Sunday, February 05, 2012
Take some open space, something to kick and a few kids and you can have a soccer game. For most of the world, that's how soccer is played. While players do possess balls, there's no problem substituting a tin can, melon, or box if a ball can't be found. Few kids possess shin guards and fields with crisp white lines aren't found in most towns and villages. That soccer can be played without anything we regard as soccer essentials probably explains its popularity.
In our own house we had a firm rule that no balls were to be in the house, and should one roll its way in, no balls were to be kicked in the house. So the boys quickly found lots of substitutes such as bundled socks, towels wrapped in a rubber band, pillows, shoes, even a round candle. Once they fell in love with soccer, there was no stopping soccer play no matter where we were and no matter how many restrictions I imposed. They found a way around it. Eventually, we cleared out the basement, put taped goals up on the opposing walls and let the boys go. One wall was paneling that set off an office space behind and in just a week's time we were able to see through to the office without any problem.
Birthdays and Christmas brought more and more soccer paraphernalia to add to already overflowing drawers and closets of soccer stuff. This simple game resulted in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars of equipment, clothing and accessories. A ball wasn't enough; it had to be the official World Cup ball. Team uniforms wouldn't suffice; we had to add warm-ups, kit bag and "spirit" gear. Of course, as they grew older, they weren't on just one team. There was the club team, the summer league team, the indoor team, high school team and ODP. Then we bought the dresser to go in the garage with a drawer for each team so we could keep track of all the uniform items. Naturally there were jerseys for their soccer idols and flags for their teams. We subscribed to magazines, many of which came from overseas so cost twice as much. Coaches recommended instructional tapes and books. We bought portable goals. Then there were the peripheral soccer items like ornaments, computer skins, movies, picture frames, bedding and rugs.
You probably have your own list that grows every month. It's difficult not to reward your child's passion with items that further fuel the commitment. It's great for our kids to love something and feel empowered by that enthusiasm. So we rarely begrudge them their wants. Eventually we find ourselves buried in soccer stuff. When it comes to soccer gear such as uniforms, cleats, and balls, we can donate those items to any number of agencies happy to pass on the equipment to less fortunate players in the U.S. and around the world. Despite soccer not requiring any gear, it's always nice to have some as it not only enriches the game, but helps players develop the proper skills. We usually gathered together our unused gear once a year and donated it by bringing it to our state association offices for the Passback program or to our local soccer shop that collected for the Armed Forces. Finding someplace to donate is easy and much appreciated.
I'm not suggesting we shouldn't supplement the uniform and basic equipment needs of our children with extras. Every family has to decide what they can afford and what seems to be appropriate for their child's needs and wants. But I do suggest that you don't get sucked into a "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality. Even with unlimited funds, there is a limit to what a child needs to fuel his or her passion. So as you sort through the catalogs or visit the soccer store, you don't need to possess every scarf, blanket, and head band that exists. We quickly and painfully discovered that buying $120 official World Cup ball was money wasted. Within ten minutes of hitting the field that ball had sailed over the fence and into the Milwaukee River canal to make its journey east back to Germany. After that we never spent more than $25 on a ball. Likewise, team affiliations change rapidly as does idol worship, so we limited the purchase of jerseys to special occasions. In time you realize how much you have spent in essentially impulse buying and you learn to curb that. My admonition before we entered the soccer shop soon became "Don't Ask!" Still there was usually one shiny object that ended up attracting all of us. You know what I'm talking about.
When people ask how much soccer costs I have to answer "0 to 10,000 dollars." And I'm not being flippant. Soccer can be as inexpensive or as expensive as we want to make it. Some costs are unavoidable as our players get stronger and more skilled. They will naturally gravitate to the more expensive select clubs where training costs are higher. But especially at the younger ages, soccer doesn't need to be much above the basic level of a ball, a uniform, cleats, and shin guards. Lots of soccer stores offer a great package deal for the $25 to $30 range that will see your young one through at least six months of training. If you want to supplement that with a warm-up or a bag that's your choice, but don't ever think it's necessary. If they love soccer and decide to pursue it further, there will be plenty of time to pull out that wallet. Plenty of time.