Okay, what is the best word that I can use to describe soccer moms? As I scoured a variety of options in my head, I was left with a few choice words—obsessive, hyper-vigilant, fanatical, and intense. After careful consideration, I finally arrived at a winner—maniacs!
I know what you’re thinking. A bit harsh, right? Before you label me as overly judgmental, please know that I once stood in unison among those ranting and raving side-line vigilantes. They were my posse! As with most great lessons in life, we often derive maximum therapeutic benefit from our biggest mistakes. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say I stormed the field in anger and subjected my eldest son to much embarrassment!
While I would prefer not to expound upon that moment of human weakness, I will elaborate upon the lessons I’ve learned through my vast experiences within the world of youth soccer. The following are the five most relevant of my revelations:
1. Beware of the Vicarious Zone
Most parents are certainly familiar with the notion of “living vicariously through their children.” Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us are guilty of this sin. I feel that labeling it a “sin” is not entirely inaccurate. Think of it as stealing your child’s passion and substituting it for your own.
In the book, New Earth, Eckhart Tolle stated, “A mother or father who identifies with the parental role may also try to become more complete through their children.” When we were young, we had our chance to become soccer stars if we had the skill and desire to do so. Just because we did not fulfill that Pele fantasy of our past, does that give us the right to impose that upon our children today? As thoughtful parents, it is important that we separate our self-interests from that of our children. We must realize that it is their turn now and the more space we give them to uncover their own talents, the more likely they are to excel.
2. The “Right” Reinforcement
What happens when that Pele fantasy instead looks a bit more like a scene from that Will Ferrell movie, Kicking and Screaming? In other words, the child’s game did not meet parental expectations. So, what happens next? The world’s most dreaded car ride home—that’s what! The overly-involved parent will hit the “rewind” button and reconstruct every mistake his or her kid made in the game.
Applying the Tolle quote from above, this represents an example of a parent feeling “incomplete” from the child’s performance. That is why it is essential for parents to detach from that vicarious connection with the child. Everything we enjoy doing in life is because we feel “reinforced” by doing it. When a child is disparaged after every game, how inspired will they be to get back out there again? If they do continue to play after all the criticism, will they be playing for their love of the game or for yours?
It is critical that we provide praise to our children during and after games. Yes, even when they don’t play up to our expectations! Although children want the freedom to find their own path, they still crave the support and validation from their parents. So, give them that praise—shower them with it!
3. Playing the Odds
Okay, it is not my intention to be a heartbreaker here, but I’m going to open with some alarming statistics. According to NCAA.org, only 1.4% of collegiate soccer players advance to play professionally. If you found that stat disconcerting, according to shmoop.com, only .08% of high school soccer players go on to complete at the professional level. So, if you’re among those parents who are eagerly awaiting that lucrative pro contract, you may want to consider quitting your job and playing the lottery fulltime as well.
Putting it bluntly, the world of youth soccer is chalk full of parents who feel their kids have what it takes to “go the distance.” By holding on to this belief, you may be setting yourself and your child up for considerable disappointment. Who needs that?
4. Be Vested but Not Too Vested
At this point, you get it! A career in professional soccer is unlikely at best. While that lofty endeavor may not be on the horizon, it is not altogether unrealistic to think that your son or daughter could play D1, D2, or D3 college soccer—and perhaps receive some financial aid in the process. While it is fair to consider that a viable option, it is not fair to expect it.
What if your child approaches you in his or her junior year of high school and says that he no longer wants to continue? Done with soccer! Kaput! All those years of club expenses. All the driving (or flying) to games. All the emotional involvement. Finito! Talk about a crushing blow to the jugular, right?
May I be frank? It happens more often than you realize. If you think that you’ve been vested, just think about their commitment. They were sweating it out at practice three times a week. They’ve been running up and down the pitch in those hard-fought games. They’ve been icing their aching muscles so they can get back out there and do it all over again. Not us! Even the strongest and most determined of athletes are bound to buckle after all those years of intensive rigor.
Now is the time to enjoy every precious moment of your child’s soccer experience, as one can never fully predict its untimely end. Find peace with it in advance and the news will be more bearable when it comes. If by some good fortune that moment never arrives, then take pleasure in knowing that you’ve been handed a temporary extension on that dream.
5. Just be Present
Once you have evolved in your thinking and understand the above four concepts, then you can just sit back and enjoy the moment. Imagine removing yourself from your child’s ambitions and withdrawing all expectations. You can now enjoy the greenness of the pitch, the blueness of the sky, the warmth of the sun, and the purity of the game.
Knowing that your child’s life is his own can offload a heavy burden and minimize undue expectations. Show support often, as they are a part of us and that should be enough to overcome most setbacks. While odds may often be stacked against them, understand that this is not a limitation; but instead a chance to uncover new pathways. Be willing to dream big for your children, but make sure those dreams do not consume you or your child in the process. Just enjoy the journey—wherever it may lead.