Monday, September 28, 2009
I knew that I would eventually be rewarded for leaving my autumn foliage stickers on my patio doors. It only took a year but now the transparent gel leaves look stunning against the backdrop of the slowing evolving trees beyond my deck. Usually I change the stickers four times a year to reflect the changing seasons. But this winter we were out of town so I never got the holiday decorations out. We returned to a home destroyed by burst pipes, so we weren't even in the house over spring, and summer was spent getting settled back in. Now here we are back to autumn, and I finally feel in step once again.
I love September. September ranges from the heat and drought of summer through the cool grey and brilliant colors of autumn. Kids begin school, but still fill the waning evenings with play. Families return to the routines they followed for nine months of the year. And youth soccer starts up. So it's fitting that September serves as Youth Soccer Month
. Now that the month is winding down, the four features of the month – family, fun, friendship, and fitness – don't just fall away like the leaves. While we celebrate youth soccer in September, we participate in youth soccer year round. Each of these features figure prominently in our lives even outside of soccer. So we should continue to focus on these as the seasons progress.
Soccer is one of many ways for families to share activities and goals (pun intended). Obviously I'm a huge proponent of soccer, but any activity that a family shares can help form strong ties and happy relationships. In fact, parents should bring some of the family experiences from other activities into soccer. I seriously doubt that most of you at a third grade recorder concert shout at the musicians about their tempo and publicly accuse the music teacher of faulty conducting. Instead we watch with great pride, oooh and aaaah over the cute moment when one child puts the recorder up his nose, and applaud loudly at the end. We probably don't discuss the individual players on the way home and suggest ways our son or daughter could be a better player. We don't make such an emotional investment in a music concert, even though it's possible that three or four of those kids will end up with college scholarships in music.
Fun is definitely not limited to soccer. But remembering that what our kids do in life should always have an element of fun means we can bring joy to every activity even school. Again making too big an emotional investment in our child's success can absolutely drain the fun out of anything. We don't need soccer to have fun, but we shouldn't forget fun in the rest of our lives. While we're rushing around trying to fit in soccer practice, homework, dentist appointments, jobs, meals, and sleep try to fit in a bit of fun – car games, sing-alongs on the way to events, a detour to get an ice cream, playing Frisbee before a game, green milk for St. Patrick's Day.
The friendships we develop through soccer should be just one collection of the many friends we make throughout life. Kids have so many interests and those interests change often over the years, so it's important to nurture friendships within those interests. Soccer may be replaced by another sport or activity, but the friendships developed with teammates can last beyond the change if they have more than soccer in common. Likewise friendships outside of soccer can give kids a wider perspective on life. Because soccer is a huge passion for our family, many of the boys' enduring friendships have come out of soccer, but they also have strong connections to kids who never had an interest in any sport.
Fitness can be both physical and mental. Physical fitness naturally comes from playing a sport, but can be part of a non-sport routine as well. Having children bike or walk to school and lessons will give them several hours a week of aerobic exercise. Even more importantly giving kids an hour a day just for random outdoor play can do more for both physical and mental fitness than any organized sport. That one hour a day of unstructured activity gives kids a chance to relax their minds and exercise their hearts and muscles. It also gives them a chance to be with friends, have some fun, and enjoy their families. Those three principles contribute to good mental fitness. Strong families who have fun and enjoy supportive friendships impact their child's mental health positively.
While autumn will dissolve into winter with shorter days and for many of us cold, grey months, we can use the cornerstones of Youth Soccer Month
to bring substance to our lives. We love soccer in our family, so we have many of our activities and interests centered around soccer. But we don't need soccer in the same way we need our family, fun, friendships, and fitness. The true measure of our children's growth isn't being a soccer superstar. It's becoming a strong, capable, happy adult. These four soccer month principles contribute to their growth and can support them throughout their lives. Celebrating youth soccer serves as a conduit to both growing the sport and growing a strong generation of children.