Counterpoint—Soccer Isn’t Easy (And Neither are Basketball, Football, Hockey, Baseball, Track, etc.)

It will shock much of the autowriting and autowritingreading worlds (I made that second one up but I like it) to know that my brother and I are not terribly similar people. For example, our writing voices can be similar, at times, but I tend to use simpler language and fewer words to communicate my points. Politically, I’m very much a traditional conservative, whereas I think he might have voted for Bernie, if the DNC had given him the chance.

This difference manifests itself in many other ways, as well, but as we are no longer spring chickens and have both transferred much of our attention to our kids, the most obvious is in the way we parent our children.

I had a much more traditional sort of suburban youth than Jack did—I was the same age as my classmates, and I was merely smart enough to be in the LEAP-style programs. I was social in the ways that most kids are, and much of my social interaction came from team sports. I was on my school’s football, basketball, and track and field teams, I played summer league baseball, and I traveled around the midwest doing AAU-style and 3-on-3 basketball tournaments as well. I also played recreational youth soccer from age 6 to age 12. I did the BMX thing, too, but by the time I was 14 I had pretty much left it behind in favor of more traditional team sports.

I can say without any sort of bragging (because who brags about things they did 20+ years ago) that I won multiple championships in every sport I every played—some just of the travel team tournament variety (soccer, baseball), some of the more intramural variety (Ohio State 3-on-3 basketball and flag football) or informal type (Gus Macker 3-on-3 Basketball), some sanctioned state titles (football, track and field), and even an international competition or two. I was never a star player (with the exception of baseball), not by any means, but I was a always a more-than-competent cog of some exceptional team efforts.

Therefore, I am more than slightly irked when my brother says to his son, as he did in his post today, “The sports at your school, soccer and basketball — they’re easy.”

No. They’re not. Not even close.

I know that it’s easy to say that whatever you’re doing is harder or better than whatever somebody else is doing, especially when soccer in this country is mostly played by privileged white kids whose parents are dropping a couple grand a year on select team fees, private coaching, hundred-dollar goalkeeper gloves and cleats that won’t last half the season, and travel. I’m not sure if it’s a pro or a con that karting, which most people would probably consider to be a somewhat blue-collar endeavor, costs much, much more, but it doesn’t jibe with our constructs.

Over here, we have Brayden and Cody, the soccer kids from the suburbs playing on perfectly manicured fields, and over here, we have the dirty, hot, greasy pits of the karting track and the kids who are racing around a banked track. Which kids are tougher? Which kids are more privileged? Which kids are working harder? Which kids are playing the easy sport?

Who gives a shit?

Given the choice between trying to run a 80 minute endurance racecar stint or trying to make it through a two-hour high school football practice, I know which one I’d pick every time. If you haven’t done it, you don’t know. You don’t know that every single day of practice is a chance to quit—because your coaches and your teammates are sure as hell going to try to make you. In team sports, your teammates are really only your teammates on gameday—the rest of the time, they’re your competition. Every drill is a chance for you to win or lose your spot. Every sprint, every dropped pass, every missed shot is a complete mindfuck. I knew dozens of kids who had more athletic talent than I did. Yet I started a state championship football game at wide receiver, and they bought tickets. And let me tell you, none of it was easy.

I have watched as children ran until they vomited, ran some more, vomited some more, and then collapsed in 100+ degree heat. I’ve watched as kid after kid turned in their pads and helmets, quitting the team because they couldn’t take the phsycial and mental punishment. I have had a 6’5″, 280 pound grown man scream in my face, daring me to cry, because I blocked somebody in the back and took the winning touchdown off the scoreboard. I have taken off my football helmet to see a bone poking out of my forearm, and then played another three plays, only to be forcibly removed from practice by my training staff because I knew we had no chance of beating our rival without me that week, and then I had to watch my teammates lose that game as I stood helpless on the sidelines with my arm in a cast. Not particularly easy.

I’ve been the kid the coaches picked on, making my teammates line up again and again for extra sprints because “Baruth didn’t run all the way to the fucking line, so now he’s going to watch as you guys show him how to do it.” As a freshman, I waited until all the seniors and bigger kids left the locker room to shower, because I was so scrawny I didn’t want them to make fun of me.

I have had multiple concussions in one practice session, lining up as a 5’6″, 135 lb sophomore scout-team tailback against the number one defense in the state every day for 13 straight weeks, taking 25 or more hits a day. I’ve watched as one of my best friends struggles to remember the first steps or words of his daughter, the victim of countless head injuries throughout a college and professional football career.

