Monday, August 09, 2010
The only thing consistent about my mail carrier is that he is inconsistent. Mail can be delivered any time between noon and 4:55 p.m. I've tried to figure out if he has a consistent schedule for the day of the week, but that hasn't proven to be the case. When I need to get to the bank with a check I know will be delivered that day, he shows up at 4:55 p.m. when the bank closes at 5 p.m. That much I can count on.
So you may be asking, "What does your mail delivery have to do with soccer or youth sports in general?" Well, as I was waiting yesterday for the mail I got to thinking that we have expectations about how things should go in our lives and those expectations surround a level of consistency. We expect our pay checks to be automatically deposited when we're told they'll be, we expect schools to only close for emergencies, we expect people to show up on time for appointments, we expect gas prices to rise but we also expect to be pleasantly surprised sometimes, and we expect Brett Favre to ascend from the ashes of retirement another year. There's nothing wrong with expectations in our adult world, but when they start to spill over into youth sports they become a problem.
Like my mail carrier the only thing consistent about youth soccer is its inconsistency. For example, just consider the elements that change for every game and affect not only whether a game will be played or not but how that game is played. Bryce's U-13 team played in the semi-finals of the State Championships following a torrential storm that left lakes on the playing field and especially at the lower end of the field in front of the goal. Bryce was scored on three times in 10 minutes because balls shot towards him stopped suddenly in the moat surrounding the goal mouth and out of reach or skittered in an odd direction. The opponents only had to kick the ball out of the water past him into the net showering him with a muddy spray for extra demoralization. By the time we reversed ends of the field at half time, our team had given up. We expected to win the game since we had beaten this team handily three times during the season, but so much for expectations.
Or consider how kids change in just a few months. As they grow they can become awkward as they learn their boundaries. The kid who scored three goals a game might now be the kid who couldn't hit the ocean with his spit if he was floating in the middle of it. Or the big, strong athletic kid returns for spring season and finds out that over the winter everyone became big, strong athletic players. And if you expect a new pair of $200 soccer cleats to last a year, then you'll be disappointed when after two months those barely used cleats are a size too small. Your daughter might have Abby Wambach and Casey Nogueira posters all over her room. You buy her the best ball, cleats, and shin guards available. She talks soccer non-stop and you expect her to make the national team. Then one day, Justin Bieber takes over her room and soccer is passé.
When we parents bring our expectations to the soccer field we can often create uncomfortable and bullying situations. We may find ourselves yelling at the kid who isn't scoring because we expected him to maintain his consistent level of scoring. We may have a far too strong reaction to losing a game which our kids see as having failed us. We may be too hard on our child who is struggling with the clumsiness of a growth spurt. We certainly don't have any patience with referees who don't meet our expected standard of perfection in calls. We may expect the parents of an opposing team to be snooty or pompous because their team is highly ranked, which means we might leap on the only moment of snootiness one parent exhibits.
Part of our expectations is based on what we see adults do. When Rickie Weeks bobbles the ball at second base we Brewers' fans start booing because we expect someone who makes a yearly salary equal to our lifetime salary to do his job consistently with perfection. And though it seems obvious that we can't have those same expectations with our kids, it's difficult not to. We're conditioned to expect perfection from our sports' stars and that expectation transfers very easily to our own little sports' stars. We also expect the same level of muscle development, motor skills, and eye-hand coordination that adults possess. But of course that won't come for years for our kids. A sport like soccer has so many nuances that someone can spend a lifetime just trying to acquire half of the soccer abilities possible. Yet we often tell our kids what they should be doing when they haven't yet developed the physical abilities to do it. When the kids are young many parents have adult expectations which lead to tears and resentment, even a wish not to play anymore.
Kids absolutely won't be consistent in their soccer play. There are too many variables that interrupt the expected behaviors and outcomes. Adult players develop more consistency, but even they have to deal with injuries, field conditions, fatigue, and mental lapses that can result in unexpected play. I can be frustrated with my mail carrier because he obviously runs his route differently every day. This helps him not get bored, but leaves me with delays and no ability to predict his arrival. I pay him, so I expect him to work more responsibly for me. I can get mad. But when it comes to my kids, I have to just let things flow whatever way the field tips that week. I may want to expect better play from them, but I have no idea what the coaches have told them, what their mindset is that day, and how they are feeling. So I need to relax and just enjoy the game. I'll let the coaches deal with their expectations which may be unrealistic or may be spot on, but that's their issue, not mine. I expect only one thing from my kids which is that they complete their commitment. I've only waivered on that expectation once. But meeting commitments is one expectation that the kids can live up to and achieve and is something that will serve them well as they grow older. I just wish my mail carrier understood his commitment to me.