As the mother of a five-year old son with a high energy personality, I was looking for ways to keep him interested. To see if my son might enjoy sports, I was like most parents. I discovered that AYSO was offering fall/spring soccer registration in my area. The prospect of signing him up made me nervous. There have been many stories about parents who are too passionate to participate in a recreational league and get arrested for assaulting a coach, parent, referee or child. My concern was that my son might be paired with a coach who approaches the sport with military drill sergeant enthusiasm and takes the joy out of the sport for his players. My concern was that my son might lose games, miss goals or make mistakes in any way, which could affect his self-esteem and feelings. He was enthusiastic about the idea of playing soccer, and I wasn’t going to let my worries get in the way. Now we are in our second season of recreational league soccer and the experience has been more rewarding than we could have ever imagined. I’ve learned a few lessons from my son that are applicable to soccer and other team sports, as well as life in general.
1. Sports are about having fun. We joined thousands of soccer parents last fall. Our son was fed a healthy breakfast when we woke up in the morning. We changed our son into his royal blue and black uniform with soccer cleats and shin guards before heading off to the 9:00 am game. The soccer fields were full of soccer players, parents, coaches, and other spectators. We located our son’s field, livescore and set up our camp chairs along the sidelines. It was great to watch the four-person team of five-year-olds and their play. My son and some of the other little players had been playing soccer since they were able to walk. Others, such as my son, hadn’t seen a soccer ball until the first practice. Some players were quick with the ball, and others had great reflexes. Some were more aggressive than others, while some were shyer and more awkward. As parents, we were surprised to see that our son had good mechanics and scored some goals in the first game. Our son smiled at us after the 20 minute game and I knew that our reaction to the first game was crucial. I was thinking of all the things that I could say to him …” Great game! I thought of all the things I could say to him. “, “You won, congratulations!” When he approached me, I realized that the thing I wanted to emphasize was “You look like your had so much fun .” He smiled excitedly and nodded vigorously to confirm that he had had fun. He now knows that winning and scoring is more fun than losing. He doesn’t complain about losing and has a lot of fun playing Saturday soccer games. He can often be seen at half-time kicking the soccer ball while others sit on the sidelines. After the field is cleared, he will continue to kick the ball as long as there are people willing to do so. He enjoys the sport because it is pure joy. He doesn’t want to win. He is a player for the love of having fun. It is so wonderful to be a mom who has discovered a talent that he enjoys and can have fun with.
2. Respecting and treating others with kindness and respect is more important than playing the game. My son’s first season was over when his team met a very aggressive team with a lot of talented little players. My son’s team was badly outscored. One of the players from the opposing team seemed to enjoy his superiority over the others. He used to “talk trash”, so it was called, calling out names and laughing when his team won. He would pull down other players and push them, even grab their jerseys. My son was tired of this behavior for most of the game and decided to return the favor to his opponent. He started calling the boys names and getting in his faces. The quarter was over, and I asked the coach to let my son go. I then asked him how it felt to have been bullied and teased. It didn’t feel good, he said. I explained to him that if he was ever to bully or teasing me in the future, I would ask his coach for permission to remove him from the game. We discussed how name calling and teasing take the fun out of soccer. He soon realized that the joy he has playing soccer was not worth the sacrifices. Since then, we have discussed different ways to deal with bullying on the soccer field. We talked about walking away from the bully and saying “Good job!” Sometimes I catch him pushing, but overall, he learned the importance of treating others with respect early.
3. It is important to support your family and be united. This is the next lesson for my son and our entire family. Our son has an older brother and sister. They are my son’s biggest cheerleaders. They will stand on the sidelines shouting encouragement to him and his teammates. Saturday morning soccer games are a family affair. All of us load up and go. Sometimes, I confess, I wish I could send my little soccer player off with his dad, while I stayed at home with his siblings. My children need to know that they are loved and supported by their family. My two other children don’t play soccer but they get to support my soccer player and offer encouragement and support. My soccer player understands that his sister must support him when it comes to performing a piano recital. Is recreation soccer the solution to all siblings’ problems? It doesn’t. It does provide an opportunity for them to learn to support one another.
4. Working together can accomplish more than one player. This is the lesson that seems the most difficult for soccer players to learn. The only thing that was on the minds of this small team when they started was to get the ball in the net. No matter who was in the huddle, they would kick and push hard. Of course, we often saw our team players fighting for the ball in a huddle. My son is still learning that it is acceptable to pass or kick the ball to another team member if they are available and surrounded. He still throws the ball in his own direction and forgets that there are teammates who can assist him. He scores more if he has an assist. If he is struggling to keep the ball and too many people, I encourage him not to.
5. Recognizing the strengths of others and yourself is acceptable. My son finds his strengths in soccer, which I believe is a great way to help him. He has a lot of self-esteem because he can score from far away. We ask him about his strengths and areas of improvement. Through this process, he is discovering that he excels at certain things and can make improvements if he puts his mind to it. He is encouraged to support his teammates and their strengths. We tell him to point out the good ball handling skills of other players and encourage him to share them with us. He will notice when other teams are good at defense or teamwork and, once again, we ask him to tell the rest of the team. As he sees the value in everyone’s abilities and tasks, he is able to put his focus on them and not be so critical of himself.
Our experience with recreation soccer has been nothing short of a learning and fun experience. My influence as a parent is stronger than that of a coach, other parents, or other players. My role is to help my son develop soccer skills and a desire for success. I can teach him lessons about life and how to get along with others. As he develops and plays soccer, I hope he will remember these lessons. I want him to have fun with the game and treat others with respect. I want him to appreciate the support of others and find in himself strengths and weaknesses that he can improve upon.