I’ve sat in film sessions and had my mistakes reviewed, rewound and played over and over and over, as my peers laughed at me. I did 15 stadiums (running up and down each set of stairs in the stadium) in sweltering heat, one for each piece of my uniform that I accidentally left out in the hallway of our athletic complex after a heartbreaking loss. I went from 152 pounds to 139 in the span of three hours in the first of three of that day’s practices, only to be sent out to do it again in the afternoon.

Sure, it looks like it’s easy when the captain of the football team gets voted as homecoming king, or gets to skip class to go watch film, or dates the prom queen. But like most things, that privilege is a result of working harder than everybody else. And the older you get, as the pyramid gets smaller, you’ll find that everybody is talented. It’s hard work that makes the difference between the star player from your school who’s bagging groceries now and the kid who gets drafted in the first round. And there’s nothing easy about it.

As a parent, it doesn’t get any easier.  I’ve watched as my star goalkeeper son gave up five goals in a single half of soccer, crying his eyes out with successive failure, but refusing to leave his spot, waving off a substitute. He was eight, playing against ten-yar-olds, kids twice his size who rocketed shots directly at his face. Yet he stood in there. Does that sound easy?

I’ve watched him take a ball to the face more times than I can count, blood pouring from his nose. He’s had soccer-ball sized contusions on his chest and stomach, and has a scar on his chin. You think that’s easy?

I’ve watched as over 100 nine-year-olds tried out for a soccer team that only ten of them would make, and I’ve wrestled with the emotions of hoping my son would make it while subconsciously cheering every time another kid made a mistake.

This past Saturday, I watched him wear the captain’s armband in his second soccer match of the season as he ran over six miles in sixty minutes this past weekend with the thermometer reading a cool 91 degrees, and then I watched as his number was called to drill home a penalty kick that would ultimately decide the match.

After the game, I asked him, “What were you thinking when you took that penalty shot?” All of his teammates were watching. All of the parents of both teams were watching. He was hot and exhausted, and his once gray shirt was soaked with sweat.

He said, “I was thinking that I needed to get the ball to a spot where the keeper couldn’t get to it. I figured he wouldn’t be used to a left-footed kick, so I used my left foot and tried to curl it into the top right corner of the goal. I didn’t want him to have a chance at it.” And that’s exactly what he did. Buried it in the back of the net. Game over.

He never thought, “I hope I make it,” or, “I hope I don’t miss.” He only thought about what would be required to win.

Is kicking a soccer ball as scary as driving a go kart? Of course not. My son won’t go near a go kart, at least not yet. But is driving a go kart as mentally challenging as having a hundred sets of eyes on you as you go mano a mano against a top-level goalkeeper? I don’t know. I’m not super interested in comparing the acts of children. I know it’s not easy. But I also know that nothing about competing against the best you can is easy, regardless if it’s on a racetrack, a soccer field, a basketball court, or even a math competition.

I’m proud of my nephew. I’m proud of my son. They’re taking two different paths to mental and physical toughness, but I wouldn’t bet against either one of them making it.


28 Replies to “Counterpoint—Soccer Isn’t Easy (And Neither are Basketball, Football, Hockey, Baseball, Track, etc.)”

  1. Ryan

    “There are only three sports: Mountaineering, Bullfighting, and Auto racing. Everything else is just a game.”

    – Ernest Hemingway.


  2. Not my usual name

    I try to appreciate both sides. I was going to post this as a reply to Jack’s story for counter point, but I think it is better as a supportive post here. I gave up on team sports when I started High School, and I regret it. My reasons were mostly a bootstrapping story involving working 2 jobs that didn’t know about each so I could circumvent labor laws, so I could afford to go to a private high school on Long Island. I would like to say it was so I could get a better education, but mostly it was because my mom worked at my public HS and I couldn’t deal with that.

    That is why I tell most people I quit baseball at 12 (being a year younger than everyone sucks balls) after middle school, despite being told I was good at it by all my coaches and recruited by the coaches at my new (state championship while I attended) school to play.

    The real reason was that I was terrified. A little bit of failing, but mostly physical I am going to die fear.

    I remember one game, I was still the scrawny undeveloped kit under 100lbs, but a fast good hitting lefty with excellent range in the field, pitching was a kid who looked like he might have been from another planet. Taller than my father who was 5’11”, I remember them standing next to each other once after a game. Probably close to 200lbs. I wanted type that he was even larger, but I am trying hard to not turn this into a fish story.

