“That’s it. I’ve had it. I call uncle. I’m tired of bringing my oldest son to soccer.”
This was the point I reached as his Fall ’15 season came to an end. I didn’t care if he showed ‘promise’. I no longer cared who did or didn’t want him to continue to play. All I knew is that I was beyond frustrated with him. His lack of effort and poor sportsmanship were clear indicators soccer was no longer his thing. The amount of conflict and tension that arose after every lackluster performance was no longer worth it to me.
My decision for him to not play for the Spring ’16 season was two-fold. First, I knew I could actually enjoy being a soccer mom because I didn’t mind putting the time and effort into his younger brother’s season. Why? This was because I knew he would give the same effort at the start of a game that he would at the end. I never had to tell him to ‘go out there and give it your best!’, his best came naturally to him. His best was whatever that was for the day. Sometimes he had a lot of great stats, and sometimes he didn’t. Stats didn’t matter, his effort and enthusiasm for the sport mattered. The second thought that influenced my decision was ‘why keep bringing my older son to the fields if it isn’t fun for either of us?’ Decision made. Cleats off, season over and let’s move on.
As my younger son’s Spring season was in full tilt, parents would ask me about my older son. Most were genuinely shocked that he was sitting a season out. They thought that someone with his potential should be out there staying in the game. For a long time, despite his significant pushback, I believed this too. I am his mother so of course I would know best. Turns out, I didn’t know a thing.
As the months passed and I watched my older son immensely enjoy non-soccer pursuits, I realized that if he ever wanted to step back on the field, this is the kind of joy I wanted to see from him. He kept trying to insist that he was ready for a new season. I wasn’t even close to believing him. Thankfully, with some distance from the field, I was gaining some much needed perspective. I knew the reasons I loved him were not contingent on if he did or did not play soccer.
One day over breakfast I gave him one of my ‘Mom Lectures’. I am famous for them. Usually, no one listens to what I say, but today, it felt different. He hung on my every word as I told him all the reasons I loved him. Not one of them had to do with soccer. I told him that he was so kind and interesting and smart and funny that I didn’t care if he played a sport or not. I cared more that he showed compassion to others, demonstrated leadership and was one of the goofiest most entertaining people I had ever known. Although he tried not to show it, his shoulders lowered almost imperceptibly with relief. That made me certain he was actually listening that day.
And, now, we are in it. We are back to the soccer fields per his decision. Almost immediately I could tell a difference. At his first practice he seemed to actually enjoy himself. Even after his first big loss, he was in great spirits. How could this be? How could he actually be okay with losing? I didn’t think I would live to see the day. I also couldn’t find fault with his effort or attitude on the field. In fact both of his coaches complimented his positivity and level of respect. What gives?
Naturally, I wanted to talk about this seeming miraculous transformation with him. What had changed? He told me he thinks that he has grown up. He used to hate losing and would give up if the other team scored first or whenever they took the lead. He now understands that he won’t win every game, it isn’t possible. He also likes that now that he is playing with older kids, they know how to play their positions. He no longer feels so much responsibility for playing the length of the field. He likes that win or lose, they are all equally in it together.
To learn a little more about some of the challenges (and triumphs!) my older son and his team are facing this season, click here:
When it comes to our kids and their extracurricular activities it’s important to every once in a while, take a step back and make sure it’s a good fit. Life is full of so many unique possibilities, I’m certain there are activities that will bring your kids joy. From this joy, life will become easier for all. Isn’t that a goal worth striving for?
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent