For the love of the game.

I didn’t participate in high school sports.  Nor do I come from a sports-oriented family.

My parents never had to brave the elements, or the expectations of other parents, to watch my sister and I in what surely would have been an embarrassing display of our mediocre to sub-par athletic abilities.

We weren’t runners.  Or jumpers.  Or inclined to hit other people’s bodies, or inanimate objects, with our own.

We weren’t the ones in gym class diving into the dirt to snag that line drive, sacrificing our knees and elbows for the love of the game.

We were the ones in the outfield, praying no one hit a long ball, while periodically pulling our gym shorts out of our ass.

And daydreaming about whether grief stricken Holly Sutton would accept Robert Scorpio’s marriage proposal to save her from raising Luke’s bastard child on General Hospital.  I mean, she thought Luke had died in that tragic avalanche – how was she supposed to know that he was recuperating from his spinal injuries in a remote mountain hospital?  These concerns occupied a lot of our mental energy in the eighties.

Yet, despite my limited personal experience with (and pointed avoidance of) team sports, I have, somewhat ironically, given birth to two sons who have spent the last 14 years playing soccer on various youth, travel and school-sponsored teams.

ColeSittingonBall

We went with soccer because a ball and cleats were way cheaper than hockey equipment….plus if their dad coached, they played for free. We were all over that.

To be fair, all three of our sons played at one time, but our middle-son was as likely to be chasing grasshoppers as chasing the ball, prompting his first (and only) soccer coach to implore him with increasing urgency to, “Get the ball, Gabe.  Gabe, get the ball.  Gabe…the…ball.  GABE…THE…BALL.  GET. THE. BALL.”

Alas, to no avail.

But the other two sons persevered in their pursuit of a game they clearly love.    Persevered through broken ribs, concussions, bloody gashes, black eyes, swollen toes and charley horses that drove them to their knees.  Played in the rain and the sleet and the snow until their fingers and toes were frostbitten.  And over the years they have been beat to the ball, outplayed, outmatched and outscored on too many occasions to count.  Yet still they come back to the game season after season.

But I scoff at these sacrifices.

Because as any parent of a student athlete can attest, the real test of endurance, of forbearance and fortitude is not out on the field – it’s in the stands.

Sitting in the stands at a high school soccer game is like experiencing that scene in Saving Private Ryan where the American soldiers accidentally knock down a brick wall exposing a group of German soldiers and everyone just starts screaming at each other nonsensically and you’re just waiting for the shooting to start. 

Take out the Nazis, replace the guns with cow bells and plastic clappers, and you get the picture.

Perhaps because team spirit has never been my forte, I am unable to understand the emotional investment that many parents seem to place in their child’s athletic performance.

It’s not that I don’t want my kids to do well – I do.

Mostly because they are happier when things go well.  This, in turn, makes the car ride home much less mentally exhausting.

But sometimes they don’t do well.

Sometimes they kind of suck.

They trip over their own feet.  They whiff on the ball.

They appear to have shown up unaware that they will be required to run for 90 minutes despite their extensive experience with the game of soccer.

Or, they clearly plow into an opposing player, grab them by their jersey and drag them to the ground directly in front of their own net, thereby eliciting a penalty kick that loses the game as well as a red card due to their subsequent need to gently express their disappointment in regards to the referee’s bad judgment – or something similar.

I was too far away to hear exactly what was said.

My point is that my kids aren’t riding on the shoulders of their teammates at the end of every game after scoring the game-winning goal.

Most kids aren’t.

Most kids are showing up to play not because there is a lucrative full-ride scholarship to a Division 1 university and a future Nike contract on the line – the apoplectic exhibitions from the stands after every referee whistle to the contrary.

They are showing up to play because they want to. 

So maybe we should just let them play.

While the rest of us drink a warm glass of shut the hell up.

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