Like all parents, we are passionate about our kids’ performance. They don’t have to be the best…just don’t be the idiot spinning around in circles making airplane noises. Leave that for the family with the socks pulled up to their knees bringing the kid wearing jean shorts* and a belt and the Optimus Prime t-shirt or Nebraska Cornhusker abomination. Fortunately, my kids are older now, on club teams, and the jean short crowd has melted away. But I remember those days…
There are three quintessential items to have as a soccer parent: (1) a good camp chair, (2) a pair of sunglasses where no one can see your eyes, and (3) a healthy dose of self control.
The chair is for sitting, obviously. The sunglasses are so no one sees your eye rolls when their kid can’t command the ball to save their life. The self control is so the ref is not assaulted. It’s also to maintain a fake veneer of pleasant aloofness that’s masking the jubilance or seething rage swirling within.
I watch my kids play soccer like I’m watching an ice sculpting competition: Emotionless detached interest. At least, it appears that way on the outside for anyone eyeballing the guy in the purple camp chair and sunglasses. I chat amiably with the other parents while, inside, my gut convulses with every near-miss goal. I find folding the arms across the chest hides the near hyper-ventilation of my heaving chest. My temporal vein throbs when Chatty Chuck's son –AGAIN! – misplays a fairly routine cross. I ignore it, publicly. Only the diligent observer notices the way my jaw tenses up and my fists form. So how did your garage sale go, Chuck? Implied: No time to spend a few minutes teaching your kid a bit of aerial control, Chuck?
And then the refs. The hallmark of youth sports is the terrible refing. Unfortunately, these people are also typically your neighbors or teachers or folks you see sitting in the next booth at the local Chili’s. You are supposed to appreciate their volunteering efforts while simultaneously ignoring their complete ignorance of the rules. Tweet! Red’s ball. (not in the game I’m watching.) Tweet! Offsides (sweet Jesus, it wasn’t if you knew the rule). Tweet! Holding. (Wrong sport).
The most you’ll get out of me is a tilt of the head like a dog quizzically wondering if he heard the word “walk” in that stream of babble you just barfed up. I might raise my eyebrows in astonishment so that even Chatty Chuck can see them poking over the top of the sunglasses. “Curious call.” I’ll say.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking about Braveheart and what they did to William Wallace. Why don’t we eviscerate people anymore? Admittedly, it sure would make that next trip to Chili’s a bit awkward. I mean, I’d be fine with it but that's because I know what ‘offsides’ is and how to properly call it. For the ref’s family, I can only imagine their look of horror as I nonchalantly gulped down my Chicken Crispers. People are so sensitive about evisceration these days but, me, I can wash it away with a zesty honey mustard dip.
Let’s face it, goals – by YOUR kid (re: my kid) – are the best. My daughter has been on a roll lately averaging 2-3 goals a game. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the guy in the purple chair and sunglasses. He claps amiably for each one and congratulates the PASSER – not his own daughter – while inside there’s a Basque dance taking place.
After the game, I gather my camp chairs and congratulate the other players and pleasantly wish a good afternoon to their parents. Then, I yawn, stretch and head to the car with the purple chair slung over my shoulders. My armpits are drenched in sweat. My pulse is only just returning to normal. I no longer wonder what the ref’s head would look like mounted on top of the corner flag, wobbling comically back and forth from the weight.
When I feel I can feign nonchalance again, I smile to the kid and say, “Good game.”
It’s important to set a good example.
It’s important to set a good example.
* Or cargo pants, as Ian once did during a race.