Being a Soccer Dad

Last Fall I volunteered to coach my son’s soccer team. Thankfully, I’m just the assistant coach. The coach played a soccer as a kid and knows quite a bit more than I do. I played almost no soccer as a kid. What soccer I did play was in a high school gym class, without being told what the rules were. You take a bunch of US teenagers in the 80’s, give them a soccer ball, shove them out on a field and you end up with something that resembles a cross between rugby and hockey, but without penalties.

Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.

Thankfully, the boys on my son’s team are all in first grade and have the benefit of being taught how to dribble and pass, when to throw-in, or have a corner kick or goalie kick. That said, I’m amazed we can get them to stay within the boundaries of the field.

During one game in the Fall, a plane pulling a banner ad flew high above the field. Most of the kids on the field stopped to look up at the plane and to point it out to their fellow teammates. Nevermind that the ball was still in play.

There was one game where, in the usual Magnet-Ball style of play, six of the eight kids on the field were kicking and jostling for the ball. My son, one of the six kids vying for the ball, took this opportunity to vocalize the song “Duel of Fates” from Star Wars The Phantom Menace. This is the song used during the fight scene between Darth Maul and Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jin. My son was trying to create his own soundtrack to the game. (We haven’t yet taught the kids “Nessun Dorma.”)

I laughed and shook my head, then went back to doing my usual job of trying to coax the boys into playing a game that at least attempts to resemble soccer (with passing, dribbling, defense, etc.), with mixed results.

I should mention that my son has inherited my build, which means he’s pretty much doomed to being small and skinny for a good portion of his youth. He’s not going to be a power hitter, linebacker, power forward, or anything which demands size and raw strength. Take a look at us, from the first game of the season last Fall,

I bring all this up because a guy by the name of Dave Kuo had a meltdown over his four-year-old son’s first soccer game. (I stumbled on this post courtesy of Andrew Sullivan.) He titled his post, “On Being An Absolute Asshole.”

You can read some excerpts below. I encourage you to read the whole post.

I’m not going to be too judgmental. The reason being is that despite loving my kids and trying to be a good father by showing them that love, and encouraging and supporting them, and giving them proper discipline, there are times when I’ve been an asshole. When those times have occurred I have apologized to them. I want my kids to understand three things: 1) People make mistakes, including daddy; 2) It’s important to be honest and admit those mistakes; 3) You should apologize to the people you’ve wronged.

Anyway, from Kuo’s post,

His biggest flaw? His penchant to be a cloud watcher. A dandelion gazer. His penchant to be a dreamer and not fully engaged with his coach or the game.

– snip –

The game starts. My boy kicks the ball into his own net — even as the coach is telling him to turn around and go the other way — and is happy. He thinks he’s just done something awesome.

I’m fuming.

Fuming.

– snip –

I continue watching. My boy stands looking at the clouds as his coach yells out his name. He turns and instinctively kicks at the air. The other team runs by him. Other parents are yelling advice to the kids. The coach is out there on the field — this, apparently, is how midget soccer works, with an omnipresent coach guiding each side around the field.

-snip-

Moments later, he runs over and asks if he did great. Kim says yes. The coach says yes. Me? I’m half way between, “Awesome!” and “You suck!” I want to go for the former, I cannot say the latter. After the tiniest of pauses, I say no.

Nanoseconds feel like hours. He looks blankly at me.

I suddenly feel bile in the back of my throat. What did I just do?

“I”m joking, buddy! I’m joking! You did great.”

“Bad joke Daddy.” He walks away. Kim walks away. An assistant coach looks at me with sad incredulity. I AM now one of those dads.  I want to vomit. But I’m too consumed with my snowballing rage – a rage now firmly directed at me too.

I HATE the coddling of America’s youth. I HATE everyone always been told that everything is terrific no matter how much it sucks. I HATE that we lead the world in self esteem and suck at math and reading. I HATE soccer games that don’t keep score. I HATE participation ribbons. Now I’m mad at our culture too.

The first thought I had when reading this post, was that Kuo has no realistic conception of what Not-Quite-Five-Year-Olds are capable of. If, without any kind of training in Early Childhood Education, you can get more than half-a dozen of them to walk in a straight line for longer than a minute, you’re doing remarkably well.

Their attention spans are short. Their curiosity about everything is seemingly endless. They learn best through active play. You start to talk, and some word you said makes them suddenly want to tell you a story in total earnestness about how this one time their mom, dad, sister, brother, friend, grandpa, grandma did something or had something happen to them, and, and, and!….

Kuo doesn’t like the fact that no score is being kept in this pre-school game. We don’t officially keep score for our games, either. But I can tell you, with absolute certainty, that the kids in our league know the score of each game they play. They keep track of the number of goals. They know who is better and who is worse. They know who won or lost and they talk about it. They know who the good players are. (I think second grade is when the scoring is kept officially.)

Last Saturday, in the first game of the Spring season, my son, in attempting to block a ball from going into the goal, ended up kicking the ball into his own team’s goal. No one had to say anything. He knew what he’d done and was frustrated by it. I was on the field when it happened. I winced. But I didn’t say a word to my son about it. Later, he still had the presence of mind to get between the goal and the ball when the other team was on the offensive. He managed to block several balls, keeping the other team from scoring.

My guess is that Kuo’s son will learn in due time to do what it is you need to do to play a good game of soccer. (It’ll probably take a few years, since he’s only four.) And Kuo will learn sooner to accept where his son is at with his listening and soccer skills.

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