Little Leauge Life Lessons

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of kids playing organized sports, and in a minute I’ll tell you why.  First, though, let me tell you why I let my son participate in little league soccer.  There are a couple major reasons:

  • exercise
  • to learn teamwork and sportsmanship
  • to be around some other kids since he’s with me so much

There are also some minor reasons:

  • It gets us out of the house a couple of days a week, and….
  • …it gives me a chance to have an actual conversation with actual adults.

We live in an area where soccer isn’t all that big.  We aren’t quite as serious about football here as they are in the deep South, but it’s close.  Our local citizens fight to keep open substandard high schools just so they can keep their football teams.  I’m not making that up.  But I digress.  My point is that, for the most part, our team is pretty easy-going.

When the kids are very small–Ian started playing in first grade–it’s very informal.  When he was that age, the biggest concern on his mind was whether or not they could have pizza and/or ice cream after the game.  They didn’t keep score, and everyone got a trophy at the end of the season.  The parents sat around and chatted and ate nachos and cheered for everyone if the ball came within ten feet of the goal.  We knew the kids and parents on both teams.  In short, it wasn’t a big deal.

All that changes as the kids get older.

Now here’s the part about sports that turns me off:  at some point it becomes about the parents.  I suspect some of the kids wouldn’t even be involved in sports if they weren’t pushed into it by their parents.  Also, parents–around here, at least–seem to be more concerned about sports than, say, education.  Kids play games farther and farther away from home, they play late games on school nights and practice five days a week.

And of course, winning suddenly becomes very important.

My son is twelve now, and his soccer games are a little more serious.  But we still sit and chat, and, for the most part, it’s still fun.  Confession: I was playing Words With Friends Sunday during the game.  Not the whole time, but still.

My son is the king of laid back.  He likes to win, and he tries hard, but he doesn’t get too wrapped up in it.  There’s usually one parent who is hounding his kid the whole time, but for the most part it’s fairly relaxed.  I have been to football games and other soccer games where there are parents who are red-faced and shrieking, and heaven help us if their kid makes a mistake!  They throw up their hands and shake their heads and stomp around.  I’ve seen dads jerk their hats off and basically act as though some crucial life opportunity was just missed by their preteen child.  I think maybe they forgot that it’s the kids who are playing, and not them.  I think they forgot that it was supposed to be fun.

Sunday we played a team that was pretty good.  They are from a neighboring county which has a much bigger program than us.  They started off right away in the process of whipping our butts.  They were fast and talented.

They were also aggressive.

There were times when I wasn’t sure if we were watching soccer or tackle football.  There was shoving and tripping and full body contact.  I should add that the referees were just kids themselves.  The other team’s coach was also aggressive, shouting at his players and frowning mightily at everyone.  Even though his team was running over the top of ours, he seemed to get angrier and angrier, and the players got more and more physical.

The climax came when one of smallest players got slammed as he ran with the ball.  He literally flew up and turned in midair before thumping onto the ground.  I am not exaggerating.  He was hurt badly enough to not get up, and he was crying, which is a big deal for boys his age.  Our coach started to go out onto the field to get him and the other coach yelled, “Get off the field!” So the injured player’s mother marched out to get her son, and our coach called an end to the game.  He called the players over to him and, in short, we left.  That was it.  Game over.

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about it.  You don’t want to teach your kids that when things get rough, you quit.  But after thinking about it, I realized that our coach is responsible for those kids, and things were getting out of hand.  No one was going to do anything about the way the other team was playing, and so he did what he thought was best.  He took the kids aside and told them it wasn’t their fault, and that he was sorry he waited so long to do something.

The more I thought about it, the more disappointed I was.  Those kids were taught to play that way.  Period.  More than that–they were encouraged to play that way.  The refs were too intimidated by the other coach to make any calls.  And all the while, the parents cheered them on.

Afterwards, my son and I had a long, long talk about it.  I think he was sort of in shock.  He said, “Why would you purposely try to hurt someone just to get a ball?”  The innocence of that statement both makes me sad and fills my heart with joy.  It also tells me our days of organized sports are coming to an end.  I intend to put my energy into his education–that’s my obsession.

