It's usually the adults that ruin the game.
There's the Annoying Mom I've mentioned before who screams shrill orders to her daughter any time the ball even looks like it might come to her side of the field. There's the Condescending Dad who swears every ref of every game is in the pocket of every opponent. The there is the ref who does seem to be in the pocket of the opponent. There's the coach who threatens parents, demeans his own players, and even calls the opposing team (of 14 year old girls,mind you) assholes! Yes, it actually happened. I'm sure it wasn't the first time and won't be the last.
The vast array of nut gallery parent members include Pushers, Enablers, Vicarious Livers, Dream Crushers, Overbookers and Overlookers. And that's just the parents. Some of the coaches are even worse.
But through it all, if you're lucky, there will come a voice of reason. A voice of sanity, calm and authoritative, yelling from the sidelines, "I need for you to find a way to be great right now. Find a way to be great!"
The voice came from a woman who knew that was all that needed to be said. She was the one who had poured her expertise out into these girls. She was the one teaching new skills, organizing creative drills, and wringing every ounce of effort and determination from our girls practice after practice while she cradled her infant baby on her hip and her toddler son played at her feet. She was the one who demanded respect for their coach, for their team, for their game, for themselves. She was the one who knew what they were capable of and managed to get them to know it, too. She was ultimately the one responsible for this win or this loss, and she was the one with the calm assurance, "Find a way to be great!"
She didn't feel the need to move players around like chess pieces. She didn't beg them to hustle or point out bad passes. She simply encouraged our girls to be great.
My eyes filled with tears and whatever pointless thing I was getting ready to yell to our team caught in my throat. What else was there to say.
Organized youth sports is a strange phenomenon. Sometimes, when I see 14 year olds nursing injuries that 20 years ago plagued only college athletes, I wonder what we've set our kids up for. When I see 17 and 18 year olds throwing away a decade of training because they are simply sick of it, I wonder if it's worth it. When kids are routinely embarrassed at the actions of Annoying Mom and Condescending Dad and Paid-off Ref, I question my own parenting priorities. But when I hear the voice of my daughter's coach encouraging greatness week after week after week, I know I've done something good. In the craziness of youth soccer, my daughter has been instilled with an example of class and a path to greatness. I know it is the lesson that will stay with her long after the final whistle is blown.
Too often, it's the adults who ruin the game. Often, it's the adults who can save it, as well. Thanks for being great, Coach.