A week before soccer season officially began, I spent most of a Saturday at a coaches training. Outside of playing in PE class in elementary school, I hadn’t ever played soccer. The training did not go well for me, since most of the day involved hours of dribbling, and I had dribbled a soccer ball exactly zero times in my adult life. This entire process was a labor of love for my middle daughter who desperately wanted me to coach her. I begrudgingly said yes, and regretted it immediately. This will be great, I said to myself. They’re only five, I assured myself. Everything will be fine.
I really wanted to quit.
The night before our first game, I stayed up past midnight to make the orange and black hair ties. Since my soccer skills are, you know, non-existent, I figured I could at least excel in one area: accessories. To compensate for my lack of soccer prowess, I stayed up late with my craft shears and 10 rolls of orange and black ribbon. I snipped and tied until I felt confident that I could outfit my team in adorableness, if nothing else.
The next morning my daughter was over the moon about her extra fluffy hair bow. She gleefully donned her uniform and allowed me to slick her hair back into a tight ponytail without so much as a peep of complaint. She bounced out the door singing a song about soccer, and I really felt fantastic about every soccer related decision I’d made up to that point.
Wouldn’t it be nice if my story ended there? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if I could just shrug and smile and say something like “and the rest is history”? Then I would sigh and look blissful and you all could think about what a wonderful mother I was and what a wonderful soccer coach I am (despite my in-experience!). I would love that.
My story does not end there, and the early morning pre-soccer game bliss lasted only a brief moment. Once we arrived on the field, the fog rolled in, physically and metaphorically. The morning air carried a bit of a chill, and the foggy field dampened all our previously sunny dispositions. To make matters worse, team hairbow enthusiasm was surprisingly low. Fine. Whatever. If these were our only issues, I still think I could have turned things around. But minimal hairbow receptivity was actually rather indicative of how my morning was about to go.
It was all downhill from there.
My once-enthusiastic daughter refused to play. She stood with her arms crossed, muttering things about hating to run and being too cold and not liking fog and shin guards being itchy, etc. One of the other girls was already crying. Then one more girl began to cry. Another one stood on the field and stared at her shoes. Before the first quarter was over, I didn’t have more than three girls who even wanted to play. The parents rallied til their voices were hoarse. I cheered and jumped and encouraged: no luck. While the other team seemed to run and smile and score goals with glee, my team struggled to stand on the field.
At half time, five pairs of teary eyes stared up at me, pleading to quit, and everything inside of me wanted to plop down on the grass and forfeit entirely. Not just from the game, but from the whole season.
And so we did.
Wouldn’t that be such a sweet relief? To bail out when things get hard and not worry about the ramifications? Five eighths of my sad little team would have been so on board with this decision. Quitting soccer the first week in would have cracked my already overbooked fall wide open; I’d get my Saturdays back, and that is never a bad thing. You all probably wouldn’t respect me that much (and, sure, other parents might not have appreciated this decision) but everyone would have gotten over it.
It doesn’t matter, though, because that’s not how this story goes.
I didn’t let my daughter quit mid-season, and I didn’t quit either. Frankly, forcing my child to play a sport felt a little Tiger Mom to me. Every time I stood on the sideline and pep-talked and coerced her, I felt a little insane, like I was some sort of failed soccer star trying to live vicariously through her child, but my child wasn’t cooperating with my dreams. The truth is that my daughter had begged to play soccer. She was completely enthralled right up until the minute she actually had to play, and then all hell broke loose and somehow we couldn’t seem to recover. Which means that I had the stunningly hard task of teaching her how to see something through (when I, myself, also did not want to see it through).
But we persisted.
Week after week, we tried to play. For several of those weeks, two of the girls refused to practice or participate in any capacity (one of those girls was my daughter). One of the other moms brought a container of M&Ms as a reward, but that only kind of worked. I sang songs and cheered cheers, and at a particularly low point, I bribed my child with a Barbie. She didn’t have to actively play; she just needed to be on the field with a pleasant demeanor, and then she could get a prize. Yet when the ref blew the whistle she laid down in the grass. When I ran over to see what was wrong she said “My birthday is in two weeks. I can wait for the Barbie!”
Still, we persisted.
And it worked! Everyone got super good at soccer, and no one ever cried again, and we won our last game, with my daughter scoring the final goal, just like in the movies.
Shoot. It’s not that either. We didn’t win. Most of my players never scored a goal. Periodically, the coaches from the teams we were playing would walk over to me and say things like “Should I tell my girls they can’t score any more goals? I’m so sorry.” Every game was a shutout.
But we did get better. We had a team playdate, and the girls ran around giggling and eating popcorn. They started remembering what to do on the field, and we grew together. We bonded. We actually had fun. And my daughter warmed up to the idea of participating, and by our seventh game, she actually wanted to play.
She scampered out to the field on the morning of game seven. As I lined all the girls up to take practice shots, my son ran out to the field and offered to help.
“I’ll be goalie!” he hollered.
No, no, no, I wanted to yell. I wanted to push him out of the goal. Our age group doesn’t have goalies and any change in routine could set the girls off. A warm up goalie could send everyone running and crying. I had seven happy girls ready to kick; I wanted to keep it simple.
But my daughter’s face brightened when she saw her brother run onto the field, so I bit my lip and let him stay.
“I’ve got this, mom.” He winked at me.
My daughter jumped up and down and said she was ready for the ball. I rolled it to her, and she swung her leg back and kicked as hard as she could.
The ball rolled towards the goal, and my son crouched into the ready position, and then he dove high and far… in the opposite direction of the ball. The ball careened into the goal as my son yelled “WOAH! You did it!”
My daughter’s hands flew to her mouth, and she looked at me.
“I did it!” she yelled. “I scored on Mason!”
We continued through the line-up with Mason diving wide out of the way of every ball the girls kicked. Then they played a full game tear-free. And the sun shined brightly. And I realized that it wasn’t crazy to make my daughter (or myself) stick with something. Because maybe this season wasn’t about soccer. Maybe it was about friendship and trying hard and big brothers learning how to be supportive. Maybe it was about both of us getting out of our comfort zone and doing something that felt foreign and hard. Maybe persisting was the point, and if it was, well, we won, and it was actually kind of great.
Photo by Jennifer Batchelor.