When my first son turned 6 years old, a new era began in our family. We were ushered quickly into the wonderful world of YMCA soccer. Now, for those of you younger parents, I understand it may seem like a far cry from the day your son is born or his first steps; but when you graduate from Gerber baby food to the fresh-cut grass pitch of the local Y soccer league, you're in for a treat.
Several of our "parent" friends were talking about signing up, making sure our son got on the right team, and then the unexpected happened: they called me to coach.
To be fair, I told the organizers I wasn't much of a soccer expert, and may not be the best choice. They used the old, "doesn't your son want you to coach him?" line, and I was smitten. I needed to be there to be the good dad everyone expected me to be. RIGHT?
For the next few weeks, I mulled over soccer strategy. I learned special drills for practice.
I developed plays for the team. And overall, I was interested in helping the U6 soccer league learn how to play soccer rather than this amalgam of what has been characterized as "amoeba ball."
The kids showed up, I started the drills, taught them the plays and we ran practice with perfection.
Overall, no other team had a chance to score on our semi-professional team because no one got the ball across midfield the whole season. I was excited, to say the least. I was about to post the first undefeated, not-scored-on U6 string of wins in the area. EVER!
One particular Saturday morning, a rival team actually kicked the ball on the other side of the field. My goalie, who hadn't had a whole lot of practice protecting the goal, allowed the ball to casually roll to the left side of the goal and the other team scored.
I went crazy. I couldn't believe my winning, scoreless season was now over because of a careless mistake. I took the goalie aside and sat him on the sidelines.
After the game, a mother came up to talk and said, "With all due respect, you're a great coach. We thank you for helping our team win. But I think you're taking this a bit too seriously. I would like to ask that you not coach our team next year, please. Our boys need to learn how to have fun."
What was happening here?
I stood there, a bit speechless, but quickly recalled the recent removal of my 6-year-old, who had made a small mistake. I understood I might have gotten carried away. After all, this was U6, and I was treating it like a national championship team. But hey, if you're going to play, you might as well win... RIGHT? I justified my behavior, stiffined my lip, but for the sake of the kids, decided not to apply to coach next season.
I've thought about that a lot over the last 10 years. How many parents are like me and have an undying energy to push their kids in sports, academics, extracurricular activities, college applications, job openings or whatever we think our kids NEED?
I wonder if we've removed all the places where kids can be kids.
Where is the time where a kid can play in the backyard and imagine?
Where can an athlete take a break from a particular sport and be more well-rounded?
What about school? I just got back from a series of private school appointments, and found students with hours and hours of homework every night. Is this really helping our kids grow? Or have we created such a stressful environment for our kids, they don't know how to dream, imagine or create?
I'm not advocating that we create lazy students, but maybe we need places where our kids can put things in perspective and use the knowledge, skills and the physique they've worked so hard to attain and just be kids.
FYI: After loosing the first four games of the next season, the same parent came back to ask me to coach again. Seems like fun takes second place to a coach willing to win. I decided to tone it down a bit and let the kids smile a lot more, and the second season was WAY SWEETER than the first.
What do you think? Do Kids have the chance to be kids today?
Do you have places where we can learn how to help our kids grow into well-rounded adults?