I don’t watch many sports on TV, but I do watch the men’s and women’s world cups in soccer every four years. It wasn’t a sport I grew up with, like baseball. Instead, I came to appreciate it as an adult when our daughter, then son, played.
How many years of being a soccer parent? It was actually two decades. I’ve stood outside in deluges and icy winds and thrombotic heat waves. I’ve driven to fields on the edge of nowhere and watched the sun come up.
I’ve paced and I’ve screamed. “Get your heads in the game, Lightning!” — that was me screaming from the sidelines. I wasn’t one of those pushy soccer moms (although I did, almost, get into a hair-pulling contest with one of them), but I was kind of mouthy, a little too excitable, and highly opinionated.
Sitting tranquilly in the bleachers, my husband usually tried to ignore me while I stalked the game, usually accompanied by one of the soccer fathers like our friend, Paul. Paul and I spent so many sideline hours together, through monsoon and drought, that we began to bicker like an old married couple.
One year, Paul had to break up a heated argument between one set of our parents and a group from the other side. He reminded them we were grownups and the kids looked to us for guidance. Another season, yet another of our fathers almost got into a shoving match with a referee, who threw him out of the game. He appeared later, incognito, and enjoyed the status of a folk hero among our sons.
We won, we lost, well, let’s be honest, we mostly lost. But sports is about character, remember? So maybe we were building character from the sidelines, even if we did appear a little deranged. But, mostly, we built friendships with other parents who became our friends when we were new to Austin. Who knows? Maybe we became better friends since our team lost so regularly.
Watching games and practices, you could see family dynamics in play: the kids who didn’t want to be there, the parents — mostly fathers — who insisted on it. “I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life,” our next-door neighbor said, escorting his son to the kid’s first soccer game. The father was a tall, rangy, overgrown fraternity boy with a son who was sensitive and unathletic; you could see mutual heartache and disappointment, but no trophies, in their future.
And, almost invariably, the coach’s kid was the worst player on the field.
My friend Dan Frizzell once complained that soccer was the most boring game on earth, since scoring was so rare. Sorry, but you were wrong, Dan. The beautiful game, whether played at a kindergarten or professional level, teaches you more than any game with profligate scoring. You are always waiting, always hopeful, always patient, never quite satisfied; when I think about it, soccer has almost a tantric quality to it.
All of which might explain why I’m still watching soccer, year after year, and still waiting to root for a winning team. Once a soccer parent, always a patsy for hope.
(Copyright 2014 by Ruth Pennebaker)