We haven’t exactly caught World Cup Fever in our house.
To be exact, we haven’t watched a single second of a single game. In other words, we’re like the vast majority of Americans — we don’t have anything against soccer, it’s just that it never grabbed our attention.
I’m to blame, I suppose. While I’m not a sports nut, I do love the NFL, I can stand some baseball, hockey, and basketball, and I’m more than happy to see Mike Tyson get his brains beat in by Lennox Lewis.
About the only point in recent history that soccer was on my radar was when the US Women won that championship a few years ago, and Brandi Chastain stripped to her sports bra. I’m not a soccer fan, but I am a guy.
The other time I paid any attention to soccer was when my daughter was playing the game and I found myself suddenly in the role of Soccer Dad.
We bought a soccer ball and a small net, and I showed her the few moves I remembered from kicking the ball around in gym class several decades ago. My advice primarily consisted of, “Remember, don’t use your hands” and “Okay, it’s in the street, I’ll get it.”
After a few practices with the team, it was apparent that there were three or four girls who had a natural ability to play the game. They could dribble the ball up the field, pass it to somewhere within the vicinity of a teammate, get back on defense, and even do a sideline throw-in.
My daughter was not one of them. She was a member of the other group, roughly a dozen girls — the rest of the team — who were more interested in making sure the ball touched them as infrequently as possible.
At their first game, we could see that most of the teams in their league had about the same skill spread as ours. So the game consisted of a pack of girls moving up and down the field together, all within a 10 foot radius of the ball, no matter where it went. Many of them didn’t even have an idea where the ball was, but they saw the group moving, so they followed.
Some of these girls knew no fear. They’d kick away at the ball, determined to get it going in the right direction, and not afraid to trade shin shots to accomplish their goal. Again, I’m not describing my daughter here. She was part of that vast majority whose contact with the ball was more an accident of inertia than anything else.
Still, she was having a great time. What’s not to like about running around outside for an hour on a grassy field on a sunny day? She and her teammates were oblivious to what position they were supposed to play, the rare occasions when someone scored or a penalty was called, or pretty much anything else involving the structure of the game.
This went on every week for a couple of months. As a Soccer Dad, I did my part, sitting on the sidelines, having fun watching her have fun, shouting my encouragement whenever the Pack Of Pele’s moved within earshot. I saw that as my role.
Most of the other Soccer Parents, however, saw their role as Technical Advisors to the game. They consistently shouted advice to the girls, messages that alternated between “Somebody get the ball!” and “Kick it!” with an occasional “Pass it!” thrown in for good measure. I found myself wishing that just one of the players would come over to the sideline and ask these spectator/coaches if they were kidding.
By halfway through the season, I had developed some respect for the men who had volunteered to be coaches. They had schooled the girls in some of the basics, and had even managed to get my daughter to kick the ball on purpose once or twice. The team wasn’t going to any championships, but they were playing marginally better than when they had started.
In these days of Sports Parent Rage, you have to have a thick skin to be a coach. You never know when some adult is going to snap and attack you, either verbally or physically. We didn’t have any scenarios nearly as intense as the famous Hockey Dad incident, but there was one unpleasant occasion.
I watched at least two Soccer Moms loudly expressing their displeasure over how the head coach wasn’t giving their daughters enough time on the field — as if their 7-year-olds were destined to be the next Mia Hamm. Somehow, the coach took it all in stride, insuring the Moms that everyone would get a chance; that at this level, the girls were just learning the fundamentals, and that winning was not of paramount importance.
The Moms were far from mollified, but the coach turned away from them and returned his attention to the game on the field. That’s when he shouted to the girls the best advice of the whole season: “Okay, everybody, stop talking and watch the game!”
Or maybe he meant that for the Soccer Moms.