Saturday, September 25, 2010

Soccer, Not Sock Her

Fall soccer is in full swing in our neighborhood. This brings with it several things.

Bruised knees and legs (despite the investment in shin guards) appear regularly enough that I’m concerned about getting a phone call from school. My plan is to just turn it around on them.

“Worried about the bruises on his legs, are you? Well, frankly, I’m a bit concerned about how much time you spend staring at my sons legs.”

At their soccer games (are they called "matches"?) I shout from the sidelines, completely into a game whose professional version I have absolutely no interest in. The worst part about it is that I have no idea what to yell. Normally I could shout something that displays my knowledge like, “Keep your back elbow up,” or, “Keep your knees bent and stay in front of him.” With soccer, I’m reduced to shouting, “Kick it! KICK IT!” When that doesn't affect any change, I add adjectives. "Kick it hard! Kick it far!"

My lack of interest in professional soccer may be directly related to the lack of scoring. A zero to zero tie tends to turn me off. I’m fairly certain that the number of goals scored in a single one of my sons’ games surpasses the entire total for the World Cup tournament. There are also a lot more players falling down and shoving each other at my sons' games. The big groups of kids, reminiscent of a rugby scrum, all looking down and kicking the ball right into each other add their share of excitement too.

And this brings me to another new challenge in parenting. How does one instill aggressiveness at a young age without making their child into an egotistical maniac?

When they play baseball, the ball either comes to them or it doesn’t. They are either up to bat or they aren’t. They are far form the level where collisions take place at the plate. In basketball, there is physical contact, but you reach for the ball and dribble it with an open hand. You get the occasional slap when somebody misses and a foul is called.

But with soccer, an errant kick could leave a kid crying their eyes out. I have no problem consoling them and telling them they were just playing the game when they feel bad about kicking a friend of theirs in the knee accidentally, but how much reckless abandon in their footwork do I encourage? I’m not comfortable with a “screw everybody else and get that ball” message at this point. The eye of the tiger and warrior spirit can wait at least until sixth grade. Right now, I just want them to learn some sportsmanship.

Speaking of sportsMANship, the league they play in is co-ed. I’m not sexist, but I’d very much like my sons to have reservations about tripping and knocking a girl to the ground or kicking her in the shins. While the competitive part of me groans when my six-year-old stops his breakaway short in order to prevent t-boning the little girl who is practicing improper angling techniques in her pursuit of the ball (there’s only one way she’ll learn), the gentleman in me shrugs and thinks he really had no choice. After all, his skills with the ladies will serve him far greater later in life than anything he can do with a soccer ball. Should either of them come to me in frustration over being beaten by a girl, I can explain to them that it's not the last time it will happen. They need to get used to girls getting their way now. It'll make the rest of their lives a lot easier.

In the end, it’s all about them getting out, getting exercise and having fun. They seem to be doing that. In the meantime, they don’t know that the footwork they are learning now can be harnessed into devastating post moves in basketball a few years down the road. My plan is to acquire old game footage of Hakeem Olajuwon and start making them watch it after every soccer game.

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