Two Letters to Kids Who Play Soccer
The first one is not from me. This letter, which I wish I could photocopy and pass out to every parent on the four teams my family is a part of -- or at least to a few hand-selected parents on those teams, was written by Mike Woitalla, a coach with our own East Bay United and the Executive Editor of Soccer America.
If you have kids who play any sport, not just soccer, you should read and share this letter, addressed to Soccer-Playing Children of America. It's really quite wonderful, exemplifying as it does all of our best hopes for what the beautiful game can be for our kids.
Mr. Woitalla's words have been resounding in my head all weekend, as Rick and I split our time between four teams and three tournaments. But as the weekend wore on, and I found myself cajoling sibling spectators into their booster seats for the kajillionth time and laundering uniforms in the middle of the night and dashing to the store for more (some would say better) snacks, other thoughts started pinging around as well, so I composed a letter of my own. It's sort of a complement to Mr. Woitalla's letter...I hope. Read on, dear children:
Dear Soccer-Playing Children in My Family,
This was a wonderful weekend of playing soccer, in sun and shadow, in early mornings and late afternoons. We saw everything from you this weekend, running, dribbling, passing, fighting, scoring, assisting, scissoring, weaving, winning, tying, and losing with dignity. I hope you had fun out there, just like Mr. Woitalla hopes for you as well. I want you to read his letter to you. He expresses eloquently everything your father and I believe in our hearts about soccer and your participation in it. And after you've read it, read this one. These are just a few extra gems that are also important, and equally held dear by dad and me.
First, you've been doing a decent job this season of finding your socks, shorts, and jerseys the day before your game. It's not easy, but I'm proud of you for not giving up, even when you've been sitting in a heap on your bedroom floor for 10 whole minutes moaning that you can't find one of your socks. So far, you've fought through those struggles and come up with the elusive sock. To that effort, I would add one small thing: I hope when it comes time to leave the house for your field next weekend, you've got your shoes on and your water bottles filled. This is so important, and it will help set you up to have a fantastic game. Because if you don't, I'm probably going to scream at you out of sheer frustration, and screaming at you is definitely not a great way to send you off onto the pitch.
And you know how your siblings have been coming to your games for years and figuring out how to keep themselves entertained during long tournament weekends? You know how the little ones have learned that when mom and dad are intently watching a soccer game, twitching with every move, they're aren't ignoring their younger offspring, they're just really, really pulling for whichever sibling is out there? You know how we've been telling them for years, in the car on the way to your games, that someday it will be their turn? Well, that day is here, at least for one of them. So yes, you have to go to some of her games and even watch and even cheer and even pretend to be supportive. It's the least you can do. If you're looking for the least, I'm handing it to you on a silver platter. Sit. Watch. Cheer once in a while. Easy peasy.
And another thing: early mornings really do suck. I know it's tough to get out of bed at 6am to get dressed and out the door to a 7am warm up. You know what's even harder? Getting out of bed before you do, at 5:30am, in order to make coffee for the coach, fix a warm protein-packed breakfast for lots of short people, make sure all the uniforms are clean and ready, and then get 5 reluctant risers to get ready for the day. All with a smile and an encouraging word or two. As much as I love the beautiful game, I also loved my beautiful pillow this morning, and yet I left it in order to be the force behind getting everyone where they needed to be.
Remember, the game is the thing. The game is why we do this. I know you love it, and I love watching you do what you love. A little reminder, then: We do not play this game for cheap knock-off neon-green Messi sweatshirts that look like they were slapped together in someone's garage and then hung on an old curtain rod sporting a $35 price tag. We definitely don't do it for that, and this half of we would really love it if you could let go of the prospect of owning that cheap piece of crap and focus on the game at hand.
Oh, and on a related note: not every ice cream vendor needs our business. The earth will not stop spinning if you don't eat ice cream at every soccer field your magical cleated feet grace. In other words, you are not a professional athlete, and you are not paid in ice cream.
We, your loving parents, will cheer and cheer, and try not to scream or coach from the sidelines (except your dad, when he actually is your coach, and even then, not during the game itself), and in return, we'd really appreciate it if you could recognize who it is that gets you to your games, buys your cleats, your uniforms, your shin guards, your balls, your power bars, your mangoes and your gatorade, drives to your practices, replaces your lost water bottle (well, once at least: after that, you're on your own), drives back to the field well after dark to see if your forgotten ball is still there, and generally gives up life itself to make this game possible for you.
I've told you before: I'm 100% willing and happy to do all of these things because if you love this game, then you should play it, as much as possible and as well as possible. What am I asking for? Work with me. That's it. Just work with me. Show good sportsmanship with me too, your mama, the captain of the team, so to speak, and the only person on earth who cares as much as you do about how your team does and whether or not you have a good game.
I care. So please don't piss me off.
ps: I think your father, coach-extraordinaire, more devoted to soccer than anyone you have ever met or ever will, could write a letter of his own. Maybe he will someday. Between all of your practices and games, I doubt he'll have the time. So on his behalf, let me just say this: Never forget how much time, energy, and love he puts into planning and thinking about you and how you are experiencing soccer. No one has or ever will do more for you, when it comes to soccer, than he does. We tease him that he can make soccer a metaphor for anything, but he's right, isn't he? Soccer is just like life: love and hard work will take you far. You dad will always be there watching, hoping, and cheering for you. So go forth to love and play hard.