Parents and kid’s soccer don’t mix
We are coming to the start of another great annual American tradition…community youth sports. There are many sports for kids to choose from, including basketball, baseball, Parcheesi; however, my focus is on soccer.
The phenomenon that is youth soccer is truly unique, with a dose of fear and anxiety added. I’m not talking about the fear and anxiety the kids feel when that one kid on the other team, who appears to be much older and bigger than league rules allow (eight year olds should not be shaving already), comes barreling across mid-field intent on scoring that precious goal and destroying anyone in his path. No, that type of fear is normal; in fact, healthy for kids. They learn to deal with emotions and social sports etiquette (Yes, you may steal the soccer ball from me if you first say ‘Please’). Even if you end up with a soccer cleat imprint on your chest from being stepped on during a brief scrum near the goalie box like I did, the game is still wonderful. Kids get to run around to their hearts content and kick things.
Rather, I’m speaking about the fear and anxiety felt and often exhibited by the parents of the children playing. There seems to be a general trend of parental psychosis occurring around the fringes of the soccer fields of America. My children have participated in enough youth soccer leagues for me to have personally witnessed what I’m about to describe.
There is a sideline culture at every soccer game. It’s a chance for the parents to display their peacock feathers without actually having to say a word. These parents are easy to spot; they have top-of-the-line folding chairs, complete with a retractable footrest, battery operated magic fingers and a reflective solar umbrella. Between these high-end sitting centers is a plastic cooler, wheeled, remote-controlled, with a small microwave oven (see solar umbrella). Finally, the mid-sized hibachi grill is within easy reach so the bratwurst and steaks can easily be turned without anyone having to leave their chair. It’s quite entertaining when the ‘Joneses’ show up with even newer versions of the above described, driving the Browns into a muffled, seething rage.
There is the half-time snack culture. Parents sign up at the beginning of the season to bring a snack (usually orange wedges and water bottles) for the young athletes to eat and drink at half-time; and, they also sign up to bring the ‘game is over’ snack. Over the years, this last bit of cuisine has gone from filling up a Styrofoam cup with cold water from a giant Igloo cooler and passing the pretzel bag around, to juice boxes, éclairs and an on-site short order chef. And when one set of parents sees what other parents have brought, the age-old instinct for one-upmanship kicks in and the kids smile, knowing that next week, they will get deep dish pizza and Pierre.
Finally, there is the backseat coaching culture. We’ve all seen those parents, who take it upon themselves to second-guess every decision the poor volunteer coach makes. I will be the first to admit that, though I’ve been asked to be a coach, I’ve consistently turned the sport organizers down. I have visions of angry parents burning me in effigy after the game, of stealthy stalkers shadowing me to my minivan, of some frustrated mother pulling a formidable bread knife from her diaper bag and ventilating me in-between parked vehicles. I can almost hear her parting words: ‘That’ll teach you to only giving little Jimmy ten minutes of playing time.’ I’m particularly concerned about the last one since I keep getting visions of my wife being the one wielding the knife.
Oh, sweet but foolish parents. Do you not see that the league organizers will deal with these adult infractions by punishing the kids? New rules are popping up across the country disallowing the keeping of scores, disallowing making physical contact with other players (unless the child gives the other kids their attorney’s business card after each jostle or shove), disallowing children’s competitive nature (and heart rate) from getting too high. Please understand that the need for child safety is the explanation these punishments are couched within. If we are to keep these new rules, we need to add one more…No parents!
No, seriously! Parents should be banned from all youth sporting events and catch the games on YouTube later in the evening. Simply drop your kids off at the soccer field at the beginning of the game and pick them up at the end. The coaches and event managers will organize them, coach them, nurture them, appropriately praise them, challenge them and reward them. Snacks will be healthy. Scoring will be encouraged, with victory being humbly accepted and defeat being appropriately redirected. Physical contact will happen, with justice and mercy being meted out by referees.
There will be no fathers embroiled in fisticuffs down near the Lightning team’s goal post; there will be no coaches and referees strapping on bullet proof vests prior to the game; there will be no children throwing up on the field because they ate too much soufflé during the quarter break.
Instead, there will just be…soccer.