End of an Era

Later this month I will watch my oldest son’s last soccer game of his career.  From a “career” standpoint, it wasn’t all that long, wasn’t all that glorious, wasn’t noteworthy to anyone but some family and friends, and that day will likely come and go with little fanfare. But this Mom will be one sad lady. If I were to brood about it too much right now, the tears would come.

We didn’t set out to have soccer be Riley’s “thing.” It was just a sport to do, a reason to get out of the house and get him involved with something.  The first time we took him to the city league at age 4, he cried on the field.  We went home.  The following spring we finally wised up and found out the details of the soccer that was going on across the street from our house. Cabrini Recreational Soccer. Cue the Star Wars theme music. When we first started, it was free–and we got a t-shirt, bonus! It wasn’t long before Riley was 7 and we knew we had a Cristiano Ronaldo on our hands.  It just wasn’t fair that he was playing on the 7/8 year old team, making the other kids look silly. He ended up playing on the 9/10 team and eventually he started travel soccer at age 9. He was athletic, had speed, and handled the soccer ball much better than almost every other kid on the the field.  At the time, we were sharpening our pencils, we knew the contracts for FIFA would be rolling in from every European powerhouse team 🙂  Ah, the dream of every young, mildly skilled, adolescent kid’s parents.

Fast forward 10 years to my 17 year old, high school senior, Varsity team soccer player.  We’ve spent hundreds of hours on the soccer field watching him play, even more in the car driving to training, games, and tournaments. The monetary total?  Off the top of my head estimate would be $25k.  Nearly 10 years of travel soccer costs, futsal, camps, technical training, uniforms, hotel stays, gas, beer (at the tournaments…let’s be real people), eating out, and Slurpees (at least $1k right there, you’re welcome 7-11).  And don’t get me started on the cleats.  2 pair of cleats a year, plus indoor shoes, plus turf shoes.  We can put shoes on three whole 11v11 teams with the number of pairs of soccer footwear we have bought for Riley. Didn’t seem so bad in monthly installments, but when you total it up…whew, that’s a lot of money.  We are blessed to have been able to do all this for him.

Riley is a good, solid, soccer player. Fantastic? No. Better than some? Yes. Fun to watch?  For sure. Mom-colored opinion of his play? Amazing, astonishing and simply unparalleled in skill 😉 He struggled with always being smaller than his similar aged teammates.  Not hitting puberty and the ensuing growth spurt until 16 made it difficult for him to compete physically. But he did his best (usually). And even on his worst days, I still love watching him play. If you’ve ever participated in a kid vs. parent athletic contest, you’ve experienced what I will term “Complete and Utter Incapability of Keeping up with your Child in a Sporting Endeavor that Requires Running.” Soccer is hard (regardless of what you football naysayers will spout).  Although if you’ve ever attended a soccer game, you will very clearly hear numerous parents yelling from the stands various ways their child/the team could be doing better. Because everything looks easier from the bleachers. Well, Mom and Dad, put some cleats on and you come out here and show me just how easy it is. I include myself in this category. In a roundabout way of getting to my point, Riley may not be Ronaldo, but he’s talented in a way I’ve grown to truly appreciate. And my goodness, I will truly miss it when he’s done.

He’s made friends, I’ve made friends, I’ve made friends with his friends. I’ve laughed and cried and smiled on the sidelines, I’ve frozen my butt off and been sunburned more than once.  Brendan managed his travel teams over the years, and I took the helm on managing his high school team, while Brendan announces home games in the booth.  It sometimes feels we’ve put in more time than he has. But that’s what parents do. And not because we love soccer. But because we love Riley. That’s what parents do. I wouldn’t trade a second.  But I am SOOOO happy he quit t-ball after 1 season.

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Soccer Mom and (mostly) Proud of It

I’m a soccer Mom. I’ve got the whole package going on. And I’ve got it x3. Coffee thermos?  Check.  Spiritwear?  Check. Folding chair? Check. Blanket?  Check. Sunscreen?  Usually, check. Until a year ago I even had the dreaded mini-van (in truth though, I loved it, buttons to open doors? Yes please!).  I’ve logged hundreds of hours and miles in the car and on the sidelines of soccer fields from Kentucky to Illinois. Practices went from Wixom and Livonia to Trenton, a 30 mile radius around our home.  I don’t even want to begin to total the amount of money we’ve spent over the last 12 years.  Pretty sure we could have opened up our own 7-11 franchise with it.  Which incidentally could have saved us money with as many times as we’ve stopped for slurpees after practices and games. You may call us crazy.  Go ahead, it probably was (and is) to a certain extent.  3 boys, who at one point were in 3 different travel soccer clubs.  Thank God for carpools, we never would have made it this far.

We didn’t set out to be a soccer obsessed family.  We just wanted to expose the boys to new things, get outside, be one with nature and all that shit.  At age 4, we took Riley first to the city soccer league. I remember it well. He went out on the field. He cried. We went home. Maybe next year. Then we saw kids playing in the school field across the street season after season.  When the boys were old enough, we signed them up for that free soccer program.  Alex and Matthew both started when they were 3, Riley when he was 5 (he didn’t cry this time).  It was easy, we walked across the street, they ran around on a small field with kids who had no idea what they are doing either, for an hour or so.  Then they played games on Saturdays where there were 2 teams of kids who had no idea what they were doing. It was World Cup level skill, and we cheered accordingly. Kids would sit down on the field, walk off, cry, only play if they were holding the coaches hand, pee, stand still for the whole game.  It was like shooting fish in a barrel to see that MY sons had REAL talent in this bunch of yahoos.

