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:
- 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.