Skrip - tyur' - i - ent: adj. Possessing the violent desire to write.


#276 In which our hero encourages, nay, begs, his children to enjoy soccer practice.

Couple of months ago The Scientist was browsing through the catalog put out by our city’s recreational board. They offer a wide variety of “enrichment” programs for kids and adults (in fact, I took their “creative writing workshop” offering for a year or so). There’s a bunch of kids’ program, including sports. We thought the “Hummingbird Soccer” program (kids 3-6) sounded good.

We talked it up, and they seemed excited about it. They sometimes kick a soccer ball around with the little boys across the street, and it was strictly beginner level, so we thought they’d get something out of it.

Now, The Scientist and are aren’t die-hard sports fans by any stretch. While we’re both very active and competitive in our given activities, these activities are far from mainstream sports, and I’d be surprised if anyone thought of us as “jocks.” So we’re really just trying to expose the girls to sports, not force them into it. Personally, I think team sports are extremely important for the lessons they teach about teamwork, working together, dealing with losing, etc. And, y’know, who doesn’t want to be the guy sitting in the stands bragging, “That’s MY daughter who just made that goal!” And at 4-years-old and 5-years-old, respectively, we didn’t expect our kids to be God’s gift to athletics, but we thought that at the very least they’d get to run around with a bunch of other kids their age and have a lot of fun.

They did not. In fact, they hated it.

But not right off the bat. In fact, it started on a very promising note. The first day we were one of the first to arrive, and they got first pick of the soccer balls they’d use that day, and got their team t-shirts (they were both on the “red” team). All told, there were probably 40 kids on the field, in about eight teams. The first half of the one hour practice was drills. The coach had them kick the balls around, kick them in the goal, etc. Fun stuff. Them seemed to be enjoying it. For the most part.

About 20 minutes in we noticed they started to run off the field to visit us. First, they wanted a drink of water (which we completely forgot to bring the first session, since we’re terrible parents), then they just wanted a hug, then they started to complain they were tired.

We were very accommodating of this at first (“Okay, here’s your hug. Umph! Great, now, ha-ha, get back out there! “) but became a little more stern as they starting coming off more often. And when the actual 20-minute scrimmage started, it got really obnoxious.

See, there were mostly fine with drills. But when other kids tried to take the ball away from them or blocked their shots, holy shit, that was not cool with our children.

“They won’t pass the ball to me!”

“They’re faster than me!”

“He kicked the ball away from me!”

And so on. Clearly, they didn’t understand the “competitive” part of competitive sports. And it didn’t help that there were a couple of older boys who were both serious about playing and had some skills (for 6-year-olds). One kid in particular loved to come running at whoever had the ball and take a sliding kick to knock it away. He did this to Lily at least twice. “Lily would be having a better time,” I remarked to The Scientist, “If fucking Pelé would relax.”

It was at this point that they really started to whine and cry. Now, The Scientist and I were really trying hard not to be those asshole parents you see on the sidelines berating their kids. However, we didn’t want them to outright quit without trying either. “Come on girls, get out there. Your team needs you!” I tried this one several times. “Only 10 more minutes, girls! Try to tough it out for 10 more minutes!” I tried that, too. Finally, it came to: “Lily! Macey! Go!” This in my dad big voice.

I started to feel like a big dick, commanding my whining and crying kids back to the field. But I’ve seen this behavior before, especially in Lily. If things don’t go her way right away, her first reaction is to take her ball and go home. I hate this. So, yes, I made her play.

Well, I couldn’t make her play, of course. What I made her do was stand on the field. And both girls did this… stood in the field sniffling, making only token efforts to kick at the ball if it happened to come near them. When the final whistle finally blew, both girls couldn’t get off the field fast enough.

Thus began eight weeks of suck.

Most every week, it was the same. They'd complain that they didn't want to go to soccer, that it wasn't fun. When we got there, they'd have fun the first half of the practice, then the wheels would fall off when it came to the game.

