Monday, August 17, 2015
Don’t kid yourself. Whether your child’s team is labeled recreational, select, or travel, at some point you’ll be taking a trip to compete. So you need to be prepared. Every trip involves expense, discomfort, anxiety and aggravation. These are not possible glitches. These are guarantees. It’s not all gloom and doom when one travels, but to expect things to run smoothly, happily and correctly would be living in a fool’s paradise. You add the pressure of competition to the mix, and things can quickly spiral out of control. This is why we all need to plan carefully and then be willing to throw all the plans out the window. Flexibility, a sense of humor, and some practical survival skills will see you through.
The expense of trip cannot be controlled. It’s wise to budget and it’s also wise to have an emergency stash of funds. When a team travels, you are at the mercy of team decisions, so you don’t get to choose the hotel, the location for team meals, even how free time is handled. You may not get to choose how you travel to the event. It’s analogous to going into a theme park. Every cost has been predetermined, has no negotiation, and holds you hostage for your sustenance and fluids. Everyone is having a good time except your wallet. Before the season starts, be sure to make your wishes known when it comes to travel expenses. If you have a frequent flier or frequent stay account, let the team manager know where those are. Should enough team families have similar programs, then at least you might be able to make reservations where you could get some points. Don’t be shy when it comes to what you can afford. The only control you may have could be preemptive at the first team meeting.
I’ve slept on a king-size bed for decades, but on team trips I might open my hotel door to see two tiny double beds greeting me facing a tube TV, which has 10 or fewer channels. If the team tightens its collective financial belts, it may mean less than desirable accommodations. Even if you get more comfortable queen beds, you’ll still be sharing the room with at least one child who will be muddy, sweaty, smelly and messy. If it’s a teenage boy, you’ll face clothes on the floor, wet towels spread like fall leaves around the room, and stinky cleats and socks always left right under the air conditioner or heater which will waft the scents throughout the room. If it’s a teenage girl, you’ll have triple the wet towels, absolutely no counter space, and the loss of the bathroom for 45 minutes each morning and evening. Those towels on the floor measure on the fabric scale as more gauze than plush. You may not have decent water pressure to fully rinse that shampoo out of your hair. My favorite is the toilet that sits so close to the floor you will wonder if you stumbled onto a day care center bathroom. Forget healthy, organic nutrition low in sodium and high in protein. Pizza will be the primary staple followed by burgers and fries, with chips providing a constant smorgasbord of crunchy mess in the room, your car, and the soccer bag. You may be able to get a decent, albeit expensive, cup of coffee from Starbucks thanks to its proliferation around the globe. On the other hand, a manager may elect to have a team dinner at a three star restaurant where the parents order lots of wine, liquor, and beer although you don’t drink, and then split the bill evenly. The food won’t be discomforting, but the cost (see first principle of travel) will be. Adding to the situation, none of the kids will enjoy their food and so you’re stuck with ordering pizza in the room after dinner. Hopefully you won’t get the noisy cooling unit or the smoke alarm that blinks incessantly all night, but I can pretty much guarantee you will. If it’s a large tournament, then you’ll be sharing your hotel with several other teams, meaning some teams will be disciplined and others will be up most of the night in the hallway outside your door kicking balls, squealing and talking.
Since the reason you’re out of town is to compete, you have instant anxiety without anything else to worry about. Unfortunately, you’ll plenty of other concerns. Things just go wrong. Planes break down and you have to wait four hours for a replacement plane to come from Chicago while you sit in Portland. You can prepare dozens of lists, check the items off, and still arrive at your destination missing one cleat, the dark uniform shirt, or your player card. Airlines lose luggage. Hotels end up to be unreliable. A reservation for a family of four will somehow translate into a single double bed room and all roll-aways are spoken for. After reaching your isolated destination hours away from home, your radiator will blow up. Trying to find someone to repair it on a Saturday without any knowledge of who to trust in the town will be only half of the anxiety. The rest will come from trying to get parts in time from Atlanta on a day most deliveries end at 1 p.m. Navigating in towns you don’t know to soccer fields that don’t have actual addresses creates a very special level of anxiety. Fields will be changed at the last minute without a clear GPS pathway to find them. The hotel desk clerk tells you it’s a 10 minute drive, but it’s actually 30 minutes. You not only have to cope with the mood swings of your own 13-year-old, but you are now part of pack of hormones with feet. And I’m not just talking about the kids. This is a mix of high anxiety parents all trying to deal with their own angst and in so doing ramping up the group tension. Bring on the Zoloff.
