I am becoming one of those parents I hate. One of those parents who is more competitive about children's games than the children themselves.
It's distressing. It's also, apparently, part of being a soccer dad.Recently, my 10-year-old daughter, Amanda, played in her first league soccer game. At a practice a couple of weeks earlier, her coach had promised that any player who showed up at all the practices would start. (That they'd be in the first platoon of players on the field when the game began.)
Amanda attended all the practices. She didn't start.
She didn't much care. I did.
She played most of the game. She had fun. I, on the other hand, was annoyed at her coach - a perfectly nice man who devotes an awful lot of his time to coaching these kids. For free.
Rationally, I knew I was over the top. But I was an irrational soccer dad.
Soccer moms got all the press during the '96 elections, but there are a lot of us soccer dads out there, too. It's almost like a nomadic clan - Soccerdads - traveling from playing field to playing field, watching their children - attired in brightly colored costumes - kick a ball around.
And once you're in, you find yourself waaaay in. More kids. More teams. More games.
Our involvement with soccer began as a way for then-4-year-old Jonathon to burn off some of his abundant extra energy. T-ball wasn't quite his thing - too much standing around.
But running around the field for an hour or so - now that was more his speed.
Neither his mother nor I actually knew anything about soccer. Our sideline cheering usually took the form of something clever like, "Kick it!"
Not that Jonathon was a soccer prodigy or anything. He would run down the field looking at the player next to him, not where he was going. Consequently, Jonathon led the league in falling down and getting kicked and/or stepped on.
"Get up! Get up!" was our most frequent advice during games.
(The most dangerous situation in soccer for 4-year-olds comes after the game, however. The combatants' extremely enthusiastic post-game handshakes left us fearing potential shoulder dislocations.)
The rules are still a bit nebulous for those of us who grew up back when kids played football and baseball, not soccer. And younger kids play four-on-four, no-goalie soccer, so a lot of the rules don't apply.
However, 10-year-olds play 11-on-11, regulation soccer. And, during a recent game, my wife inquired as to what the two coaches were disagreeing about.
"They're arguing about whether that should have been a goal because, apparently, someone was offsides," I replied. "I have no opinion on the subject because I don't know what offsides means in soccer."
(I do know that no one throws a flag and marches off a five-yard penalty.)
Soccer dads and moms do quickly learn a few facts of soccer life:
- The shinguards go inside the socks.
- Water bottles are required equipment.
- The highlight of the games for the kids are the halftime and post-game snacks. Sliced oranges are a particularly good halftime snack - they make the kids sticky for the rest of the game.
- It is definitely not cool to wear sneakers for soccer, even if you're 4 years old. Cleats are a must. (And you'll learn to distinguish baseball cleats from soccer cleats - eventually.)
Soccer is also an opportunity to prove just how wrong you can be about your own kids. Jonathon's twin sister, Hillary, joined him in soccer for the first time this season, and we looked to this with much trepidation.
As a matter of fact, we almost didn't sign her up for soccer at all, certain that she would spend most of her time on the field surveying the sky or picking dandelions.
Much to our surprise, Hillary is enthusiastic and focused - more focused than her twin.
Youth soccer is also an opportunity to perfect your ability to be two (or more) places at once. When two of the kids are playing in Riverton at 9 a.m. and a third is playing in South Jordan at 9:30 a.m., it can get interesting.
(And you make those kids run faster getting into the car than they did on the field.)
"That's nothing," said Joe Perry, a soccer dad whose seven sons and daughters have all played the game. "One year we had five different kids on five different teams."
The Perrys even had two sons on two different high school teams (Bingham and Copper Hills) during the same season.
You try to be supportive with your kids - win, lose or draw. You try to teach the kids to be good sports, to refrain from taunting when they're ahead or whining when they're behind.
At the same time, you're just a bit peeved when the parents of the team that's killing your kids' team are cheering just a little too loud. When another parent suggests that your 6-year-old is shoving, you're tempted to scream, "Yeah, well your kid shoved first!"
And when your 10-year-old daughter tells you that a kid on the other team punched her during the post-game, congratulatory high-fives, it flashes through your mind that you need to hunt that kid down and tell his parents just what a crummy job they've done of raising their child.
To this point, however, I've resisted my more outrageous urges. Not all parents do.
"I've seen a lot of parents getting too involved when they ought to just sit back," said Mike Montgomery, a longtime soccer dad and the coach of my 6-year-olds' team. "Mostly, they go crazy and start yelling at the refs."
At one game involving one of the Perry children, a parent was red-carded - kicked out of not only that game but the next game as well - after abusing an official.
One season, a coach was red-carded and told to go sit in his car - at two different games.
"In fact, he got so upset he almost got into fisticuffs with the ref," Perry said.
"I've seen parents yelling at the players and players yelling back at the parents. That's why it's best to just remain calm."
I don't have much in common with George Clooney, other than our ages, but there's a scene in the movie "One Fine Day" that rings particularly true to life. Clooney's character is shouting advice to his young daughter during her soccer game.
"Body check him, Maggie! Body check him!" he yells.
"But that would be rude, Daddy," she replies.
"That's not rude, that's sports," he says. And when his daughter shoves the other kid down, he yells, "There you go, that's it!" - as the other parents give him cold stares.
Most of us don't usually act that way, but a lot of us want to.
Which is not to say that soccer isn't great for parents as well as their kids.
"We've enjoyed every minute of it," Perry said.
And being a soccer dad also means being reminded of what you're really there for. Like when Jonathon - his team nearing the end of a blowout loss - exclaimed loudly enough for all the parents to hear, "It doesn't matter. It's just supposed to be for fun anyways."