    Most of all he was the kid that would bully me mercilessly. Punch me in the face, steal my stuff, do anything to humiliate me bully.

    He threw in the high 70s and was clocked in the low 80s on occasion, with the accuracy you would expect from a 14yo throwing at those velocities. He did not like that I could poke his pitches to the left side of the field and get on base regularly. His pitching got more distracted with runners on.

    We were on opposing travel teams, and standing in the batters box while he was pitching was the most terrifying experience of my life. As I saw is this was the kid who took joy in trying to knock me out with his fist, and now it was ok for him to wing a deathball at my head and not get in trouble for it.

    I have done many dangerous things. Skydiving, downhill and super-g ski races, been a salvage diver, cave diving, been people are aiming at me shot at, and nothing comes close to being a sitting duck in the box.

    I will never think that people playing team sports don’t go through mortal fear like motor racing.

    In this bully’s defense, he was the only interracial black/hispanic (I think, I of course don’t see color and never have) kid in an extremely waspy town. I have no doubt he went through a lot of shit too. I ran into him for the first time in 20 years a few months back, he got a D1 baseball scholarship that paid for college, and he is a cop a county over from where we grew up. We didn’t reminisce about him bullying me, I don’t know if he even remembers doing it, but he loved talking about baseball.

    I hope he doesn’t read this blog.

    • rpn453

      “Most of all he was the kid that would bully me mercilessly. Punch me in the face, steal my stuff, do anything to humiliate me bully . . . he is a cop a county over from where we grew up.”

      What are the odds!

  3. Ronnie Schreiber

    I still never see any kids playing pickup soccer in the park. It’s always some kind of organized team or league.

    Speaking of pickup games, I had a guy custom wind me some experimental pickup bobbins for the Harmonicaster and he lived in Auburn Hills. On my way to his place I noticed that there seemed to be many southern Asians, likely Indians, in the neighborhood. Then I saw a cricket match being played on a baseball diamond.

    • ComfortablyNumb

      Sounds like Farmington, my neck of the woods. Lots of Indian folks, lots of really good restaurants, and lots of cricket on the baseball diamonds after the little league games are over for the day.

  4. ComfortablyNumb

    It’s a much harder discussion to have with your kid when there isn’t a victory to soften the pain. I was a second-stringer on my high school football team. All the work, none of the glory. My son struggles with sports the way I did (damn you, genetics), and I have to wonder if I’m full of crap when I tell him that there is still value in playing, even if you aren’t “good” by any measure. I like to think it made me a grittier, harder-working adult, but maybe I’m just rationalizing. Maybe my time would have been better spent doing something else. At least when I hug him and tell him that I understand exactly how he feels, I know I’m being honest.

    • Bark M Post author

      Oof. I know that “all of the work, none of the glory” thing all too well, as a 5’8″, 150 lb kid trying to start for a team that sent 10 kids to D1 football. I finally made it to the starting squad, but it took two long, long years.

    • nightfly

      “Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine one; perhaps a great one.”
      “But who would know it?”
      “You. Your students. Their parents. God. Not a bad public, that.”

      There’s no shame in plugging away at something you enjoy, even if you aren’t the most skilled. There’s nothing wrong at all with being a good teammate even if you’re not a good player. The sad truth is, there are billions of folks in the world, and not all of them can be among the greatest at something. But anyone can have satisfaction in knowing that he gave it everything he had whenever he had to.

  5. VTNoah

    I enjoyed reading both pieces, you both made fantastic points.

    What I will say as a somewhat new father, my goal is to instill the concepts of hardwork and discipline into both my kids even though they are only 4 now.

    When my son comes to me saying he just counted to 100, I don’t praise him for being smart, I praise him for putting in the time and effort to achieve the goal. Hopefully it pays off. I was a smart kid in school but thought that’s all I needed to get by. I learned the hard way in highschool and thankfully turned things around when I got into college. I just want to be the best parent I can be since I didn’t have much for parents growing up. I’m guessing I’ll screw up my kids in some other unforeseen way but at least I’m giving it my best.

  6. Bigtruckseriesreview

    Basketball and Football, are very unlike soccer in that soccer is extremely exhausting. It’s exhausting just to sit there and watch it.

    Basketball and Football, I think, have better pacing.

    Baseball is boring.

    Golf is boring.

    Hockey only interests me when fights break out.

    I did Track & field. I was best at Hammer (Gold). Didn’t have the practice for Shot Put (Bronze). Couldn’t throw the Javelin for shit (nothing).