Anxiety begets frustration because too often you can’t eliminate any of the troubles. The more you plan, the more you find yourself dodging the balls of trouble. In our lives, we’re used to solving problems and being in control. That control flies out the window when traveling. You’re at the mercy of TSA agents, airline scheduling, weather, unexpected referee shortages, hotel staff, limited restaurants, traffic jams, illness, personality clashes, even mini-scandals. These are not problems solved with cool thought and planning. Naturally, you’ll get aggravated. The more you feel aggravation, the more you feel discomfort and anxiety, which further aggravates. Your only solution may be to throw more money at the problem – more expensive hotels, restaurants, and airfares to get the best schedules. If the team is doing well, then your frustration may ebb some, comforted by the joy of good play and success. However, most teams will either do average or awful, so you need to be prepared to accept that annoyance along with everything else. You can’t expect a balance – time, money, and emotion won’t necessarily be rewarded by triumph. You have to be prepared for the final frustration of a week or a weekend or a day that ends with a whimper after all the investment.
All of this being said, I have to admit that our family’s memories of the soccer trips we took are very special. The team won sometimes, which was wonderful, but often went home without much accomplishment. Nevertheless, we managed to find enjoyment and positives within every journey. I don’t even want to think what we spent on travel, especially when I am still working in the kitchen I thought would be updated in 1999 and be ready for another update last year – neither of which I have money to do. So I have to dismiss the expense of travel because there is no equivalency. It just is what it is. Living in a hotel room with three 14-year-old boys on air mattresses wasn’t comfortable or hygienic, but I did get to know them so much better in the three days we bunked together making the following years warm and special through our connections. Robbie remembers a tournament in Florida where my husband drove four members of the team to the fields. They got lost and were late, so apparently Bruce stepped it up, racing around corners, throwing the boys against the doors, and even squealing the tires. It made a big and special impression. I’m glad I wasn’t there to witness the actual moment. During a long rain electrical storm delay, we went to a seafood restaurant in Clearwater where we only ordered odd appetizers like rattlesnake, conch, alligator, frog legs, and buffalo sliders. We spent an hour laughing, grimacing, cheering on the more timid to give something a try, and relaxing. It cost something, but there was a return with a group of boys shedding their anxiety and bonding over some cautious nibbles of rattlesnake “coins.” Despite everything horrid and distasteful about travel, we need to be more holistic in our view. While we may not have a triumph on the pitch, we can experience other successes and other joy. We can’t completely quell our discomfort, anxiety and aggravation. We have to spend money. But we can push that as far back in the experience as possible and focus on other aspects. If you drive to an event, find bizarre things to visit on the way that aren’t the big tourist traps like the biggest rocking chair or a date farm. If you fly, give the kids pamphlets or print outs of the destination while waiting for the flight so they can find things they might want to see or do while there. If the room is tiny, plan to spend as much time out of the room as possible, whenever kids shower ask housekeeping to send up clean towels and get rid of the wet, smelly ones, and create “clear” zones where no one is allowed to dump clothes, shoes, or bags. Sometimes there is a sink counter with nothing under it which is a perfect spot to store suitcases. If possible, open a window or take uniforms outdoors for an hour to “refresh.” And get together with other families to do a group wash of uniforms at the end of every day. Little things can make a big difference. Team dinners don’t have to be at a restaurant. Olive Garden, for example, will do a portable “feast” with everything you need to serve a healthy dinner that can be set up in the lobby of a hotel, especially a hotel that serves breakfast because it will have an eating area. Just be sure to be considerate and clean up after your meal. There are ways to diminish the unpleasant part of travel and the difficulty of being out of your comfort zone. Embrace the fact that things just won’t be perfect and elevate the best while dismissing the worst. Travel won’t be ideal, but it can still be fun. You just have to be open to the moments when they appear.