Saturday, August 9, 2008

Soccer Parent

My son is attending soccer camp this week in our annual, early-August heat. I watched him finish from the little shade provided by the aluminum bleachers. After it was over, he told me nothing of the drills they did, skills they worked on, or the games they played, but, as this field overlooks the New River (and the only place to find shade on the banks that once provided no shade—another story), he told me that he saw five or six rises in the stretch of river between the Dedmon Center field at Radford University and the little island across from it. Though his feet were tired, he wanted to know if we could put canoe in and maybe “troll the ledges on the other side.” As of yet, he’s still not too much of a soccer player, but he does like to fish.

I played when I was young and loved when all eleven players came together. I liked to run and I guess I had excess energy to burn. Played up until and into college. But, I don’t much like this soccer culture anymore. Sam played on a travel team last year and I saw some benefits: the discipline of practice, the listening to your coach, the working with your teammates. But our team, though talented and made of 10 year-olds, wasn’t always the best of sports (and our parents came in last in the sportsmanship ratings). And for some people, soccer seems like their whole life.

But there we were at camp this morning, with the other soccer moms and dads, dropping off kids in specialty soccer flip flops, the kind with nubbins to message your feet (it is so not cool to wear your cleats until the very last minute). Why do we--collective we--do it (by it, I mean the practices and camps, the travel to games)? There are benefits of exercise, yes—soccer is a very aerobic sport. But why specialize so much? Would his summer days be better filled with the kind of camp where they play outdoor camps, canoe and kayak, swing on rope swings? Can somewhat smarter than me help? Is there a sociological explanation? Is it bragging rights? Part of our economic system? Playing soccer provides some kind of economic capital. That can’t be it—you can’t make money in soccer in the US, but it seems symbolic of something. The suburban parents dropping off kids, in their Suburbans, are mostly doing alright economically.

Balance. I guess that’s what I’m after when it comes to these organized sports. A little soccer here. Some baseball there. Maybe a game of tennis. Or Frisbee. A good hike. Lots of walks on the new place. And tomorrow, after soccer, we’ll see what kind of small-mouthed bass are lurking beneath the rock ledges beyond the pitch. Wonder what will be more exhilarating, offer more reward: the ball in the back of the net, or fish at the bottom of one?

Postscript: caught a beautiful bass on the first cast of the day. It jumped out of the water to throw the hook, but Sam kept him on. A beautiful fish too: golden yellow, a little green, hard brown spots in a stripe up the side, hard lower lip to grab and take the hook out, and to kiss upon release. So there’s a question for readers. Do you kiss your fish?

1 comment:

Clark Meyer said...

I could not agree more with your soccer-parent misgivings, even though I guess I'm part of the problem. In addition to coaching my high school team, I volunteered to be Will's coach this fall in a local league, and I was astonished to learn at last Thursday's coaches' meeting that we are supposed to practice two nights a week. I had already grudgingly resigned myself to losing most of my Saturdays this fall to soccer, but I wasn't ready for it to claim a big chunk of my week, as well. (I already have no life once school season starts in February.)

Will only plays U-8 at the rec level, and he's really not all that athletic, so as long as he's enjoying himself I think the activity is good for him. I'd like to think if we had this time free that I'd fill it with enriching outdoor fun, but I have to admit I just don't see that happening. I'm realizing more and more that my wife and I didn't have "easy access to safe and healthy outdoor play" on our list of priorities when we chose where to build our new house.

At any rate, I'm probably lucky that I don't have to worry about him ever making a select team. I see the sacrifices that my high school girls make, the way soccer truly does come to rule their lives, and I'm quite sure it's not altogether healthy. It seems disingenuous to say so, given that my players' year-round dedication to their club teams means that we perennially challenge for the State Championship, but I see them travel all across the country to tournament after tournament, often missing school for days at a time, hardly ever being free to do something truly interesting with their vacations and summers.

One insight I would offer, Rick, is that you shouldn't underestimate the money to be made in soccer in this country, not for the players but for the elite club coaches. Holding out the possibility of college soccer as bait, they seduce the parents into accepting all sorts of sacrifices and coughing up some serious cash. Many club coaches would really like to see high school soccer disappear altogether, as it supplants the spring club season and cuts into their bottom line.

And so I find myself both excited and strangely worried that Andrew, my four-year old, seems to have real talent, scoring five times as many goals in his first game last spring as Will has in six seasons.