The leaves changing color, the nip in the air, the never ending back-to-school nights with their ten-page supply lists are all signs of the impending season change, sure, but nothing announces the advent of fall in suburbia like the pitter-patter of little soccer cleats across a field. (That would be football for everyone outside the States. It was probably unnecessary to clarify that but I have one surprisingly dedicated reader in Singapore and I’ll be rather disappointed if I ever lose them.)
Raise your hand if you played soccer as a kid. I imagine that includes everyone. Tying on your shin guards and wrestling those tube socks up over your knees is a right of passage for children everywhere. But so is something else: getting your butt kicked. In fact, if you were me, that was pretty much all soccer entailed. (And softball and basketball and volleyball and football. True story: I was the only girl on my high school Powder Puff team to get not a single second of playing time in a game.)
These days things have changed. With the advent of non-competitive leagues and a general aura of Everyone’s a Winner, kids spend a lot less time losing than I did. Many have griped about this, saying that we are coddling our kids and it makes them weaker, unable to handle real world defeat when it smacks them across the face in adulthood. But I, for one, actually find it refreshing. My childhood spent sucking at every conceivable group sport left me with a lifelong hatred of group sports that I have only been able to overcome in my late twenties. I’ll admit it: I still get jittery playing something as simple as a pick-up game of frisbee.
The difference in these viewpoints is how you see the purpose of sports. Despite having a very competitive nature, the main purpose of sports for me is to exercise and to have fun. For many other people, however, it is to win. This has played out in an interesting fashion in my kids.
Last fall the husband and I decided to enroll our two eldest boys in the city soccer league, non-competitive division. I figured they’d get some fresh air and learn about teamwork. If things went really well they might even learn the rules of the game – a feat I never accomplished in all my time on the field. This is exactly what my five-year-old got. His team has no goalie and players routinely put themselves on the sidelines when they’d rather play with their dinosaurs than the other kids. Snack time is the highlight. They have lost every single game.
Compare that to my seven-year-old’s team. Their coach and half their players are from the competitive league and apparently use the non-competitive league as a warm up for their season. They have assigned positions, complicated plays and drills that involve an amazing amount of coordination. Not only have they won every single game but my son came home this last time shouting, “We beat ‘em 16 to 1! And that was only because Coach told us to let them get one in at the end!” Cue the sad violins for the opposing team.
As you would expect, this caused many tears from the five-year-old and hours of bragging from the seven-year-old (not that it takes much to induce either crying or bragging in our house these days). You’d think that this would be evidence to run the team in the latter manner. And yet, despite my older son’s joy at winning – and I say this with great love – he’s by far the worst player on his team. This has led his coach to say, within his hearing, “Only kick the ball to Andersen if he’s the only person around and then stay right on it.” You should have seen his big puppy eyes fill with tears when he asked me why no one would pass him the ball. He also only gets assigned to play one defensive position in the very back, where he never sees the ball much less touches it. The other parents whisper things like “state college” and “band scholarship” behind their hands and won’t look me in the eyes.
Of course it all makes me very upset. Come on, that’s what I do. The husband is more zen about the whole thing saying about both sons, “Eh, they’re having fun. They’re learning stuff.” The tears that I see as heart-breaking he sees as character-building. It’s not just our family that’s divided on the group sports issue. When I posted on Facebook about how I’m not cut out to be a soccer mom (I believe I actually used the phrase “soccer sucks” ’cause I’m mature like that), I got an amazing array of responses – everything from total agreement to total disdain leading me to conclude that soccer, not Al Franken, is the great polarizing force in our generation.
So now I have to know your opinion! When you play sports, do you play to win? What is your philosophy about kids and sports? In the picture above, which guy is getting the worse end of the deal? Seriously, I’ve been looking at it for like 10 minutes and I still can’t decide.