I sat at my daughter’s soccer game this evening with 3 or 4 layers on, sheep skin lined boots, two hooded jackets and stamped my feet to try and get the blood back into my toes. It was a brisk fall evening that reminded me just what Minnesota fall can feel like when even just an hour before the sun was casting warm light on the gorgeous fall colors. But not now, the clouds and wind had rolled in. the sun was going down. I kept looking around for Elsa, surely she was responsible for this early winter weather.
As my fingers turned to white blocks with purple tips, thank you Reynaud’s, I tucked them deeper in my pockets while the wind whipped up, and I watched 10 goals from the opposing team find the back of our net. Our team hadn’t even managed to get a shot, let alone celebrate a goal. The other team however, was celebrating with gusto..
Nothing new here, we’ve only won one game this season, with a team full of younger kids and two coaches who love the girls but likely have no experience in coaching an organized sport. My daughter picked up soccer this fall because it was one of the few teams that did not hold a tryout, where she could sign up and be able to play. She hadn’t played soccer since she was in second grade and barely remembered the rules, but she wanted a way to make friends after moving here across the country and she wanted a way to exercise that would be more fun than just going out for runs. It was one of very few opportunities that girls who are 12, 13, or 14 have any more when they aren’t specialized or have years of experience.
She’s competitive, she’s an athlete, and she prefers to be challenged as much as possible in just about everything-in sports, school, you name it. I dare to say, she may just be my mini-me. Everything is a competition, and she likes to win. She competes hard at basketball and knows where she dreams of playing college ball. She’s fierce inside a lacrosse goal and suits up and gets bruised by shots even when she’s fighting off her autoimmune disease when it’s at its worst. So surely I thought that a not so competitive soccer team would be boring for her. I worried about how she would handle the low key practices, the younger girls doing cartwheels on the field during games, the one sided shut-out losses. I wondered, would she lose her edge? Would she get lazy? Would she be in poor form and throw blame? Nope, she hustled on the field, she competed like she always does. She didn’t change her hustle in a less competitive environment, because that’s who she is. But how would she handle it mentally? (apparently I needed something to worry about)
As usual, my worry was about my insecurity and not hers. Something interesting happened that I hadn’t expected (because I was too busy creating problems in my head that didn’t exist..sound familiar?) She got into the car after every game and didn’t mention the loss at all. Not a single mention of blame, of poor effort by anyone, of a lack of focus by the team, or frustration. There was no hanging of the head, self blame, misery. She got in the car and told me about things that happened that were fun, funny, and entertaining. She mentioned where she learned something because she did it and it didn’t work out, and then showed me her muddy knees and laughed about her ankle bruises. She talked about her new friends. She was totally and completely content. The one disappointment that she did mention? That soccer season was almost over. I’ve heard that after every game, that she doesn’t want it to end. The at least 10 things I had wanted to mention about the game seemed utterly ridiculous to mention after listening to her total love of her experience and for once in my life, I kept my mouth shut. How could I taint her wonderful perspective with my warped soccer mom issues?
On the flip side of her experience as a player, the parents on the sideline were often in a frenzy as this team struggled to do just about anything right. They shouted directions, looked upset, threw their hands up. I admit on occasion I turned to my husband and said, “why don’t they follow their shot?!” and every once in a while, “back door!!” Others sat quietly resigned to a season of losses, what else can we do?
Listen up fellow parents. We have got to stop looking at games as tests of our kids abilities. They aren’t tests, they are a small part of the season and at the youth/teen level they are for experience and because…wait for it……. GAMES ARE THE FUN PART!! Or at least they are supposed to be. No one would want to sign up for a sport that was nothing but practices. Only weird obsessed lacrosse players like myself love practice.
Contrary to what I hear over and over at coaches’ clinics I teach, the kids don’t care as much as we do when they get clobbered over and over. I hear often from parents how upset that kids were, how they hate losing, how they want to switch teams and play up and I wonder, were they really upset about the loss or were they upset because you or the coach made them feel like they were disappointing you/them. Something to think about.
These kids are enjoying many other aspects of their sport experience than wins and losses. We don’t see that part because the friendships, the fun, the bonding, the entire team experience happens outside of our direct view. In fact, the majority of their team time we don’t see at all!. All we see and feel are the competitions, so we forget how much more there is to it.
It took watching my kid play a game in a sport where we felt no pressure because she had signed up just for fun, to let it really sink in, to really get what she’s out there for. I truly believe that my ability to separate the pressure to be successful from her experience all season long, my change in behavior to give her the ability to be free to enjoy all the other aspects of playing on a team, allowed her to get MUCH MORE out of the season.
She did in fact improve just by being out there everyday and being exposed to the sport. She will likely carry over some of her new skills, lessons from trial and error, and field sense to her other sports. She made friends, she got exercise, she made memories, she grew her confidence because no one was pressuring her to perform within a rigid standard definition of success confined by wins or reaching certain milestones.
The trick will be carrying this over to other sports where she does feel pressure. Keeping that competitive edge and still getting all the bonuses of being on a team when it counts. Keeping her working her hardest and doing her best to reach her potential. Getting her to perform when those scouts are on the sideline, getting good highlight film – when it really matters, so she can reach her goals of playing in college.
Just kidding, that’s not a trick. She’s competitive, she’s an athlete, she doesn’t need my help at all. The real trick will be me letting her go. 🙂
LET IT GO! and Play ON!