Sunday, September 22, 2013

New ways to get our kicks

“Look at you, man.  I can’t believe this day has come,” my buddy Jeff said as he watched me undergo one of life’s great transitions.  Like the doctor from “Field of Dreams” who could never go back to his old life once he stepped off the field, my life would never be the same once I walked to the edge of the parking lot and stepped onto the grass beyond. 

I’d begun the day as a regular dude.  I would end it as a soccer dad. 

My wife Kara, a newly minted soccer mom, was already on the field with our four-year-old son Evan, participating in loosely organized pandemonium.  A coach with a whistle barked out orders while a roiling sea of children attempted, for the most part, to comply.

The league was structured so that there aren’t fixed teams, just a gaggle of children who do practice drills for half an hour, then break into smaller groups for scrimmages. 

“They don’t have real games.  They don’t even have teams.  Who came up with this idea?” Kara asked when we received the email that explained how the league operated for Evan’s age group. 
 We pictured walking up on our first day to the soccer field, where there would be a drum circle and people in knit hats passing handrolled cigarettes.

“Dig it, man.  There are no losers in soccer.  Like, you know?” the coach would say.

But after watching dozens of soccer balls sitting patiently as tiny cleats whizzed past them over and over, it became clear that some skill-building was probably a good idea, especially before putting the kids in front of concession-stand-paying customers.

After the drills, the kids broke into smaller groups for the main event: the scrimmage.  Evan and his two teammates donned their blue jerseys, while the opposing three kids put on red jerseys.  Game on.  This is what we came to see.

“Let’s do this,” Jeff said.  After he’d booked his weekend visit with us, Jeff found out about the start of soccer season.  For his own master class in being a good sport, he attended the game with us.

As soon as a parent placed a ball on the field, the red team sprang to life, dribbling and passing the ball before kicking it into the open goal.  Evan gamely ran in the general direction of the ball while his two teammates cried and ran to the sidelines.  It wasn’t the other team scoring that bothered them, it seemed, so much as the idea of soccer in general.  There may be no crying in baseball, but, in my experience, there is a LOT of crying in soccer.

This process repeated itself about a dozen more times.  Eventually, a parent started serving as a goalie for Evan’s team.

“I think the red team is juicing,” Jeff whispered.

Final score: 37-2, or thereabouts.  And that was due to a late comeback, during which the opposing parents were holding back their kids by their jerseys.  Evan had absolutely no idea that his team had just been drubbed, though, so he walked off the field happy.

 You haven't lost if you haven't noticed.

Afterward, over a well-deserved pizza lunch, Evan said, “I think that boy was tryin’ to make me not get the ball.”

“That’s right, Evan.  He didn’t want you to have it,” I said.

“Why not?” Evan asked.   

We may have dulled his killer instinct with all our talk of sharing and being nice.  For all the good that sports can do for kids, helping them to excel apparently requires a bit of reprogramming.

“See that nice little boy wearing the different-colored jersey?  Destroy him, Sweetheart.”

That must be what soccer parents are supposed to do.  We’ll check into it, right after we purchase a minivan.   

You can give Mike Todd a red card at

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