Tuesday, May 26, 2015
Memorial Day weekend symbolically, though not meteorologically, indicates the start of summer. Here in Wisconsin, unfortunately, we citizens plaintively are still hoping for spring. I drove by our subdivision pool today and saw that it was all set up for the Memorial weekend opening in a display of pure optimism. Of course, we are slated to have temperatures in the 50s and thunderstorms. Typical. Nevertheless, once the weekend passes, kids exhibit the end-of-school wiggles, poster board shortages appear as projects are due, and parents begin the panic about how to occupy the kids for three months. Summer is coming despite the temperatures, and we need to think about how we will spend it.
Many youth soccer families know that summer can be crazy with practices, games and tournaments. Often kids will find themselves playing in state leagues, regional leagues, ethnic leagues, and as guest players and possibly even attending a soccer camp. Families can drown in the summer soccer schedule. I speak from experience, having two sons who played all summer long nearly every day for most of the day. It was a full-time job just shuttling them from field to field, keeping the various uniforms straight, and coordinating their complex schedules. While they loved playing, I always felt they were missing out on some of the other summer fun stuff with extended family and non-soccer peers. We learned after a few summers that we might need to scale back just to allow for unscheduled play. There were three areas to consider: 1) discovering other enjoyment for the summer 2) learning to say “no” and take time out 3) letting go of the guilt of not being the super soccer family.
Long before summer, we got together as a family to decide how we’d spend the season. We considered all the possibilities – grilling on the deck, swimming, doing “splash day” at the neighborhood pool, fishing, trips, camp, and significantly, other sports. We discussed the various soccer leagues and teams they could join, looked at their schedules, and decided which ones we would forgo in order to have the time to pursue other things. It was difficult because the boys had a passion for soccer, but they also loved to just bike ride and swim, play baseball, and build forts in the woods. They also enjoyed family trips that weren’t attached to a soccer tournament. It might just be a short excursion, but it was a time to connect without the distractions that soccer matches can create and the intrusion of dozens of other players and their families. One summer the boys really wanted to go to baseball camp rather than soccer camp. They loved exercising a different sports brain and set of muscles, although Robbie got frustrated with the pace of the game. By participating in some of the summer activities centered at our community pool, the boys connected with friends who weren’t soccer players and who weren’t even necessarily athletes. They got to joke around doing Marco Polo, learned to do flips off the diving board, and spent some long days on the beach of our lake waiting for a nibble on their fishing poles. It absolutely defined the “lazy, crazy days of summer” for them.
Since we carved out time in the summer for other things, we had to say no to a few soccer opportunities. Bryce and Robbie were popular choices to guest play on teams participating in the explosion of summer tournaments and leagues. They were always flattered to be asked and felt pressure to help out. When you’re a tween and people are telling you that you’ll make the difference in the team winning or losing, it’s difficult to put aside the pride and say no. Likewise, there were several teams that wanted the boys to join them for their summer leagues. They did join a city Hispanic team every year because they enjoyed that competition, which had a festive aspect to it. Extended families attended with picnics. One mother on Robbie’s team always made a big pot of pork tamales for every game, which we all looked forward to. People set up stands that sold replica uniforms, mostly from Mexico, but also from several South American teams. These were surprisingly inexpensive, so the boys became supporters of various Mexican clubs that they still follow. On the other hand, they would sit out local teams that played in other city leagues in order to preserve the time to just be kids. We would also occasionally miss a game or a practice for the teams they did join. We never did that during the fall and spring seasons, but summer was special.
Which brings me to the third point, not feeling guilt. I am a firm believer in commitment. I think children need to learn to be responsible to others and to persevere when things get tough, but we discovered that taking on too many projects in the summer made such commitment a true burden that infringed on just having fun. Two of my grandsons play summer sports and my daughter and her husband insist on them attending every game and practice to the exclusion of other enticing options. I absolutely admire the lesson they are teaching, but I worry that the kids miss out on things. This summer we’re taking our other grandkids to Disney World and wanted to take these grandsons as well, but their sports schedule didn’t allow for it. I understand their position. It took me a while to realize it, but ultimately the memories of family events will be stronger than those of grueling practices and dusty games. Therefore I learned to shake off that deep conscience I had concerning commitment to allow for some wiggle room. We parents can feel tremendous pressure to join in often and regularly, and made to feel oppressive guilt if we decide to opt out occasionally. Every summer my father took six weeks off and we drove as a family all over the United States, Canada, and Mexico for a month and a half vacation. There were seven of us packed in a station wagon, the kind with the last bench seat facing backwards, and no air conditioning because my father never spent a dime on “frills” including a radio and white wall tires. We usually camped in a huge tent he had sewn himself from two tents. While I didn’t enjoy putting up and breaking camp, I remember fondly every one of those trips seeing every state at one time or another. We had fights, naturally, and occasionally got bored, but then we’d arrive at a glacier in Montana or a cave in Kentucky and all was forgotten. It was those memories that ultimately informed my decision to take the time every summer to make different memories than how many goals were scored or who won the tournament. We did face opposition from the families who definitely piled on the guilt, but it was important to step aside from the sport we all loved and that dominated our lives the other nine months and just breathe a different air.
However, you decide to spend your summer I can only advise that you make sure it’s exactly the break from the pressures of school that your kids want. We can’t let summer slip away with our children feeling they never tasted pure freedom from obligations. Europe has the right idea where most countries take the month of August off, even the soccer teams. Shops, museums, and restaurants close, and families flock to vacation spots in the mountains or on the Mediterranean. One summer when Bryce was 13 and Robbie was 12, the boys got together with the other boys on the court and built an elaborate, albeit shaky, series of skateboard jumps that they placed along the roadway and attempted all kinds of twists and tricks. One afternoon they were so involved in the project, improving the jumps with more wood and nails then leaping over and over to achieve some perfect form that I just didn’t call them in to get ready for practice at the fields. We just blew off practice, and they played until there was no more light, then had the idea that we parents should turn our cars to face the street and illuminate the course with our headlights. We all sat out in the warm summer evening, laughing together, clapping at particularly good moves, and just enjoying the time as friends and neighbors, cutting it off reluctantly after an hour so as not to run down all our batteries. The boys still talk about that night. It’s those kinds of memories that are important and should on occasion supersede the responsibilities of soccer.