I am always, always excited when I get parenting advice from people who don’t have children. You can’t really explain to these people how wrong they are about, well…everything. I know this because I used to be a person without children, and despite my brain’s post-TIA attempts to wash out my memory, I remember many of the wrong opinions that I used to hold.
“Children should never misbehave in public.”
“Why are parents always talking about their kids? So boring!”
“Why do people take kids’ sports so seriously? Who cares?”
The last one is the one we’re gonna talk about today. I think we’re all aware how much I care about my son’s soccer team and his personal growth (and with my daughter about to tryout for her first select team in a week and a half, it’s gonna get worse), and I think it’s fair to say that there’s a bit of vicarious living going on there, too. At the age of 40, I’m not likely to have any more of my own personal team sport success to celebrate.
However, I would like to think that I care so much because he cares so much. I haven’t forced anything on him. He plays soccer about 40 weeks a year, and that’s all he wants to do. He doesn’t play any other sports. He doesn’t play an instrument. He’s not particularly interested in school work—he gets all As and pegs every IQ test, but it’s not because he loves it, it just comes naturally to him.
But he loves soccer. And that’s why I sent an email to his coach this week about why we’ll likely not be on that same team again next year.
Almost to the day a year ago, I shared with you some of my frustrations regarding my son’s club soccer team, specifically regarding a couple of kids who don’t really want to be out there. I figured that those kids would either not try out this year, or, if they did, they’d be cut from the team. I was wrong on both counts.
The kid who turns his back and sticks his leg out? He’s still doing it, only now he’s doing it on offense because the coach has decided that’s an easier place to hide him. He’s really stepped up his game in practice, too—by which I mean that he trips and shoves his own teammates and calls them “pricks” when they beat him. His best friend is on the team, too, and he doesn’t play soccer so much as he jogs around the field and watches the other kids play soccer.
The coach rotates these two kids at right forward. If you know the game, you know that the right forward is responsible for scoring and crossing the ball into the box. Neither one of these kids can do either of these tasks. Between them, they have scored exactly one goal in eight games, and it was really more of an own goal that the coach just gave him credit for. In fact, they can’t really even control the ball. The other kids know this, and refuse to pass them the ball anymore at this point.
We do have a kid who can play on the right side, and played that role excellently last season. However, the coach doesn’t play him there at all, for reasons neither myself or others can understand. As a result, we have a hole on the right side of the field at all times, which makes scoring nearly impossible.
Meanwhile, my son, who is a natural midfielder, is stuck playing defense because our team can’t score at all, so the coach has put him back on defense to stop the other team from scoring in a sort of Manchester United-style of playing your best players behind the ball. With the exception of the one time that Mr. Stick-Your-Leg-Out actually ended up tripping and injuring my son by tripping him, my boy has played every single minute of every single game at left defensive back. And he’s brilliant at it, earning the nickname “The Gnat” from his fellow teammates.
This doesn’t seem like a huge deal, until you realize that the kids he’ll be competing with for playing time later in life are getting time at their natural positions, and he’s stuck playing a spot that he’ll never play as a teenager. Defenders are normally 6 feet plus, and stockier builds. My son currently weighs 54 lbs as a ten-year-old, placing him squarely in the 10th percentile. Not a problem if you’re a midfielder. Big problem if you’re a defender. For those of you more familiar with American sports, this would be like making him a basketball center or a football nose guard when he’s more likely to be a point guard or wide receiver.
I wouldn’t care that much about it if:
A) The team were winning (or at least competitive)
B) All the other kids were trying just as hard as he is
C) He was still having fun
None of these are true. They’ve only won three games out of eight, and two of those wins came against the worst club in the region. They were blown out, 8-0, by a team that has several members of my son’s indoor futsal squad on it, which embarrassed him greatly. The parents of those kids, all of whom love my son and respect his abilities greatly, began their recruiting pitch immediately after the game. “We’d all love to have Kevin on the team next year!” they told me, even going so far as to see if his number was available. (It was, btw.)
And the more I thought about it, the more I thought that I really want my son to play with his futsal friends. I don’t want him to cry after games anymore. I really don’t want him to cry after games anymore. I don’t want him trying his hardest, only to have his efforts sabotaged by kids who don’t care about winning or losing. And I want him to have a chance to win against good competition.
So I wrote this email:
Dear (Coach),I apologize in advance for the length of this correspondence. With the last two games of the season coming up, I wanted to share some thoughts that have been on my mind for some time, and I felt that email would be the best medium for it, since everybody is incredibly busy.First, I want to thank you for all the work that you’ve done with these kids this year. I know that the time and effort involved is significant, and the challenges involved with this particular group of kids are greater than most.Secondly, while I realize that there is much more to youth sports than winning, I have concerns about how the results of the games are affecting some of our kids. It’s not so much the final tally, but rather the effort being given by some of their teammates. Although some of the kids do not appear to be affected by winning or losing, there are some (including mine) who are deeply affected. I have witnessed kids crying, especially after the most recent defeat to (his friends’ team), because they are trying their hardest.The kids are more aware than we think at times of the effort being given by their teammates, and there is considerable frustration among the kids who are giving their best. Despite my encouragement to play team soccer, there are players that Kevin won’t pass the ball to, because he knows that they won’t do anything with it.This is all leading to the fact that I want to make you aware that we are evaluating switching clubs to (his friends’ team) for the next season. Kevin and (other teammate) play futsal with those kids during the winter, and they’re all very good friends and play very well together. Nobody calls each other names, or argues with each other. The kids trust each other, they pass to each other, and, as a result, they only lost 1 game out of 16 all winter against Premier League competition.However, switching clubs will make our lives exponentially more difficult. We’d much prefer to not drive 45 minutes each way three nights a week for practices.Therefore, I’m hopeful that we will see something in the last two games of the season that will convince us that (his current club) is a good place for Kevin to be in the future. I want him to have the best opportunity to succeed and grow as an individual player and as a team player over the next several years. I am under no illusion that my son is going to play professional soccer—I just want him to enjoy himself and be in a positive environment. Transparently, I don’t feel that this team is a positive situation for him to be in right now. (teammate’s father) and I spend the vast majority of our time together discussing this situation and being frustrated by seeing him play so hard and getting little in return.So you might asking yourself what I hope to accomplish by telling you all of this. The answer to that question is, frankly, somewhat unclear to me. I know that you are doing your best with these kids, and that you are playing the cards you’ve been dealt. Even though I feel that Kevin is playing out of position (we all know that he’s never going to be big enough to play defender as he gets older), I’m not asking you to play him somewhere else, or anything like that. I would never presume to say that I know one tenth as much about this game as you do.I think I would just ask that we put our very best lineup on the field and try our hardest for good results, and when kids demonstrate that they aren’t trying their hardest, that maybe some other kids who are trying their hardest play instead. It’s only my opinion, but I don’t think that we’ve played our best 7 at any given point this season.If you’d like to call me to discuss any of this, please feel free to call me at (my phone number). Again, I want to make clear that this is no personal indictment of you—we greatly appreciate everything you’ve done and continue to do. Also, it’s no indictment of the club as a whole, as we plan to have our daughter try out for U9 Academy. We just don’t want Kevin to have to deal with this same situation for the next several years. I hope that makes sense.Thanks for all you do for our kids.-MWB