciplined, and compete in a healthy way. Lessons from sports about training, winning and losing and how to be a good sport, are all important in everyday life. Have we forgotten these valuable goals and how to help our kids learn them? A nation of hovering helicopter parents isn’t going to build a cohort of kids who trust themselves to make decisions. They are our next generation who will lead us, that’s not the kind of leaders I had in mind.
I say, “Let the kids play!” “Let the parents watch, and refrain from comment!”