Thursday, February 16, 2017
Casey Mann, Executive Director of Nebraska State Soccer, shares his thoughts in this week's Coaches Blog:
Youth sports is nuts. Youth sports is out of control. Crazy parents, Obsessed Coaches, and a whole lot of innocent kids simply along for the ride. Dare you try to work in this culture, to administer in it, and to navigate your way through its volatile landscape, and you quickly become forced to build an emotional shell around you in order to survive. Soon nothing excites you, and nothing surprises you. You just keep plugging away, day after day.
Yet every so often, youth sports can remind you of the power and beauty playing games has on all of us, and to do so in a way that stops the crazy and whacked out win-at-all-costs culture dead in its tracks.
My son’s team was short players, so they asked him to play in goal. I was a goalkeeper and my son enjoys goofing around in the back yard every once in a while pretending to be a goalkeeper, but his interest has never gone beyond Butler Avenue. So when coach emailed, he reluctantly said yes. My son is a nervous-nanny as it is, and so the minute he hit “send” and accepted the role, his anxiety exploded. “Is Tayte going to be there? Will I have any defenders? I’m scared!” … and topped all off by the answer he was so fearfully dreading most of all …. “Who do we play?” St. Wenceslaus. “St. Wenceslaus? They are 8th graders, they are huge!”
Yet, his interest in trying to play goalkeeper “for-real” was evident too, as I went to jump in the car and he was already in his (his dad’s) goalkeeper jersey, with gloves on, spitting and dumping water on the gloves to get them sticky and ready.
I am sure it was an eternity for him until the match kicked off, but when it finally did, it was neat as a father to see his soon look the part of something I used to be. After the mandatory pics texted to family, the game got underway. I will admit that I was prepared for anything, mistakes, confusion, some good and some bad. So when the first attempt on him in the game was a breakaway and he came sliding out in a collision and stuffed it, I was excitedly amused. Not two minutes later, he made a wonderful save on a set piece. Good enough for the coach of the other team to shout, twice, “Nice save keeper.”
At this point, my emotions and interest went from semi-detached and disconnect to hopeful and curious. I went in to the match hoping to sneak in a few moments to read in the car, to not wanting to miss a moment. I wasn’t competitive for him, just excited and engaged and all of a sudden things mattered. There was hope. There were possibilities. I am sure there was a little voice somewhere in my head whispering “Who knows, maybe with a little training…?”
I tried to be reasonable and put things in context. This was a rec soccer game, it was one half of play, and there was a long way between this moment and stardom, but when we are not careful, it is in these moments that we as parents start to project our own emotions, visions, and ideas onto our children’s games. That little voice gets a bit louder, a bit more decisive, and because it is shrouded in the best of intentions, we take that voice as a good thing. Who doesn’t want their child to be successful, to be a star, to succeed?
But here’s where, if we just let it, youth sports can show us that the games are not meant for us as parents to project our visions onto it, but for us cherish and embrace the lessons it gives all if us. The game is wonderful, whether that be baseball, soccer, or football, but the game is wonderful because it is simply the framework for everything else in life. Teamwork, competitiveness, adversity. It’s all there. We can’t control it, but we can learn from it.
And so for son and father, the second half began. A few saves, a few crosses, and my son seemed to be on his way to a shutout in his first match as a goalkeeper. He was all over the place. And as he would come sliding out for a save on a cross, block a shot, or punt the ball downfield, my hopes began to slowly replace my earlier indifference. And then it happened. The moment I won’t soon forget and will forever be thankful for.
With about 2 minutes to go the other team took a decent but routine shot that sailed at Keagan. Seemingly in position, the ball slipped through his hands and into the goal. His team lost 1-0. For a kid who was hesitant about playing in goal, and only sometimes loves the sport, there was still a part of me that knew this was an important moment for him.
In a moment frozen in time for me, he was smiling as he walked off the field and once into the car … started bawling, and all the while, I was loving every minute of this. Not the anguish my son was in, but the moment to be there for him, to connect, to tell him stories of when I made mistakes and dropped balls for goals. For all the dreams, hopes, and futures that youth sports focuses on, this moment with my son was real, it was here and now, it was raw, and it was true. For all the drama I deal with, for all in this business that forces me to put up a shell, this small moment cracked it wide open again.
I am so thankful for it, thankful for a mistake, for a loss, because it gave me a moment with my son to connect. It was what sports are supposed to do. It allowed me to be dad, to support, and to be there for him in HIS moment, and use my past to TEACH him. There was no PROJECTING anything on him, no futures, no glories, just a dad and son in a tough but true moment, a moment we will both be better for and may never have gotten to had he caught the ball.
If youth sports are a fast track highway to some glorified future, I am glad for the moments on the off-ramp where things slow down and you can enjoy life with your child.