Thursday, July 17, 2008

Surviving Soccer Season

It's that time of summer when I pull out my list of warning signs from Teaching Character through Sport: Developing a Positive Coaching Legacy by Bruce Brown to make sure I'm not morphing into the soccer mom from hell. After feeling despondent over an especially crummy bracket that screwed the chances of my daughter’s team at a recent tournament, I realized I needed a big reality check. The following questions help me put youth soccer and my role as a supportive parent back into perspective, and I thought I'd share them with you. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I struggle with #4, especially feeling nervous before games and taking losses harder than the players! Ridiculous, I know! Chill, Kim!
Are You Living Out Your Dreams Through Your Child? A parent who is continuing to live personal athletic dreams through his/her child has not released his/her child to the game. I've noticed two particularly dangerous types: the parent who is isn’t athletic at all and the parent who played soccer himself. A parent who possesses a competitive nature but isn’t athletic may not have a clue about the mental and physical elements that go into playing hard, but hoo boy can he lecture his child about hustling and playing harder. The parent who played soccer himself may be a big know-it-all who is unwittingly using his child to work out his own issues regarding athletic performance.
Are You Too Involved in Your Child's Performance? If a parent tends to share in the credit when the child has done well in sport or has been victorious, the parent is too involved. Also, a parent who makes excuses for his or her child’s poor performance or, even worse in my opinion, criticizes or blames the other players for a loss is too involved. As they like to say in U-11 soccer: We win as a team, we lose as a team.
Are You Trying Too Hard? If a parent is trying to continue to coach his or her child when the child probably knows more about the game than the parent does, s/he has not released the youth athlete. For example, are you giving your little athlete tips, suggestions, and "pep talks" in the car on the way to the game? Then spending 20 minutes on the way home analyzing what just happened on the field? Stop it!
Are You Too Serious About Soccer? A parent should realize that s/he is taking everything too seriously and has not released the child to the activity when the parent:
is nervous before his or her child’s game.
has a difficult time bouncing back when the player’s team suffers a defeat.
makes mental notes during a game so s/he can give his or her child advice at the conclusion of the game.
becomes verbally critical of an official.  Or of the coach! You'd think that only a monumental jackass would storm up to the coach after the game and complain that his daughter didn’t get to play enough or that the team would have won if the coach would have done things a different way, yada yada yada. But it happens! Many coaches institute a "24-Hour Rule"—if a parent is truly concerned about the coach’s methods or decisions regarding his child, he should schedule a time to speak with the coach the next day when both parties are calm enough to discuss the matter without yelling at each other or throwing around personal insults.
If you found yourself getting defensive, feeling angry, rolling your eyes, or thinking to yourself as you read any of the above points, "None of this applies to me, because my daughter is different! I really think she has a future in soccer—if she stays focused and works hard, she could be one of the best female soccer players in history. With my guidance, she can win a college scholarship and play on the Olympic team!" then you are probably that parent that seems to exist on every team—the obnoxious, overbearing soccer mom or dad who embarrasses the other parents on the sideline and dampens his or her daughter's love for soccer. I’d like to respectfully point out that your little girl is acting more maturely than you. Please let her grow, improve, and have fun on her own terms. I highly suggest that you take a self-imposed hiatus from watching her games. God forbid if you’ve been attending all of her practices, too—go away and do something athletic yourself and leave her alone for one hour.
Studies prove that kids play better when their parents are silent at the game. I know it’s not as fun for the spectators, but it’s better for the kids. And isn’t that what we all want? The very best for our kids? Please tell me that you want the best for all the girls, not just your own daughter . . . because, if not? Well, that’s just too selfish and disturbing for words. We’re all in this together, moms and dads! Let's provide stellar examples of sportmanship, encouragement, and perspective. That way, all of our precious children—even the poor saps who won't end up attending UCLA on a sports scholarship—will still have fond memories of their childhood summers spent out on the soccer field. 

Dinner last night: pork chops with stuffing and mushroom gravy

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