And if you think those sports parents are crazy, just try to take a book away from my son.

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14 thoughts on “Little Leauge Life Lessons

  1. I have to say… your kid sounds like an amazing, thoughtful, considerate kid. If only all the parents on that field had taught their kid the same spirit of competitive FUN – and not just “how to win.”

    Found you on the Yeah Write Hangout!

    • He is a good kid. His laid back attitude gets him in trouble with his school work sometimes, but I have no doubt that his attitude is the right one.

  2. Some parents see their children, not as separate human beings , but as extensions of themselves. I think this at least partly explains the existence of psycho sports parents. The hockey moms and dads around here are insane. They have big, deluded dreams for themselves via their hockey playing kids.

    • I agree with this wholeheartedly. I think that’s what the whole thing is about. The saddest part is that all of the sports “stars” from when I was a kid are just regular folks now, working for a living and trying to get by. I think it has to do with being the popular kid–because the sports stars always are.

  3. I am SO impressed by your coach. To rally around an injured player, take a stand against a bunch of bullies and refuse to play their kind of ball is the ONLY way to handle them.

    I too, am looking at ending our participation in most organized sports. My eldest is on two teams…his school and a travel. Like most of his teammates, he has two practices or two games or one of each every night. Then we travel on weekends.

    He’s the oldest of four. My other son is doing the same. The girls are not far behind.

    And I’m OVER it. Continuing to participate in an insane system while bitching loudly is not actually taking a stand. It’s contributing to the problem, only in a hypocritical way. Traveling in two different directions every weekend and staying in hotels, eating on the road and blowing through a million years worth of gas is a horrible way to utilize precious resources. We live in a huge soccer town..so why the hell do we have to travel 3 hours to play every weekend?

    My kids are good and enjoy the game. So hopefully they’ll find some neighborhood kids that want to witness their badass footwork. They can ride their bikes to the school fields and play pick up games. Maybe they can earn some money–start a soccer mafia or something.

    But if I don’t cut us loose from an unsustainable system, I’m worse than most because I can see that it’s wrong. If they need to play (and I hope they do), they’ll find a way. Need is the mother of invention (or something like that).

    But I’ll miss my Words With Friends time. Maybe I’ll play pick-up-scrabble on the sidelines…

    • He’s a good coach. He manages to push the kids without berating them. He’s a runner, and I think he views soccer as a source of exercise as much as a sport to win. He’s trying to teach them the game–what positions are what and what the RULES are. This past Monday is was rainy and the field was basically a swamp, so the kids played a scrimmage game against the parents, and played in the mud and water. Ian was a disaster, but he had SO MUCH FUN. He still got tons of exercise and played soccer.

  4. Great story with a fantastic lesson. I really like the telling and your son’s reaction. I hope my kids have as much sense when it comes time!

    • My son has his faults, but physical violence isn’t one of them. I can’t imagine him ever intentionally hurting someone. Kids are taught that kind of behavior.

  5. Excellent post (as usual). My oldest (now 26) played competitive soccer in middle school and decided to end his soccer “career” early as well. Too many days spent practicing, too many horrible competitive parents (and those were on our team!) as well as a-hole coaches on the opposing team as well. It’s like watching Karate Kid all over again. It seemed too unbelievable at the time…would a coach really do that? Tell his player to knock someone out for a win? But yeah, it happens all the time.

    This is middle school people, not professional sports.

    • I know. That’s the thing that gets me. How they act like their kid is actually going to be a professional. Whatever.

  6. My daughter has played organized sports – mostly soccer & hockey (hockey at a fairly competitive level) – and we have seen some of this over the years. Luckily we have had fantastic coaches who have taught the kids the love of the game & the spirit of a team, not just to win. My daughter as well has been one to speak her mind, act on her beliefs, and look to treat everyone as fairly as possible.
    Very disappointing for sure that there are parents & coaches who behave in this manner.
    Kudos to your coach for being strong & teaching the kids a valuable lesson. Nice job for you as well to have those open & honest conversations with your son. They will go a long way in helping his development into a strong, independent young man!

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