Part two in a series. Unless we attempt to understand why parents sign up their four year olds for organized soccer, we’ll never fundamentally reform youth sports.
I may have stumbled upon the beginning of an answer a year later when I was teaching A to ride her bike without training wheels for the first time. As she gleefully weaved down the middle of the street trying to figure out how to stop, another father of a child A’s age watched from inside his house. The next day I saw him struggling to teach his five year old to ride his bike sans training wheels. Never mind that children develop at different rates and that some four year olds hop on their bikes and leave some six and seven year olds in their dust. Dammit, his kid wasn’t going to be left behind by that Byrnes girl.
If the kid next door is riding her bike and she’s playing soccer, and my child isn’t, it’s just a matter of time before that kid is in the highest reading and math groups in elementary school, on the select teams, in the honors courses in middle school, on Varsity and in the Advanced Placement courses in high school. Ultimately, if my kid doesn’t start riding his/her bike and playing soccer when other kids do, they won’t make it into colleges that are as selective as the other kids undoubtedly will, and then of course, there’s grad school.
I digress, back to the inaugural tiny tot soccer practice. Before leaving for it, I rolled up the newly arrived issue of Sports Illustrated (ala John Wooden) and jammed it into my back pocket. I intended on using it as a shield of sorts in case any “Little League” parents showed up. I would compensate for their intensity by sitting to the side dispassionately reading SI. Interesting that I began my youth sports parent journey with that alternative, even outsider mentality, because I thought it might have evolved following A’s first practice.
Right before the practice the coach gave a great talk to the co-ed hoard of pipsqueaks about learning one another’s names and the importance of teamwork. I thought, “Cool, A’s going to have a positive first experience with a progressive coach.” But then, immediately after everyone quickly whispered their names, he threw the ball out onto the field and the pre-school athletes began “scrimmaging.”
From behind my SI, I alternated between chuckling and cringing because the scrimmage consisted of fifteen midgets chasing one speedster with natural skills. This went on and on. There were no drills, no introduction of fundamentals, and no one learned anyone’s name. There was learning going on though, fifteen children learned they weren’t nearly as good as their one teammate.
Midway through the scrimmage, A bonked heads with another runt and came running to me in tears. As I hugged her and wiped her tears, I wondered, “What the hell were we thinking?”
Fast forward to the present. A friend coaches a select soccer team and surprise, surprise, he says some parents are never content with their kid’s playing time and others, immediately after the game, want him to relay critical feedback to their daughters. Recently, a ref said that he “should be embarrassed” by his parents’ behavior on the sideline.
My friend didn’t elaborate on what prompted the comment, but I can picture the scene, some of the parents barking at their kid, or hectoring opposing kids, or ripping the fifteen year old ref just getting a feel for his first part-time job (as if he secretly has money in Vegas on one of the U12 girl teams). To my friend’s credit, he was embarrassed, and things have improved following a lengthy team email.
To be continued.