But, in the interest of getting our kids to try out different sports, we took them to the driving range, went bowling, took them ice skating, etc.  None really stuck, although Matthew was a natural skater, he even played hockey for a year, it was great! We loved the change of pace, change of scenery, new kids, new parents and Matthew was fun to watch. The cost, again, not so fun.  But when it came down to it, he couldn’t play both at the same time, our schedules just wouldn’t allow it. He picked soccer. Oh well.

Riley played one season of t-ball when he was about 7. Aside from the birth of my healthy children, the day Riley said he didn’t want to play baseball was the happiest day of my life. Voluntary root canals, mammograms, and dog bites rank higher in enjoyment than watching highly unskilled kids play baseball. I admit, we very purposefully never asked the other 2 if they wanted to play. Evil, I know, but I can still sleep at night.  I like watching the Tigers play, there ends my baseball attention span.

I played a LOT of different sports growing up. I started out in gymnastics with my sister. She stayed there thru high school, I moved onto ice skating, bowling leagues, tennis, golf, and volleyball.  I very proudly wear the award of Varsity Athlete of my senior class with 7 varsity letters. I still play golf and tennis to this day, skills you never really lose, I am only limited by my agility and high cholesterol.  Brendan also played a variety of sports as a kid, including soccer. My parents were not crazy (with regard to sports anyway), at least not that I remember. So I guess that means it’s a personality flaw. Or personality flair. That sounds better. I hope my kids branch out when they are older, I let that fall under that category of “they are my kids, but they are not me.”  But like I said, we didn’t set out with our sights on ONLY soccer for our kids, it just kinda…happened.

So how do crazy soccer Moms rank with other sports’ crazy Moms?  A dubious distinction exists, no doubt.

As the secretary to the Athletic Director in a middle school, I deal with all sorts of sports and sports parents, mostly tangentially, but boy I’ve heard stories, from ALL sports.  Hockey, softball, volleyball, cheer, basketball, swimming, you name it, there will be crazy parents lurking close by.  (Not so much track or cross country though, wonder what their problem is?  They must not love their child as much as other parents. Crazy=Love).  I think I know where the crazy stems from…At one point or another, we’ve all thought “MY kid is the one. MY kid is special. MY kid is going pro.” And for some infinitesimally small percentage of the parents out there, those are true statements.  We’ve all seen the statistics about how many athletes go on to compete at a professional level.  The odds are not forever in your favor.  But that does not stop parents from going ape-shit when their kid is not getting the attention they so clearly deserve or has been wronged by a vision impaired referee. All in all, the level of crazy across sporting parents is fairly level I think, which is strikingly similar to Defcon 3.

I am guilty.  I’ve been talked to by a coach and was reprimanded by a referee, but in my defense, it was a “Mom group” disciplinary talking to. I claim mob mentality breakdown. I’ve gotten better over the years, not quite as loud, not quite as belligerent.  2 things have helped:  aligning myself with parents who are louder and crazier than me and medication. Brendan tries his best to keep me in check, but when I see my son go flying through the air from an illegal hit, I admit, my Mom instinct flows thru me like Indian food after taking Correctol.  I want blood and I want the 16 year old Assistant Referee to get it for me.  I never get it.  Surprisingly, yelling things at the other team or the referees does not change their behavior. I will continue to try and better myself. Promise.

At the center of it, we just love our kids, want to see them play a fair and fun game and don’t want them to get hurt in the process.  Oh, and win.  We want them to win.  Anyone that tells you different is lying.  I always want my kids to give their best effort, no matter the outcome, but winning is just more enjoyable.  I have a shit-ton of participation ribbons and trophies and medals for my kids, but the ones that say “Champion” just sparkle a little bit more, I’m not ashamed to say that. I’d always rather be celebrating than giving my son a consolation Mom hug.  Emotionally speaking, after travel soccer comes playing for the High School team, which is a whole new level of wistfulness for me.  I can’t talk about that just yet.

I don’t regret being a soccer Mom. It’s a role I just kinda stumbled into and did my best.  We made some missteps along the way, but over all, I think my kids are better off having experienced life in the world of club soccer. The friendships my boys have formed are monumental.  And so are the ones I’ve been lucky enough to find in the chaos that is travel soccer (insert any other club sport as necessary). Traveling to tournaments, sitting outside in snow and ice and rain or the blistering heat, driving 2 hours one way for a 1 hour game, only to discover your adorable little boy forgot his soccer cleats, crying on the sidelines because the other team is crushing your son’s team and making fun of the beat down so loudly that everyone on the field can hear, crying because your son didn’t make the A team–again, beaming because your son made the winning goal, it’s all part and parcel of a soccer Mom’s ride.  I wouldn’t trade a crazy second of it.