My last soccer game (not as a soccer mom but as a player) was the week before my doctor confirmed my pregnancy. The appointment was in the morning. I had an indoor game scheduled later that evening, with four more games to go in the season, but of course, I hung up my cleats.
I’ve been playing soccer since the age of nine. I played the community leagues, in high school, college club team, and – fortunately – there were plenty of adult leagues in every city I lived in as I entered the working world. At one point, I was playing four nights a week.
But from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I hadn’t stepped foot on the pitch since.
So you can imagine my excitement when my little one expressed interest in soccer. We exposed him to all kinds of athletic activity as a toddler but never pushed him into a particular sport. We wanted him to choose. At age four, he joined his older cousin in a soccer “class.” To my son, it wasn’t as much about soccer as it was a way to spend time with a cousin he adores.
At age five, my son joined his first official soccer league. I was thrilled!
As an only child, he seemed excited to be part of a team, when twice a week he didn’t play by himself, but rather joined up to nine “brothers” in matching outfits chasing and kicking a ball. He could do the drills. He understood the point was to get the ball into the opponents’ goal. He listened to the coaches’ instructions.
But unlike his teammates during games, he didn’t challenge his opponents for the ball. If he had possession, he’d willingly give it away to the other team. He spent more time on the field encouraging his teammates instead of getting into the scrum himself.
The reasons? He told me he knows he’s not supposed to take something that someone else is playing with. He’s supposed to share. And he knows he should be kind.
All of the lessons we had been drilling into him about being a good person were on display on the field, where he didn’t understand that when it comes to sports, stealing the ball, keeping it from his opponents and getting into the mix is part of the game. His coaches had a laugh when they realized that he was still adhering to all those parental reminders.
As a soccer player turned soccer mom, this felt like a total parenting fail.
I didn’t understand how to help him reconcile the conflicting messages he must’ve been processing once he stepped onto the field. How can I inspire that “killer instinct” in him? All I could do was encourage him. He finished the season and enjoyed his “participation trophy.”
He didn’t ask to play soccer again until a few weeks ago when leagues began opening up again, post COVID-19. He’s now in a different league with all new teammates, and a patient volunteer coach who emphasizes lessons like sportsmanship and respect as much as passing and maintaining positions.
My son is still struggling with being aggressive on the field and he can’t overcome the fear of getting hit by the ball.
It kills me. I remember when my Dad watched me play, even at my earliest stages, he’d bark orders, let me know when I messed up, and threatened to pull me from the sport if I didn’t toughen up. He used to hurl soccer balls at me to learn how to trap and head, and condition me to be less afraid of getting hit. I hate to admit that it made me a tougher player.
But as a soccer mom myself now, I know that tough love wouldn’t work for my son.
Right now, I feel like he needs positive reinforcement for what he does right with gentle direction.
“You stopped that shot from going in your goal! Next time, keep kicking the ball towards the other goal.”
“You did that nice corner kick. If you keep running towards the goal and the ball bounces off your teammate, you could be close enough to kick it in and score.”
I figure he has many more leagues and years to develop a competitive edge in soccer or any other sport he chooses to play. But he doesn’t whine about playing time.
He celebrates when his teammates do well.
He’s the first one to check on a kid who is injured, even if they’re on the other team.
These are all part of learning sports too, right?
In the meantime, though, I’m ready to get back in the game. Let me know if anyone needs a free agent.