One day it started to rain, hard, just as we pulled up. "Well, girls, it looks like soccer is going to be cancelled for today." Huge cheers from both girls.

I was very, very tempted to just pull the plug, tell them they didn't have to go any more. But the thing is that the eight week session was already paid for and, more importantly, it was the principle of the thing. They needed to learn that not everything is fun right off the bat, especially anything involving competition. And they needed to know that there are things you need to practice before you have any skill in them.

So we kept going.

The big complaint became that they got tired in the middle of practice. So I started to bring "energy pills." Let me explain.

A year or so ago, Lily got into the habit of saying that her stomach hurt her every night at bedtime. We didn't really believe her (it was clearly a stall tactic) but we starting giving her a single Rolaid. She ate it, said her tummy didn't bother her any more, and went to bed. But, we started to feel weird about doing this... Rolaids are a kind of medicine, albeit a weak medicine. Still, there was no reason to dose our kids (because Macey got in on the act, too) every night for no reason.

So, I bought a bunch of candy bracelets at the store and cut the strings. I took the candy and put it in a plastic tub, and told the girls this was the new tummy medicine. So, one "tummy pill" a night, and all was well. At some point we stopped calling it tummy medicine and started calling it tummy candy, just so there would no confusion about when medicine was, and when it was okay to take it.

This candy became our de facto cure for just about everything. Tummy hurts? Here's a tummy candy pill. Eyes itchy? Here's an itchy eye pill. And so on. So, when the complaining about being tired at soccer practice hit a fever pitch, I broke out the energy pills. The girls were allowed five a day (since they were so strong). I don't know where as it really helped. But it did give me an excuse to send them back out on the field; "You had your energy pills, now get back out there!" I was waiting for some other parent to chide me for giving my kids speed, but they never did.

We missed a couple weeks, due to vacation. The girls didn't mind. Then finally, the eighth and last practice rolled around. We told the girls that this was it, the last hour of soccer, and they needed to play today, but never had to play soccer again in their lives if they didn't want to.

Amazingly, Lily had the best day out of the eight. She was engaged, active, drove the field a couple times, and generally seemed to be having a good time. She didn't come off the field crying once.

Macey, on the other hand, was having a melt down. She stomped around, head hung low, complaining about how tired she was, so very tired. As it turned out, the red team was split into two, with Lily going with the older kids to a different field, and Macey and the younger ones staying where they were. Even with the level of competition reduced, Macey wasn't having it.

Finally, The Scientist pulled her off and promised that if she kicked the ball once, just once, that we'd all go to McDonalds for lunch. So she gave the ball a half-hearted kick when it rolled right to her, looked at us to confirm that that kick was good enough, then called it a day. Even though the game wasn't over, she ran over to the field Lily was on and started screaming, "Lily! Lily! Come on! Mama says we can go to McDonalds now!" She was none to happy to learn that we weren't going that instant.

At the end, all the kids gathered and they passed out trophies. Everyone got one, it was part of the fee. It was nice, I suppose, and the girls were happy to get something, but, I dunno, it just doesn't seem to send the right message.

I mean, my kids barely participated. I'm not saying they should be punished for this, but I don't think they should be rewarded, either. And get a trophy? For what? Showing up six of the eight weeks and half-assing it around the field? Maybe I'm just a prick, but effectively telling all these kids that the slightest effort on your part will score you a trophy isn't the best message. Eh, maybe at this age it's only about encouraging them to stick with it. I'm no coach.

I talked to Lily afterward, and told her how proud I was that she stuck it out, and how cool it was that she really seemed to be getting the hand of it this practice. She agreed that it was better this time, more fun.

ME: Fun enough that you might want to do it again next summer?
LILY: (immediately) No!

So, my kids have their cheap plastic trophies, and that seems good enough for them. They're well on their way to becoming nerds, just like their parents.