Monday, January 16, 2012
Scientists have determined that we have a "cute" center in our brains. Whenever we see baby animals, adorable behaviors or silly actions we release an audible "aww" while our brains fire off their own "Aww." Apparently cuteness goes directly to our pleasure center creating the same contentment as eating a candy bar or getting a gift. It explains why kittens falling off a couch get more hits on the Internet than summaries of the Republican candidates' debates. We'd much rather feel good than think.
So it's not surprising that watching our little ones play soccer gives us so much delight. Who doesn't love their wild abandon and high energy? Kids have an earnest interest in their play that translates to cuteness. Whenever I watched my boys when they were little or my grandchildren now, my face hurts from smiling and laughing. I'm not sure when those smiles get replaced by our own intense investment in the game, but at some point they do. Scoring an own goal is adorable at age 6 and unforgiveable at age 10. While I understand that as kids progress in their sport they need to progress in their abilities, I wonder if we parents need to progress so quickly to hardened observers. When we cease to give in to the pure joy of watching our kids play, they pick up that soccer is no longer for fun – it's for business.
I want to encourage all of us to hang on to the "cute factor" as long as possible. Rather than feel stress as the game unfolds, we should all try to feel joy. It's not easy but the rewards are tremendous. If we can identify one cute moment a game and let our brain process it as cute, rather than frustrating, we will not only reduce our own stress, but we will reduce the stress of our kids. Here are a few moments that could go either way on the emotion scale. Find the cute humor in them, and you'll be well on your way to accessing the cute center of your brain.
In an indoor game, two girls' teams were battling it out. These 7-year-olds played with a serious intensity that showed each team wanted to win. Late in the game with the score close and emotions running high, a player kicked the ball towards the goal, only to have it saved by the keeper. She ran the ball out to the edge of the box, wound up, and punted it backwards over her head into the goal. Both teams stopped in disbelief and only the parent coach with his hands up in a football touchdown signal gave an indication as to what happened. No one cheered, but the coach did give the keeper a quick hug and a pat on the head to let her know it was okay. Luckily the parents found it amusing, laughed, and everyone ended up with smiles on their faces as the game restarted.
On a crisp fall day in the midst of a Under-10 boys' game, one of the spectators lost control of his dog that bounded on the field and quickly overtook the ball. Suddenly the field erupts into total chaos as the dog knocks the ball around the pitch, kids are chasing him down and adults are trying to rein in the event. In the midst of all this, the dog ran the ball down to the goal and put it in. Unbelievably this resulted in a major discussion of rules, whether or not the goal counted, and how many minutes needed to be put back on the clock. Rather than being a trigger for the "cute center" this became a source of major contention and stress. Had everyone just accepted this as a very cute moment and forgotten about the game, it could have been a really fun anecdote and memory for all involved.
Two U-6 coed teams played a game on a particularly rainy spring day. This mud bowl was made even messier by a girl who took the admonishment to "tackle" literally. With the grace and enthusiasm of Clay Matthews, she took after every player with the ball without regard to uniform color and laid them out flat. Even after being pulled to the sidelines and coached about soccer tackles, she returned to her effective techniques. All the players seemed cool with the antics and eventually several more players joined in on the action. By the end of the game pig piles were the norm and parents were shaking their heads knowing they had to transport these grubby players home and figure out how to clean their uniforms. Despite the melee, everyone was laughing and enjoying the spectacle of this demon in pigtails whose wild abandon was done with glee. She was having so much fun, and none of the tackled players were upset. They too were enjoying the chance to really get down and dirty. Everyone's "cute centers" were being fired off.
I know you all have equally cute anecdotes from your wide soccer experience. It's important to try to keep that factor alive as long as possible when it comes to our kids. When we shift over to being concerned because somehow the rules aren't being followed or we're disappointed by a silly mistake, we bring a seriousness to the game. Once that line is crossed, it will be difficult to recapture the ability to find the cute in an incident. Hopefully we can encourage ourselves and those around us to continue to see the cuteness for as long as possible, at least until U-12 when soccer starts to get serious with games mattering and kids looking to join select teams. To help out, families could locate videos featuring baby ducks, baby monkeys, kittens, even chameleons and watch them just before going to a game in order to stimulate that "cute center." In fact, it wouldn't be a bad idea to do this daily. Feeling good can't hurt.