Monday, April 19, 2010

Who's got the Muzzle?

Okay, so there's this one mom that I just can't sit beside during the game. Here's why:

"Ok, now push up. Push up! I said push up! Ok, now come back. The ball's coming to you. Ok, now get the ball. Get the ball. GET THE BALL!!!! Huff, I told you to get the ball. Didn't you see the ball? You gotta go to the ball. Now, here it comes again. Go to the ball. Good, now pass it to Natalie. Pass it to Natalie! Huff! I said to pass it to Natalie. Did you not hear me say to pass it to Natalie? Pay attention! Here's comes the ball. Go to the ball..."

Holy Cow, Annoying Mom! Your daughter has only been playing soccer since she was six years old. She is a starter on a competitive team. I think she knows how to play the game without you moving her around like she's a pawn on a chess board. You are annoying me. I can only imagine how your daughter feels. In other words, shut up already!!!

Parents like her are just about as bad as the ones who complain about every single call. Now I've seen some bad referee calls. And, I must admit, I have made a comment or two. (Like the time I yelled that he should just go put on the other team's jersey colors. But that was only after an hour of blatantly one-sided calls. And it was just the one time. I swear.) But I also have to admit that most referees are way more knowledgeable about the game than I will ever be, so I try to keep my mouth shut. That way I don't reveal my stupidity more than absolutely necessary.

I learned long ago to limit my outbursts to things like, "Go team!" or "Good Hustle!" or "Don't give up. You can do it!"

So I'm not sure what happened last weekend. Perhaps my subconscious decided I had a right to a sideline opinion after nearly a decade of soccer mommming. Maybe I've just been sitting a little too close to Annoying Mom and she's rubbing off. I don't know.

It was beautiful day, perfect for playing soccer. Or watching it. Frank was having a great game. He was hustling, making good passes, keeping his head in the game. There was just this one little problem. I noticed it and, for some reason still yet to be determined, decided to point it out to him.

"Frank, push up."

No response.

"Frank! Move up!"

No response.

"Frank!! You are a forward! Move Up!"

He turns to me, finally, and speaks to me very patiently, as if he's the adult and I'm the child.

"Mom, I'm mid-field."

"You are?"


"Oh, well then, feel free to continue ignoring me. And Good Job!"

He shakes his head and goes back to his good job.

How does this happen? I'm usually pretty good about keeping my oh-so-brilliant coaching tips to myself and the one time I offer something, I get schooled by my 11 year old. In front of everyone. While Annoying Mom rants and raves game after game after game and no one ever calls her on it.

Embarrassed, I glance around. I'm standing by myself, about 10 feet from the nearest parent. This is good. Hopefully no one heard my blunder. On the other hand, I caught a sudden glimpse of what it must feel like to be the one mom no one wants to sit beside.

I walk over to the other parents and plop down in the cool grass. It's a beautiful day for soccer.

Go Team!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

I Was Right!

I knew I was right! Ok, it doesn't happen often, but this time I knew there was some validity to my opinion.

Kids need more spontaneous play time. And I have proof. In an LiveScience article about bullying, a child behavior expert agrees with me. (Child behavior expert? Ha! Isn't that just a fancy word for "mother"?)Anyway, this expert claims:

"...the social skills children gain on the playground or elsewhere could show up later in life...Unstructured playtime — that is, when children interact without the guidance of an authority figure — is when children experiment with the relationship styles they will have as adults."

Yes! Scientific proof! This is the first time I've ever been backed up by scientific proof! I think I'm gonna have a t-shirt made. And maybe bumper stickers. I WAS RIGHT. AND EVEN THE SCIENTISTS AGREE WITH ME.

So there you go, all you hovering helicopter moms and you control freak grade school playground monitors. Leave the kids alone and let them play.

This scientific revelation also brings us back to the question of organized youth sports. Are we doing our kids a disservice by sticking them in these programs from an early age? I remember hearing, when I was a kid, about how Nadia Comaneci was forced down the gymnastics path from the womb, practically. I remembering hearing how those other countries took their young prodigies and forced them to focus on nothing but their chosen sport. I remember parents protesting that this was no life for a child. Now, I'm not saying we're as bad as the Romanians once were, but are we starting to slide down that slippery slope?

Studies show that common sports injuries that used to plague adult athletes are now being seen in teenagers. Dr. Phil recently produced a show about a man who injected his young son with steroids so the boy could compete at a higher level in speed skating. The dad is now in jail and is still pretty much unrepentant. Unfortunately, the boy is banned from an activity he has great passion for. Closer to home, even I know that my kids must play organized youth sports if they are to have even the remotest chance to experience the thrill and excitement of competing for their high school team.

