By Lisa Regula Meyer
It’s spring time, and for us this year, that means that it’s time to register the youngling for his first year of youth soccer. He loves to be outside, he enjoys being active, and all his friends are doing it, so I’m becoming a soccer mom. If you know me, you know this is hilarious, and probably just spat coffee on your computer screen.
I am not a fan of sports. I realize that they have value- physical activity, socialization, learning teamwork, better coordination and reflexes, and all that other jazz. Team sports also have a lot of traits that I don’t tend to like- competition (and often fierce), distracting from academics and family, and in the bigger sports, a bizarre sort of hero worship that I don’t find appealing. I also happen to know my kiddo’s temperament, and how when he finds something he likes, it can become an obsession. I can’t figure where he got that from, it’s not like he has a mother that use to buy puzzle books and work through them cover-to-cover like one would read a book…
I realize my shortcomings, and am trying to work on them, and want him to be in a place developmentally where he can handle the pressures, expectations, and temptations of a thing before he’s thrown into it. For the kind of self-control that is required in sports, I’m not sure he’s there yet, but we’re about to find out.
For context purposes, I’m writing all this after getting his team assignment, and after hearing the verdict of the Steubenville, Ohio case which charged two 16-year old football players with the rape of a 16-year old girl. Repeatedly. While being videoed. And seemingly without remorse. If you’ve followed the case, then you’ve heard about the perfect storm of kids, alcohol, and social media that surround this case set in a Midwest town that treats football as god, and the star players as kings. Really, this isn’t an uncommon thing in the Midwest, deifying a sport in this way. Look at State College, Pennsylvania, and think of all of the fandom around Friday night lights, March Madness, and spring training. I would love for sports to be all the beneficial skills, and without the sometimes cult-like following. But it’s not.
I’ve never been so happy that Kenny wanted to try for soccer in my life; at least he didn’t say “football.” I had tried encouraging swim, or running- he loved being in a triathlon last year and is doing the same one again this year- but the social sport won out, so we’re going to give it a try. My husband, a former student athlete in multiple sports, thinks this is great. I hope he’s right, but he doesn’t have such a good track record lately (he also thought a little video gaming wouldn’t lead to the current battle field that is Ratchet and Clank).
Really, though, a lot of parenting is about pushing our limits, isn’t it? Becoming a family, no matter how it’s done, is stressful and painful and heart-wrenching. Why should the rest challenge us any less? So I’m accepting my discomfort on this point, and we’ll work through the minefields together, and hopefully all come out the other side relatively unscathed, but assuredly changed. All I can do is promise myself and my kid to do my best not to let him value sports in a negative way, to teach him to see both sides of every coin, and to respect other people as he would like to be respected. With lots of teachable moments on the horizon, we took the time yesterday to talk about consequences of actions and what to do if he sees someone else doing something which he knows is horribly wrong. Of course, at seven, he has different ideas of “horribly wrong” than I do- making him stop playing video games really is not akin to murder, I swear- but that’s a challenge that we can keep working on, together.