Opinion

Dear parents: Keep your kids off the grass

By Chris Carrel, Thinking Locally

It’s not often that the Thinking Locally column strays from serious discussion of community issues, but sometimes urgent matters require our attention.

Today, I turn to parenting advice. With three teenage daughters, I’ve accumulated quite a wealth of parenting knowledge (none of which my daughters want to hear), and I can boil it down to six words I share with all expectant or new parents: Don’t let your kids play soccer.

Now, you may say to yourself, what’s he all about? Soccer looks like a perfectly harmless sport. It’s good exercise. There’s lots of character building, teamwork and oranges at halftime. What’s not to like about it? You may have even played a bit of the footy yourself back in the day — and are all ready to live vicariously through your children.

There’s no easy way to say this. Soccer is a dangerous activity. Once you let it in to your family’s life, it will take over the entire family “Invasion of the Body Snatcher”-style and leave you destitute. If that’s not enough, there’s the eco-guilt of the massive carbon footprint left by all those trips to practice and travel tournaments across the West.

My own story should serve as a cautionary tale. When my daughters were younger, I encouraged them to get involved in sports for the exercise and character building. I wanted them to play basketball, the sport I grew up playing. As you may know, basketball is also played inside warm, dry gyms with plenty of seating for parents.

The daughters, in a foreshadowing of many future divergences from my opinions, chose soccer. No warm, dry gyms. No bleachers. Well, no dry bleachers.

Thanks to them, I have spent what seems like half my life standing on the sidelines in the driving, freezing rain, huddled together with other parents for warmth like penguins on an Antarctic ice shelf. There may actually be a rule that prohibits youth soccer games from being played in temperatures above 40 degrees.

The larger problem with soccer is that, when it gets under your skin, it becomes difficult to set limits. The sport has a tendency to expand to fill all corners of your life. And soccer clubs are all too willing to help.

The first two seasons as a soccer dad were reasonable, with predictable start and end dates. As the girls advanced to club soccer, however, the lines between seasons washed away. Now, we do soccer all year round.

As I’m writing this, I’m still mapping out how to make (let alone afford) the seven tournaments scheduled between now and August. And talk about travel destinations! I’ve been to the Tri-Cities so many times I glow at night.

After summer tournaments, we’ll immediately launch into high school soccer. As that ends, the club teams will get started again, first playing their club schedule, then the state tournament. Team tryouts immediately after the state championship will signal the beginning of the entire cycle anew.This rigorous schedule can lead to fatigue, irritability and debilitating physical injuries. I understand it’s also tough on the players.

The mindset of coaches and parents also changes. At the younger age levels, winning wasn’t that important. We were just happy to see our daughter experience the team camaraderie and learn about sportsmanship. It was like a rerun of “Seventh Heaven.”

Now, to paraphrase soccer great Bill Shankly: The wins aren’t life and death; they’re frankly more important.

I predict that if you do let your kids play soccer, no matter how well-intentioned you are, you will one day find yourself wishing your kid would take out that punk 9-year-old who just fouled her. You will find no shame in this, either.

In a recent e-mail conversation with a soccer mom, we debated whether soccer was a disease or a cult. We finally agreed that we were diseased cult members.

She pointed out, though, that non-soccer parents have no frame of reference to understand us. Our experiences are intense, unique. We spend countless hours on the road, driving to and from practices, to Boise or Bellingham and back, and waiting around for games to start. This routine is interrupted by punctuated moments of excitement when our kid does something special, or our team scores. The moments of glory are few. The moments of boredom, legion.

Why do we do it? We have lost our ability to control soccer. That first season of little kids soccer, with the cute little tykes running around in groups of 20 chasing a ball, was like some gateway drug. Once hooked, we became vulnerable to dreams of glory and visions of our little soccer stars with a trophy lofted high above their heads.

So, remember, if someone asks you to sign your kid up for soccer, just say no. I didn’t and look where it left me. Most likely, it’ll be the Tri-Cities again.

Chris Carrel is a lifelong Federal Way resident and executive director of the Friends of the Hylebos. Contact Chris: chinook@hylebos.org

or (253) 874-2005.

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