Soccer is the New Piano Lesson

There was a scene that would often play itself out at my house, as a child.

8 year old Me: “I don’t want to practice piano!”

Mom: “You don’t know how lucky you are. I always wanted to take piano lessons, but never could.”

8 year old Me: “Then why don’t you sign up for piano lessons?”

Okay, maybe I get confused with a scene out of The Joy Luck Club, but the spirit of that argument was alive and well during my youth.

Fast forward about thirty years: my six-year old son is being dragged kicking and screaming to his Saturday morning soccer game.

Kid: “I don’t want to play soccer!”

You heard it here first: Soccer is the new Piano Lesson.

Okay, I wasn’t begging  to be signed up for soccer or softball (or any other team sport) the way I pleaded for sewing or cake decorating classes. But my parents weren’t exactly pushing me towards it, the way they would have for say, piano lessons, or computer class, or SAT prep courses. As a young child, I took a few ballet and gymnastics classes at the local community center, along with a few ice skating sessions and the full YMCA lineup of swim lessons.

Team sports, however, were nowhere on the horizon. Which suited me just fine, as I’ve always been a right brain leaning person — preferring to read the entire series of Laura Ingalls Wilder books and make clothes for my Barbies with scraps of fabric and various colored Kleenexes.

Little did I realize the consequences of my choices, until I hit adolescence and the dreaded High School P.E. classes. Remember that kid who was always picked last for the team, and then everyone else groaned when she had to be on their side? Yup. That was me. And I don’t want my kids to ever be in my gym shoes.

So I started signing up Big Brother for soccer lessons before he was even four years old, through a non-competitive, skills-based program at the community center called Kidz Love Soccer. He’s always been the kid who kicks the ball in the wrong direction, but laughs and doesn’t care. I just wanted to him get some fresh air and exercise, and if he happens to pick up a love of sports — hey, that’s a bonus. While I want to encourage his in his areas of natural interest, unfortunately, the company picnics and church barbecues of his future are more likely to involve a softball game than a jam session or an open studio.

This fall, I signed him up for a local soccer league. My husband is unsure. As a Caucasian boy in Orange County, of course he played team sports: Little League, AYSO Soccer and the like.

“Sports leagues are just so competitive,” he worries. I’ve heard the stories of the stereotypical quarterbacking dads, some of who have sons who went on to be PAC-10 and professional athletes.

I assure him it’s a non-competitive league. Just like Kidz Love Soccer — only with team names and cute uniforms. Probably the same thoughts Earl Woods had when he left Toys R Us with that cute Little Tykes golf set.

We show up for our first real game. The other team is a powerhouse — they are stretching their hamstrings while most of our families are still looking for parking. As the play starts, my son shies away from the ball, easily distracted by sagging socks or a funny shaped cloud in the sky. He is big and tall for his age, and has a strong kick. Competitive edge, though, is not something that comes naturally to him. The coach picks him to be goalie. He trades his blue and black striped jersey for a bright yellow shirt. Seeing the fate of the game dependent on my naive little boy, fills me with fear. The other team scores one, two, three, four goals on my boy. Non-competitive, right! Our coach has thrown his cap on the ground and is stomping on it. Okay, I exagerrate. But that’s what I felt like.

That’s all I can take. No more sitting in the lawnchair for me. I’m standing near the endzones with my husband, yelling.

“Keep your eye on the ball!”

“Get it!”

“Don’t let the ball go by!”

I feel like it is me in that goal, that if the team loses, I am somehow responsible. But most of all, I am desperate that my child does not feel the judgment of his coach or teammates. I mean, he can only run amok and stare at clouds so long, before he gets a reputation amongst the other kids, who have yet to learn how to bite their tongues in the interest of good sportsmanship.

Finally, the quarter is over, and I can return to my seat to drown my sorrows in copious amounts of Vitamin Water.

I feel somewhat sad all afternoon, not paying attention to the Cal football game my husband is watching on TV. HapaPapa is yelling  in the living room, and at the end of the game, he finds me in the kitchen.

“Cal lost!” he groans, “I had such hopes for this season. But now their chances of championship are gone.”

For once, I understand.

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