We’re a soccer family. As in travel soccer. Meaning Oreo cookies, juice boxes, and five minute commutes to games is a thing of the past. No participation medals here. Those ribbons that hang on the wall get earned in this house.
My thirteen year old son started playing soccer when he was five. We did the whole recreational play thing, getting up on Saturday mornings and standing on the sidelines, cheering. Snack sign ups existed back then. (Recreational soccer is feel good.) But then at the ripe old age of seven, a coach suggested Key do a developmental program. Being our first born, we took this as a sign that Key was talented; possibly on a path to scholarships; definitely worth the investment to find out. Since darling actually did want more soccer and the mental benefits to him of running that much were easily visible, we did it. Then the next year, at the prompting of his developmental trainer, we attended the club level evaluations. The coaches promised it wasn’t a big step, given we already participated in the development program. And so our whole club experience began.
At first, we were shell shocked. The jump from Oreo soccer to club soccer is a big one. Yes, it’s just three practices and two games weekly. But those practices are run by professionals, lasting around 90 minutes each, often at locations farther from home. And the two games? Those can be considered local at up to two hours from home, often with start times at 8am and 3pm. Warming up beforehand? Of course! Please be on the fields in matching gear a minimum of 30 minutes to an hour prior to start time. Immediately, the idea of an early cup of joe before a fun little match is over. Whole families are up and dragging toddler siblings around Timbuktu at 5am on a Saturday (and/or Sunday) in order to get to darling’s club game in time. Sound insane? It is.
When we first entered this new realm, it was actually worth it. In many important ways, six years later, it is still worth all this chaos. But along the way, it seems like either I am getting tired, I am gaining perspective on youth sports, the clubs are demanding more each year, or maybe it is all of the above.
The worth in all this is the phenomenal mentors and life lessons and enduring friendships both boys have received. These men (and women on the girls’ side) that coach at the club level, some fathers and some aspiring professional players, offer our boys dedication, energy, character building, training, kindness, and role models. They provide us a positive community of people to coach our boys in much, much more than soccer skills. The coaches my boys have had these past seven years are unsurpassed in their dedication. Plus the training is almost always top notch across the board. I gotta say, in this regard of recreation versus club, you get what you pay for. (Not to mention the geography and cultural life learning that comes from looking up the many coaches’ home countries. Seriously. We can check off several US states, plus Canada, Thailand, Uganda, Cote de Ivoire, England, Ireland, Brazil, and Argentina.) The people. The relationships. The superior training in a sport both boys love. The extended friendships for both boys and for us as parents. This is where the worth lies.
The rub comes from the commitment factor. After driving to hundreds of practices and games and giving up family events and vacations with the grands, it gets hard to keep going. Yet when the question of common sense and whether this is all needed in order to build those worthy relationships is raised, the first thing doubted is the commitment. Commitment of the child to the game. Commitment of the parent to their little player’s potential greatness. It has begun to raise in my heart the questions back – When did a nine year old committing all his free time to the game become desirable? Healthy? Reasonable? And when did a nine year old with multiple interests and a need for free play time become undesirable? Less lauded? Requiring excuse or further explanation? And then to take this whole thought process further, let’s trade out the nine year old for the thirteen year old. Why is it unacceptable to only want to play one season per year? Why is year round, meaning both spring and fall, not good enough? Why are players discouraged from taking the winter off? What is the benefit of obsession in sports? When all of our research repeats the dangers of overuse injuries and burn out and anxiety disorders from performance stress, what drives us to ignore common sense? Is it glory? Is it the scholarship? And is that really the reason 98% of them are going to college? For the game? Can we not develop reasonably trained players, friendships and a sense of commitment to team, without absolute obsession? When my two boys were scheduled for practices thirty minutes apart at overlapping times on the same days and I responded with a concern about our ability to be in two places at the same time, the response from our club? Challenges as described would need to be overcome by more commitment from the parents. When we couldn’t get to an extra conditioning practice or an out of season tournament? Players on this team would need to condition and train during their own free time to be able to continue playing at such a level. Neither of my boys are or strive to be on a premier level team, so is this reasonable? Maybe. But maybe not.
The $4000+ each year it takes to fund two boys in club soccer, the countless hours, the endless driving, the sacrifice of family both in time and in care, the extra volunteer hours – this all is no longer enough. Adding up last year’s fall and spring hours, my then twelve year old (and therefore us as parents as well) spent 320 hours on soccer. I haven’t calculated the then eight year old’s year, but his time commitment was even more hours than his older brother. This means we easily used 700 hours doing soccer last year for a then 3rd grader and 7th grader. And we did less than most families on their teams. Every year, we are asked for more time, more commitment to extended training, more serious focus from our children, and more money from our wallets. All in the name of proving our commitment.
Have we as parents collectively lost our minds? This isn’t enough?
It isn’t enough.
Because it is too much.
And yet, my boys are in the minority (as in the only ones on their teams most likely), because we drew the line this year. No more off season soccer. No winter indoor league. No expensive summer training program. A half day camp for fun because they beg come July? (Miraculously, they still love the darn game.) Mmm, Maybe. But, even that will take some serious thinking. Caving under the pressure that sweet baby will fall behind in skill? Nope. Take it elsewhere. This Chick is claiming back her holidays and her Friday night TV and her Saturday mornings with her cup of joe and her dates with her husband.
Soccer is worthwhile. Sports in general do mimic adult life challenges. The coaches of past and present deserve our utmost gratitude. There is great value in that yearly $4000 investment. (Before y’all balk at that $$, music lessons and all those parents with girls in dance are spending more than me. And to the hockey crazed parents up north, my sports bill is peanuts.)
But rest and care and family and free play and quiet time (AND CHURCH) are also:
deserving of gratitude
deserving of time
deserving of commitment
And this soccer mom – venting – needed to get that off her chest.