On Tuesday I watched my son Davis chase down an opponent, battling to get goal side and prevent a pass, running faster than I ever thought possible. I was so proud of Davis’ intensity, focus and determination to compete. Today – I will go to his final game of competitive soccer. It will be a bittersweet moment for me – one laced with deeply felt gratitude for the coaches, teammates and opportunities he has had over the years and also dabbed with the impending reality that my “lease” on him is soon up, and he will be off to college before I know it.
I’ve written about Davis a few times over the years with Soccer Parenting. My first article about him was on his 13th birthday – a celebration that my 13 year-old son, the age when many children drop out of sport, was continuing to reap the benefits of athletic participation and play soccer despite the fact that he was an “average” player.
Davis has attended small, private middle and high schools where sports participation is guaranteed – and because of that – has he stayed involved in sport. Unfortunately, recreational soccer was not friendly to him: the harsh comments from out of control parents towards his missed shot on goal or difficulty taking a throw in was overwhelming (for both him and me) and he understandably opted to stop playing for our local club when the parents who cared too much about winning became too unwelcoming. Of course, I want to change this about youth soccer, and we are making strides towards doing so. There is much culture changing work ahead.
My second article about Davis was about his team’s losing season his freshman year in high school.
His playing career, to be clear, has certainly not been one of trophies and victories. In fact, we counted the number of games he has won since 5th grade the other day and had a hard time getting past 10 wins.
In reflection, I realize now that I often misperceived Davis’ soccer experiences as less impactful than those of his older, college-playing sister. I’ve obviously always been supportive of his playing, but because Davis' soccer didn't take as much of my energy as his sister's soccer did – I made the mistake in thinking it was not as impactful for him.
And this is why watching him chase down an opponent with the greatest of fervor, intensity and desire to compete was so amazingly gratifying to me the other day. The power and impact of his soccer experiences on his character became more apparent for me.
My son has learned the value of not giving up, the power of camaraderie uniquely felt amongst teammates, and the inspiration of finding new limits. In the car after the game Tuesday he said – “I really shut that player down” – a big smile overcoming his face. A sense of accomplishment and joy abounded, for which my heart felt a bit lighter and my mind buzzed.
As a parent I have received so much from his playing experiences. The time we have had together thanks to soccer: the conversations, the laughter, the lectures on relevant life lessons, the rehashing of game plays over the dinner table….and I’ll say it again because today it seems worthy of a second mention – the extra, bonus-moments...the TIME TOGETHER – thanks to soccer.
As a coach I had the experience of guiding his young, recreational teams. I loved working with a misfit group of boys. I became acutely aware of the various ways “fun” can permeate youth soccer – and also acutely aware of the pitfalls of what robs our children of this fun experience.
As a thought leader with Soccer Parenting I have learned in a profound way how essential it is that we ensure all children have the opportunity to thrive with their soccer experiences. We must facilitate a structural shift in how we approach youth sports, reorganize how we spend our time and energy as leaders in the game, focusing more on providing a quality pathway for all children to fall in love with the game, regardless of their athletic potential, mentality towards sport, or desire to play multiple sports. Recreational soccer must be revamped so our most novice players are receiving the quality coaching they need and deserve and so older recreational players always feel welcome and inspired.
It is not lost on me that my son’s wonderful soccer experiences were largely possible due to his private school education. At Soccer Parenting we will continue to advocate and lead on this issue in the future.
For today though, I will take an extra moment sitting on the hill overlooking his field as he plays his final game and let my heart be filled with joy and gratitude for the lessons learned, friendships made, and experiences had.