Monday, September 27, 2010

How I Came to Embrace Being a Soccer Mom

I didn't want to be a soccer mom, ever.  When my husband and I made that fateful decision to buy a minivan nearly five and a half years ago, the first thing I said was "I will NEVER be a soccer mom!"  I drew the line at driving a minivan.  There would be no transformation into the stereotypical suburbanite minivan driving soccer mom.  No way!

Then it happened. My child who had been content with dancing and showing off her amazing technique and deportment on the dance studio floor had had enough.  No longer did she want to learn to be a graceful ballerina or an energetic tap dancer.  She now longed to be on an open field of green grass in a pair of ugly black soccer socks and cleats.

I gave in and agreed to let her give soccer a try.  But, I was adamant, this didn't make me a soccer mom. I'd go to the games and freeze my butt off as I watched her stand around on the soccer field picking clovers and reassure myself that this soccer thing wasn't going to last.  The coach, didn't know what he was doing and he hardly ever showed up for practices or games.  His son, after all, was "on the travel team."  This recreation league for six and seven year old girls was clearly just for fun.  Give them a ball and let them chase after it.  Surely, this didn't make me a soccer mom.  I was in the clear.  Recreation league soccer does not make one a soccer mom.  Phew!

Since I wasn't a soccer mom, I didn't argue when my daughter asked to play Spring soccer.  I had heard that Spring soccer was even more laid back than Fall soccer at our club, so that meant that I'd be in for more of my daughter gazing at the sky while the other kids played, or some dandelion picking.  What I wasn't expecting was an actual coach for my daughter's team.  But that's what happened in the spring of 2009.

It started with an email that made me think we had a delusional person on our hands.  The coach sent out an email that outlined goals he wanted the girls on his team to strive towards and a few video attachments of skills the girls should work on daily to develop ball handling skills.  The team also had a name.  It was the Mighty Ducks.  "Are you kidding me?"  I asked my husband as I read the forwarded email.  Then he mentioned that there was even a team chant that the kids had to learn.  As we listened to the attached wav file with the team chant I began to wonder just what we had gotten ourselves into.  We hadn't even met the coach for our first practice yet and already it seemed like we were in for a totally different soccer experience.  I mused to my husband that maybe this is what soccer is like when your kid has a coach.

My focused little Mighty Duck
Once practices and games began that Spring it became evident that our Fall soccer experience had been a joke.  The Spring soccer coach was larger than life.  He had energy, he was eager to teach the young 6 and 7 year olds on his team everything he could about soccer and most importantly, he had passion.  At the end of the eight week long Spring soccer season my daughter had gone from being a kid who would stand on the field and do nothing or worse, the kind who would try to kick the ball and miss, to actually being a decent little soccer player.  She wasn't fast, and she didn't score goals, but she had learned how to pass the ball and defend her team's net.  By May of 2009, my daughter was no longer the kid on the field who stood around looking lost.  She had direction and was learning how to play soccer.  Best of all, she was loving every minute of it!  Not only were the girls on our team having a blast and developing soccer skills, they were also learning great sportsmanship.  If we played a team that didn't have enough girls to field a team, our coach would give some the players on our team to our short handed opponents so the game wouldn't have to be forfeited.  Playing the game and having fun was more fun than gaining a win.

Using skills learned in the Spring against the Fall 09 Ducks
When it came time to sign up for Fall soccer for 2009 there was no question.  She was playing.  Now that we knew what it was like to have a real coach for our child, we wanted to stick with him.  Unfortunately for us, some issues within our soccer club saw Madeline and two other girls removed from this phenomenal coach's team and placed on teams that didn't even have a coach.  My daughter was upset because she couldn't stay with her team.  She even considered quitting, but my husband convinced her to stick with it.  In the end, Bryan stepped up and coached Madeline's team.  We weren't the best team, but we did well.  We attribute our successes to the fact that we utilized the same types of training drills and stamina building exercises as the Mighty Ducks.  Unfortunately, we just didn't have that great team camaraderie with the new team that we did with the old coach.  We missed being part of the Mighty Ducks family.

At the end of the Fall season the awesome coach from the Spring approached us about playing indoor soccer.  Instantly we told him we were on board.  I didn't want to be bothered with indoor soccer but if it meant my daughter could be on his team and continue to grow as a player, then I was all for it.  She played two sessions of indoor soccer that spanned four months of Sundays.  I only went to a couple of the games, but my husband who was now an assistant coach would come home and tell me about how Madeline and the rest of the team were progressing.

About to score a goal!
When Spring soccer rolled around this year we were beyond delighted that Madeline was once again a Mighty Duck.  This Spring Madeline really blossomed as a player.  She developed good ball handling skills and not only became a good defensive player, but she even managed to score a goal here and there.  She didn't compare talent wise to some of the other girls on the team, but she was a solid supporting player.  I could tell that she had grown as a player, but I wasn't convinced that she was particularly good.  Her coach and other parents, however, would comment that she was playing really well.   When we played a tournament in June I began to realize that my daughter really was becoming a decent soccer player and it was then that I realized that I am, indeed, a soccer mom.

For those of you wondering just how someone knows they're a soccer mom here's how I realized it:  When you find yourself at a soccer tournament eyeing up things like six seater fold up team benches, folding chairs with umbrella attachments and little canopy tents and wishing you had them for yourself, your child's team and your fellow soccer parents, then you know you are a fully vetted soccer mom.

We had some doubts as to whether or not Madeline would be able to continue to play under her coach this fall.  Because of the excellent training and direction given to her team by her dedicated coach there had been many parents who were upset that our team was as skilled as it was.  Sadly, in this day and age where many people have lost sight of the fact that life isn't always fair nor is it supposed to be, several parents of children on teams that had lost to our team had complained to the powers that be in our soccer club.  These seemingly misdirected complaints threatened our team and caused many of our team members to be scattered to other teams this fall.  Thankfully, Madeline and a few of her teammates were kept together.  The four girls who were kept together for this fall were by no means shining stars during the Spring season.  They were just solid team players that do their best to execute the skills learned during practice on the playing field.

Protect the ball! 
We're three games into the Fall season this year and once again, the Mighty Ducks are a nice cohesive family unit.   The parents get along and so do the girls.  The girls are proving that they can put what they're learning at practice into play during game time.  I tend to sit with two of my fellow soccer moms and we marvel at how far our daughters have come under the tutelage of our phenomenal coach.  These are girls who were once just like Madeline was in the Fall of 2008: Kids who were clueless on the field and drifting somewhere in La La Land.  Now our girls are stepping up and proving themselves to formidable members of their team.  They're proud of what they've become and they owe it all to the incredibly dedicated coach who cheers them on every step of the way.

I know for Madeline this entire experience has been more than just learning to play soccer.  Her coach has taught her to persevere.  He has taught her to be confident, even when her opponent is bigger and more skilled.  Because he has instilled in the team that they are a family she has bonded with her teammates and that bond makes the team stronger and more confident.

Great coaches, like teachers, have the ability to touch and change lives.  It has been a blessing and a privilege to have Coach R. coach my daughter over the past 18 months.  It is my sincere hope that he will continue to be her coach for many years to come.  I believe she can go far in the game of soccer with this phenomenal coach.  Coach R. truly has a gift for taking any player that comes his way and moulding her into a soccer player.  And mothers who are firmly resolved to not be soccer moms?  Yeah, he can convert them into the biggest cheerleaders on the sidelines.

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