As we close out another soccer season (I’ve lost count of how many), I thought about all the ways being a soccer mom has influenced my relationship with my daughter. We are closing in on the final seasons for her, and I thought other (Insert Name of Sport) Moms might benefit from lessons I’ve learned along the way.
For more than 15 years, my daughter and I have shared her soccer experience. She plays college soccer now, and while I maintain my status as a soccer mom, I do not sport all the accessories of previous years — sunscreen and bug spray in every SUV pocket, water bottles hidden under seats, personal pink folding chair with a canopy at the ready, and garbage bags to corral wet, stinky soccer gear. I do still carry with me lessons learned, and here are a few you might find useful, whether you’re attending your first game or planning for high school sports.
1. Be an advocate, not an annoying jerk.
This should be simple but it is surprisingly difficult. When your child’s feelings are hurt or she is disappointed in a coaching decision, you want to rush in and talk to the coach. Don’t do it. Teach your child to speak to the coach and respectfully ask what she can do to earn more playing time. Encourage your daughter to speak up to her teammates when they are ignoring her on the field. Allow her the opportunity to become her own advocate. Choose to intervene and advocate selectively. In my experience, coaches are programmed to believe that all parents are interfering know-nothings who only want more playing time for their child. When you do need to advocate directly to the coach for your child, be respectful of his coaching philosophy and do not make specific demands. I have found the most success from asking questions and inquiring about how I can help my child be successful on the team.
2. Don’t be THAT parent on the sidelines.
I nearly got a yellow card early in my daughter’s competitive soccer career. I was obnoxious that day. I stood and yelled that the referee needed to move himself into position to see the game, that he should stop calling fouls that he most certainly couldn’t see. I continued until he trotted himself over to the sideline and told our coach to tell me to be quiet. Our coach looked at him and calmly stated, “She is right. You need to get moving out there.” The referee glared at me. I smiled, mouthed “thank you” to the coach, and sat down. The referee got moving on the field, and on the sidelines, I accepted a lollipop, which became standard equipment for the team parents.
This is not how you should model behavior that you want young children to emulate. I was out of line, even though I stepped out of line for a reason. This was probably the only time that being obnoxious from the sideline netted a positive outcome. The other times I did so — and there were more than I care to admit — the result was just frustration all around.
3. Take a break from the other families if you need it.
Soccer parents spend a lot of time together when your child plays travel ball. Sometimes, I just needed to create a little separation between the team and me, so I would claim to have points to use at a nearby hotel rather than book a room at the team hotel. As long as I had my daughter at team meals, most coaches were okay with this plan. I don’t, however, recommend that you do this every time. Do dive in and get to know the other families. We certainly had some fun times as we gathered in the lobby after a long day at the fields and got to know each other. While we may not have had much in common outside of the team, we always found ways to connect over a shared desire for our daughters to play well together.
4. Make decisions with your child, but know when you need to have the final say.
Every year as we approached tryouts, I would encourage my daughter to explore a different club, and every year, she would tell me that this was her team and these were her teammates, her friends. She believed this despite annually recurring drama with ineffective coaching and club leadership. She convinced me that the situation we knew was better than the one we didn’t know. I allowed her to dictate the tone and tenor of the relationship we shared with soccer, and I deeply regret that I did not force the issue, although she would tell you that I could not have forced her to change clubs. We began every season hoping for better and ended every season relieved it was over. In her senior year of high school, she reached her breaking point and quit before the club season was over, essentially forcing her own decision. In retrospect, I wish I would have remained firm about changing teams. Only one or two of those “friends” are still part of her circle today.
5. Follow doctor’s orders.
My daughter had two concussions within a year, both caused from random line-drive balls to the head during practices. The first occurred just as the spring semester wound down, and she struggled to push through her exams. And I let her. I encouraged her to power forward and just get it done. The second occurred just as the fall season started, and I realized that I did not understand the full scope of symptoms. We took this recovery much more slowly, but I remained ignorant to the lingering emotional and mental trauma that extend well beyond the initial recovery.
With all the news about concussion research lately, I am just now learning that much of what she experienced after that second concussion, the struggles we had during her junior year, were likely driven by the impact the concussion had on her emotional well-being. I wish I had sought to better understand rather than just asking her to power through, second guessing doctor’s orders.
6. You have permission to wish she would quit permanently.
I am reluctant to even put that in writing. I have been ready many times. I see her determination to always overcome the challenges, but determination cannot keep away the anxiety of disappointing her team or the frustration with yet another coach who yells and threatens. I have tentatively broached the topic with my daughter, and she usually ends up angry with me for encouraging her to consider quitting. What she doesn’t fully understand is that quitting one thing often opens opportunities to discover others. It allows us to make space for new people and activities. What I don’t understand, she tells me, is that she will know when it’s time to move on. She is not ready to close the door on soccer, and soccer is not ready to let go of her. Just when you think she is counting herself out, she was named to Second Team All-Conference this year.
The season is over this year, and it looks like I won’t be giving up my soccer mom role for at least another two years. I’m sure there are a few more miles to travel, a few more adventures along the way, and a few more lessons to learn.