  7. rpn453

    I read Jack’s statement as meaning that simply participating in things like soccer and baseball is easy compared to participating in karting. You just put on some basic, inexpensive equipment and go to a field. They’re even easy to participate in compared to hockey, which is still very easy to participate in relative to karting.

    The low entry bar for participation in those sports is what makes it so difficult to compete at the higher levels.

    • Jack Baruth

      That is pretty much what I meant but Bark chose to take it as an assault on the sacred citadel of 5-day-a-week youth soccer… Which is fine.

      • Panzer

        When I read Jack’s comment, I came to a similar conclusion – namely that Karting is far more hardcore than the ‘participation trophy’ style of Soccer so favoured amongst feminist liberal mums who can’t deal with the overt masculinity of contact sports. Which is by the way the exact thing that Bark himself pointedly criticised with his comment about the Cosmo reading mum who couldn’t even be bothered defending her son herself when said son didn’t even try defending the net as Goalkeeper.
        That said, I enjoyed reading Bark’s column about this level of field sports, it reminds one of the sacrifices required to excel at that level.

    • Bojangles, M.

      I’ll add that for those of us who find ball sports totally inscrutable (or at the very least, for me,) the lack of interest and understanding inevitably leads to devaluing the effort involved. Not to question the amounts, I understand it can be all-consuming even well below a professional level, and I readily admit that I’m the weird one for thinking it’s so bizarre, but the talent and expenditure thereof just won’t be as apparent if I don’t care what you’re doing and, as a jerk, I basically judge the merit of amateur sports only on their available margin for error, and the gravity of the immediate consequences of those errors.

      Racing cars seems like the happy medium between golf and squirrel suits.

      I wasn’t very good at soccer when I had acceptable cardio, and considering how much harder certain injuries have made such athletic tasks as getting up out of a chair and walking across a room, I have no doubt Bark’s son could probably rip me, an adult, to pieces on a soccer field.

      But that’s my point: I could lose a soccer game against anyone, and it makes no difference to me. If winning is the same as losing, because the result has no meaning, playing the game is easy. Hell, I’ll lose a soccer game to Messi every day, no problem.

      As they say, Q.E.D.

    • Bark M Post author

      I actually think the bar to entry in Karting is much lower. Buy a kart. Go race.

      The bar for participating in select soccer is much, much higher. Rec soccer, obviously, much less so.

      But regardless, I am not here to judge children’s activities. I just think it’s important that kids do Something.

      • rpn453

        They are different bars though. A kid being raised by a poor single mother would probably not have the means or support to begin karting, but if he were dedicated and athletically talented he could play soccer at the highest levels after starting from nothing but a uniform and a pair of cleats.

        But I’m not referring to anything particularly competitive when I use the term participate.

        This kart and sports talk reminds me of a BMX racer that I competed against as a child. He was one of the best in Western Canada for his age and moved to my city during my second year of racing. He quit BMXing at the end of that year to focus on karting and I couldn’t believe he’d do such a thing. I knew nothing about karting, but BMX was about the coolest thing in the world in my mind, and I wished I was as good as him.

        Similarly, a local sixteen-year-old BMX racer, who already might have been the fastest rider in Canada regardless of age, had quit the year before to focus on hockey, simply because he was on track to be one of the best junior hockey players in Western Canada. Hard to argue with that decision, but again, it made no sense to me at the time since BMX was so much cooler than hockey, and I couldn’t even wish I was as good as him since it was impossible to relate to someone who seemed inhuman.

        That Whiplash movie looks good. I’ll check it out sometime.

    • Bark M Post author

      Did you link to the wrong story?

      Used car pricing is stabilizing to about 2015 levels. Hardly a huge crash. Average used car price is $18,661, down about 6.1 percent from its peak, but isn’t projected to change for 2018.

  8. Aoletsgo

    As one of four boys I know it is great to have brothers but there is always a rivalry undercurrent out there. Looking back it did not help that Dad was a benevolent workaholic and Mom was in over her head. She came up with the divide and conquer strategy for us. God knows we were a handful as competing individuals, if we had teamed up their only choice would have been seperate military schools – which they threatened us with. Once we all started having our own boys, it was fantastic for them to have blood cousins to play and hang with. However, the comparisons and rivalry moved down to the next generation.

    As far as comparing sports, that is difficult to do. You have your determination and pain threshold sports, the hand-eye coordination sports, expensive equipment and costly training sports, and your brute force, aggressive sports.

  9. Pingback: Today, I Am That Soccer Dad - Riverside Green

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