Sideline Thoughts From a Soccer Mom
In August of 2005, I officially became a soccer mom and joined in on all the endless practices, games and tournaments of the soccer mom world. Gone were the carefree weekends of sleeping in, making plans and traveling. Without realizing, we slowly began to live and breathe soccer. With all the years we put in, even the missed birthday parties and holidays, I wouldn’t change a thing because I can say with full confidence that committing to this game has in part resulted in raising some pretty amazing, disciplined, hard-working and responsible kids. I’m proud to say my oldest daughter even earned herself a ticket to play soccer at a Division 1 University.
I have had the opportunity to view soccer from the perspective of a parent, U14 League Commissioner, and Team Manager. Having had all this experience, I have gained some insight along the way that may provide some context and hopefully, be a guide as one navigates the world of club soccer.
1. Start Your Kids Out Young:
When I say start them out young, I mean have them start playing sports at a young age. Not focusing on just one sport. Our two oldest children were kicking around a soccer ball as soon as they were able to walk. My husband, John, would spend countless hours coaching them at home in addition to the coaching they received from their recreational coaches during weekly practices. Before they were even out of elementary school, they were both on competitive club teams which did not allow much time to pursue or enjoy other extracurricular activities. You’re either all in or you would be perceived as not committed and inevitably benched. Without realizing, we had pigeon holed our kids into solely playing one sport. Playdates, school activities, birthday parties and dinners with friends were almost completely sacrificed for soccer practice and early bedtimes.
2. Teach Your Kids About Moderation in Everything:
I think a lot of parents go into soccer (or any sport for that matter) thinking it will be either a financial or time commitment. It’s in fact both, plus kind of a life takeover. Let’s see... I haven’t had a Mother’s Day, Christmas break, Labor or Memorial Day in over 12 years where I haven’t been sitting on the sidelines of a given soccer field/tournament. Don’t get me wrong; that’s all fine and good, as all things worth having take sacrifice. But even when you’re not on the sidelines watching, you’re always emotionally invested. I am all about commitment and sacrifice, but not at the expense of your child’s or your own quality of life.
3. It’s OK to Be Passionate But Humility is Key:
I personally think it’s admirable to be passionate about something. However, there is a distinct difference in being passionate and being unsportsmanlike. As a Team Manager and League Commissioner I was constantly fielding phone calls from parents feeling their child was treated unfairly on the field, demanding rematches or more field time or for another child to be benched because they were not as good as this parent’s son/daughter. You wouldn’t believe the amount of drama that goes on both on and off the field. It’s enough to create a Soccer Mom themed Bravo reality show.
4. Be A Supportive Parent Not The Coach/Referee:
Parents of athletes can be wildly passionate about their children’s performance on the field particularly as it relates to how much field/play time they get. Like any sport, people get emotionally charged during a soccer game. Parents, especially dads, sometimes feel they know more than the referee and/or coach and it gets frustrating watching your child play under the sunflower spits of the hollering dad sitting in the bleacher above. You have the coach giving instruction on one end and the dad giving opposite d̶e̶m̶a̶n̶d̶s̶ instruction on the other. I will never claim to be knowledgeable in all the various aspects of this sport, however, I do know that when a player is off-side, it is only one side, not multiple as many self-proclaimed soccer dad’s scream, “it’s off-sides”! Sigh...
5. Prepare Yourself For Injuries:
At some point, your child will injure him/herself. You sometimes have some Coaches and Dads who yell for your child to get up and tough it out or play through it. Then there are the mammas (lionesses, really) who, prompted by a simple foul on the field, roar to the defense of their young (Mama K included). How dare they foul their little future olympian? Why is that player not thrown out of the game for tripping and taking your player down with them?
6. Remember The Game Is For Your Child Not You:
It’s quite a jungle out there and who suffers at the end? The young cub. How can he/she achieve anything with this crushing pressure coming down from all directions? Pressures from the coach and his/her expectations of an unreasonably high level of commitment from your child, your entire family, but also the pressures from the daily academic stresses of juggling practices and studies. Don’t forget the social sacrifices and stress that go along with this commitment while all along, trying to please his/her parents and coaches. Beyond all the this pressure, there is the ultimate demand of playing the perfect game - that is, if they get to even step foot on the field. If you are one of the lucky ones, the pressure of not making any mistakes can inevitably create an environment for failure.
7. Don’t Let Your Child Think Your Love For Them Depends on How Well They Play:
John and I never felt we were those parents, yet we were shocked and heartbroken to learn that both our kids felt that our love for them was partially correlated to their achievements on the soccer field. How could our babies not know our love for them was unconditional? We had to take a step back and carefully think about how to approach this discovery. We literally sat them down and explained that as long as they worked hard and enjoyed the game, regardless of their performance, we would be supportive. It’s important not to get upset if they have a bad game. Don’t let them feel that you’re disappointed in them if they don’t play well. Don’t let the sport define your child. And most importantly, don’t ever let your child feel your love towards them is determined by how they play. Like us, you may not realize what’s being perceived. We were always supportive of both kids, but we both, inadvertently put an immense amount of pressure on them to do well when they played. Only now, through conversations with them, we realize the true level of pressure kids have which come from all sides. Throw a difficult season with a difficult coach into the picture, and it could be a recipe for disaster.
8. Don’t Flip Out if Your Child Decides They Don’t Wish to Play a Particular Sport Anymore:
There is such a fine line here. You don’t want to teach your children to quit on their commitment when the going gets tough, however, as a parent, you need to pay close attention to red flags. Our oldest, seriously considered quitting soccer at one point due to a verbally and emotionally trying year with a coach. On one hand, you want to ring the coach’s neck, but on the other hand, you want your child to work through these challenges. With a watchful eye, we allowed her to navigate the situation, however, because of the sensitive nature, we swooped in when it was time. What our daughter went through I would never wish upon anyone, however, it taught her so much about how strong and resilient she was and taught her to empower herself and speak up when she was being treated unjustly. Keep in mind, we were constantly monitoring/evaluating what was going on and not leaving her on an island to fend for herself.
9. Allow Your Kids to Be Kids:
Folks, even if your child ends up playing college level or higher, their involvement in the sport will end at some point. Their experiences with friends, teammates, school and extracurricular activities help develop their character. When our daughter considered “retiring” early from soccer, we were very supportive. Unfortunately, because she had met most of her friends through this sport, she had not had the opportunity to develop other friendships. She was lost. That in itself was a huge source of stress for her - it was as if she didn't know her own identity outside of the game. As it turned out, it wasn’t meant for her to retire because everything fell into place for her to continue playing and enjoy her sport again. Bottom line, let your kids be kids. Let them goof around, stay up late, go out with friends and experience life. Don’t give them a reason to have regrets because they weren’t able to experience being a kid.
10. Nurture Your Relationship With Your Athlete:
If you haven’t guessed, my husband and I are both serial achievers. We work hard and push ourselves every day to be better and better. And while this is an excellent quality to instill in your children it needs to be done gently. We take the effort of trying to make our relationships with our children a soft place to land and seek guidance from rather than another source of stress. Your relationship with your child and their mental and emotional well being is what matters most. Find that happy medium. Let them play and learn to love the game so that they are doing it for themselves - not for anyone else. If they wish to pursue it to the next level, great. If not, let it go.
My final tidbit of insight: Teach your children that whatever they choose to pursue, they should aspire to achieve excellence in it. Nothing worth having comes easy but if one loves what one does, it’s easier to give it your all. Your children are magical, mystical beings and if you guide them in what they are passionate about you will undoubtedly be amazed at what they can achieve.
Hugs, Mama K