So what's a roaring mom to do? Buck the system? Boycott the evil mind control that is organized youth sports? And in doing so prevent our children from the arguably worthwhile experience of high school athletic endeavors? Which, by the way, can be considered another important social skill-building experience. Or do we give in? If your child has a passion for a particular sport, do you even have a choice? Are we powerless against the tsunami that is organized youth sports?

After faithfully fulfilling almost a decade of soccer mom duties, I still don't know the answer. But at this point, I think I'm sucked in already. And with another decade ahead of me, I'm pretty sure I'll be washed away and pulled under before I figure it all out.

So,please, someone throw me a life line! I'm drowning here. You'll be able to spot me pretty easily. I'm the one in the brightly colored t-shirt with the big letters that read, "I WAS RIGHT!"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Spontaneous Sport

Maps to hotel and fields...check.
Cooler stocked with Gatorade and water...check.
Full gas tank...check
Because we're in Kansas, Under Amour, umbrella, AND sunscreen...check,check,check.
Purse full of way too much money to be spending on a child's pastime...check.

For eight years now I've been packing up the mini-van on various autumn and spring weekends and heading out for long, tiring, expensive days spent hanging out at hotels and soccer complexes. Eight years...and I'm still not sold on the whole competitive, traveling team youth sport racket.

Sometimes, while shoving kids in the car, stuffing granola bars in their mouths because we haven't had dinner yet, instructing them to pull off the school uniform and pull on the shin guards and reminding them to try to stay buckled in while doing it, and taxiing them to practices that on occasion they really don't want to go to, sometimes at those moments, I wonder what it's all for?

I imagine a life without organized youth sports. The vision fades in like a dream sequence in a movie. Frank would ride his bike to the neighbor's house. He and the other boys would grab a ball and kick it around the front yard. They might play pick-up basketball or a game of catch. Heck, they might even throw a Frisbee around. The dreams ends in abrupt blackout.

The reality is that Frank won't be playing any pick-up games because all those other boys are at practice. The real alternative to not signing him up for club sports is a vision of the back of his head as he stares at a computer screen, manipulating virtual pirates in and out of Caribbean ports of call.

Please don't misunderstand. Frank does play outside with the neighbor kids. And sometimes, balls are involved. But our culture has experienced a certain and devastating death of the pick-up game. While organized sports has it's place in today's society, the absence of the spontaneous gathering of children creating their own fun is sad.

What's even sadder is that this lack of spontaneity and creativity has leaked into our schools, as well. My children once attended a school where even the recess activities were dictated. Recess, a.k.a. free time, a.k.a. socialization! Come on! What kind of control freak grade school teacher wants to dictate even that 20 minutes of allotted play time. When my kids complained that the teacher chose the recess activity every day and that everyone had to participate so that no one felt left out, I cried. Okay, I didn't actually cry. But I did roar. Well, actually that might have been more of a raving rant than a roar. But it wasn't directed at anyone and it was only for my own venting satisfaction, so it's alright, right?

Whatever happened to allowing kids to be kids? Why can't our children have the freedom of free play and natural socialization without the constant control of adults? As parents and educators, do we provide enough creative play that doesn't include pleasing a coach, performing for a crowd, or following the strict guidelines of an overzealous playground monitor? I wonder what would happen if we, just for the sake of experiment, allowed kids to just play. Without coaches, without uniforms, without referees.

I wonder if some of them would even know how to self-recreate without someone else setting the confines, limits, and consequences? I know there have been way too many times that I've felt the need and even the necessity of entertaining my children. I've been sucked into the idea that it's my job to come up with an activity for every spare moment. And then I go a little nuts when my children don't seem to be able to entertain themselves with the help of Disney, Nickelodeon, or the Internet.

Perhaps it's time for a little socialization experiment. Perhaps it's time to gather the children and see what they will do. But first, I'll need to reserve the park to make sure they have a place to play. Then I'll assign each parent certain sports equipment to bring. I'll be in charge of drinks and snacks so I can make sure the kids have healthy choices. And maybe we'll even provide little treat bags so that everyone feels rewarded for his good effort. It sounds like a perfect day of spontaneity and fun!

I'll get to work on that just as soon as I return from my long, tiring,expensive weekend hanging out at the soccer fields.