BY KATHY P. BEHAN
As I watch my son play his first real soccer game, I’m surprised by my competitiveness. I care passionately about my son’s, and his team’s, performance. This is especially astounding in light of the kids’ attitudes toward the game. These 5- and 6-year-olds don’t particularly care what happens. It would be nice to win, but it really isn’t a necessity. These kids are lucky if they know which direction to run in, and which goal to shoot for. They’re just happy to have special T-shirts to wear, and fancy plastic water bottles to drink from during timeouts.
The parents, however, are more difficult to please. Most would love the opportunity to jump into the game and play it “right.” While the kids are busy misguidedly chasing the ball out of bounds, or taking unscheduled breaks by staring up at the sky or lying down in the grass, their mothers and fathers suffer on the sidelines.
Generally, the parents seem to be divided into two different camps — the stoics and the screamers. I’m not sure which is worse. The former, watch their kids kick the ball to an opponent with a horrified look. They watch the action in an embarrassed and painful silence. Then there are the screamers. They yell instructions at their kids while pacing the sidelines, damning the incompetence they’re witnessing and willing their child and his or her team to get it together.
With a tie score and a minute left in the game, the parents of team 4 watch in collective amazement as two of our forwards (5-year-old girls) hold hands while running down the field. They make quite a picture — fingers intertwined, long hair blowing, laughing and giggling while they run. Their involvement is with each other, in the joy of running, and in the beauty of the day — not in the game being played around them.
Fighting my frustration and the urge to scream at them to drop hands and get with it, I have a sudden revelation. This is their game, not mine, and they’re playing it in the wild, careless, spirited manner that characterizes childhood.
From the sport’s standpoint they’re dismal failures; but as human beings, making a potentially stressful situation companionable and fun, they’re to be admired.
Even though I applaud these girls for their joie de vivre, I sure hope they’re not on my son’s team next year.
Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.