Sunday, October 09, 2005

If the cleat fits

A friend and co-worker recently asked my wife Kara if she’d run the practices for her daughter’s soccer team -- this was quite an opportunity for Kara, as she gets to play with kids and teach them about soccer without having to bring any of them home afterwards. It’s like having your cake and not having to feed it or pay for its higher education, too. Usually, you have to have your own kids before you get drafted into coaching a soccer team, but not this time (Kara and I do not yet have any children who are not also ferrets).

The team had its second game last weekend, and I went to check it out because Kara wanted a driver and our chauffeur had the day off. I brought a book with me just to play it safe, but the game was so entertaining that I never cracked it open. I hadn’t been to a kids’ soccer game in almost twenty years, when I was playing (poorly) in them myself. When I was a soccer player, the two positions I knew about were “offense” and “bad at soccer.” I never played offense.

I don’t mean to talk down defense; it’s vitally important to the success of a soccer team. I played defense at least as well as, if not slightly better than, a small to medium-sized orange cone. My signature move was “pretend like you wanted to head the ball and just missed it.” I always had a hard time turning off my survival instincts. If your instincts don’t tell you to move out of the way when something is whizzing towards your head, you might want to reevaluate how much weight you lend to your instinct’s opinions.

Anyway, back to the game. This is the first season that the girls, who are ten and eleven years old, are playing on a regulation field, which is the size of, and I’m being conservative here, Rhode Island. At the very least, it looked like it should have had its own congressman. The girls were so little on that huge field, I felt like I was watching the game from a hot air balloon.

Once the game started, Kara was shooting up and down the sidelines, encouraging the kids and losing her voice. Parents shouted helpful advice, like, “Run!” and “Kick it!” There might be more strategies in soccer, but I think those two pretty much sum it up. The kids did their best to follow the advice, though any given kick had about a 10% chance of hitting the ball, a 10% chance of hitting pure air and an 80% chance of hitting shin.

My favorite moment from the game was this:

Father on the sidelines: “Rebecca! Are you supposed to be a midfielder or a striker?”

Rebecca (shrugging): “I forget.”

And I know kids are busy these days, but I was a little unsettled by a conversation I heard going on behind me. A mother was describing her week to another mother: “We’ve got soccer practice on Tuesdays, games on Saturdays, ballet on Mondays and Thursdays, piano and clarinet on Fridays, tennis practice Saturday afternoon, and in between bites of Lean Cuisine, we’re teaching her Portuguese.”

I decided right then that when I have a kid, I’m going to encourage him/her to become a world-class solitaire champion. Unless the legal driving age is lowered to nine so that children can drive themselves to practice, I don’t see any other way out.

When the ref blew the whistle to end the game, the final score was, of course, 0-0. This was partially due to the stellar defense exhibited by both teams, and partially due to the fact that 97% of all soccer games end in a 0-0 tie. In professional soccer, the tie is broken by which side had the least number of fans killed in the stands.

You can kick Mike Todd in the shins online at


  1. I hear they start soccer at 3 years old now. Crazy. Our daughter is 6 mos old and it scares me to death. My wife and I both were very athletically challenged, so maybe she'll just keep score or run the concession stand.

  2. 6 mos old? I don't know how you're even awake to leave a comment. Shouldn't you be teaching her the flute or something?

    Dude, also, whether you win or lose -- at the end of the game, free snow cone. Grape. Or cherry. Both favorites.

    Any Brian Regan fans?

  3. It used to really bug me that Americans didn't "get" soccer, but now I realize that it's the most popular game on the planet by a long way, so it's not really important who gets it.

    That low-scoring joke is the standard jibe aimed at soccer - Europeans normally reply with a claim that at least our "World Cup" has teams from over 200 countries, while the "World Series" represents barely two.

    The reason the "soccer mom" culture evolved in the USA is because it's the only team sport where you don't have to re-mortgage your house to buy all the equipment, which in the case of American pastimes normally weighs more than the kids themselves!

    I doubt your (funny as always, I'm just defending my turf here) column will get you much of a shin-kicking, unless it comes with an SAP button!

  4. My son is 4 and I did start him in soccer this year. 4 year old soccer is a hoot. The main focus is to learn how to kick the ball, and in the right direction, and to mostly keep in the lines. And even those rules are bent a bit.

    There are also the classic positions of the 4 year old soccer team. They only play 3 on 3, so one player is the kid who knows exactly how to play the game, and he will take the ball and run it all the way to the end of the tiny field and score a goal, almost unchallenged. Then there's the player who makes sure that the team has enough flowers by collecting them. But sometimes she gets distracted from her job and goes after butterflies. And the third just stands there with his finger in his nose, and whines that he wants to be taken out because he's too tired and doesn't want to play. Oh, and they've all discovered the joy of peeing outside behind a tree, thanks to the keen idea of a frantic mother one day, and they all need potty breaks at least once during the game, even when they've gone right before.

    They say that in 4 year old soccer we don't keep score. This is because they don't want to promote competition at such a young age. I think it's because it's too damn hard to keep score, as half the time they are scoring against their own team, or scoring throught the side of the goal. Sometimes they kick the ball all the way around the goal and then kick it in. Sometimes they just run around in cirles, or we discovered that we only have 2 players instead of 3 because one child decided she wanted to go play on the playground. But the more ironic part is, these kids always know when they've won or not, even when we don't keep score.

    But it's fun, it teaches discipline, they learn how to follow rules and direction, and gives them a chance to make friends and learn how to get along with their peers. But I just do it because I'm hoping to encourage my child to get tired out and then take a nap once we get home. I'll let you know when that plays out.

  5. JL, did I just find out how to piss you off? Haha -- I'll lay off the soccer in the future. Man, do I suck at that game. I'll just have to leave it to the ol' ball and shin guard.

    Child -- mind if I use your comment as my next column? Great stuff -- thanks for taking the time.

  6. I coached my daughter's softball team this summer and it was a lot of fun. I learned just as much as those girls did!

    As for the crazy schedule, we are taking a break this fall. Daughter is having difficulty with reading so we are concentrating on school activities. She may take guitar lessons and tennis lessons after the Holidays. Fall can be so crazy...and I am crazy enough!

  7. you need to read sex drugs and cocoa puffs by chuck klosterman because he explains how soccer is not a sport!

  8. Ha ha ha-
    nice one mIke.

    By the way I've been readin' the shit out of these lately.

    Robert Kalmbachina

  9. Randi -- that sounds like a funny book. My theory is that if you can smoke and do it at the same time without hampering your performance, it's not a sport. So that rules out darts and bowling, and puts golf right in the middle, where it belongs. I'm pretty sure that it makes soccer a sport, too.

  10. Rob -- dude, you left a freakin' comment! You are the man. Got any new pics for me?

  11. Child soccer is way fun. The parents and kids aren't nearly as predatorial (that not a word??) as in ice hockey. Up here in a lot of places paretns and kids have to sign non-agression pacts. I kid you not.

    KAra in a soccer uniform must be hot. Not so sure bout you, there, big boy.