Monday, August 17, 2009
Today I decided to clean my stove. I'm expecting several groups of visitors over the next few weeks, so I felt the pressure to give the top a good cleaning. I've had this stove for 19 years, and I will probably have it another 19 despite the fact that on HGTV people are enthusiastically remodeling kitchens that I would consider an upgrade just as they are. So I got out my scrubbing pad, cleanser, and lint-free cloth for what I thought would be a 15 minute job. 90 minutes later I was done, unless you count the fact that the self-cleaning oven still had two hours to go.
The cleaning turned into a terrible virus infecting my behavior. As I scrubbed the burners I noticed that the entire unit lifted out. Underneath lurked an accumulation of scraps, grease, and dust not to mention baked on globs along the sides. As I dug into that pit, my feverish swirls of cleanser spilled over to the vent between the burners and the grill (yes, I have a grill, so you can imagine where this will lead). I lifted up the vent cover and discovered a filter that was surprisingly not too bad – I must have cleaned it within the year – but it hid a canyon smudged with more grease and crumbs. That carried me over to the grill, a tangle of charcoal plates, heating elements, drain pan, and grill covers. I also decided what the heck and started the self-cleaning oven. As I washed the charcoal plates in my white porcelain sink I left black streaks that I had to scrub up later, and then when I carried the filthy cloth over to the washer I noticed that the machine could do with a wipe down of its own.
I tell this story because while I was cleaning I had lots of time to ruminate on the world, my life, dreams of winning the lottery, and soccer. I came to a realization: Cleaning my stove parallels youth soccer involvement. You begin with your son or daughter in a group of four and five year olds who can barely kick the ball and are directionally challenged when it comes to which goal they should be charging. And you end up with your children on a traveling team so it comes down to a new stove or a trip to North Carolina. With insidious cunning soccer draws us from burners to burner wells to filters to grills to sinks to washing machines while we still await the completion of the self-cleaning oven.
I didn't need to so wholeheartedly clean my stove. But I wanted to see if I could get it looking nearly new again, and I did. So I had a goal that was driving me to continue. The same is true for those who move ever more steadily to the higher levels of soccer with its increased demands and costs. If it's something your child wants to do and shows the commitment to do it, then hop on board and enjoy the ride. If you like the way things are going and don't want more, then by all means don't get sucked into higher levels of soccer just for the prestige element of being on a select team.
While I don't mean to suggest that only the very best and most dedicated soccer players should play select, I do want to leave the door open for the possibility that not every player should get on the select train. Even very athletic and gifted children opt for recreational soccer because their real love is baseball or swimming. They want the experience of playing, love to play, but have another course in mind when it comes to pursuing advanced levels of sport. I succumbed to the pressure to polish up my stove, but I could have just as easily said I'd do it another day. Lord knows I've been good at that over the last 19 years. My visitors might have whispered a few comments about the dirty stove, or they might never have noticed. Either way, I would still be the same person.
Many of the fans of the game never seriously played the game. That's true of every sport. As parents we need to figure out why we have our kids on a team. If our sons and daughters have a real passion and talent for the game, then it makes sense to give in to that select journey. If they want to continue playing with their friends and can make the team, then by all means they should do it. When Bryce's team dissolved between U14 and U-15 the coach of the recreational team in our club offered Bryce a spot. We considered it for awhile. Robbie was still playing in the same club, it would let Bryce stay with some of his friends, and it would hardly cost anything. As we talked it over the next few days it became clear that Bryce was hesitant to join this team. He had his eye on college soccer and he felt that this would create a stumbling block to his goal. So we turned the coach down and spent the next four months searching for a select team. The decision was driven by Bryce and in the end it was the right decision.
My analogy does break down in one aspect. Unless you are Martha Stewart or Mr. Clean the job I did this morning can be satisfying but hardly joyful and devoid of anything you would want to remember, unlike soccer which brings our family great joy and lots of good memories. However, like my cleaning, we started out thinking that soccer would be simple - something the boys could do with the neighborhood kids that would fill a few hours with exercise and activity. Then progressively it became one of the predominant pursuits in our family. We were lucky because we embraced the increased level of commitment. Not everyone does. Not everyone should because happily other options exist in youth soccer to satisfy varying levels of participation.
Youth Soccer Month is coming up in September. As we approach the activities of the month we need to consider that despite the heavy emphasis on select soccer, youth soccer embraces all levels of competition and involvement. Every child who wants to play the game should be able to play. Every community should strive to provide soccer for everyone's interests and skills. I've been pleased to see that tournaments have been created just for recreational teams, giving them the experience of travel and regional competition without the same stresses and demands. Ultimately it comes down to making the best choices for our children and our families. We can hop on the soccer train but we need to figure out how far we'll go.