My tween has been talking about joining soccer for years. But this was the first year we actually got the ball rolling and signed her up before the fall season commenced. Sure, it was fun to go shopping for her cleats, shin guards, and more soccer shorts than she’ll ever need, but when we rolled up to the first practice, it really hit me (like a soccer ball to the head): She’s my baby. My first little. And there’s a whole reckoning that my heart has to deal with.
About half the team is new, and the other half is returning, so it might not be cliquey, but what if it is? Will they pass the ball to her? Will she catch on to the rules quickly? Most importantly, will she have fun? I won’t be the soccer mom yelling from the sidelines because she’s not playing defense aggressively enough. In fact, I’d absolutely be the one to cheer the loudest, even if she was running with the ball in the wrong direction. Hell, when I was signed up for soccer, I only lasted a season. 1. Because even at 9, I knew I hated running, and 2. I much preferred to pick dandelions as opposed to paying attention to where the ball was at any given time. You think I joke? Ask my parents. It’s their favorite story to tell.
You see, she’s done gymnastics and ballet, but this is her first team sport. An activity where she will have to rely on other teammates to work together. Many of my concerns and anxieties are no doubt rooted in my less-than-great experience with team sports myself. There are valuable lessons to be learned, like confidence, communication, and team-building skills. But sometimes, well, most of the time, my anxiety takes control of the narrative about how woefully wrong this could all go in an instant.
I Want Her to Make Friends, Not Frenemies
Mean girls are more than just characters in a movie. These people exist in real life. But instead of being outwardly mean, they employ passive-aggressive comments here and there. While my girls know not everyone will be their BFF, they still are young and are navigating what healthy relationships look like. They are the kids who want to be everyone’s friend, or at least spread kindness as they go–oh bless their little hearts. And if I’m being honest, I think most kids are like that. All the rest of the noise comes from the adults in their life.
Team sports are about working together, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that ego plays a role. This one wants to be the fastest. That one wants to score the most goals. All I want is for my daughter to have fun and maybe make a few friends along the way. But like actual, legit friends. Not the girls who pretend to be nice but talk shit the moment they all walk away from the field. Kind of like you, Karen — don’t think I didn’t notice the comments you made under your breath about the fact the snacks and juice weren’t organic.
I’m not saying that learning a new sport and working as a team won’t be challenging at times. But in all that, there is still room for friends and fun. Now I could totally be wrong, but I don’t see a World Cup career emerging from this team. So while it’s important to work hard and do their best, it’s equally important that soccer doesn’t stress them out. They don’t have to be competitive to the point of being mean.
It Shouldn’t Ever Stop Being Fun
The moment she stops having fun will be the moment she stops playing. I remember what it’s like to be forced to interact and participate, and no, it didn’t eventually get better. Hence, being able to recall how much I did not enjoy it over 10 years later. Anyway, I learned from my mistakes and hope for a different experience for my daughter.
Whatever she chooses for her hobby, it should bring her joy, not stress. I mean, yeah, stress is a normal part of life. But she will get plenty of that from new challenges in school, navigating middle and high school in this new technological age. If she’s involved in a team sport, or a solo activity, it will be because she wants to, not because she has to.
While the jury is still out on how she’ll do with team sports, everything has been so far, so good. Maybe all of this is just me expecting the worst-case scenario, so I am emotionally prepared if it comes to that. Truth be told, she’s only had one practice, but the fact she’s been counting down the days until her next seems to be a step in the right direction. Here is to hoping soccer is all she wants it to be and more. Whether her team does well or faces its challenges, as long as she’s having fun, it will be a win in my book.