Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Last weekend I watched my youngest son's team lose a game 4-1 with two of the goals occurring within minutes of one another. The coach left the field first, looking grim, and the boys did their cool downs and then walked slowly across the field with their heads down. The goalkeeper's mother stopped to talk to me and then saw that her son was standing at the railing surround the field talking to his father. "Oh he's talking. I didn't think he would want to talk." We've all been there: the utter dejection of a horrible loss. And in those moments it's difficult to remember that this is all supposed to be fun.
But without the fun, there would be no way to get past the times when we feel let down, disappointed, frustrated, or defeated. It's the fun we experience either watching or playing soccer that keeps us coming back. When kids look forward to playing, to practice, to traveling, and to being with their team, then they are developing the attitudes that will get them over the humps. So how do we make it fun for our kids and, by association, for us?
First, be supportive. No matter what happens on the field, begin your conversation with your child with a positive statement. If kids feel that their efforts are being appreciated, they are far more likely to want to continue in an activity. After all, who wants to stop watching "SpongeBob" to hit the pitch if all you hear is what you're doing wrong. Being supportive also means showing that you're happy your kids are playing soccer. I know some parents just don't like soccer. We weren't raised on the sport, so it can seem confusing and occasionally boring. This is all the more reason to sit down together as a family and watch a game on TV together. Talk about which players have your child's position, watch how they play and cheer for a team. Watching a game together validates your child's choice for a sport and can be a great way to bond. Don't show your discomfort with soccer, if you have any, and develop an enthusiasm for the game. The most important thing is for your child to feel your pride, which will give them the joy they should feel.
Second, make going to soccer fun. Before a game, make it an event by blasting game song as you pull into the parking lot. Let your kids spray their hair with team colors or put on some face paint. Bring signs to the field cheering the kids on the team. Establish points for doing certain things well during practice, which can include listening and following instructions, not just soccer skills. After a certain number of points they can be redeemed for an ice cream or a fancy sports drink. If your child feels he or she is missing out on a favorite TV show to attend practice, maybe recording the show will help. If your child becomes reluctant to play or practice, make sure he or she goes to the scheduled event, but don't force them to participate. Let them warm up to joining in, but make sure they understand that they have a commitment to fulfill, so they have to at least show up.
Third, do fun things together as a team. Arrange a barbecue after a practice, have a parent-child soccer game, attend a local high school, college, or pro soccer game, arrange for the kids to be ball boys/girls or even to scrimmage on the field during half-time, hold a parents' practice where the kids watch the parents get coached, and do a team news email that let's everyone know what's going on and mentions each player with some tidbit. In youth soccer, teams can range from groups of close friends to a blend of far-reaching players. Finding ways to keep camaraderie alive will also keep fun alive. When kids feel included in the family which is their team, they find themselves enjoying the experience more. The same goes for the parents, so be sure to get all the parents involved as well.
Finally, don't pass up an opportunity to have fun. If it's raining, turn the umbrella upside down and see how full you can get it. If it's cold out, have a foot stomping, hand clapping fest. If it's a blow-out game, then cheer for things other than the goals your team isn't making. If the field is a mud bowl, then have a cleanest/dirtiest uniform contest after the game or the practice. Attitude is everything. The older your kids get, the more fun will elude you. So set the bar high and keep aiming for it. Fun will see you through the tough times, the low moments, and the set-backs. I love watching professional players during a hard fought contest and see the joy on their faces no matter the score. Sure they are working to pull a victory out of the moment. Sure they hate getting penalties or missing a goal. But they can't disguise it when they feel that rush of joy at a great pass, an amazing shot, a breath-taking save, or a well-placed tackle. That joy began when they first touched the soccer ball. We can help our kids find the same fun, and in so doing, we'll get to share in the joy.