Dr. Spock, Freud, and Grade School Soccer

Both of my kids started soccer this past week. Naturally, that got me thinking deep philosophical thoughts about life and parenting. That’s normal, right?

The world of children’s sports is one of those arenas that tests my parenting skills. I have some really strong feelings about the ways in which we school our kids in competition, and I have also found that involving my own children in sports has led to the surfacing of some lingering insecurities over never being “a cool jock” in the days of my youth. Neither of these are things I want to project onto my kids. But I have to admit, it was hard to quell the emotion I felt at Grace’s first soccer game the other day when I watched her sit on the bench for over half of the game.

I will be the first to admit I have absolutely NO delusions about Grace’s talent as a soccer player. She is not the fastest runner, she needs a heap of lessons on how to be more aggressive, she’s much better at looking like she’s doing something on the field than actually doing something on the field, and she is likely spending most of her time admiring the other teams’ hair ribbons than paying attention to the goings-on of the game. But her team is not playing for Olympic gold, where the best players should be the only ones playing. They are simply in a second grade soccer tournament.

My friend Nicole wrote a really great post about participation trophies, and how it seems we have created a climate for kids where they get rewarded for just showing up, not for actually being good at something. I couldn’t agree more, and even commented, “Kids need to experience failure so they don’t go out into the world thinking they will win at everything…and this is the perfect time for them to experience failure because we are right there to help them through it.” (I know, feel free to award me with my child expert degree.) So after feeling a little upset that Grace seemed to have landed the role as team bench warmer, the thought crossed my mind that maybe I was being hypocritical. Everyone can’t be the star after all.

good sportsmanship sign in Metropolis, Illinois
Brilliant.

And then I remembered a photo of a sign posted at a Metropolis, Illinois little league field that made its way around Facebook earlier this summer. Maybe we shouldn’t be giving out consolation rewards to our kids when they don’t win, but we also need to teach them that winning isn’t everything. My husband and I aren’t seeking out uber-competitive select sporting teams for our kids to play on. We sign them up to play on their school-sponsored teams, where everyone can be on the team regardless of skill, where they can build camaraderie with their friends and learn about teamwork, and where they can actually have a chance to play and build some skills in the sport. Oh yeah, and where they can have fun. These words are spoken at LOT at our house: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It only matters if you have fun.”

So there I was, agonizing over the fear that my child was getting cheated out of a fun soccer experience all because she is not the best player. As the game came to an end (we lost, by the way), I was trying to think of what to say to Grace when she asked why she did not get to play as much as the other kids. But she never asked that question. Instead, this is what she said to me:

“Well, we didn’t win. But I had fun anyway.”

(You can revoke that child expert degree now.) She didn’t even care that she probably had the least amount of playing time than anyone else on the team. Heck, I don’t think she even noticed. Parenting lesson learned: don’t make an issue out of non-issues.

Man, apparently being second-string on the freshman basketball team stung my subconscious more than I ever thought. This parenting thing is hard. Coach, I think I need a sub.

Addendum: I want to admit I had second thoughts about posting this piece in fear that it would be taken as a bash against Grace’s coach. It is not meant to be. He is a great guy who is volunteering his own time to teach a bunch of little girls how to play soccer. There may have been reasons unknown to me why she didn’t play much; or it could have been an accidental oversight altogether. And considering Grace’s statement after the game, he is obviously making it a fun experience for her so far. As I agonized over whether this would be seen as disrespectful to him (are you starting to understand that I agonize a LOT?), I realized that 1) the whole purpose of this post is to highlight how I was the one who blew the situation out of proportion and 2) I am not writing for the New York Times and have an audience size of about one millionth of theirs. The chances that Grace’s coach, or any other parent from the team, would read this are pretty small. So I need to take my own advice and stop making an issue out of a probable non-issue. Then again, one of my neighbors did happen across my neighbor post a few weeks ago, so just in case….Coach, you’re going a great job 🙂